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Rhoda Fleming, v3 by George Meredith

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was very earnest and very sad, not seeming to have much strength.

"Do you mind taking my arm?" said Anthony.

She leaned her hand on his arm, and he dived across the road with her,
among omnibuses and cabs, shouting to them through the roar,--

"We're the Independence on two legs, warranted sound, and no
competition;" and saying to Dahlia: "Lor' bless you! there's no retort in
'em, or I'd say something worth hearing. It's like poking lions in cages
with raw meat, afore you get a chaffing-match out o' them. Some of 'em
know me. They'd be good at it, those fellows. I've heard of good things
said by 'em. But there they sit, and they've got no circulation--ain't
ready, except at old women, or when they catch you in a mess, and getting
the worst of it. Let me tell you; you'll never get manly chaff out of
big bundles o' fellows with ne'er an atom o' circulation. The river's
the place for that. I've heard uncommon good things on the river--not of
'em, but heard 'em. T' other's most part invention. And, they tell me,
horseback's a prime thing for chaff. Circulation, again. Sharp and
lively, I mean; not bawl, and answer over your back--most part impudence,
and nothing else--and then out of hearing. That sort o' chaff's
cowardly. Boys are stiff young parties--circulation--and I don't tackle
them pretty often, 'xcept when I'm going like a ball among nine-pins.
It's all a matter o' circulation. I say, my dear," Anthony addressed her
seriously, "you should never lay hold o' my arm when you see me going my
pace of an afternoon. I took you for a thief, and worse--I did.
That I did. Had you been waiting to see me?"

"A little," Dahlia replied, breathless.

"You have been ill?"

"A little," she said.

"You've written to the farm? O' course you have!"

"Oh! uncle, wait," moaned Dahlia.

"But, ha' you been sick, and not written home?"

"Wait; please, wait," she entreated him.

"I'll wait," said Anthony; "but that's no improvement to queerness; and
'queer''s your motto. Now we cross London Bridge. There's the Tower
that lived in times when no man was safe of keeping his own money, 'cause
of grasping kings--all claws and crown. I'm Republican as far as 'none
o' them'--goes. There's the ships. The sun rises behind 'em, and sets
afore 'em, and you may fancy, if you like, there's always gold in their
rigging. Gals o' your sort think I say, come! tell me, if you are a
lady?"

"No, uncle, no!" Dahlia cried, and then drawing in her breath, added:
"not to you."

"Last time I crossed this bridge with a young woman hanging on my arm, it
was your sister; they say she called on you, and you wouldn't see her;
and a gal so good and a gal so true ain't to be got for a sister every
day in the year! What are you pulling me for?"

Dahlia said nothing, but clung to him with a drooping head, and so they
hurried along, until Anthony stopped in front of a shop displaying cups
and muffins at the window, and leprous-looking strips of bacon, and
sausages that had angled for appetites till they had become pallid sodden
things, like washed-out bait.

Into this shop he led her, and they took possession of a compartment, and
ordered tea and muffins.

The shop was empty.

"It's one of the expenses of relationship," Anthony sighed, after probing
Dahlia unsatisfactorily to see whether she intended to pay for both, or
at least for herself; and finding that she had no pride at all. "My
sister marries your father, and, in consequence--well! a muffin now and
then ain't so very much. We'll forget it, though it is a breach, mind,
in counting up afterwards, and two-pences every day's equal to a good big
cannonball in the castle-wall at the end of the year. Have you written
home?"

Dahlia's face showed the bright anguish of unshed tears.

"Uncle-oh! speak low. I have been near death. I have been ill for so
long a time. I have come to you to hear about them--my father and Rhoda.
Tell me what they are doing, and do they sleep and eat well, and are not
in trouble? I could not write. I was helpless. I could not hold a pen.
Be kind, dear uncle, and do not reproach me. Please, tell me that they
have not been sorrowful."

A keenness shot from Anthony's eyes. "Then, where's your husband?" he
asked.

She made a sad attempt at smiling. "He is abroad."

"How about his relations? Ain't there one among 'em to write for you
when you're ill?"

"He... Yes, he has relatives. I could not ask them. Oh! I am not
strong, uncle; if you will only leave following me so with questions; but
tell me, tell me what I want to know."

"Well, then, you tell me where your husband banks," returned Anthony.

"Indeed, I cannot say."

"Do you," Anthony stretched out alternative fingers, "do you get money
from him to make payments in gold, or, do you get it in paper?"

She stared as in terror of a pit-fall. "Paper," she said at a venture.

"Well, then, name your Bank."

There was no cunning in her eye as she answered: "I don't know any bank,
except the Bank of England."

"Why the deuce didn't you say so at once--eh?" cried Anthony. "He gives
you bank-notes. Nothing better in the world. And he a'n't been givin'
you many lately--is that it? What's his profession, or business?"

"He is...he is no profession."

"Then, what is he? Is he a gentleman?"

"Yes," she breathed plaintively.

"Your husband's a gentleman. Eh?--and lost his money?"

"Yes."

"How did he lose it?"

The poor victim of this pertinacious interrogatory now beat about within
herself for succour. "I must not say," she replied.

"You're going to try to keep a secret, are ye?" said Anthony; and she, in
her relief at the pause to her torment, said: "I am," with a little
infantile, withering half-smile.

"Well, you've been and kept yourself pretty secret," the old man pursued.
"I suppose your husband's proud? He's proud, ain't he? He's of a family,
I'll be bound. Is he of a family? How did he like your dressing up like
a mill'ner gal to come down in the City and see me?"

Dahlia's guile was not ready. "He didn't mind," she said.

"He didn't mind, didn't he? He don't mind your cutting of your hair so?-
-didn't mind that?"

She shook her head. "No."

Anthony was down upon her like a hawk.

"Why, he's abroad!"

"Yes; I mean, he did not see me."

With which, in a minute, she was out of his grasp; but her heart beat
thick, her lips were dry, and her thoughts were in disorder.

"Then, he don't know you've been and got shaved, and a poll like a
turnip-head of a thief? That's something for him to learn, is it?"

The picture of her beauty gone, seared her eyes like heated brass. She
caught Anthony's arm with one firm hand to hold him silent, and with the
other hand covered her sight and let the fit of weeping pass.

When the tears had spent themselves, she relinquished her hold of the
astonished old man, who leaned over the table to her, and dominated by
the spirit of her touch, whispered, like one who had accepted a bond of
secresy: "Th' old farmer's well. So's Rhoda--my darkie lass. They've
taken on a bit. And then they took to religion for comfort. Th' old
farmer attends Methody meetin's, and quotes Scriptur' as if he was fixed
like a pump to the Book, and couldn't fetch a breath without quotin'.
Rhoda's oftenest along with your rector's wife down there, and does works
o' charity, sicknussin', readin'--old farmer does the preachin'. Old
mother Sumfit's fat as ever, and says her money's for you. Old Gammon
goes on eatin' of the dumplins. Hey! what a queer old ancient he is. He
seems to me to belong to a time afore ever money was. That Mr. Robert's
off...never been down there since he left, 'cause my darkie lass thought
herself too good for him. So she is!--too good for anybody. They're
going to leave the farm; sell, and come to London."

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Dahlia; "not going to leave the dear old farm, and
our lane, and the old oaks, leading up to the heath. Are they? Father
will miss it. Rhoda will mourn so. No place will ever be like that to
them. I love it better than any place on earth."

"That's queer," said Anthony. "Why do you refuse to go, or won't let
your husband take you down there; if you like the place that raving-like?
But 'queer''s your motto. The truth is this--you just listen. Hear me--
hush! I won't speak in a bawl. You're a reasonable being, and you
don't--that's to say, you do understand, the old farmer feels it
uncomfortable--"

"But I never helped him when I was there," said Dahlia, suddenly
shrinking in a perceptible tremble of acute divination. "I was no use.
I never helped him--not at all. I was no--no use!"

Anthony blinked his eyes, not knowing how it was that he had thus been
thrown out of his direct road. He began again, in his circumlocutory
delicacy: "Never mind; help or no help, what th' old farmer feels is--and
quite nat'ral. There's sensations as a father, and sensations as a man;
and what th' old farmer feels is--"

"But Rhoda has always been more to father than I have," Dahlia cried, now
stretching forward with desperate courage to confront her uncle, distract
his speech, and avert the saying of the horrible thing she dreaded.
"Rhoda was everything to him. Mother perhaps took to me--my mother!"

The line of her long underlie drawn sharp to check her tears, stopped her
speaking.

