Part 6 out of 9
'Old in knowledge of the world I meant, my lord, not in years.'
'Well, yes. Experience of course I cannot be without. And I like
what is beautiful. Tipman, you must go to Knollsea; don't send, but
go yourself, as I wish nobody else to be concerned in this. Go to
Knollsea, and find out when the steamboat for Cherbourg starts; and
when you have done that, I shall want you to send Taylor to me. I
wish Captain Strong to bring the Fawn round into Knollsea Bay. Next
week I may want you to go to Cherbourg in the yacht with me--if the
Channel is pretty calm--and then perhaps to Rouen and Paris. But I
will speak of that to-morrow.'
'Very good, my lord.'
'Meanwhile I recommend that you and Mrs. Menlove repeat nothing you
may have heard concerning the lady you just now spoke of. Here is a
slight present for Mrs. Menlove; and accept this for yourself.' He
'Your lordship may be sure we will not,' the valet replied.
33. THE ENGLISH CHANNEL - NORMANDY
On Monday morning the little steamer Speedwell made her appearance
round the promontory by Knollsea Bay, to take in passengers for the
transit to Cherbourg. Breezes the freshest that could blow without
verging on keenness flew over the quivering deeps and shallows; and
the sunbeams pierced every detail of barrow, path and rabbit-run
upon the lofty convexity of down and waste which shut in Knollsea
from the world to the west.
They left the pier at eight o'clock, taking at first a short
easterly course to avoid a sinister ledge of limestones jutting from
the water like crocodile's teeth, which first obtained notoriety in
English history through being the spot whereon a formidable Danish
fleet went to pieces a thousand years ago. At the moment that the
Speedwell turned to enter upon the direct course, a schooner-yacht,
whose sheets gleamed like bridal satin, loosed from a remoter part
of the bay; continuing to bear off, she cut across the steamer's
wake, and took a course almost due southerly, which was precisely
that of the Speedwell. The wind was very favourable for the yacht,
blowing a few points from north in a steady pressure on her quarter,
and, having been built with every modern appliance that shipwrights
could offer, the schooner found no difficulty in getting abreast,
and even ahead, of the steamer, as soon as she had escaped the
shelter of the hills.
The more or less parallel courses of the vessels continued for some
time without causing any remark among the people on board the
Speedwell. At length one noticed the fact, and another; and then it
became the general topic of conversation in the group upon the
bridge, where Ethelberta, her hair getting frizzed and her cheeks
carnationed by the wind, sat upon a camp-stool looking towards the
'She is bound for Guernsey,' said one. 'In half-an-hour she will
put about for a more westerly course, you'll see.'
'She is not for Guernsey or anywhere that way,' said an
acquaintance, looking through his glass. 'If she is out for
anything more than a morning cruise, she is bound for our port. I
should not wonder if she is crossing to get stocked, as most of them
do, to save the duty on her wine and provisions.'
'Do you know whose yacht it is?'
'I do not.'
Ethelberta looked at the light leaning figure of the pretty
schooner, which seemed to skate along upon her bilge and make white
shavings of all the sea that touched her. She at first imagined
that this might be the yacht Neigh had arrived in at the end of the
previous week, for she knew that he came as one of a yachting party,
and she had noticed no other boat of that sort in the bay since his
arrival. But as all his party had gone ashore and not yet returned,
she was surprised to see the supposed vessel here. To add to her
perplexity, she could not be positive, now that it came to a real
nautical query, whether the craft of Neigh's friends had one mast or
two, for she had caught but a fragmentary view of the topsail over
'Is that the yacht which has been lying at Knollsea for the last few
days?' she inquired of the master of the Speedwell, as soon as she
had an opportunity.
The master warmed beneath his copper-coloured rind. 'O no, miss;
that one you saw was a cutter--a smaller boat altogether,' he
replied. 'Built on the sliding-keel principle, you understand,
miss--and red below her water-line, if you noticed. This is Lord
Mountclere's yacht--the Fawn. You might have seen her re'ching in
round Old-Harry Rock this morning afore we started.'
'Yes--a nobleman of this neighbourhood. But he don't do so much at
yachting as he used to in his younger days. I believe he's aboard
this morning, however.'
Ethelberta now became more absorbed than ever in their ocean
comrade, and watched its motions continually. The schooner was
considerably in advance of them by this time, and seemed to be
getting by degrees out of their course. She wondered if Lord
Mountclere could be really going to Cherbourg: if so, why had he
said nothing about the trip to her when she spoke of her own
approaching voyage thither? The yacht changed its character in her
eyes; losing the indefinite interest of the unknown, it acquired the
charm of a riddle on motives, of which the alternatives were, had
Lord Mountclere's journey anything to do with her own, or had it
not? Common probability pointed to the latter supposition; but the
time of starting, the course of the yacht, and recollections of Lord
Mountclere's homage, suggested the more extraordinary possibility.
She went across to Cornelia. 'The man who handed us on board--
didn't I see him speaking to you this morning?' she said.
'O yes,' said Cornelia. 'He asked if my mistress was the popular
'And you told him, I suppose?'
'What made you do that, Cornelia?'
'I thought I might: I couldn't help it. When I went through the
toll-gate, such a gentlemanly-looking man asked me if he should help
me to carry the things to the end of the pier; and as we went on
together he said he supposed me to be Mrs. Petherwin's maid. I
said, "Yes." The two men met afterwards, so there would ha' been no
good in my denying it to one of 'em.'
'Who was this gentlemanly person?'
'I asked the other man that, and he told me one of Lord Mountclere's
upper servants. I knew then there was no harm in having been civil
to him. He is well-mannered, and talks splendid language.'
'That yacht you see on our right hand is Lord Mountclere's property.
If I do not mistake, we shall have her closer by-and-by, and you may
meet your gentlemanly friend again. Be careful how you talk to
Ethelberta sat down, thought of the meeting at Corvsgate Castle, of
the dinner-party at Mr. Doncastle's, of the strange position she had
there been in, and then of her father. She suddenly reproached
herself for thoughtlessness; for in her pocket lay a letter from
him, which she had taken from the postman that morning at the moment
of coming from the door, and in the hurry of embarking had forgotten
ever since. Opening it quickly, she read:--
'MY DEAR ETHELBERTA,--Your letter reached me yesterday, and I called
round at Exonbury Crescent in the afternoon, as you wished.
Everything is going on right there, and you have no occasion to be
anxious about them. I do not leave town for another week or two,
and by the time I am gone Sol and Dan will have returned from Paris,
if your mother and Gwendoline want any help: so that you need not
hurry back on their account.
'I have something else to tell you, which is not quite so
satisfactory, and it is this that makes me write at once; but do not
be alarmed. It began in this way. A few nights after the dinner-
party here I was determined to find out if there was any truth in
what you had been told about that boy, and having seen Menlove go
out as usual after dark, I followed her. Sure enough, when she had
got into the park, up came master Joe, smoking a cigar. As soon as
they had met I went towards them, and Menlove, seeing somebody draw
nigh, began to edge off, when the blockhead said, "Never mind, my
love, it is only the old man." Being very provoked with both of
them, though she was really the most to blame, I gave him some smart
cuts across the shoulders with my cane, and told him to go home,
which he did with a flea in his ear, the rascal. I believe I have
cured his courting tricks for some little time.
'Well, Menlove then walked by me, quite cool, as if she were merely
a lady passing by chance at the time, which provoked me still more,
knowing the whole truth of it, and I could not help turning upon her
and saying, "You, madam, ought to be served the same way." She
replied in very haughty words, and I walked away, saying that I had
something better to do than argue with a woman of her character at
that hour of the evening. This so set her up that she followed me
home, marched into my pantry, and told me that if I had been more
careful about my manners in calling her a bad character, it might
have been better both for me and my stuck-up daughter--a daw in
eagle's plumes--and so on. Now it seems that she must have coaxed
something out of Joey about you--for what lad in the world could be
a match for a woman of her experience and arts! I hope she will do
you no serious damage; but I tell you the whole state of affairs
exactly as they are, that you may form your own opinions. After
all, there is no real disgrace, for none of us have ever done wrong,
but have worked honestly for a living. However, I will let you know
if anything serious really happens.'
This was all that her father said on the matter, the letter
concluding with messages to the children and directions from their
mother with regard to their clothes.
Ethelberta felt very distinctly that she was in a strait; the old
impression that, unless her position were secured soon, it never
would be secured, returned with great force. A doubt whether it was
worth securing would have been very strong ere this, had not others
besides herself been concerned in her fortunes. She looked up from
her letter, and beheld the pertinacious yacht; it led her up to a
conviction that therein lay a means and an opportunity.
Nothing further of importance occurred in crossing. Ethelberta's
head ached after a while, and Cornelia's healthy cheeks of red were
found to have diminished their colour to the size of a wafer and the
quality of a stain. The Speedwell entered the breakwater at
Cherbourg to find the schooner already in the roadstead; and by the
time the steamer was brought up Ethelberta could see the men on
board the yacht clewing up and making things snug in a way from
which she inferred that they were not going to leave the harbour
again that day. With the aspect of a fair galleon that could easily
out-manoeuvre her persevering buccaneer, Ethelberta passed
alongside. Could it be possible that Lord Mountclere had on her
account fixed this day for his visit across the Channel?
'Well, I would rather be haunted by him than by Mr. Neigh,' she
said; and began laying her plans so as to guard against inconvenient
The next morning Ethelberta was at the railway station, taking
tickets for herself and Cornelia, when she saw an old yet sly and
somewhat merry-faced Englishman a little way off. He was attended
by a younger man, who appeared to be his valet.
'I will exchange one of these tickets,' she said to the clerk, and
having done so she went to Cornelia to inform her that it would
after all be advisable for them to travel separate, adding, 'Lord
Mountclere is in the station, and I think he is going on by our
train. Remember, you are my maid again now. Is not that the
gentlemanly man who assisted you yesterday?' She signified the
valet as she spoke.
'It is,' said Cornelia.
When the passengers were taking their seats, and Ethelberta was
thinking whether she might not after all enter a second-class with
Cornelia instead of sitting solitary in a first because of an old
man's proximity, she heard a shuffling at her elbow, and the next
moment found that he was overtly observing her as if he had not done
so in secret at all. She at once gave him an unsurprised gesture of
recognition. 'I saw you some time ago; what a singular
coincidence,' she said.
'A charming one,' said Lord Mountclere, smiling a half-minute smile,
and making as if he would take his hat off and would not quite.
'Perhaps we must not call it coincidence entirely,' he continued;
'my journey, which I have contemplated for some time, was not fixed
this week altogether without a thought of your presence on the road-
-hee-hee! Do you go far to-day?'
'As far as Caen,' said Ethelberta.
'Ah! That's the end of my day's journey, too,' said Lord
Mountclere. They parted and took their respective places, Lord
Mountclere choosing a compartment next to the one Ethelberta was
entering, and not, as she had expected, attempting to join her.
Now she had instantly fancied when the viscount was speaking that
there were signs of some departure from his former respectful manner
towards her; and an enigma lay in that. At their earlier meetings
he had never ventured upon a distinct coupling of himself and
herself as he had done in his broad compliment to-day--if compliment
it could be called. She was not sure that he did not exceed his
license in telling her deliberately that he had meant to hover near
her in a private journey which she was taking without reference to
him. She did not object to the act, but to the avowal of the act;
and, being as sensitive as a barometer on signs affecting her social
condition, it darted upon Ethelberta for one little moment that he
might possibly have heard a word or two about her being nothing more
nor less than one of a tribe of thralls; hence his freedom of
manner. Certainly a plain remark of that sort was exactly what a
susceptible peer might be supposed to say to a pretty woman of far
inferior degree. A rapid redness filled her face at the thought
that he might have smiled upon her as upon a domestic whom he was
disposed to chuck under the chin. 'But no,' she said. 'He would
never have taken the trouble to follow and meet with me had he
learnt to think me other than a lady. It is extremity of devotion--
It was not Ethelberta's inexperience, but that her conception of
self precluded such an association of ideas, which led her to
dismiss the surmise that his attendance could be inspired by a
motive beyond that of paying her legitimate attentions as a co-
ordinate with him and his in the social field. Even if he only
meant flirtation, she read it as of that sort from which courtship
with an eye to matrimony differs only in degree. Hence, she
thought, his interest in her was not likely, under the ordinary
influences of caste feeling, to continue longer than while he was
kept in ignorance of her consanguinity with a stock proscribed. She
sighed at the anticipated close of her full-feathered towering when
her ties and bonds should be uncovered. She might have seen matters
in a different light, and sighed more. But in the stir of the
moment it escaped her thought that ignorance of her position, and a
consequent regard for her as a woman of good standing, would have
prevented his indulgence in any course which was open to the
construction of being disrespectful.
Valognes, Carentan, Isigny, Bayeux, were passed, and the train drew
up at Caen. Ethelberta's intention had been to stay here for one
night, but having learnt from Lord Mountclere, as previously
described, that this was his destination, she decided to go on. On
turning towards the carriage after a few minutes of promenading at
the Caen station, she was surprised to perceive that Lord
Mountclere, who had alighted as if to leave, was still there.
They spoke again to each other. 'I find I have to go further,' he
suddenly said, when she had chatted with him a little time. And
beckoning to the man who was attending to his baggage, he directed
the things to be again placed in the train.
Time passed, and they changed at the next junction. When Ethelberta
entered a carriage on the branch line to take her seat for the
remainder of the journey, there sat the viscount in the same
division. He explained that he was going to Rouen.
Ethelberta came to a quick resolution. Her audacity, like that of a
child getting nearer and nearer a parent's side, became wonderfully
vigorous as she approached her destination; and though there were
three good hours of travel to Rouen as yet, the heavier part of the
journey was past. At her aunt's would be a safe refuge, play what
pranks she might, and there she would to-morrow meet those bravest
of defenders Sol and Dan, to whom she had sent as much money as she
could conveniently spare towards their expenses, with directions
that they were to come by the most economical route, and meet her at
the house of her aunt, Madame Moulin, previous to their educational
trip to Paris, their own contribution being the value of the week's
work they would have to lose. Thus backed up by Sol and Dan, her
aunt, and Cornelia, Ethelberta felt quite the reverse of a lonely
female persecuted by a wicked lord in a foreign country. 'He shall
pay for his weaknesses, whatever they mean,' she thought; 'and what
they mean I will find out at once.'
'I am going to Paris,' she said.
'You cannot to-night, I think.'
'To-morrow, I mean.'
'I should like to go on to-morrow. Perhaps I may. So that there is
a chance of our meeting again.'
'Yes; but I do not leave Rouen till the afternoon. I first shall go
to the cathedral, and drive round the city.'
Lord Mountclere smiled pleasantly. There seemed a sort of
encouragement in her words. Ethelberta's thoughts, however, had
flown at that moment to the approaching situation at her aunt's
hotel: it would be extremely embarrassing if he should go there.
'Where do you stay, Lord Mountclere?' she said.
Thus directly asked, he could not but commit himself to the name of
the hotel he had been accustomed to patronize, which was one in the
upper part of the city.
'Mine is not that one,' said Ethelberta frigidly.
No further remark was made under this head, and they conversed for
the remainder of the daylight on scenery and other topics, Lord
Mountclere's air of festivity lending him all the qualities of an
agreeable companion. But notwithstanding her resolve, Ethelberta
failed, for that day at least, to make her mind clear upon Lord
Mountclere's intentions. To that end she would have liked first to
know what were the exact limits set by society to conduct under
present conditions, if society had ever set any at all, which was
open to question: since experience had long ago taught her that
much more freedom actually prevails in the communion of the sexes
than is put on paper as etiquette, or admitted in so many words as
correct behaviour. In short, everything turned upon whether he had
learnt of her position when off the platform at Mayfair Hall.
Wearied with these surmises, and the day's travel, she closed her
eyes. And then her enamoured companion more widely opened his, and
traced the beautiful features opposite him. The arch of the brows--
like a slur in music--the droop of the lashes, the meeting of the
lips, and the sweet rotundity of the chin--one by one, and all
together, they were adored, till his heart was like a retort full of
spirits of wine.
It was a warm evening, and when they arrived at their journey's end
distant thunder rolled behind heavy and opaque clouds. Ethelberta
bade adieu to her attentive satellite, called to Cornelia, and
entered a cab; but before they reached the inn the thunder had
increased. Then a cloud cracked into flame behind the iron spire of
the cathedral, showing in relief its black ribs and stanchions, as
if they were the bars of a blazing cresset held on high.
'Ah, we will clamber up there to-morrow,' said Ethelberta.
A wondrous stillness pervaded the streets of the city after this,
though it was not late; and their arrival at M. Moulin's door was
quite an event for the quay. No rain came, as they had expected,
and by the time they halted the western sky had cleared, so that the
newly-lit lamps on the quay, and the evening glow shining over the
river, inwove their harmonious rays as the warp and woof of one
lustrous tissue. Before they had alighted there appeared from the
archway Madame Moulin in person, followed by the servants of the
hotel in a manner signifying that they did not receive a visitor
once a fortnight, though at that moment the clatter of sixty knives,
forks, and tongues was audible through an open window from the
adjoining dining-room, to the great interest of a group of idlers
outside. Ethelberta had not seen her aunt since she last passed
through the town with Lady Petherwin, who then told her that this
landlady was the only respectable relative she seemed to have in the
Aunt Charlotte's face was an English outline filled in with French
shades under the eyes, on the brows, and round the mouth, by the
natural effect of years; she resembled the British hostess as little
as well could be, no point in her causing the slightest suggestion
of drops taken for the stomach's sake. Telling the two young women
she would gladly have met them at the station had she known the hour
of their arrival, she kissed them both without much apparent notice
of a difference in their conditions; indeed, seeming rather to
incline to Cornelia, whose country face and homely style of clothing
may have been more to her mind than Ethelberta's finished
travelling-dress, a class of article to which she appeared to be
well accustomed. Her husband was at this time at the head of the
table-d'hote, and mentioning the fact as an excuse for his non-
appearance, she accompanied them upstairs.
After the strain of keeping up smiles with Lord Mountclere, the
rattle and shaking, and the general excitements of the chase across
the water and along the rail, a face in which she saw a dim reflex
of her mother's was soothing in the extreme, and Ethelberta went up
to the staircase with a feeling of expansive thankfulness. Cornelia
paused to admire the clean court and the small caged birds sleeping
on their perches, the boxes of veronica in bloom, of oleander, and
of tamarisk, which freshened the air of the court and lent a romance
to the lamplight, the cooks in their paper caps and white blouses
appearing at odd moments from an Avernus behind; while the prompt
'v'la!' of teetotums in mob caps, spinning down the staircase in
answer to the periodic clang of bells, filled her with wonder, and
pricked her conscience with thoughts of how seldom such transcendent
nimbleness was attempted by herself in a part so nearly similar.
34. THE HOTEL BEAU SEJOUR AND SPOTS NEAR IT
The next day, much to Ethelberta's surprise, there was a letter for
her in her mother's up-hill hand. She neglected all the rest of its
contents for the following engrossing sentences:--
'Menlove has wormed everything out of poor Joey, we find, and your
father is much upset about it. She had another quarrel with him,
and then declared she would expose you and us to Mrs. Doncastle and
all your friends. I think that Menlove is the kind of woman who
will stick to her word, and the question for you to consider is, how
can you best face out any report of the truth which she will spread,
and contradict the lies that she will add to it? It appears to me
to be a dreadful thing, and so it will probably appear to you. The
worst part will be that your sisters and brothers are your servants,
and that your father is actually engaged in the house where you
dine. I am dreadful afraid that this will be considered a fine joke
for gossips, and will cause no end of laughs in society at your
expense. At any rate, should Menlove spread the report, it would
absolutely prevent people from attending your lectures next season,
for they would feel like dupes, and be angry with theirselves, and
you, and all of us.