"All very well about Rhoda," said Anthony. "She's everything to me,
too."

"Every--everybody loves her!" Dahlia took him up.

"Let 'em, so long as they don't do no harm to her," was Anthony's remark.
There was an idea in this that he had said, and the light of it led off
his fancy. It was some time before he returned to the attack.

"Neighbours gossip a good deal. O' course you know that."

"I never listen to them," said Dahlia, who now felt bare at any instant
for the stab she saw coming.

"No, not in London; but country's different, and a man hearing of his
child 'it's very odd!' and 'keepin' away like that!' and 'what's become
of her?' and that sort of thing, he gets upset."

Dahlia swallowed in her throat, as in perfect quietude of spirit, and
pretended to see no meaning for herself in Anthony's words.

But she said, inadvertently, "Dear father!" and it gave Anthony his
opening.

"There it is. No doubt you're fond of him. You're fond o' th' old
farmer, who's your father. Then, why not make a entry into the village,
and show 'em? I loves my father, says you. I can or I can't bring my
husband, you seems to say; but I'm come to see my old father. Will you
go down to-morrow wi' me?"

"Oh!" Dahlia recoiled and abandoned all defence in a moan: "I can't--I
can't!"

"There," said Anthony, "you can't. You confess you can't; and there's
reason for what's in your father's mind. And he hearin' neighbours'
gossip, and it comes to him by a sort of extractin'--'Where's her
husband?' bein' the question; and 'She ain't got one,' the answer--it's
nat'ral for him to leave the place. I never can tell him how you went
off, or who's the man, lucky or not. You went off sudden, on a morning,
after kissin' me at breakfast; and no more Dahly visible. And he
suspects--he more'n suspects. Farm's up for sale. Th' old farmer thinks
it's unbrotherly of me not to go and buy, and I can't make him see I
don't understand land: it's about like changeing sovereigns for lumps o'
clay, in my notions; and that ain't my taste. Long and the short is--
people down there at Wrexby and all round say you ain't married. He
ain't got a answer for 'em; it's cruel to hear, and crueller to think:
he's got no answer, poor old farmer! and he's obliged to go inter exile.
Farm's up for sale."

Anthony thumped with his foot conclusively.

"Say I'm not married!" said Dahlia, and a bad colour flushed her
countenance. "They say--I'm not married. I am--I am. It's false. It's
cruel of father to listen to them--wicked people! base--base people! I
am married, uncle. Tell father so, and don't let him sell the farm.
Tell him, I said I was married. I am. I'm respected. I have only a
little trouble, and I'm sure others have too. We all have. Tell father
not to leave. It breaks my heart. Oh! uncle, tell him that from me."

Dahlia gathered her shawl close, and set an irresolute hand upon her
bonnet strings, that moved as if it had forgotten its purpose. She could
say no more. She could only watch her uncle's face, to mark the effect
of what she had said.

Anthony nodded at vacancy. His eyebrows were up, and did not descend
from their elevation. "You see, your father wants assurances; he wants
facts. They're easy to give, if give 'em you can. Ah, there's a weddin'
ring on your finger, sure enough. Plain gold--and, Lord! how bony your
fingers ha' got, Dahly. If you are a sinner, you're a bony one now, and
that don't seem so bad to me. I don't accuse you, my dear. Perhaps I'd
like to see your husband's banker's book. But what your father hears,
is--You've gone wrong."

Dahlia smiled in a consummate simulation of scorn.

"And your father thinks that's true."

She smiled with an equal simulation of saddest pity.

"And he says this: 'Proof,' he says, 'proof's what I want, that she's an
honest woman.' He asks for you to clear yourself. He says, 'It's hard
for an old man'--these are his words 'it's hard for an old man to hear
his daughter called...'"

Anthony smacked his hand tight on his open mouth.

He was guiltless of any intended cruelty, and Dahlia's first impulse when
she had got her breath, was to soothe him. She took his hand. "Dear
father! poor father! Dear, dear father!" she kept saying.

"Rhoda don't think it," Anthony assured her.

"No?" and Dahlia's bosom exulted up to higher pain.

"Rhoda declares you are married. To hear that gal fight for you--there's
ne'er a one in Wrexby dares so much as hint a word within a mile of her."

"My Rhoda! my sister!" Dahlia gasped, and the tears came pouring down her
face.

In vain Anthony lifted her tea-cup and the muffin-plate to her for
consolation. His hushings and soothings were louder than her weeping.
Incapable of resisting such a protest of innocence, he said, "And I don't
think it, neither."

She pressed his fingers, and begged him to pay the people of the shop: at
which sign of her being probably moneyless, Anthony could not help
mumbling, "Though I can't make out about your husband, and why he lets ye
be cropped--that he can't help, may be--but lets ye go about dressed like
a mill'ner gal, and not afford cabs. Is he very poor?"

She bowed her head.

"Poor?"

"He is very poor."

"Is he, or ain't he, a gentleman?"

Dahlia seemed torn by a new anguish.

"I see," said Anthony. "He goes and persuades you he is, and you've been
and found out he's nothin' o' the sort--eh? That'd be a way of
accounting for your queerness, more or less. Was it that fellow that
Wicklow gal saw ye with?"

Dahlia signified vehemently, "No."

"Then, I've guessed right; he turns out not to be a gentleman--eh, Dahly?
Go on noddin', if ye like. Never mind the shop people; we're
well-conducted, and that's all they care for. I say, Dahly, he ain't a
gentleman? You speak out or nod your head. You thought you'd caught a
gentleman and 'taint the case. Gentlemen ain't caught so easy. They all
of 'em goes to school, and that makes 'em knowin'. Come; he ain't a
gentleman?"

Dahlia's voice issued, from a terrible inward conflict, like a voice of
the tombs. "No," she said.

"Then, will you show him to me? Let me have a look at him."

Pushed from misery to misery, she struggled within herself again, and
again in the same hollow manner said, "Yes."

"You will?"

"Yes."

"Seein's believin'. If you'll show him to me, or me to him..."

"Oh! don't talk of it." Dahlia struck her fingers in a tight lock.

"I only want to set eye on him, my gal. Whereabouts does he live?"

"Down--down a great--very great way in the West."

Anthony stared.

She replied to the look: "In the West of London--a long way down."

"That's where he is?"

"Yes."

"I thought--hum!" went the old man suspiciously. When am I to see him?
Some day?"

"Yes; some day."

"Didn't I say, Sunday?"

"Next Sunday?"--Dahlia gave a muffled cry.

"Yes, next Sunday. Day after to-morrow. And I'll write off to-morrow,
and ease th' old farmer's heart, and Rhoda 'll be proud for you. She
don't care about gentleman--or no gentleman. More do th' old farmer.
It's let us, live and die respectable, and not disgrace father nor
mother. Old-fashioned's best-fashioned about them things, I think.
Come, you bring him--your husband--to me on Sunday, if you object to my
callin' on you. Make up your mind to."

"Not next Sunday--the Sunday after," Dahlia pleaded. "He is not here
now."

"Where is he?" Anthony asked.

"He's in the country."

Anthony pounced on her, as he had done previously.

"You said to me he was abroad."

"In the country--abroad. Not--not in the great cities. I could not make
known your wishes to him."

She gave this cool explanation with her eyelids fluttering timorously,
and rose as she uttered it, but with faint and ill-supporting limbs, for
during the past hour she had gone through the sharpest trial of her life,
and had decided for the course of her life. Anthony was witless thereof,
and was mystified by his incapability of perceiving where and how he had
been deluded; but he had eaten all the muffin on the plate, and her
rising proclaimed that she had no intention of making him call for
another; which was satisfactory. He drank off her cup of tea at a gulp.

The waitress named the sum he was to pay, and receiving a meditative look
in return for her air of expectancy after the amount had been laid on the
table, at once accelerated their passage from the shop by opening the
door.

"If ever I did give pennies, I'd give 'em to you," said Anthony, when he
was out of her hearing. "Women beat men in guessing at a man by his
face. Says she--you're honourable--you're legal--but prodigal ain't your
portion. That's what she says, without the words, unless she's a reader.
Now, then, Dahly, my lass, you take my arm. Buckle to. We'll to the
West. Don't th' old farmer pronounce like 'toe' the West? We'll 'toe'
the West. I can afford to laugh at them big houses up there.

"Where's the foundation, if one of them's sound? Why, in the City.

"I'll take you by our governor's house. You know--you know--don't ye,
Dahly, know we been suspecting his nephew? 'cause we saw him with you at
the theatre.