'The only way out of the muddle that I can see for you is to put
some scheme of marrying into effect as soon as possible, and before
these things are known. Surely by this time, with all your
opportunities, you have been able to strike up an acquaintance with
some gentleman or other, so as to make a suitable match. You see,
my dear Berta, marriage is a thing which, once carried out, fixes
you more firm in a position than any personal brains can do; for as
you stand at present, every loose tooth, and every combed-out hair,
and every new wrinkle, and every sleepless night, is so much took
away from your chance for the future, depending as it do upon your
skill in charming. I know that you have had some good offers, so do
listen to me, and warm up the best man of them again a bit, and get
him to repeat his words before your roundness shrinks away, and 'tis
'Mr. Ladywell has called here to see you; it was just after I had
heard that this Menlove might do harm, so I thought I could do no
better than send down word to him that you would much like to see
him, and were wondering sadly why he had not called lately. I gave
him your address at Rouen, that he might find you, if he chose, at
once, and be got to propose, since he is better than nobody. I
believe he said, directly Joey gave him the address, that he was
going abroad, and my opinion is that he will come to you, because of
the encouragement I gave him. If so, you must thank me for my
foresight and care for you.
'I heave a sigh of relief sometimes at the thought that I, at any
rate, found a husband before the present man-famine began. Don't
refuse him this time, there's a dear, or, mark my words, you'll have
cause to rue it--unless you have beforehand got engaged to somebody
better than he. You will not if you have not already, for the
exposure is sure to come soon.'
'O, this false position!--it is ruining your nature, my too
thoughtful mother! But I will not accept any of them--I'll brazen
it out!' said Ethelberta, throwing the letter wherever it chose to
fly, and picking it up to read again. She stood and thought it all
over. 'I must decide to do something!' was her sigh again; and,
feeling an irresistible need of motion, she put on her things and
went out to see what resolve the morning would bring.
No rain had fallen during the night, and the air was now quiet in a
warm heavy fog, through which old cider-smells, reminding her of
Wessex, occasionally came from narrow streets in the background.
Ethelberta passed up the Rue Grand-Pont into the little dusky Rue
Saint-Romain, behind the cathedral, being driven mechanically along
by the fever and fret of her thoughts. She was about to enter the
building by the transept door, when she saw Lord Mountclere coming
Ethelberta felt equal to him, or a dozen such, this morning. The
looming spectres raised by her mother's information, the wearing
sense of being over-weighted in the race, were driving her to a
Hamlet-like fantasticism and defiance of augury; moreover, she was
'I am about to ascend to the parapets of the cathedral,' said she,
in answer to a half inquiry.
'I should be delighted to accompany you,' he rejoined, in a manner
as capable of explanation by his knowledge of her secret as was
Ethelberta's manner by her sense of nearing the end of her maying.
But whether this frequent glide into her company was meant as
ephemeral flirtation, to fill the half-hours of his journey, or
whether it meant a serious love-suit--which were the only
alternatives that had occurred to her on the subject--did not
trouble her now. 'I am bound to be civil to so great a lord,' she
lightly thought, and expressing no objection to his presence, she
passed with him through the outbuildings, containing Gothic lumber
from the shadowy pile above, and ascended the stone staircase.
Emerging from its windings, they duly came to the long wooden ladder
suspended in mid-air that led to the parapet of the tower. This
being wide enough for two abreast, she could hardly do otherwise
than wait a moment for the viscount, who up to this point had never
faltered, and who amused her as they went by scraps of his
experience in various countries, which, to do him justice, he told
with vivacity and humour. Thus they reached the end of the flight,
and entered behind a balustrade.
'The prospect will be very lovely from this point when the fog has
blown off,' said Lord Mountclere faintly, for climbing and
chattering at the same time had fairly taken away his breath. He
leant against the masonry to rest himself. 'The air is clearing
already; I fancy I saw a sunbeam or two.'
'It will be lovelier above,' said Ethelberta. 'Let us go to the
platform at the base of the fleche, and wait for a view there.'
'With all my heart,' said her attentive companion.
They passed in at a door and up some more stone steps, which landed
them finally in the upper chamber of the tower. Lord Mountclere
sank on a beam, and asked smilingly if her ambition was not
satisfied with this goal. 'I recollect going to the top some years
ago,' he added, 'and it did not occur to me as being a thing worth
doing a second time. And there was no fog then, either.'
'O,' said Ethelberta, 'it is one of the most splendid things a
person can do! The fog is going fast, and everybody with the least
artistic feeling in the direction of bird's-eye views makes the
ascent every time of coming here.'
'Of course, of course,' said Lord Mountclere. 'And I am only too
happy to go to any height with you.'
'Since you so kindly offer, we will go to the very top of the spire-
-up through the fog and into the sunshine,' said Ethelberta.
Lord Mountclere covered a grim misgiving by a gay smile, and away
they went up a ladder admitting to the base of the huge iron
framework above; then they entered upon the regular ascent of the
cage, towards the hoped-for celestial blue, and among breezes which
never descended so low as the town. The journey was enlivened with
more breathless witticisms from Lord Mountclere, till she stepped
ahead of him again; when he asked how many more steps there were.
She inquired of the man in the blue blouse who accompanied them.
'Fifty-five,' she returned to Lord Mountclere a moment later.
They went round, and round, and yet around.
'How many are there now?' Lord Mountclere demanded this time of the
'A hundred and ninety, Monsieur,' he said.
'But there were only fifty-five ever so long ago!'
'Two hundred and five, then,' said the man 'Perhaps the mist
prevented Mademoiselle hearing me distinctly?'
'Never mind: I would follow were there five thousand more, did
Mademoiselle bid me!' said the exhausted nobleman gallantly, in
'Hush!' said Ethelberta, with displeasure.
'He doesn't understand a word,' said Lord Mountclere.
They paced the remainder of their spiral pathway in silence, and
having at last reached the summit, Lord Mountclere sank down on one
of the steps, panting out, 'Dear me, dear me!'
Ethelberta leaned and looked around, and said, 'How extraordinary
this is. It is sky above, below, everywhere.'
He dragged himself together and stepped to her side. They formed as
it were a little world to themselves, being completely ensphered by
the fog, which here was dense as a sea of milk. Below was neither
town, country, nor cathedral--simply whiteness, into which the iron
legs of their gigantic perch faded to nothing.
'We have lost our labour; there is no prospect for you, after all,
Lord Mountclere,' said Ethelberta, turning her eyes upon him. He
looked at her face as if there were, and she continued, 'Listen; I
hear sounds from the town: people's voices, and carts, and dogs,
and the noise of a railway-train. Shall we now descend, and own
'Whenever you choose.'
Before they had put their intention in practice there appeared to be
reasons for waiting awhile. Out of the plain of fog beneath, a
stone tooth seemed to be upheaving itself: then another showed
forth. These were the summits of the St. Romain and the Butter
Towers--at the western end of the building. As the fog stratum
collapsed other summits manifested their presence further off--among
them the two spires and lantern of St. Ouen's; when to the left the
dome of St. Madeline's caught a first ray from the peering sun,
under which its scaly surface glittered like a fish. Then the mist
rolled off in earnest, and revealed far beneath them a whole city,
its red, blue, and grey roofs forming a variegated pattern, small
and subdued as that of a pavement in mosaic. Eastward in the
spacious outlook lay the hill of St. Catherine, breaking intrusively
into the large level valley of the Seine; south was the river which
had been the parent of the mist, and the Ile Lacroix, gorgeous in
scarlet, purple, and green. On the western horizon could be dimly
discerned melancholy forests, and further to the right stood the
hill and rich groves of Boisguillaume.
Ethelberta having now done looking around, the descent was begun and
continued without intermission till they came to the passage behind
Ethelberta was about to step airily forward, when there reached her
ear the voices of persons below. She recognized as one of them the
slow unaccented tones of Neigh.
'Please wait a minute!' she said in a peremptory manner of confusion
sufficient to attract Lord Mountclere's attention.
A recollection had sprung to her mind in a moment. She had half
made an appointment with Neigh at her aunt's hotel for this very
week, and here was he in Rouen to keep it. To meet him while
indulging in this vagary with Lord Mountclere--which, now that the
mood it had been engendered by was passing off, she somewhat
regretted--would be the height of imprudence.
'I should like to go round to the other side of the parapet for a
few moments,' she said, with decisive quickness. 'Come with me,
They went round to the other side. Here she kept the viscount and
their suisse until she deemed it probable that Neigh had passed by,
when she returned with her companions and descended to the bottom.
They emerged into the Rue Saint-Romain, whereupon a woman called
from the opposite side of the way to their guide, stating that she
had told the other English gentleman that the English lady had gone
into the fleche.
Ethelberta turned and looked up. She could just discern Neigh's
form upon the steps of the fleche above, ascending toilsomely in
search of her.
'What English gentleman could that have been?' said Lord Mountclere,
after paying the man. He spoke in a way which showed he had not
overlooked her confusion. 'It seems that he must have been
searching for us, or rather for you?'
'Only Mr. Neigh,' said Ethelberta. 'He told me he was coming here.
I believe he is waiting for an interview with me.'
'H'm,' said Lord Mountclere.
'Business--only business,' said she.
'Shall I leave you? Perhaps the business is important--most
'Unfortunately it is.'
'You must forgive me this once: I cannot help--will you give me
permission to make a difficult remark?' said Lord Mountclere, in an
'Well, then, the business I meant was--an engagement to be married.'
Had it been possible for a woman to be perpetually on the alert she
might now have supposed that Lord Mountclere knew all about her; a
mechanical deference must have restrained such an illusion had he
seen her in any other light than that of a distracting slave. But
she answered quietly, 'So did I.'
'But how does he know--dear me, dear me! I beg pardon,' said the
She looked at him curiously, as if to imply that he was seriously
out of his reckoning in respect of her if he supposed that he would
be allowed to continue this little play at love-making as long as he
chose, when she was offered the position of wife by a man so good as
They stood in silence side by side till, much to her ease, Cornelia
appeared at the corner waiting. At the last moment he said, in
somewhat agitated tones, and with what appeared to be a renewal of
the respect which had been imperceptibly dropped since they crossed
the Channel, 'I was not aware of your engagement to Mr. Neigh. I
fear I have been acting mistakenly on that account.'