"I didn't suspect. I knew he found you there by chance, somehow. And I
noticed your dress there. No wonder your husband's poor. He wanted to
make you cut a figure as one of the handsomes, and that's as ruinous as
cabs--ha! ha!"

Anthony laughed, but did not reveal what had struck him.

"Sir William Blancove's house is a first-rater. I've been in it. He
lives in the library. All the other rooms--enter 'em, and if 'taint like
a sort of, a social sepulchre! Dashed if he can get his son to live with
him; though they're friends, and his son'll get all the money, and go
into Parliament, and cut a shine, never fear.

"By the way, I've seen Robert, too. He called on me at the Bank. Asked
after you.

"'Seen her?' says he.

"'No,' I says.

"'Ever see Mr. Edward Blancove here?' he says.

"I told him, I'd heard say, Mr. Edward was Continentalling. And then
Robert goes off. His opinion is you ain't in England; 'cause a policeman
he spoke to can't find you nowhere.

"'Come," says I, 'let's keep our detectives to catch thieves, and not go
distracting of 'em about a parcel o' women.'

"He's awfully down about Rhoda. She might do worse than take him. I
don't think he's got a ounce of a chance now Religion's set in, though
he's the mildest big 'un I ever come across. I forgot to haul him over
about what he 'd got to say about Mr. Edward. I did remark, I thought-
-ain't I right?--Mr. Algernon's not the man?--eh? How come you in the
theatre with him?"

Dahlia spoke huskily. "He saw me. He had seen me at home. It was an
accident."

"Exactly how I put it to Robert. And he agreed with me. There's sense
in that young man. Your husband wouldn't let you come to us there--eh?
because he...why was that?"

Dahlia had it on her lips to say it "Because he was poorer than I
thought;" but in the intensity of her torment, the wretchedness of this
lie, revolted her. "Oh! for God's sake, uncle, give me peace about
that."

The old man murmured: "Ay, ay;" and thought it natural that she should
shun an allusion to the circumstance.

They crossed one of the bridges, and Dahlia stopped and said: "Kiss me,
uncle."

"I ain't ashamed," said Anthony.

This being over, she insisted on his not accompanying her farther.

Anthony made her pledge her word of honour as a married woman, to bring
her husband to the identical spot where they stood at three o'clock in
the afternoon of Sunday week. She promised it.

"I'll write home to th' old farmer--a penny," said Anthony, showing that
he had considered the outlay and was prepared for it.

"And uncle," she stipulated in turn, "they are not to see me yet. Very
soon; but not yet. Be true to me, and come alone, or it will be your
fault--I shall not appear. Now, mind. And beg them not to leave the
farm. It will kill father. Can you not," she said, in the faded
sweetness of her speech, "could you not buy it, and let father be your
tenant, uncle? He would pay you regularly."

Anthony turned a rough shoulder on her.

"Good-bye, Dahly. You be a good girl, and all 'll go right. Old farmer
talks about praying. If he didn't make it look so dark to a chap, I'd be
ready to fancy something in that. You try it. You try, Dahly. Say a
bit of a prayer to-night."

"I pray every night," Dahlia answered.

Her look of meek despair was hauntingly sad with Anthony on his way home.

He tracked her sorrowfulness to the want of money; and another of his
terrific vague struggles with the money-demon set in.

CHAPTER XXVI

Sir William Blancove did business at his Bank till the hour of three in
the afternoon, when his carriage conveyed him to a mews near the park of
Fashion, where he mounted horse and obeyed the bidding of his doctor for
a space, by cantering in a pleasant, portly, cock-horsey style, up and
down the Row.

It was the day of the great race on Epsom Downs, and elderly gentlemen
pricked by the doctors were in the ascendant in all London congregations
on horseback.

Like Achilles (if the bilious Shade will permit the impudent comparison),
they dragged their enemy, Gout, at their horses' heels for a term, and
vengeance being accomplished went to their dinners and revived him.

Sir William was disturbed by his son's absence from England. A youth to
whom a baronetcy and wealth are to be bequeathed is an important
organism; and Sir William, though his faith reposed in his son, was
averse to his inexplicably prolonged residence in the French metropolis,
which, a school for many things, is not a school for the study of our
Parliamentary system, and still less for that connubial career Sir
William wished him to commence.

Edward's delightful cynical wit--the worldly man's profundity--and his
apt quotations of the wit of others, would have continued to exercise
their charm, if Sir William had not wanted to have him on the spot that
he might answer certain questions pertinaciously put by Mama Gosling on
behalf of her daughter.

"There is no engagement," Edward wrote; "let the maiden wait and discern
her choice: let her ripen;" and he quoted Horace up to a point.

Nor could his father help smiling and completing the lines. He laughed,
too, as he read the jog of a verse: "Were I to marry the Gosling, pray,
which would be the goose?"

He laughed, but with a shade of disappointment in the fancy that he
perceived a wearing away of the robust mental energy which had
characterized his son: and Sir William knew the danger of wit, and how
the sharp blade cuts the shoots of the sapling. He had thought that
Edward was veritable tough oak, and had hitherto encouraged his light
play with the weapon.

It became a question with him now, whether Wit and Ambition may dwell
together harmoniously in a young man: whether they will not give such
manifestation of their social habits as two robins shut in a cage will
do: of which pretty birds one will presently be discovered with a
slightly ruffled bosom amid the feathers of his defunct associate.

Thus painfully revolving matters of fact and feeling, Sir William
cantered, and, like a cropped billow blown against by the wind, drew up
in front of Mrs. Lovell, and entered into conversation with that lady,
for the fine needles of whose brain he had the perfect deference of an
experienced senior. She, however, did not give him comfort. She
informed him that something was wrong with Edward; she could not tell
what. She spoke of him languidly, as if his letters contained wearisome
trifling.

"He strains to be Frenchy," she said. "It may be a good compliment for
them to receive: it's a bad one for him to pay."

"Alcibiades is not the best of models," murmured Sir William. "He
doesn't mention Miss Gosling."

"Oh dear, yes. I have a French acrostic on her name."

"An acrostic!"

A more contemptible form of mental exercise was not to be found,
according to Sir William's judgement.

"An acrostic!" he made it guttural. "Well!"

"He writes word that he hears Moliere every other night. That can't harm
him. His reading is principally Memoirs, which I think I have heard you
call 'The backstairs of history.' We are dull here, and I should not
imagine it to be a healthy place to dwell in, if the absence of friends
and the presence of sunshine conspire to dullness. Algy, of course, is
deep in accounts to-day?"

Sir William remarked that he had not seen the young man at the office,
and had not looked for him; but the mention of Algernon brought something
to his mind, and he said,--

"I hear he is continually sending messengers from the office to you
during the day. You rule him with a rod of iron. Make him discontinue
that practice. I hear that he despatched our old porter to you yesterday
with a letter marked 'urgent.'"

Mrs. Lovell laughed pleadingly for Algernon.

"No; he shall not do it again. It occurred yesterday, and on no other
occasion that I am aware of. He presumes that I am as excited as he is
himself about the race--"

The lady bowed to a passing cavalier; a smarting blush dyed her face.

"He bets, does he!" said Sir William. "A young man, whose income, at the
extreme limit, is two hundred pounds a year."

"May not the smallness of the amount in some degree account for the
betting?" she asked whimsically. "You know, I bet a little--just a
little. If I have but a small sum, I already regard it as a stake; I am
tempted to bid it fly."

"In his case, such conduct puts him on the high road to rascality," said
Sir William severely. "He is doing no good."

"Then the squire is answerable for such conduct, I think."

"You presume to say that he is so because he allows his son very little
money to squander? How many young men have to contain their expenses
within two hundred pounds a year!"

"Not sons of squires and nephews of baronets," said Mrs. Lovell. "Adieu!
I think I see a carrier-pigeon flying overhead, and, as you may suppose,
I am all anxiety."

Sir William nodded to her. He disliked certain of her ways; but they
were transparent bits of audacity and restlessness pertaining to a
youthful widow, full of natural dash; and she was so sweetly mistress of
herself in all she did, that he never supposed her to be needing caution
against excesses. Old gentlemen have their pets, and Mrs. Lovell was a
pet of Sir William's.

She was on the present occasion quite mistress of herself, though the
stake was large. She was mistress of herself when Lord Suckling, who had
driven from the Downs and brushed all save a spot of white dust out of
his baby moustache to make himself presentable, rode up to her to say
that the horse Templemore was beaten, and that his sagacity in always
betting against favourites would, in this last instance, transfer a "pot
of money" from alien pockets to his own.

"Algy Blancove's in for five hundred to me," he said; adding with energy,
"I hope you haven't lost? No, don't go and dash my jolly feeling by
saying you have. It was a fine heat; neck-and-neck past the Stand. Have
you?"

"A little," she confessed. "It's a failing of mine to like favourites.
I'm sorry for Algy."

"I'm afraid he's awfully hit."

"What makes you think so?"

"He took it so awfully cool."

"That may mean the reverse."

"It don't with him. But, Mrs. Lovell, do tell me you haven't lost. Not
much, is it? Because, I know there's no guessing, when you are
concerned."

The lady trifled with her bridle-rein.

"I really can't tell you yet. I may have lost. I haven't won. I'm not
cool-blooded enough to bet against favourites. Addio, son of Fortune!
I'm at the Opera to-night."

As she turned her horse from Lord Suckling, the cavalier who had saluted
her when she was with Sir William passed again. She made a signal to her
groom, and sent the man flying in pursuit of him, while she turned and
cantered. She was soon overtaken.

"Madam, you have done me the honour."

"I wish to know why it is your pleasure to avoid me, Major Waring?"

"In this place?"

"Wherever we may chance to meet."

"I must protest."

"Do not. The thing is evident."

They rode together silently.

Her face was toward the sunset. The light smote her yellow hair, and
struck out her grave and offended look, as in a picture.

"To be condemned without a hearing!" she said. "The most dastardly
criminal gets that. Is it imagined that I have no common feelings? Is
it manly to follow me with studied insult? I can bear the hatred of
fools. Contempt I have not deserved. Dead! I should be dead, if my
conscience had once reproached me. I am a mark for slander, and brave
men should beware of herding with despicable slanderers."

She spoke, gazing frontward all the while. The pace she maintained in no
degree impeded the concentrated passion of her utterance.

But it was a more difficult task for him, going at that pace, to make
explanations, and she was exquisitely fair to behold! The falling beams
touched her with a mellow sweetness that kindled bleeding memories.

"If I defend myself?" he said.

"No. All I ask is that you should Accuse me. Let me know what I have
done--done, that I have not been bitterly punished for? What is it? what
is it? Why do you inflict a torture on me whenever you see me? Not by
word, not by look. You are too subtle in your cruelty to give me
anything I can grasp. You know how you wound me. And I am alone."

"That is supposed to account for my behaviour?"

She turned her face to him. "Oh, Major blaring! say nothing unworthy of
yourself. That would be a new pain to me."

He bowed. In spite of a prepossessing anger, some little softness crept
through his heart.

"You may conceive that I have dropped my pride," she said. "That is the
case, or my pride is of a better sort."

"Madam, I fully hope and trust," said he.

"And believe," she added, twisting his words to the ironic tongue. "You
certainly must believe that my pride has sunk low. Did I ever speak to
you in this manner before?"

"Not in this manner, I can attest."

"Did I speak at all, when I was hurt?" She betrayed that he had planted
a fresh sting.

"If my recollection serves me," said he, "your self-command was
remarkable."

Mrs. Lovell slackened her pace.

"Your recollection serves you too well, Major Waring. I was a girl. You
judged the acts of a woman. I was a girl, and you chose to put your own
interpretation on whatever I did. You scourged me before the whole army.
Was not that enough? I mean, enough for you? For me, perhaps not, for I
have suffered since, and may have been set apart to suffer. I saw you in
that little church at Warbeach; I met you in the lanes; I met you on the
steamer; on the railway platform; at the review. Everywhere you kept up
the look of my judge. You! and I have been 'Margaret' to you. Major
Waring, how many a woman in my place would attribute your relentless
condemnation of her to injured vanity or vengeance? In those days I
trifled with everybody. I played with fire. I was ignorant of life. I
was true to my husband; and because I was true, and because I was
ignorant, I was plunged into tragedies I never suspected. This is to be
what you call a coquette. Stamping a name saves thinking. Could I read
my husband's temper? Would not a coquette have played her cards
differently? There never was need for me to push my husband to a
contest. I never had the power to restrain him. Now I am wiser; and now
is too late; and now you sit in judgement on me. Why? It is not fair;
it is unkind."

Tears were in her voice, though not in her eyes.

Major Waring tried to study her with the coolness of a man who has learnt
to doubt the truth of women; but he had once yearned in a young man's
frenzy of love to take that delicate shape in his arms, and he was not
proof against the sedate sweet face and keen sad ring of the voice.

He spoke earnestly.

"You honour me by caring for my opinion. The past is buried. I have
some forgiveness to ask. Much, when I think of it--very much. I did you
a public wrong. From a man to a woman it was unpardonable. It is a blot
on my career. I beg you humbly to believe that I repent it."

The sun was flaming with great wings red among the vapours; and in the
recollection of the two, as they rode onward facing it, arose that day of
the forlorn charge of English horse in the Indian jungle, the thunder and
the dust, the fire and the dense knot of the struggle. And like a ghost
sweeping across her eyeballs, Mrs. Lovell beheld, part in his English
freshness, part ensanguined, the image of the gallant boy who had ridden
to perish at the spur of her mad whim. She forgot all present
surroundings.

"Percy!" she said.

"Madam?"

"Percy!"

"Margaret?"

"Oh, what an undying day, Percy!"

And then she was speechless.

CHAPTER XXVII

The Park had been empty, but the opera-house was full; and in the
brilliance of the lights and divine soaring of the music, the genius of
Champagne luncheons discussed the fate of the horse Templemore; some, as
a matter of remote history; some, as another delusion in horse-flesh the
greater number, however, with a determination to stand by the beaten
favourite, though he had fallen, and proclaim him the best of racers and
an animal foully mishandled on the course. There were whispers, and
hints, and assertions; now implicating the jockey, now the owner of
Templemore. The Manchester party, and the Yorkshire party, and their
diverse villanous tricks, came under review. Several offered to back
Templemore at double the money they had lost, against the winner. A
favourite on whom money has been staked, not only has friends, but in
adversity he is still believed in; nor could it well be otherwise, for
the money, no doubt, stands for faith, or it would never have been put up
to the risks of a forfeit.

Foremost and wildest among the excited young men who animated the stalls,
and rushed about the lobby, was Algernon. He was the genius of Champagne
luncheon incarnate. On him devolves, for a time, the movement of this
story, and we shall do well to contemplate him, though he may seem
possibly to be worthless. What is worthless, if it be well looked at?
Nay, the most worthless creatures are most serviceable for examination,
when the microscope is applied to them, as a simple study of human
mechanism. This youth is one of great Nature's tom-fools: an elegant
young gentleman outwardly, of the very large class who are simply the
engines of their appetites, and, to the philosophic eye, still run wild
in woods, as did the primitive nobleman that made a noise in the earlier
world.

Algernon had this day lost ten times more than he could hope to be in a
position to pay within ten years, at the least, if his father continued
to argue the matter against Providence, and live. He had lost, and might
speedily expect to be posted in all good betting circles as something not
pleasantly odoriferous for circles where there is no betting.
Nevertheless, the youth was surcharged with gaiety. The soul of mingled
chicken and wine illumined his cheeks and eyes. He laughed and joked
about the horse--his horse, as he called Templemore--and meeting Lord
Suckling, won five sovereigns of him by betting that the colours of one
of the beaten horses, Benloo, were distinguished by a chocolate bar. The
bet was referred to a dignified umpire, who, a Frenchman, drew his right
hand down an imperial tuft of hair dependent from his chin, and gave a
decision in Algernon's favour. Lord Suckling paid the money on the spot,
and Algernon pocketed it exulting. He had the idea that it was the first
start in his making head against the flood. The next instant he could
have pitched himself upon the floor and bellowed. For, a soul of chicken
and wine, lightly elated, is easily dashed; and if he had but said to
Lord Suckling that, it might as well be deferred, the thing would have
become a precedent, and his own debt might have been held back. He went
on saying, as he rushed forward alone: "Never mind, Suckling. Oh, hang
it! put it in your pocket;" and the imperative necessity for talking, and
fancying what was adverse to fact, enabled him to feel for a time as if
he had really acted according to the prompting of his wisdom. It amazed
him to see people sitting and listening. The more he tried it, the more
unendurable it became. Those sitters and loungers appeared like absurd
petrifactions to him. If he abstained from activity for ever so short a
term, he was tormented by a sense of emptiness; and, as he said to
himself, a man who has eaten a chicken, and part of a game-pie, and drunk
thereto Champagne all day, until the popping of the corks has become as
familiar as minute-guns, he can hardly be empty. It was peculiar. He
stood, just for the sake of investigating the circumstance--it was so
extraordinary. The music rose in a triumphant swell. And now he was
sure that he was not to be blamed for thinking this form of entertainment
detestable. How could people pretend to like it? "Upon my honour!" he
said aloud. The hypocritical nonsense of pretending to like opera-music
disgusted him.