'There is no engagement as yet,' said she.
Lord Mountclere brightened like a child. 'Then may I have a few
words in private--'
'Not now--not to-day,' said Ethelberta, with a certain irritation at
she knew not what. 'Believe me, Lord Mountclere, you are mistaken
in many things. I mean, you think more of me than you ought. A
time will come when you will despise me for this day's work, and it
is madness in you to go further.'
Lord Mountclere, knowing what he did know, may have imagined what
she referred to; but Ethelberta was without the least proof that he
had the key to her humour. 'Well, well, I'll be responsible for the
madness,' he said. 'I know you to be--a famous woman, at all
events; and that's enough. I would say more, but I cannot here.
May I call upon you?'
'When shall I?'
'If you must, let it be a month hence at my house in town,' she said
indifferently, the Hamlet mood being still upon her. 'Yes, call
upon us then, and I will tell you everything that may remain to be
told, if you should be inclined to listen. A rumour is afloat which
will undeceive you in much, and depress me to death. And now I will
walk back: pray excuse me.' She entered the street, and joined
Lord Mountclere paced irregularly along, turned the corner, and went
towards his inn, nearing which his tread grew lighter, till he
scarcely seemed to touch the ground. He became gleeful, and said to
himself, nervously palming his hip with his left hand, as if
previous to plunging it into hot water for some prize: 'Upon my
life I've a good mind! Upon my life I have!. . . . I must make a
straightforward thing of it, and at once; or he will have her. But
he shall not, and I will--hee-hee!'
The fascinated man, screaming inwardly with the excitement, glee,
and agony of his position, entered the hotel, wrote a hasty note to
Ethelberta and despatched it by hand, looked to his dress and
appearance, ordered a carriage, and in a quarter of an hour was
being driven towards the Hotel Beau Sejour, whither his note had
35. THE HOTEL (continued), AND THE QUAY IN FRONT
Ethelberta, having arrived there some time earlier, had gone
straight to her aunt, whom she found sitting behind a large ledger
in the office, making up the accounts with her husband, a well-
framed reflective man with a grey beard. M. Moulin bustled, waited
for her remarks and replies, and made much of her in a general way,
when Ethelberta said, what she had wanted to say instantly, 'Has a
gentleman called Mr. Neigh been here?'
'O yes--I think it is Neigh--there's a card upstairs,' replied her
aunt. 'I told him you were alone at the cathedral, and I believe he
walked that way. Besides that one, another has come for you--a Mr.
Ladywell, and he is waiting.'
'Not for me?'
'Yes, indeed. I thought he seemed so anxious, under a sort of
assumed calmness, that I recommended him to remain till you came
'Goodness, aunt; why did you?' Ethelberta said, and thought how much
her mother's sister resembled her mother in doings of that sort.
'I thought he had some good reason for seeing you. Are these men
'O no--a woman who attempts a public career must expect to be
treated as public property: what would be an intrusion on a
domiciled gentlewoman is a tribute to me. You cannot have celebrity
and sex-privilege both.' Thus Ethelberta laughed off the awkward
conjuncture, inwardly deploring the unconscionable maternal meddling
which had led to this, though not resentfully, for she had too much
staunchness of heart to decry a parent's misdirected zeal. Had the
clanship feeling been universally as strong as in the Chickerel
family, the fable of the well-bonded fagot might have remained
Ladywell had sent her a letter about getting his picture of herself
engraved for an illustrated paper, and she had not replied,
considering that she had nothing to do with the matter, her form and
feature having been given in the painting as no portrait at all, but
as those of an ideal. To see him now would be vexatious; and yet it
was chilly and formal to an ungenerous degree to keep aloof from
him, sitting lonely in the same house. 'A few weeks hence,' she
thought, 'when Menlove's disclosures make me ridiculous, he may
slight me as a lackey's girl, an upstart, an adventuress, and hardly
return my bow in the street. Then I may wish I had given him no
personal cause for additional bitterness.' So, putting off the fine
lady, Ethelberta thought she would see Ladywell at once.
Ladywell was unaffectedly glad to meet her; so glad, that Ethelberta
wished heartily, for his sake, there could be warm friendship
between herself and him, as well as all her lovers, without that
insistent courtship-and-marriage question, which sent them all
scattering like leaves in a pestilent blast, at enmity with one
another. She was less pleased when she found that Ladywell, after
saying all there was to say about his painting, gently signified
that he had been misinformed, as he believed, concerning her future
intentions, which had led to his absenting himself entirely from
her; the remark being of course, a natural product of her mother's
injudicious message to him.
She cut him short with terse candour. 'Yes,' she said, 'a false
report is in circulation. I am not yet engaged to be married to any
one, if that is your meaning.'
Ladywell looked cheerful at this frank answer, and said tentatively,
'Am I forgotten?'
'No; you are exactly as you always were in my mind.'
'Then I have been cruelly deceived. I was guided too much by
appearances, and they were very delusive. I am beyond measure glad
I came here to-day. I called at your house and learnt that you were
here; and as I was going out of town, in any indefinite direction, I
settled then to come this way. What a happy idea it was! To think
of you now--and I may be permitted to--'
'Assuredly you may not. How many times I have told you that!'
'But I do not wish for any formal engagement,' said Ladywell
quickly, fearing she might commit herself to some expression of
positive denial, which he could never surmount. 'I'll wait--I'll
wait any length of time. Remember, you have never absolutely
forbidden my--friendship. Will you delay your answer till some time
hence, when you have thoroughly considered; since I fear it may be a
hasty one now?'
'Yes, indeed; it may be hasty.'
'You will delay it?'
'When shall it be?'
'Say a month hence. I suggest that, because by that time you will
have found an answer in your own mind: strange things may happen
before then. "She shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not
overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them;
then shall she say, I will go and return to my first"--however,
that's no matter.'
'What--did you--?' Ladywell began, altogether bewildered by this.
'It is a passage in Hosea which came to my mind, as possibly
applicable to myself some day,' she answered. 'It was mere
'Ha-ha!--a jest--one of your romances broken loose. There is no law
for impulse: that is why I am here.'
Thus fancifully they conversed till the interview concluded.
Getting her to promise that she would see him again, Ladywell
retired to a sitting-room on the same landing, in which he had been
writing letters before she came up. Immediately upon this her aunt,
who began to suspect that something peculiar was in the wind, came
to tell her that Mr. Neigh had been inquiring for her again.
'Send him in,' said Ethelberta.
Neigh's footsteps approached, and the well-known figure entered.
Ethelberta received him smilingly, for she was getting so used to
awkward juxtapositions that she treated them quite as a natural
situation. She merely hoped that Ladywell would not hear them
talking through the partition.
Neigh scarcely said anything as a beginning: she knew his errand
perfectly; and unaccountable as it was to her, the strange and
unceremonious relationship between them, that had originated in the
peculiar conditions of their first close meeting, was continued now
'Have you been able to bestow a thought on the question between us?
I hope so,' said Neigh.
'It is no use,' said Ethelberta. 'Wait a month, and you will not
require an answer. You will not mind speaking low, because of a
person in the next room?'
'Not at all.--Why will that be?'
'I might say; but let us speak of something else.'
'I don't see how we can,' said Neigh brusquely. 'I had no other
reason on earth for calling here. I wished to get the matter
settled, and I could not be satisfied without seeing you. I hate
writing on matters of this sort. In fact I can't do it, and that's
why I am here.'
He was still speaking when an attendant entered with a note.
'Will you excuse me one moment?' said Ethelberta, stepping to the
window and opening the missive. It contained these words only, in a
scrawl so full of deformities that she could hardly piece its
'I must see you again to-day unless you absolutely deny yourself to
me, which I shall take as a refusal to meet me any more. I will
arrive, punctually, five minutes after you receive this note. Do
pray be alone if you can, and eternally gratify,--Yours,
'If anything has happened I shall be pleased to wait,' said Neigh,
seeing her concern when she had closed the note.
'O no, it is nothing,' said Ethelberta precipitately. 'Yet I think
I will ask you to wait,' she added, not liking to dismiss Neigh in a
hurry; for she was not insensible to his perseverance in seeking her
over all these miles of sea and land; and secondly, she feared that
if he were to leave on the instant he might run into the arms of
Lord Mountclere and Ladywell.
'I shall be only too happy to stay till you are at leisure,' said
Neigh, in the unimpassioned delivery he used whether his meaning
were a trite compliment or the expression of his most earnest
'I may be rather a long time,' said Ethelberta dubiously.
'My time is yours.'
Ethelberta left the room and hurried to her aunt, exclaiming, 'O,
Aunt Charlotte, I hope you have rooms enough to spare for my
visitors, for they are like the fox, the goose, and the corn, in the
riddle; I cannot leave them together, and I can only be with one at
a time. I want the nicest drawing-room you have for an interview of
a bare two minutes with an old gentleman. I am so sorry this has
happened, but it is not altogether my fault! I only arranged to see
one of them; but the other was sent to me by mother, in a mistake,
and the third met with me on my journey: that's the explanation.
There's the oldest of them just come.'
She looked through the glass partition, and under the arch of the
court-gate, as the wheels of the viscount's carriage were heard
outside. Ethelberta ascended to a room on the first floor, Lord
Mountclere was shown up, and the door closed upon them.
At this time Neigh was very comfortably lounging in an arm-chair in
Ethelberta's room on the second floor. This was a pleasant enough
way of passing the minutes with such a tender interview in prospect;
and as he leant he looked with languid and luxurious interest
through the open casement at the spars and rigging of some luggers
on the Seine, the pillars of the suspension bridge, and the scenery
of the Faubourg St. Sever on the other side of the river. How
languid his interest might ultimately have become there is no
knowing; but there soon arose upon his ear the accents of Ethelberta
in low distinctness from somewhere outside the room.
'Yes; the scene is pleasant to-day,' she said. 'I like a view over
'I should think the steamboats are objectionable when they stop
here,' said another person.
Neigh's face closed in to an aspect of perplexity. 'Surely that
cannot be Lord Mountclere?' he muttered.