"Where is it, Algy?" a friend of his and Suckling's asked, with a languid
laugh.

"Where's what?"

"Your honour."

"My honour? Do you doubt my honour?" Algernon stared defiantly at the
inoffensive little fellow.

"Not in the slightest. Very sorry to, seeing that I have you down in my
book."

"Latters? Ah, yes," said Algernon, musically, and letting his under-lip
hang that he might restrain the impulse to bite it. "Fifty, or a
hundred, is it? I lost my book on the Downs."

"Fifty; but wait till settling-day, my good fellow, and don't fiddle at
your pockets as if I'd been touching you up for the money. Come and sup
with me to-night."

Algernon muttered a queer reply in a good-tempered tone, and escaped him.

He was sobered by that naming of settling-day. He could now listen to
the music with attention, if not with satisfaction. As he did so, the
head of drowned memory rose slowly up through the wine-bubbles in his
brain, and he flung out a far thought for relief: "How, if I were to
leave England with that dark girl Rhoda at Wrexby, marry her like a man,
and live a wild ramping life in the colonies?" A curtain closed on the
prospect, but if memory was resolved that it would not be drowned, he had
at any rate dosed it with something fresh to occupy its digestion.

His opera-glass had been scouring the house for a sight of Mrs. Lovell,
and at last she appeared in Lord Elling's box.

"I can give you two minutes, Algy," she said, as he entered and found her
opportunely alone. "We have lost, I hear. No interjection, pray. Let
it be, fors l'honneur, with us. Come to me to-morrow. You have tossed
trinkets into my lap. They were marks of esteem, my cousin. Take them
in the same light back from me. Turn them into money, and pay what is
most pressing. Then go to Lord Suckling. He is a good boy, and won't
distress you; but you must speak openly to him at once. Perhaps he will
help you. I will do my best, though whether I can, I have yet to learn."

"Dear Mrs. Lovell!" Algernon burst out, and the corners of his mouth
played nervously.

He liked her kindness, and he was wroth at the projected return of his
gifts. A man's gifts are an exhibition of the royalty of his soul, and
they are the last things which should be mentioned to him as matters to
be blotted out when he is struggling against ruin. The lady had blunt
insight just then. She attributed his emotion to gratitude.

"The door may be opened at any minute," she warned him.

"It's not about myself," he said; "it's you. I believe I tempted you to
back the beastly horse. And he would have won--a fair race, and he would
have won easy. He was winning. He passed the stand a head ahead. He
did win. It's a scandal to the Turf. There's an end of racing in
England. It's up. They've done for themselves to-day. There's a gang.
It's in the hands of confederates."

"Think so, if it consoles you," said Mrs. Lovell, "don't mention your
thoughts, that is all."

"I do think so. Why should we submit to a robbery? It's a sold affair.
That Frenchman, Baron Vistocq, says we can't lift our heads after it."

"He conducts himself with decency, I hope."

"Why, he's won!"

"Imitate him."

Mrs. Lovell scanned the stalls.

"Always imitate the behaviour of the winners when you lose," she resumed.
"To speak of other things: I have had no letter of late from Edward. He
should be anxious to return. I went this morning to see that unhappy
girl. She consents."

"Poor creature," murmured Algernon; and added "Everybody wants money."

"She decides wisely; for it is the best she can do. She deserves pity,
for she has been basely used."

"Poor old Ned didn't mean," Algernon began pleading on his cousin's
behalf, when Mrs. Lovell's scornful eye checked the feeble attempt.

"I am a woman, and, in certain cases, I side with my sex."

"Wasn't it for you?"

"That he betrayed her? If that were so, I should be sitting in ashes."

Algernon's look plainly declared that he thought her a mystery.

The simplicity of his bewilderment made her smile.

"I think your colonies are the right place for you, Algy, if you can get
an appointment; which must be managed by-and-by. Call on me to-morrow,
as I said."

Algernon signified positively that he would not, and doggedly refused to
explain why.

"Then I will call on you," said Mrs. Lovell.

He was going to say something angrily, when Mrs. Lovell checked him:
"Hush! she is singing."

Algernon listened to the prima donna in loathing; he had so much to
inquire about, and so much to relate: such a desire to torment and be
comforted!

Before he could utter a word further, the door opened, and Major Waring
appeared, and he beheld Mrs. Lovell blush strangely. Soon after, Lord
Elling came in, and spoke the ordinary sentence or two concerning the
day's topic--the horse Templemore. Algernon quitted the box. His ears
were surcharged with sound entirely foreign to his emotions, and he
strolled out of the house and off to his dingy chambers, now tenanted by
himself alone, and there faced the sealed letters addressed to Edward,
which had, by order, not been forwarded. No less than six were in
Dahlia's handwriting. He had imagination sufficient to conceive the
lamentations they contained, and the reproach they were to his own
subserviency in not sending them. He looked at the postmarks. The last
one was dated two months back.

"How can she have cared a hang for Ned, if she's ready to go and marry a
yokel, for the sake of a home and respectability?" he thought, rather in
scorn; and, having established this contemptuous opinion of one of the
sex, he felt justified in despising all. "Just like women! They--no!
Peggy Lovell isn't. She's a trump card, and she's a coquette--can't help
being one. It's in the blood. I never saw her look so confoundedly
lovely as when that fellow came into the box. One up, one down. Ned's
away, and it's this fellow's turn. Why the deuce does she always think
I'm a boy? or else, she pretends to. But I must give my mind to
business."

He drew forth the betting-book which his lively fancy had lost on the
Downs. Prompted by an afterthought, he went to the letter-box, saying,--

"Who knows? Wait till the day's ended before you curse your luck."

There was a foreign letter in it from Edward, addressed to him, and
another addressed to "Mr. Blancuv," that he tore open and read with
disgusted laughter. It was signed "N. Sedgett." Algernon read it twice
over, for the enjoyment of his critical detection of the vile grammar,
with many "Oh! by Joves!" and a concluding, "This is a curiosity!"

It was a countryman's letter, ill-spelt, involved, and of a character to
give Algernon a fine scholarly sense of superiority altogether novel.
Everybody abused Algernon for his abuse of common Queen's English in his
epistles: but here was a letter in comparison with which his own were
doctorial, and accordingly he fell upon it with an acrimonious rapture of
pedantry known to dull wits that have by extraordinary hazard pounced on
a duller.

"You're 'willing to forgeit and forgeive,' are you, you dog!" he
exclaimed, half dancing. "You'd forge anything, you rascal, if you could
disguise your hand--that, I don't doubt. You 'expeck the thousand pound
to be paid down the day of my marriage,' do you, you impudent ruffian!
'acording to agremint.' What a mercenary vagabond this is!"

Algernon reflected a minute. The money was to pass through his hands.
He compressed a desire to dispute with Sedgett that latter point about
the agreement, and opened Edward's letter.

It contained an order on a firm of attorneys to sell out so much Bank
Stock and pay over one thousand pounds to Mr. A. Blancove.

The beautiful concision of style in this document gave Algernon a feeling
of profound deference toward the law and its officers.

"Now, that's the way to Write!" he said.

CHAPTER XXVIII

Accompanying this pleasant, pregnant bit of paper, possessed of such
admirable literary excellence, were the following flimsy lines from
Edward's self, to Algernon incomprehensible.

As there is a man to be seen behind these lines in the dull unconscious
process of transformation from something very like a villain to something
by a few degrees more estimable, we may as well look at the letter in
full.

It begins with a neat display of consideration for the person addressed,
common to letters that are dictated by overpowering egoism:--

"Dear Algy,--I hope you are working and attending regularly to
office business. Look to that and to your health at present.
Depend upon it, there is nothing like work. Fix your teeth in it.
Work is medicine. A truism! Truisms, whether they lie in the
depths of thought, or on the surface, are at any rate the pearls of
experience.

"I am coming home. Let me know the instant this affair is over. I
can't tell why I wait here. I fall into lethargies. I write to no
one but to you. Your supposition that I am one of the hangers-on of
the coquette of her time, and that it is for her I am seeking to get
free, is conceived with your usual discrimination. For Margaret
Lovell? Do you imagine that I desire to be all my life kicking the
beam, weighed in capricious scales, appraised to the direct nicety,
petulantly taken up, probed for my weakest point, and then flung
into the grate like a child's toy? That's the fate of the several
asses who put on the long-eared Lovell-livery.

"All women are the same. Know one, know all. Aware of this, and
too wise to let us study them successfully, Nature pretty language
this is for you, Algy! I can do nothing but write nonsense. I am
sick of life. I feel choked. After a month, Paris is sweet
biscuit.

"I have sent you the order for the money. If it were two, or
twenty, thousand pounds, it would be the same to me.

"I swear to heaven that my lowest cynical ideas of women, and the
loathing with which their simply animal vagaries inspires a
thoughtful man, are distanced and made to seem a benevolent
criticism, by the actualities of my experience. I say that you
cannot put faith in a woman. Even now, I do not--it's against
reason--I do not believe that she--this Dahlia--means to go through
with it. She is trying me. I have told her that she was my wife.
Her self-respect--everything that keeps a woman's head up--must have
induced her to think so. Why, she is not a fool! How can she mean
to give herself to an ignorant country donkey? She does not: mark
me. For her, who is a really--I may say, the most refined nature I
have ever met, to affect this, and think of deceiving me, does not
do credit to her wits--and she is not without her share.

"I did once mean that she should be honourably allied to me. It's
comforting that the act is not the wife of the intention, or I
should now be yoked to a mere thing of the seasons and the hours--a
creature whose 'No' to-day is the 'Yes' of to-morrow. Women of this
cast are sure to end comfortably for themselves, they are so
obedient to the whips of Providence.

"But I tell you candidly, Algy, I believe she's pushing me, that she
may see how far I will let her go. I do not permit her to play at
this game with me." The difficulty is in teaching women that we are
not constituted as they are, and that we are wilfully earnest, while
they, who never can be so save under compulsion, carry it on with
us, expecting that at a certain crisis a curtain will drop, and we
shall take a deep breath, join hands, and exclaim, 'What an exciting
play!'--weeping luxuriously. The actualities of life must be
branded on their backs--you can't get their brains to apprehend
them.

"Poor things! they need pity. I am ready to confess I did not keep
my promise to her. I am very sorry she has been ill. Of course,
having no brains--nothing but sensations wherewith to combat every
new revolution of fortune, she can't but fall ill. But I think of
her; and I wish to God I did not. She is going to enter her own
sphere--though, mark me, it will turn out as I say, that, when it
comes to the crisis, there will be shrieks and astonishment that the
curtain doesn't fall and the whole resolve itself to what they call
a dream in our language, a farce.

"I am astonished that there should be no letters for me. I can
understand her not writing at first; but apparently she cherishes
rancour. It is not like her. I can't help thinking there must be
one letter from her, and that you keep it back. I remember that I
told you when I left England I desired to have no letter forwarded
to me, but I have repeatedly asked you since if there was a letter,
and it appears to me that you have shuffled in your answer. I
merely wish to know if there is a letter; because I am at present
out in my study of her character. It seems monstrous that she
should never have written! Don't you view it in that light? To be
ready to break with me, without one good-bye!--it's gratifying, but
I am astonished; for so gentle and tender a creature, such as I knew
her, never existed to compare with her. Ce qui est bien la preuve
que je ne la connaissais pas! I thought I did, which was my error.
I have a fatal habit of trusting to my observation less than to my
divining wit; and La Rochefoucauld is right: 'on est quelquefois un
sot avec de l'esprit; mais on ne Pest jamais avec du jugement.'
Well! better be deceived in a character than doubt it.

"This will soon be over. Then back to the dear old dusky chambers,
with the pick and the axe in the mine of law, till I strike a gold
vein, and follow it to the woolsack. I want peace. I begin to hate
pleading. I hope to meet Death full-wigged. By my troth, I will
look as grimly at him as he at me. Meantime, during a vacation, I
will give you holiday (or better, in the February days, if I can
spare time and Equity is dispensed without my aid), dine you, and
put you in the whirl of Paris. You deserve a holiday. Nunc est
bibendum! You shall sing it. Tell me what you think of her
behaviour. You are a judge of women. I think I am developing
nerves. In fact, work is what I need--a file to bite. And send me
also the name of this man who has made the bargain--who is to be her
husband. Give me a description of him. It is my duty to see that
he has principle; at least we're bound to investigate his character,
if it's really to go on. I wonder whether you will ever perceive
the comedy of, life. I doubt whether a man is happier when he does
perceive it. Perhaps the fact is, that he has by that time lost his
power of laughter; except in the case of here and there a very
tremendous philosopher.

"I believe that we comic creatures suffer more than your tragic
personages. We, do you see, are always looking to be happy and
comfortable; but in a tragedy, the doomed wretches are
liver-complexioned from the opening act. Their laughter is the owl:
their broadest smile is twilight. All the menacing horrors of an
eclipse are ours, for we have a sun over us; but they are born in
shades, with the tuck of a curtain showing light, and little can be
taken from them; so that they find scarce any terrors in the
inevitable final stroke. No; the comedy is painfullest. You and I,
Algy, old bachelors, will earn the right just to chuckle. We will
take the point of view of science, be the stage carpenters, and let
the actors move on and off. By this, we shall learn to take a
certain pride in the machinery. To become stage carpenter, is to
attain to the highest rank within the reach of intellectual man.
But your own machinery must be sound, or you can't look after that
of the theatre. Don't over-tax thy stomach, O youth!

"And now, farewell, my worthy ass! You have been thinking me one
through a fair half of this my letter, so I hasten to be in advance
of you, by calling you one. You are one: I likewise am one. We are
all one. The universal language is hee-haw, done in a grievous
yawn.

"Yours,

"Edward B.

"P.S.--Don't fail to send a letter by the next post; then, go and
see her; write again exactly what she says, and let me know the
man's name. You will not lose a minute. Also, don't waste ink in
putting Mrs. Lovell's name to paper: I desire not to hear anything
of the woman."

Algernon read this letter in a profound mystification, marvelling how it
could possibly be that Edward and Mrs. Lovell had quarrelled once more,
and without meeting.

They had parted, he knew or supposed that he knew, under an engagement to
arrange the preliminaries of an alliance, when Edward should return from
France; in other words, when Edward had thrown grave-dust on a naughty
portion of his past; severing an unwise connection. Such had certainly
been Edward's view of the matter. But Mrs. Lovell had never spoken to
Algernon on that subject. She had spoken willingly and in deep sympathy
of Dahlia. She had visited her, pitied her, comforted her; and Algernon
remembered that she had looked very keen and pinched about the mouth in
alluding to Dahlia; but how she and Edward had managed to arrive at
another misunderstanding was a prodigious puzzle to him; and why, if
their engagement had snapped, each consented to let Dahlia's marriage
(which was evidently distasteful to both) go on to the conclusion of the
ceremony, he could not comprehend. There were, however, so many things
in the world that he could not comprehend, and he had grown so
accustomed, after an effort to master a difficulty, to lean his head back
upon downy ignorance, that he treated this significant letter of Edward's
like a tough lesson, and quietly put it by, together with every
recommendation it contained. For all that was practical in it, it might
just as well not have been written.

The value of the letter lies in the exhibition it presents of a rather
mark-worthy young man, who has passed through the hands of a--(what I
must call her; and in doing so, I ask pardon of all the Jack Cades of
Letters, who, in the absence of a grammatical king and a government, sit
as lords upon the English tongue) a crucible woman. She may be
inexcusable herself; but you for you to be base, for you to be cowardly,
even to betray a weakness, though it be on her behalf,--though you can
plead that all you have done is for her, yea, was partly instigated by
her,--it will cause her to dismiss you with the inexorable contempt of
Nature, when she has tried one of her creatures and found him wanting.

Margaret Lovell was of this description: a woman fashioned to do both
harm and good, and more of harm than of good; but never to sanction a
scheme of evil or blink at it in alliance with another: a woman, in
contact with whom you were soon resolved to your component elements.
Separated from a certain fascination that there was for her in Edward's
acerb wit, she saw that he was doing a dastardly thing in cold blood. We
need not examine their correspondence. In a few weeks she had contrived
to put a chasm between them as lovers. Had he remained in England,
boldly facing his own evil actions, she would have been subjugated, for
however keenly she might pierce to the true character of a man, the show
of an unflinching courage dominated her; but his departure, leaving all
the brutality to be done for him behind his back, filled this woman with
a cutting spleen. It is sufficient for some men to know that they are
seen through, in order to turn away in loathing from her whom they have
desired; and when they do thus turn away, they not uncommonly turn with a
rush of old affection to those who have generously trusted them in the
days past, and blindly thought them estimable beings.