Had he been certain that Ethelberta was only talking to a stranger,
Neigh would probably have felt their conversation to be no business
of his, much as he might have been surprised to find her giving
audience to another man at such a place. But his impression that
the voice was that of his acquaintance, Lord Mountclere, coupled
with doubts as to its possibility, was enough to lead him to rise
from the chair and put his head out of the window.
Upon a balcony beneath him were the speakers, as he had suspected--
Ethelberta and the viscount.
Looking right and left, he saw projecting from the next window the
head of his friend Ladywell, gazing right and left likewise,
apparently just drawn out by the same voice which had attracted
'What--you, Neigh!--how strange,' came from Ladywell's lips before
he had time to recollect that great coolness existed between himself
and Neigh on Ethelberta's account, which had led to the reduction of
their intimacy to the most attenuated of nods and good-mornings ever
since the Harlequin-rose incident at Cripplegate.
'Yes; it is rather strange,' said Neigh, with saturnine evenness.
'Still a fellow must be somewhere.'
Each then looked over his window-sill downwards, upon the speakers
who had attracted them thither.
Lord Mountclere uttered something in a low tone which did not reach
the young men; to which Ethelberta replied, 'As I have said, Lord
Mountclere, I cannot give you an answer now. I must consider what
to do with Mr. Neigh and Mr. Ladywell. It is too sudden for me to
decide at once. I could not do so until I have got home to England,
when I will write you a letter, stating frankly my affairs and those
of my relatives. I shall not consider that you have addressed me on
the subject of marriage until, having received my letter, you--'
'Repeat my proposal,' said Lord Mountclere.
'My dear Mrs. Petherwin, it is as good as repeated! But I have no
right to assume anything you don't wish me to assume, and I will
wait. How long is it that I am to suffer in this uncertainty?'
'A month. By that time I shall have grown weary of my other two
'A month! Really inflexible?'
Ethelberta had returned inside the window, and her answer was
inaudible. Ladywell and Neigh looked up, and their eyes met. Both
had been reluctant to remain where they stood, but they were too
fascinated to instantly retire. Neigh moved now, and Ladywell did
the same. Each saw that the face of his companion was flushed.
'Come in and see me,' said Ladywell quickly, before quite
withdrawing his head. 'I am staying in this room.'
'I will,' said Neigh; and taking his hat he left Ethelberta's
On entering the quarters of his friend he found him seated at a
table whereon writing materials were strewn. They shook hands in
silence, but the meaning in their looks was enough.
'Just let me write a note, Ladywell, and I'm your man,' said Neigh
then, with the freedom of an old acquaintance.
'I was going to do the same thing,' said Ladywell.
Neigh then sat down, and for a minute or two nothing was to be heard
but the scratching of a pair of pens, ending on the one side with a
more boisterous scratch, as the writer shaped 'Eustace Ladywell,'
and on the other with slow firmness in the characters 'Alfred
'There's for you, my fair one,' said Neigh, closing and directing
'Yours is for Mrs. Petherwin? So is mine,' said Ladywell, grasping
the bell-pull. 'Shall I direct it to be put on her table with this
'Thanks.' And the two letters went off to Ethelberta's sitting-
room, which she had vacated to receive Lord Mountclere in an empty
one beneath. Neigh's letter was simply a pleading of a sudden call
away which prevented his waiting till she should return; Ladywell's,
though stating the same reason for leaving, was more of an
upbraiding nature, and might almost have told its reader, were she
to take the trouble to guess, that he knew of the business of Lord
Mountclere with her to-day.
'Now, let us get out of this place,' said Neigh. He proceeded at
once down the stairs, followed by Ladywell, who--settling his
account at the bureau without calling for a bill, and directing his
portmanteau to be sent to the Right-bank railway station--went with
Neigh into the street.
They had not walked fifty yards up the quay when two British
workmen, in holiday costume, who had just turned the corner of the
Rue Jeanne d'Arc, approached them. Seeing him to be an Englishman,
one of the two addressed Neigh, saying, 'Can you tell us the way,
sir, to the Hotel Bold Soldier?'
Neigh pointed out the place he had just come from to the tall young
men, and continued his walk with Ladywell.
Ladywell was the first to break silence. 'I have been considerably
misled, Neigh,' he said; 'and I imagine from what has just happened
that you have been misled too.'
'Just a little,' said Neigh, bringing abstracted lines of meditation
into his face. 'But it was my own fault: for I ought to have known
that these stage and platform women have what they are pleased to
call Bohemianism so thoroughly engrained with their natures that
they are no more constant to usage in their sentiments than they are
in their way of living. Good Lord, to think she has caught old
Mountclere! She is sure to have him if she does not dally with him
so long that he gets cool again.'
'A beautiful creature like her to think of marrying such an
infatuated idiot as he!'
'He can give her a title as well as younger men. It will not be the
first time that such matches have been made.'
'I can't believe it,' said Ladywell vehemently. 'She has too much
poetry in her--too much good sense; her nature is the essence of all
that's romantic. I can't help saying it, though she has treated me
'She has good looks, certainly. I'll own to that. As for her
romance and good-feeling, that I leave to you. I think she has
treated you no more cruelly, as you call it, than she has me, come
'She told me she would give me an answer in a month,' said Ladywell
'So she told me,' said Neigh.
'And so she told him,' said Ladywell.
'And I have no doubt she will keep her word to him in her usual
'But see what she implied to me! I distinctly understood from her
that the answer would be favourable.'
'So did I.'
'So does he.'
'And he is sure to be the one who gets it, since only one of us can.
Well, I wouldn't marry her for love, money, nor--'
'Exactly: I would not. "I'll give you an answer in a month "--to
all three of us! For God's sake let's sit down here and have
something to drink.'
They drew up a couple of chairs to one of the tables of a wine-shop
close by, and shouted to the waiter with the vigour of persons going
to the dogs. Here, behind the horizontal-headed trees that dotted
this part of the quay, they sat over their bottles denouncing
womankind till the sun got low down upon the river, and the houses
on the further side began to be toned by a blue mist. At last they
rose from their seats and departed, Neigh to dine and consider his
route, and Ladywell to take the train for Dieppe.
While these incidents had been in progress the two workmen had found
their way into the hotel where Ethelberta was staying. Passing
through the entrance, they stood at gaze in the court, much
perplexed as to the door to be made for; the difficulty was solved
by the appearance of Cornelia, who in expectation of them had been
for the last half-hour leaning over the sill of her bed-room window,
which looked into the interior, amusing herself by watching the
movements to and fro in the court beneath.
After conversing awhile in undertones as if they had no real right
there at all, Cornelia told them she would call their sister, if an
old gentleman who had been to see her were gone again. Cornelia
then ran away, and Sol and Dan stood aloof, till they had seen the
old gentleman alluded to go to the door and drive off, shortly after
which Ethelberta ran down to meet them.
'Whatever have you got as your luggage?' she said, after hearing a
few words about their journey, and looking at a curious object like
a huge extended accordion with bellows of gorgeous-patterned
'Well, I thought to myself,' said Sol, ''tis a terrible bother about
carrying our things. So what did I do but turn to and make a
carpet-bag that would hold all mine and Dan's too. This, you see,
Berta, is a deal top and bottom out of three-quarter stuff, stained
and varnished. Well, then you see I've got carpet sides tacked on
with these brass nails, which make it look very handsome; and so
when my bag is empty 'twill shut up and be only a couple of boards
under yer arm, and when 'tis open it will hold a'most anything you
like to put in it. That portmantle didn't cost more than three
half-crowns altogether, and ten pound wouldn't ha' got anything so
strong from a portmantle maker, would it, Dan?'
'And then you see, Berta,' Sol continued in the same earnest tone,
and further exhibiting the article, 'I've made this trap-door in the
top with hinges and padlock complete, so that--'
'I am afraid it is tiring you after your journey to explain all this
to me,' said Ethelberta gently, noticing that a few Gallic smilers
were gathering round. 'Aunt has found a nice room for you at the
top of the staircase in that corner--"Escalier D" you'll see painted
at the bottom--and when you have been up come across to me at number
thirty-four on this side, and we'll talk about everything.'
'Look here, Sol,' said Dan, who had left his brother and gone on to
the stairs. 'What a rum staircase--the treads all in little blocks,
and painted chocolate, as I am alive!'
'I am afraid I shall not be able to go on to Paris with you, after
all,' Ethelberta continued to Sol. 'Something has just happened
which makes it desirable for me to return at once to England. But I
will write a list of all you are to see, and where you are to go, so
that it will make little difference, I hope.'
Ten minutes before this time Ethelberta had been frankly and
earnestly asked by Lord Mountclere to become his bride; not only so,
but he pressed her to consent to have the ceremony performed before
they returned to England. Ethelberta had unquestionably been much
surprised; and, barring the fact that the viscount was somewhat
ancient in comparison with herself, the temptation to close with his
offer was strong, and would have been felt as such by any woman in
the position of Ethelberta, now a little reckless by stress of
circumstances, and tinged with a bitterness of spirit against
herself and the world generally. But she was experienced enough to
know what heaviness might result from a hasty marriage, entered into
with a mind full of concealments and suppressions which, if told,
were likely to stop the marriage altogether; and after trying to
bring herself to speak of her family and situation to Lord
Mountclere as he stood, a certain caution triumphed, and she
concluded that it would be better to postpone her reply till she
could consider which of two courses it would be advisable to adopt;
to write and explain to him, or to explain nothing and refuse him.
The third course, to explain nothing and hasten the wedding, she
rejected without hesitation. With a pervading sense of her own
obligations in forming this compact it did not occur to her to ask
if Lord Mountclere might not have duties of explanation equally with
herself, though bearing rather on the moral than the social aspects
of the case.
Her resolution not to go on to Paris was formed simply because Lord
Mountclere himself was proceeding in that direction, which might
lead to other unseemly rencounters with him had she, too, persevered
in her journey. She accordingly gave Sol and Dan directions for
their guidance to Paris and back, starting herself with Cornelia the
next day to return again to Knollsea, and to decide finally and for
ever what to do in the vexed question at present agitating her.
Never before in her life had she treated marriage in such a terribly
cool and cynical spirit as she had done that day; she was almost
frightened at herself in thinking of it. How far any known system
of ethics might excuse her on the score of those curious pressures
which had been brought to bear upon her life, or whether it could
excuse her at all, she had no spirit to inquire. English society
appeared a gloomy concretion enough to abide in as she contemplated
it on this journey home; yet, since its gloominess was less an
essential quality than an accident of her point of view, that point
of view she had determined to change.
There lay open to her two directions in which to move. She might
annex herself to the easy-going high by wedding an old nobleman, or
she might join for good and all the easy-going low, by plunging back
to the level of her family, giving up all her ambitions for them,
settling as the wife of a provincial music-master named Julian, with
a little shop of fiddles and flutes, a couple of old pianos, a few
sheets of stale music pinned to a string, and a narrow back parlour,
wherein she would wait for the phenomenon of a customer. And each
of these divergent grooves had its fascinations, till she reflected
with regard to the first that, even though she were a legal and
indisputable Lady Mountclere, she might be despised by my lord's
circle, and left lone and lorn. The intermediate path of accepting
Neigh or Ladywell had no more attractions for her taste than the
fact of disappointing them had qualms for her conscience; and how
few these were may be inferred from her opinion, true or false, that
two words about the spigot on her escutcheon would sweep her lovers'
affections to the antipodes. She had now and then imagined that her
previous intermarriage with the Petherwin family might efface much
besides her surname, but experience proved that the having been wife
for a few weeks to a minor who died in his father's lifetime, did
not weave such a tissue of glory about her course as would resist a
speedy undoing by startling confessions on her station before her
marriage, and her environments now.
36. THE HOUSE IN TOWN
Returning by way of Knollsea, where she remained a week or two,
Ethelberta appeared one evening at the end of September before her
house in Exonbury Crescent, accompanied by a pair of cabs with the
children and luggage; but Picotee was left at Knollsea, for reasons
which Ethelberta explained when the family assembled in conclave.
Her father was there, and began telling her of a surprising change
in Menlove--an unasked-for concession to their cause, and a vow of
secrecy which he could not account for, unless any friend of
Ethelberta's had bribed her.
'O no--that cannot be,' said she. Any influence of Lord Mountclere
to that effect was the last thing that could enter her thoughts.
'However, what Menlove does makes little difference to me now.' And
she proceeded to state that she had almost come to a decision which
would entirely alter their way of living.
'I hope it will not be of the sort your last decision was,' said her
'No; quite the reverse. I shall not live here in state any longer.
We will let the house throughout as lodgings, while it is ours; and
you and the girls must manage it. I will retire from the scene
altogether, and stay for the winter at Knollsea with Picotee. I
want to consider my plans for next year, and I would rather be away
from town. Picotee is left there, and I return in two days with the
books and papers I require.'
'What are your plans to be?'
'I am going to be a schoolmistress--I think I am.'
'Yes. And Picotee returns to the same occupation, which she ought
never to have forsaken. We are going to study arithmetic and
geography until Christmas; then I shall send her adrift to finish
her term as pupil-teacher, while I go into a training-school. By
the time I have to give up this house I shall just have got a little
'But,' said her mother, aghast, 'why not write more poems and sell
'Why not be a governess as you were?' said her father.
'Why not go on with your tales at Mayfair Hall?' said Gwendoline.
'I'll answer as well as I can. I have decided to give up romancing
because I cannot think of any more that pleases me. I have been
trying at Knollsea for a fortnight, and it is no use. I will never
be a governess again: I would rather be a servant. If I am a
schoolmistress I shall be entirely free from all contact with the
great, which is what I desire, for I hate them, and am getting
almost as revolutionary as Sol. Father, I cannot endure this kind
of existence any longer; I sleep at night as if I had committed a
murder: I start up and see processions of people, audiences,
battalions of lovers obtained under false pretences--all denouncing
me with the finger of ridicule. Mother's suggestion about my
marrying I followed out as far as dogged resolution would carry me,
but during my journey here I have broken down; for I don't want to
marry a second time among people who would regard me as an upstart
or intruder. I am sick of ambition. My only longing now is to fly
from society altogether, and go to any hovel on earth where I could
be at peace.'
'What--has anybody been insulting you?' said Mrs. Chickerel.
'Yes; or rather I sometimes think he may have: that is, if a
proposal of marriage is only removed from being a proposal of a very
different kind by an accident.'
'A proposal of marriage can never be an insult,' her mother
'I think otherwise,' said Ethelberta.
'So do I,' said her father.
'Unless the man was beneath you, and I don't suppose he was that,'
added Mrs. Chickerel.
'You are quite right; he was not that. But we will not talk of this
branch of the subject. By far the most serious concern with me is
that I ought to do some good by marriage, or by heroic performance
of some kind; while going back to give the rudiments of education to
remote hamleteers will do none of you any good whatever.'
'Never you mind us,' said her father; 'mind yourself.'
'I shall hardly be minding myself either, in your opinion, by doing
that,' said Ethelberta dryly. 'But it will be more tolerable than
what I am doing now. Georgina, and Myrtle, and Emmeline, and Joey
will not get the education I intended for them; but that must go, I
'How full of vagaries you are,' said her mother. 'Why won't it do
to continue as you are? No sooner have I learnt up your schemes,
and got enough used to 'em to see something in 'em, than you must
needs bewilder me again by starting some fresh one, so that my mind
gets no rest at all.'
Ethelberta too keenly felt the justice of this remark, querulous as
it was, to care to defend herself. It was hopeless to attempt to
explain to her mother that the oscillations of her mind might arise
as naturally from the perfection of its balance, like those of a
logan-stone, as from inherent lightness; and such an explanation,
however comforting to its subject, was little better than none to
simple hearts who only could look to tangible outcrops.
'Really, Ethelberta,' remonstrated her mother, 'this is very odd.
Making yourself miserable in trying to get a position on our account
is one thing, and not necessary; but I think it ridiculous to rush
into the other extreme, and go wilfully down in the scale. You may
just as well exercise your wits in trying to swim as in trying to
'Yes; that's what I think,' said her father. 'But of course Berta
'I think so too,' said Gwendoline.
'And so do I,' said Cornelia. 'If I had once moved about in large
circles like Ethelberta, I wouldn't go down and be a schoolmistress-
'I own it is foolish--suppose it is,' said Ethelberta wearily, and
with a readiness of misgiving that showed how recent and hasty was
the scheme. 'Perhaps you are right, mother; anything rather than
retreat. I wonder if you are right! Well, I will think again of it
to-night. Do not let us speak more about it now.'
She did think of it that night, very long and painfully. The
arguments of her relatives seemed ponderous as opposed to her own
inconsequent longing for escape from galling trammels. If she had
stood alone, the sentiment that she had begun to build but was not
able to finish, by whomsoever it might have been entertained, would
have had few terrors; but that the opinion should be held by her
nearest of kin, to cause them pain for life, was a grievous thing.
The more she thought of it, the less easy seemed the justification
of her desire for obscurity. From regarding it as a high instinct
she passed into a humour that gave that desire the appearance of a
whim. But could she really set in train events, which, if not
abortive, would take her to the altar with Viscount Mountclere?
In one determination she never faltered; to commit her sin
thoroughly if she committed it at all. Her relatives believed her
choice to lie between Neigh and Ladywell alone. But once having
decided to pass over Christopher, whom she had loved, there could be
no pausing for Ladywell because she liked him, or for Neigh in that
she was influenced by him. They were both too near her level to be
trusted to bear the shock of receiving her from her father's hands.
But it was possible that though her genesis might tinge with
vulgarity a commoner's household, susceptible of such depreciation,
it might show as a picturesque contrast in the family circle of a
peer. Hence it was just as well to go to the end of her logic,
where reasons for tergiversation would be most pronounced. This
thought of the viscount, however, was a secret for her own breast
Nearly the whole of that night she sat weighing--first, the question
itself of marrying Lord Mountclere; and, at other times, whether,
for safety, she might marry him without previously revealing family
particulars hitherto held necessary to be revealed--a piece of
conduct she had once felt to be indefensible. The ingenious
Ethelberta, much more prone than the majority of women to theorize
on conduct, felt the need of some soothing defence of the actions
involved in any ambiguous course before finally committing herself
She took down a well-known treatise on Utilitarianism which she had
perused once before, and to which she had given her adherence ere
any instance had arisen wherein she might wish to take it as a
guide. Here she desultorily searched for argument, and found it;
but the application of her author's philosophy to the marriage
question was an operation of her own, as unjustifiable as it was
likely in the circumstances.
'The ultimate end,' she read, 'with reference to and for the sake of
which all other things are desirable (whether we are considering our
own good or that of other people) is an existence exempt as far as
possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both in
point of quantity and quality. . . . This being, according to the
utilitarian opinion, the end of human action, is necessarily also
the standard of morality.'
It was an open question, so far, whether her own happiness should or
should not be preferred to that of others. But that her personal
interests were not to be considered as paramount appeared further
'The happiness which forms the standard of what is right in conduct
is not the agent's own happiness but that of all concerned. As
between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism
requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and
As to whose happiness was meant by that of 'other people,' 'all
concerned,' and so on, her luminous moralist soon enlightened her:--
'The occasions on which any person (except one in a thousand) has it
in his power to do this on an extended scale--in other words, to be
a public benefactor--are but exceptional; and on these occasions
alone is he called on to consider public utility; in every other
case private utility, the interest or happiness of some few persons,
is all he has to attend to.'
And that these few persons should be those endeared to her by every
domestic tie no argument was needed to prove. That their happiness
would be in proportion to her own well-doing, and power to remove
their risks of indigence, required no proving either to her now.
By a sorry but unconscious misapplication of sound and wide
reasoning did the active mind of Ethelberta thus find itself a
solace. At about the midnight hour she felt more fortified on the
expediency of marriage with Lord Mountclere than she had done at all
since musing on it. In respect of the second query, whether or not,
in that event, to conceal from Lord Mountclere the circumstances of
her position till it should be too late for him to object to them,
she found her conscience inconveniently in the way of her theory,
and the oracle before her afforded no hint. ' Ah--it is a point for
a casuist!' she said.