Algernon was by no means gifted to perceive whether this was the case
with his cousin in Paris.

CHAPTER XXIX

So long as the fool has his being in the world, he will be a part of
every history, nor can I keep him from his place in a narrative that is
made to revolve more or less upon its own wheels. Algernon went to bed,
completely forgetting Edward and his own misfortunes, under the influence
of the opiate of the order for one thousand pounds, to be delivered to
him upon application. The morning found him calmly cheerful, until a
little parcel was brought to his door, together with a note from Mrs.
Lovell, explaining that the parcel contained those jewels, his precious
gifts of what she had insultingly chosen to call "esteem" for her.

Algernon took it in his hand, and thought of flinging it through the
window; but as the window happened to be open, he checked the impulse,
and sent it with great force into a corner of the room: a perfectly
fool-like proceeding, for the fool is, after his fashion, prudent, and
will never, if he can help it, do himself thorough damage, that he may
learn by it and be wiser.

"I never stand insult," he uttered, self-approvingly, and felt manlier.
"No; not even from you, ma'am," he apostrophized Mrs. Lovell's portrait,
that had no rival now upon the wall, and that gave him a sharp fight for
the preservation of his anger, so bewitching she was to see. Her not
sending up word that she wished him to come to her rendered his battle
easier.

"It looks rather like a break between us," he said. "If so, you won't
find me so obedient to your caprices, Mrs. Margaret L.; though you are a
pretty woman, and know it. Smile away. I prefer a staunch, true sort of
a woman, after all. And the colonies it must be, I begin to suspect."
This set him conjuring before his eyes the image of Rhoda, until he
cried, "I'll be hanged if the girl doesn't haunt me!" and considered the
matter with some curiosity.

He was quickly away, and across the square of Lincoln's Inn Fields to the
attorney's firm, where apparently his coming was expected, and he was
told that the money would be placed in his hands on the following day.
He then communicated with Edward, in the brief Caesarian tongue of the
telegraph: "All right. Stay. Ceremony arranged." After which, he
hailed a skimming cab, and pronouncing the word "Epsom," sank back in it,
and felt in his breast-pocket for his cigar-case, without casting one
glance of interest at the deep fit of cogitation the cabman had been
thrown into by the suddenness of the order.

"Dash'd if it ain't the very thing I went and gone and dreamed last
night," said the cabman, as he made his dispositions to commence the
journey.

Certain boys advised him to whip it away as hard as he could, and he
would come in the winner.

"Where shall I grub, sir?" the cabman asked through the little door
above, to get some knowledge of the quality of his fare.

"Eat your 'grub' on the course," said Algernon.

"Ne'er a hamper to take up nowheres, is there, sir?"

"Do you like the sight of one?"

"Well, it ain't what I object to."

"Then go fast, my man, and you will soon see plenty."

"If you took to chaffin' a bit later in the day, it'd impart more
confidence to my bosom," said the cabman; but this he said to that bosom
alone.

"Ain't no particular colours you'd like me to wear, is there? I'll get a
rosette, if you like, sir, and enter in triumph. Gives ye something to
stand by. That's always my remark, founded on observation."

"Go to the deuce! Drive on," Algernon sang out. "Red, yellow, and
green."

"Lobster, ale, and salad!" said the cabman, flicking his whip; "and good
colours too. Tenpenny Nail's the horse. He's the colours I stick to."
And off he drove, envied of London urchins, as mortals would have envied
a charioteer driving visibly for Olympus.

Algernon crossed his arms, with the frown of one looking all inward.

At school this youth had hated sums. All arithmetical difficulties had
confused and sickened him. But now he worked with indefatigable industry
on an imaginary slate; put his postulate, counted probabilities, allowed
for chances, added, deducted, multiplied, and unknowingly performed
algebraic feats, till his brows were stiff with frowning, and his brain
craved for stimulant.

This necessity sent his hand to his purse, for the calling of the cab had
not been a premeditated matter. He discovered therein some half-crowns
and a sixpence, the latter of which he tossed in contempt at some boys
who were cheering the vehicles on their gallant career.

There was something desperately amusing to him in the thought that he had
not even money enough to pay the cabman, or provide for a repast. He
rollicked in his present poverty. Yesterday he had run down with a party
of young guardsmen in a very royal manner; and yesterday he had lost.
To-day he journeyed to the course poorer than many of the beggars he
would find there; and by a natural deduction, to-day he was to win.

He whistled mad waltzes to the measure of the wheels. He believed that
he had a star. He pitched his half-crowns to the turnpike-men, and
sought to propitiate Fortune by displaying a signal indifference to small
change; in which method of courting her he was perfectly serious. He
absolutely rejected coppers. They "crossed his luck." Nor can we say
that he is not an authority on this point: the Goddess certainly does not
deal in coppers.

Anxious efforts at recollection perplexed him. He could not remember
whether he had "turned his money" on looking at the last new moon. When
had he seen the last new moon, and where? A cloud obscured it; he had
forgotten. He consoled himself by cursing superstition. Tenpenny Nail
was to gain the day in spite of fortune. Algernon said this, and
entrenched his fluttering spirit behind common sense, but he found it a
cold corner. The longing for Champagne stimulant increased in fervour.
Arithmetic languished.

As he was going up the hill, the wheels were still for a moment, and
hearing "Tenpenny Nail" shouted, he put forth his head, and asked what
the cry was, concerning that horse.

"Gone lame," was the answer.

It hit the centre of his nerves, without reaching his comprehension, and
all Englishmen being equal on Epsom Downs, his stare at the man who had
spoken, and his sickly colour, exposed him to pungent remarks.

"Hullos! here's another Ninepenny--a penny short!" and similar specimens
of Epsom wit, encouraged by the winks and retorts of his driver,
surrounded him; but it was empty clamour outside. A rage of emotions
drowned every idea in his head, and when he got one clear from the mass,
it took the form of a bitter sneer at Providence, for cutting off his
last chance of reforming his conduct and becoming good. What would he
not have accomplished, that was brilliant, and beautiful, and soothing,
but for this dead set against him!

It was clear that Providence cared "not a rap," whether he won or lost
--was good or bad. One might just as well be a heathen; why not?

He jumped out of the cab (tearing his coat in the acts minor evil, but
"all of a piece," as he said), and made his way to the Ring. The
bee-swarm was thick as ever on the golden bough. Algernon heard no
curses, and began to nourish hope again, as he advanced. He began to
hope wildly that this rumour about the horse was a falsity, for there was
no commotion, no one declaiming.

He pushed to enter the roaring circle, which the demand for an
entrance-fee warned him was a privilege, and he stammered, and forgot the
gentlemanly coolness commonly distinguishing him, under one of the acuter
twinges of his veteran complaint of impecuniosity. And then the cabman
made himself heard: a civil cabman, but without directions, and uncertain
of his dinner and his pay, tolerably hot, also, from threading a crowd
after a deaf gentleman. His half-injured look restored to Algernon his
self-possession.

"Ah! there you are:--scurry away and fetch my purse out of the bottom of
the cab. I've dropped it."

On this errand, the confiding cabman retired. Holding to a gentleman's
purse is even securer than holding to a gentleman.

While Algernon was working his forefinger in his waistcoat-pocket
reflectively, a man at his elbow said, with a show of familiar
deference,--

"If it's any convenience to you, sir," and showed the rim of a gold piece
'twixt finger and thumb.

"All right," Algernon replied readily, and felt that he was known, but
tried to keep his eyes from looking at the man's face; which was a vain
effort. He took the money, nodded curtly, and passed in.

Once through the barrier, he had no time to be ashamed. He was in the
atmosphere of challenges. He heard voices, and saw men whom not to
challenge, or try a result with, was to acknowledge oneself mean, and to
abandon the manliness of life. Algernon's betting-book was soon out and
in operation. While thus engaged, he beheld faces passing and repassing
that were the promise of luncheon and a loan; and so comfortable was the
assurance thereof to him, that he laid the thought of it aside, quite in
the background, and went on betting with an easy mind.