An old treatise on Casuistry lay on the top shelf. She opened it--
more from curiosity than from guidance this time, it must be
observed--at a chapter bearing on her own problem, 'The disciplina
arcani, or, the doctrine of reserve.'
Here she read that there were plenty of apparent instances of this
in Scripture, and that it was formed into a recognized system in the
early Church. With reference to direct acts of deception, it was
argued that since there were confessedly cases where killing is no
murder, might there not be cases where lying is no sin? It could
not be right--or, indeed, anything but most absurd--to say in effect
that no doubt circumstances would occur where every sound man would
tell a lie, and would be a brute or a fool if he did not, and to say
at the same time that it is quite indefensible in principle. Duty
was the key to conduct then, and if in such cases duties appeared to
clash they would be found not to do so on examination. The lesser
duty would yield to the greater, and therefore ceased to be a duty.
This author she found to be not so tolerable; he distracted her.
She put him aside and gave over reading, having decided on this
second point, that she would, at any hazard, represent the truth to
Lord Mountclere before listening to another word from him. 'Well,
at last I have done,' she said, 'and am ready for my role.'
In looking back upon her past as she retired to rest, Ethelberta
could almost doubt herself to be the identical woman with her who
had entered on a romantic career a few short years ago. For that
doubt she had good reason. She had begun as a poet of the Satanic
school in a sweetened form; she was ending as a pseudo-utilitarian.
Was there ever such a transmutation effected before by the action of
a hard environment? It was not without a qualm of regret that she
discerned how the last infirmity of a noble mind had at length
nearly departed from her. She wondered if her early notes had had
the genuine ring in them, or whether a poet who could be thrust by
realities to a distance beyond recognition as such was a true poet
at all. Yet Ethelberta's gradient had been regular: emotional
poetry, light verse, romance as an object, romance as a means,
thoughts of marriage as an aid to her pursuits, a vow to marry for
the good of her family; in other words, from soft and playful
Romanticism to distorted Benthamism. Was the moral incline upward
37. KNOLLSEA - AN ORNAMENTAL VILLA
Her energies collected and fermented anew by the results of the
vigil, Ethelberta left town for Knollsea, where she joined Picotee
the same evening. Picotee produced a letter, which had been
addressed to her sister at their London residence, but was not
received by her there, Mrs. Chickerel having forwarded it to
Knollsea the day before Ethelberta arrived in town.
The crinkled writing, in character like the coast-line of Tierra del
Fuego, was becoming familiar by this time. While reading the note
she informed Picotee, between a quick breath and a rustle of frills,
that it was from Lord Mountclere, who wrote on the subject of
calling to see her, suggesting a day in the following week. 'Now,
Picotee,' she continued, 'we shall have to receive him, and make the
most of him, for I have altered my plans since I was last in
'Altered them again? What are you going to be now--not a poor
person after all?'
'Indeed not. And so I turn and turn. Can you imagine what Lord
Mountclere is coming for? But don't say what you think. Before I
reply to this letter we must go into new lodgings, to give them as
our address. The first business to-morrow morning will be to look
for the gayest house we can find; and Captain Flower and this little
cabin of his must be things we have never known.'
The next day after breakfast they accordingly sallied forth.
Knollsea had recently begun to attract notice in the world. It had
this year undergone visitation from a score of professional
gentlemen and their wives, a minor canon, three marine painters,
seven young ladies with books in their hands, and nine-and-thirty
babies. Hence a few lodging-houses, of a dash and pretentiousness
far beyond the mark of the old cottages which formed the original
substance of the village, had been erected to meet the wants of such
as these. To a building of this class Ethelberta now bent her
steps, and the crush of the season having departed in the persons of
three-quarters of the above-named visitors, who went away by a
coach, a van, and a couple of wagonettes one morning, she found no
difficulty in arranging for a red and yellow streaked villa, which
was so bright and glowing that the sun seemed to be shining upon it
even on a cloudy day, and the ruddiest native looked pale when
standing by its walls. It was not without regret that she renounced
the sailor's pretty cottage for this porticoed and balconied
dwelling; but her lines were laid down clearly at last, and thither
she removed forthwith.
From this brand-new house did Ethelberta pen the letter fixing the
time at which she would be pleased to see Lord Mountclere.
When the hour drew nigh enormous force of will was required to keep
her perturbation down. She had not distinctly told Picotee of the
object of the viscount's visit, but Picotee guessed nearly enough.
Ethelberta was upon the whole better pleased that the initiative had
again come from him than if the first step in the new campaign had
been her sending the explanatory letter, as intended and promised.
She had thought almost directly after the interview at Rouen that to
enlighten him by writing a confession in cold blood, according to
her first intention, would be little less awkward for her in the
method of telling than in the facts to be told.
So the last hair was arranged and the last fold adjusted, and she
sat down to await a new page of her history. Picotee sat with her,
under orders to go into the next room when Lord Mountclere should
call; and Ethelberta determined to waste no time, directly he began
to make advances, in clearing up the phenomena of her existence to
him; to the end that no fact which, in the event of his taking her
to wife, could be used against her as an example of concealment,
might remain unrelated. The collapse of his attachment under the
test might, however, form the grand climax of such a play as this.
The day was rather cold for the season, and Ethelberta sat by a
fire; but the windows were open, and Picotee was amusing herself on
the balcony outside. The hour struck: Ethelberta fancied she could
hear the wheels of a carriage creeping up the steep ascent which led
to the drive before the door.
'Is it he?' she said quickly.
'No,' said Picotee, whose indifference contrasted strangely with the
restlessness of her who was usually the coolest. 'It is a man
shaking down apples in the garden over the wall.'
They lingered on till some three or four minutes had gone by.
'Surely that's a carriage?' said Ethelberta, then.
'I think it is,' said Picotee outside, stretching her neck forward
as far as she could. 'No, it is the men on the beach dragging up
their boats; they expect wind to-night.'
'How wearisome! Picotee, you may as well come inside; if he means
to call he will; but he ought to be here by this time.'
It was only once more, and that some time later that she again said
'That's not the noise of a carriage; it is the fizz of a rocket.
The coastguardsmen are practising the life-apparatus to-day, to be
ready for the autumn wrecks.'
'Ah!' said Ethelberta, her face clearing up. Hers had not been a
sweetheart's impatience, but her mood had intensified during these
minutes of suspense to a harassing mistrust of her man-compelling
power, which was, if that were possible, more gloomy than
disappointed love. 'I know now where he is. That operation with
the cradle-apparatus is very interesting, and he is stopping to see
it. . . . But I shall not wait indoors much longer, whatever he may
be stopping to see. It is very unaccountable, and vexing, after
moving into this new house too. We were much more comfortable in
the old one. In keeping any previous appointment in which I have
been concerned he has been ridiculously early.'
'Shall I run round?' said Picotee, 'and if he is not watching them
we will go out.'
'Very well,' said her sister.
The time of Picotee's absence seemed an age. Ethelberta heard the
roar of another rocket, and still Picotee did not return. 'What can
the girl be thinking of?' she mused. . . . 'What a half-and-half
policy mine has been! Thinking of marrying for position, and yet
not making it my rigid plan to secure the man the first moment that
he made his offer. So I lose the comfort of having a soul above
worldliness, and my compensation for not having it likewise!' A
minute or two more and in came Picotee.
'What has kept you so long--and how excited you look,' said
'I thought I would stay a little while, as I had never seen a
rocket-apparatus,' said Picotee, faintly and strangely.
'But is he there?' asked her sister impatiently.
'Yes--he was. He's gone now!'
'No. There is no old man there at all. Mr Julian was there.'
A little 'Ah!' came from Ethelberta, like a note from a storm-bird
at night. She turned round and went into the back room. 'Is Mr.
Julian going to call here?' she inquired, coming forward again.
'No--he's gone by the steamboat. He was only passing through on his
way to Sandbourne, where he is gone to settle a small business
relating to his father's affairs. He was not in Knollsea ten
minutes, owing to something which detained him on the way.'
'Did he inquire for me?'
'No. And only think, Ethelberta--such a remarkable thing has
happened, though I nearly forgot to tell you. He says that coming
along the road he was overtaken by a carriage, and when it had just
passed him one of the horses shied, pushed the other down a slope,
and overturned the carriage. One wheel came off and trundled to the
bottom of the hill by itself. Christopher of course ran up, and
helped out of the carriage an old gentleman--now do you know what's
'It was Lord Mountclere. I am glad that's the cause,' said
'I imagined you would suppose it to be Lord Mountclere. But Mr.
Julian did not know the gentleman, and said nothing about who he
'Did he describe him?'
'Not much--just a little.'
'He said he was a sly old dog apparently, to hear how he swore in
whispers. This affair is what made Mr. Julian so late that he had
no time to call here. Lord Mountclere's ankle--if it was Lord
Mountclere--was badly sprained. But the servants were not injured
beyond a scratch on the coachman's face. Then they got another
carriage and drove at once back again. It must be he, or else why
is he not come? It is a pity, too, that Mr. Julian was hindered by
this, so that there was no opportunity for him to bide a bit in
Ethelberta was not disposed to believe that Christopher would have
called, had time favoured him to the utmost. Between himself and
her there was that kind of division which is more insurmountable
than enmity; for estrangements produced by good judgment will last
when those of feeling break down in smiles. Not the lovers who part
in passion, but the lovers who part in friendship, are those who
most frequently part for ever.
'Did you tell Mr. Julian that the injured gentleman was possibly
Lord Mountclere, and that he was coming here?' said Ethelberta.
'I made no remark at all--I did not think of him till afterwards.'
The inquiry was hardly necessary, for Picotee's words would dry away
like a brook in the sands when she held conversation with
As they had anticipated, the sufferer was no other than their
intending visitor. Next morning there was a note explaining the
accident, and expressing its writer's suffering from the cruel delay
as greater than that from the swollen ankle, which was progressing
Nothing further was heard of Lord Mountclere for more than a week,
when she received another letter, which put an end to her season of
relaxation, and once more braced her to the contest. This epistle
was very courteously written, and in point of correctness,
propriety, and gravity, might have come from the quill of a bishop.
Herein the old nobleman gave a further description of the accident,
but the main business of the communication was to ask her if, since
he was not as yet very active, she would come to Enckworth Court and
delight himself and a small group of friends who were visiting
She pondered over the letter as she walked by the shore that day,
and after some hesitation decided to go.
38. ENCKWORTH COURT
It was on a dull, stagnant, noiseless afternoon of autumn that
Ethelberta first crossed the threshold of Enckworth Court. The
daylight was so lowered by the impervious roof of cloud overhead
that it scarcely reached further into Lord Mountclere's entrance-
hall than to the splays of the windows, even but an hour or two
after midday; and indoors the glitter of the fire reflected itself
from the very panes, so inconsiderable were the opposing rays.
Enckworth Court, in its main part, had not been standing more than a
hundred years. At that date the weakened portions of the original
mediaeval structure were pulled down and cleared away, old jambs
being carried off for rick-staddles, and the foliated timbers of the
hall roof making themselves useful as fancy chairs in the summer-
houses of rising inns. A new block of masonry was built up from the
ground of such height and lordliness that the remnant of the old
pile left standing became as a mere cup-bearer and culinary menial
beside it. The rooms in this old fragment, which had in times past
been considered sufficiently dignified for dining-hall, withdrawing-
room, and so on, were now reckoned barely high enough for
sculleries, servants' hall, and laundries, the whole of which were
The modern portion had been planned with such a total disregard of
association, that the very rudeness of the contrast gave an interest
to the mass which it might have wanted had perfect harmony been
attempted between the old nucleus and its adjuncts, a probable
result if the enlargement had taken place later on in time. The
issue was that the hooded windows, simple string-courses, and random
masonry of the Gothic workman, stood elbow to elbow with the equal-
spaced ashlar, architraves, and fasciae of the Classic addition,
each telling its distinct tale as to stage of thought and domestic
habit without any of those artifices of blending or restoration by
which the seeker for history in stones will be utterly hoodwinked in
time to come.
To the left of the door and vestibule which Ethelberta passed
through rose the principal staircase, constructed of a freestone so
milk-white and delicately moulded as to be easily conceived in the
lamplight as of biscuit-ware. Who, unacquainted with the secrets of
geometrical construction, could imagine that, hanging so airily
there, to all appearance supported on nothing, were twenty or more
tons dead weight of stone, that would have made a prison for an
elephant if so arranged? The art which produced this illusion was
questionable, but its success was undoubted. 'How lovely!' said
Ethelberta, as she looked at the fairy ascent. 'His staircase alone
is worth my hand!'
Passing along by the colonnade, which partly fenced the staircase
from the visitor, the saloon was reached, an apartment forming a
double cube. About the left-hand end of this were grouped the
drawing-rooms and library; while on the right was the dining-hall,
with billiard, smoking, and gun rooms in mysterious remoteness
Without attempting to trace an analogy between a man and his
mansion, it may be stated that everything here, though so dignified
and magnificent, was not conceived in quite the true and eternal
spirit of art. It was a house in which Pugin would have torn his
hair. Those massive blocks of red-veined marble lining the hall--
emulating in their surface-glitter the Escalier de Marbre at
Versailles--were cunning imitations in paint and plaster by workmen
brought from afar for the purpose, at a prodigious expense, by the
present viscount's father, and recently repaired and re-varnished.
The dark green columns and pilasters corresponding were brick at the
core. Nay, the external walls, apparently of massive and solid
freestone, were only veneered with that material, being, like the
pillars, of brick within.
To a stone mask worn by a brick face a story naturally appertained--
one which has since done service in other quarters. When the vast
addition had just been completed King George visited Enckworth. Its
owner pointed out the features of its grand architectural attempt,
and waited for commendation.
'Brick, brick, brick,' said the king.
The Georgian Lord Mountclere blushed faintly, albeit to his very
poll, and said nothing more about his house that day. When the king
was gone he sent frantically for the craftsmen recently dismissed,
and soon the green lawns became again the colour of a Nine-Elms
cement wharf. Thin freestone slabs were affixed to the whole series
of fronts by copper cramps and dowels, each one of substance
sufficient to have furnished a poor boy's pocket with pennies for a
month, till not a speck of the original surface remained, and the
edifice shone in all the grandeur of massive masonry that was not
massive at all. But who remembered this save the builder and his
crew? and as long as nobody knew the truth, pretence looked just as
What was honest in Enckworth Court was that portion of the original
edifice which still remained, now degraded to subservient uses.
Where the untitled Mountclere of the White Rose faction had spread
his knees over the brands, when the place was a castle and not a
court, the still-room maid now simmered her preserves; and where
Elizabethan mothers and daughters of that sturdy line had tapestried
the love-scenes of Isaac and Jacob, boots and shoes were now cleaned
and coals stowed away.
Lord Mountclere had so far recovered from the sprain as to be
nominally quite well, under pressure of a wish to receive guests.
The sprain had in one sense served him excellently. He had now a
reason, apart from that of years, for walking with his stick, and
took care to let the reason be frequently known. To-day he
entertained a larger number of persons than had been assembled
within his walls for a great length of time.
Until after dinner Ethelberta felt as if she were staying at an
hotel. Few of the people whom she had met at the meeting of the
Imperial Association greeted her here. The viscount's brother was
not present, but Sir Cyril Blandsbury and his wife were there, a
lively pair of persons, entertaining as actors, and friendly as
dogs. Beyond these all the faces and figures were new to her,
though they were handsome and dashing enough to satisfy a court
chronicler. Ethelberta, in a dress sloped about as high over the
shoulder as would have drawn approval from Reynolds, and
expostulation from Lely, thawed and thawed each friend who came near
her, and sent him or her away smiling; yet she felt a little
surprise. She had seldom visited at a country-house, and knew
little of the ordinary composition of a group of visitors within its
walls; but the present assemblage seemed to want much of that old-
fashioned stability and quaint monumental dignity she had expected
to find under this historical roof. Nobody of her entertainer's own
rank appeared. Not a single clergyman was there. A tendency to
talk Walpolean scandal about foreign courts was particularly
manifest. And although tropical travellers, Indian officers and
their wives, courteous exiles, and descendants of Irish kings, were
infinitely more pleasant than Lord Mountclere's landed neighbours
would probably have been, to such a cosmopolite as Ethelberta a calm
Tory or old Whig company would have given a greater treat. They
would have struck as gratefully upon her senses as sylvan scenery
after crags and cliffs, or silence after the roar of a cataract.
It was evening, and all these personages at Enckworth Court were
merry, snug, and warm within its walls. Dinner-time had passed, and
everything had gone on well, when Mrs. Tara O'Fanagan, who had a
gold-clamped tooth, which shone every now and then, asked Ethelberta
if she would amuse them by telling a story, since nobody present,
except Lord Mountclere, had ever heard one from her lips.
Seeing that Ethelberta had been working at that art as a profession,
it can hardly be said that the question was conceived with tact,
though it was put with grace. Lord Mountclere evidently thought it
objectionable, for he looked unhappy. To only one person in the
brilliant room did the request appear as a timely accident, and that
was to Ethelberta herself. Her honesty was always making war upon
her manoeuvres, and shattering their delicate meshes, to her great
inconvenience and delay. Thus there arose those devious impulses
and tangential flights which spoil the works of every would-be
schemer who instead of being wholly machine is half heart. One of
these now was to show herself as she really was, not only to Lord
Mountclere, but to his friends assembled, whom, in her ignorance,
she respected more than they deserved, and so get rid of that self-
reproach which had by this time reached a morbid pitch, through her
over-sensitiveness to a situation in which a large majority of women
and men would have seen no falseness.
Full of this curious intention, she quietly assented to the request,
and laughingly bade them put themselves in listening order.
'An old story will suit us,' said the lady who had importuned her.
'We have never heard one.'
'No; it shall be quite new,' she replied. 'One not yet made public;
though it soon will be.'
The narrative began by introducing to their notice a girl of the
poorest and meanest parentage, the daughter of a serving-man, and
the fifth of ten children. She graphically recounted, as if they
were her own, the strange dreams and ambitious longings of this
child when young, her attempts to acquire education, partial
failures, partial successes, and constant struggles; instancing how,
on one of these occasions, the girl concealed herself under a
bookcase of the library belonging to the mansion in which her father
served as footman, and having taken with her there, like a young
Fawkes, matches and a halfpenny candle, was going to sit up all
night reading when the family had retired, until her father
discovered and prevented her scheme. Then followed her experiences
as nursery-governess, her evening lessons under self-selected
masters, and her ultimate rise to a higher grade among the teaching
sisterhood. Next came another epoch. To the mansion in which she
was engaged returned a truant son, between whom and the heroine an
attachment sprang up. The master of the house was an ambitious
gentleman just knighted, who, perceiving the state of their hearts,
harshly dismissed the homeless governess, and rated the son, the
consequence being that the youthful pair resolved to marry secretly,
and carried their resolution into effect. The runaway journey came
next, and then a moving description of the death of the young
husband, and the terror of the bride.
The guests began to look perplexed, and one or two exchanged
whispers. This was not at all the kind of story that they had
expected; it was quite different from her usual utterances, the
nature of which they knew by report. Ethelberta kept her eye upon
Lord Mountclere. Soon, to her amazement, there was that in his face
which told her that he knew the story and its heroine quite well.
When she delivered the sentence ending with the professedly
fictitious words: 'I thus was reduced to great distress, and vainly
cast about me for directions what to do,' Lord Mountclere's manner
became so excited and anxious that it acted reciprocally upon
Ethelberta; her voice trembled, she moved her lips but uttered
nothing. To bring the story up to the date of that very evening had
been her intent, but it was beyond her power. The spell was broken;
she blushed with distress and turned away, for the folly of a
disclosure here was but too apparent.
Though every one saw that she had broken down, none of them appeared
to know the reason why, or to have the clue to her performance.
Fortunately Lord Mountclere came to her aid.
'Let the first part end here,' he said, rising and approaching her.