Small, senseless bets, they merely occupied him; and winning them was
really less satisfactory than losing, which, at all events, had the merit
of adding to the bulk of his accusation against the ruling Powers unseen.

Algernon was too savage for betting when the great race was run. He
refused both at taunts and cajoleries; but Lord Suckling coming by, said
"Name your horse," and, caught unawares, Algernon named Little John, one
of the ruck, at a hazard. Lord Suckling gave him fair odds, asking: "In
tens?--fifties?"

"Silver," shrugged Algernon, implacable toward Fortune; and the kindly
young nobleman nodded, and made allowance for his ill-temper and want of
spirit, knowing the stake he had laid on the favourite.

Little John startled the field by coming in first at a canter.

"Men have committed suicide for less than this" said Algernon within his
lips, and a modest expression of submission to fate settled on his
countenance. He stuck to the Ring till he was haggard with fatigue. His
whole nature cried out for Champagne, and now he burst away from that
devilish circle, looking about for Lord Suckling and a hamper. Food and
a frothing drink were all that he asked from Fortune. It seemed to him
that the concourse on the downs shifted in a restless way.

"What's doing, I wonder?" he thought aloud.

"Why, sir, the last race ain't generally fashionable," said his cabman,
appearing from behind his shoulder. "Don't you happen to be peckish,
sir?--'cause, luck or no luck, that's my case. I couldn't see, your
purse, nowheres."

"Confound you! how you hang about me! What do you want?" Algernon cried;
and answered his own question, by speeding the cabman to a booth with
what money remained to him, and appointing a place of meeting for the
return. After which he glanced round furtively to make sure that he was
not in view of the man who had lent him the sovereign. It became evident
that the Downs were flowing back to London.

He hurried along the lines of carriages, all getting into motion. The
ghastly conviction overtook him that he was left friendless, to starve.
Wherever he turned, he saw strangers and empty hampers, bottles, straw,
waste paper--the ruins of the feast: Fate's irony meantime besetting him
with beggars, who swallowed his imprecations as the earnest of coming
charity in such places.

At last, he was brought almost to sigh that he might see the man who had
lent him the sovereign, and his wish was hardly formed, when Nicodemus
Sedgett approached, waving a hat encircled by preposterous wooden
figures, a trifle less lightly attired than the ladies of the ballet, and
as bold in the matter of leg as the female fashion of the period.

Algernon eyed the lumpy-headed, heavy-browed rascal with what disgust he
had left in him, for one who came as an instrument of the Fates to help
him to some poor refreshment. Sedgett informed him that he had never had
such fun in his life.

"Just 'fore matrimony," he communicated in a dull whisper, "a fellow
ought to see a bit o' the world, I says--don't you, sir? and this has
been rare sport, that it has! Did ye find your purse, sir? Never mind
'bout that ther' pound. I'll lend you another, if ye like. How sh'll it
be? Say the word."

Algernon was meditating, apparently on a remote subject. He nodded
sharply.

"Yes. Call at my chambers to-morrow."

Another sovereign was transferred to him: but Sedgett would not be shaken
off.

"I just wanted t' have a bit of a talk with you," he spoke low.

"Hang it! I haven't eaten all day," snapped the irritable young
gentleman, fearful now of being seen in the rascal's company.

"You come along to the jolliest booth--I'll show it to you," said
Sedgett, and lifted one leg in dancing attitude. "Come along, sir: the
jolliest booth I ever was in, dang me if it ain't! Ale and music--them's
my darlings!" the wretch vented his slang. "And I must have a talk with
you. I'll stick to you. I'm social when I'm jolly, that I be: and I
don't know a chap on these here downs. Here's the pint: Is all square?
Am I t' have the cash in cash counted down, I asks? And is it to be
before, or is it to be after, the ceremony? There! bang out! say, yes or
no."

Algernon sent him to perdition with infinite heartiness, but he was dry,
dispirited, and weak, and he walked on, Sedgett accompanying him. He
entered a booth, and partook of ale and ham, feeling that he was in the
dregs of calamity. Though the ale did some service in reviving, it did
not cheer him, and he had a fit of moral objection to Sedgett's
discourse.

Sedgett took his bluntness as a matter to be endured for the honour of
hob-a-nobbing with a gentleman. Several times he recurred to the theme
which he wanted, as he said, to have a talk upon.

He related how he had courted the young woman, "bashful-like," and had
been so; for she was a splendid young woman; not so handsome now, as she
used to be when he had seen her in the winter: but her illness had pulled
her down and made her humble: they had cut her hair during the fever,
which had taken her pride clean out of her; and when he had put the
question to her on the evening of last Sunday, she had gone into a sort
of faint, and he walked away with her affirmative locked up in his
breast-pocket, and was resolved always to treat her well--which he swore
to.

"Married, and got the money, and the lease o' my farm disposed of, I'm
off to Australia and leave old England behind me, and thank ye, mother,
thank ye! and we shan't meet again in a hurry. And what sort o' song I'm
to sing for 'England is my nation, ain't come across me yet. Australia's
such a precious big world; but that'll come easy in time. And there'll I
farm, and damn all you gentlemen, if you come anigh me."

The eyes of the fellow were fierce as he uttered this; they were rendered
fierce by a peculiar blackish flush that came on his brows and
cheek-bones; otherwise, the yellow about the little brown dot in the
centre of the eyeball had not changed; but the look was unmistakably
savage, animal, and bad. He closed the lids on them, and gave a sort of
churlish smile immediately afterward.

"Harmony's the game. You act fair, I act fair. I've kept to the
condition. She don't know anything of my whereabouts--res'dence, I mean;
and thinks I met you in her room for the first time. That's the truth,
Mr. Blancove. And thinks me a sheepish chap, and I'm that, when I'm
along wi' her. She can't make out how I come to call at her house and
know her first. Gives up guessing, I suppose, for she's quiet about it;
and I pitch her tales about Australia, and life out there. I've got her
to smile, once or twice. She'll turn her hand to making cheeses, never
you fear. Only, this I say. I must have the money. It's a thousand and
a bargain. No thousand, and no wife for me. Not that I don't stand by
the agreement. I'm solid."

Algernon had no power of encountering a human eye steadily, or he would
have shown the man with a look how repulsive he was to a gentleman. His
sensations grew remorseful, as if he were guilty of handing a victim to
the wretch.

But the woman followed her own inclination, did she not? There was no
compulsion: she accepted this man. And if she could do that, pity was
wasted on her!

So thought he: and so the world would think of the poor forlorn soul
striving to expiate her fault, that her father and sister might be at
peace, without shame.

Algernon signified to Sedgett that the agreement was fixed and
irrevocable on his part.

Sedgett gulped some ale.

"Hands on it," he said, and laid his huge hand open across the table.

This was too much.

"My word must satisfy you," said Algernon, rising.

"So it shall. So it do," returned Sedgett, rising with him. "Will you
give it in writing?"

"I won't."

"That's blunt. Will you come and have a look at a sparring-match in
yond' brown booth, sir?"

"I am going back to London."

"London and the theayter that's the fun, now, ain't it!" Sedgett laughed.

Algernon discerned his cabman and the conveyance ready, and beckoned him.

"Perhaps, sir," said Sedgett, "if I might make so bold--I don't want to
speak o' them sovereigns--but I've got to get back too, and cash is run
low. D' ye mind, sir? Are you kind-hearted?"

A constitutional habit of servility to his creditor when present before
him signalized Algernon. He detested the man, but his feebleness was
seized by the latter question, and he fancied he might, on the road to
London, convey to Sedgett's mind that it would be well to split that
thousand, as he had previously devised.

"Jump in," he said.

When Sedgett was seated, Algernon would have been glad to walk the
distance to London to escape from the unwholesome proximity. He took the
vacant place, in horror of it. The man had hitherto appeared respectful;
and in Dahlia's presence he had seemed a gentle big fellow with a
reverent, affectionate heart. Sedgett rallied him.

"You've had bad luck--that's wrote on your hatband. Now, if you was a
woman, I'd say, tak' and go and have a peroose o' your Bible. That's
what my young woman does; and by George! it's just like medicine to her--
that 'tis! I've read out to her till I could ha' swallowed two quart o'
beer at a gulp--I was that mortal thirsty. It don't somehow seem to
improve men. It didn't do me no good. There was I, cursin' at the
bother, down in my boots, like, and she with her hands in a knot,
staring the fire out o' count'nance. They're weak, poor sort o' things."

The intolerable talk of the ruffian prompted Algernon to cry out, for
relief,--

"A scoundrel like you must be past any good to be got from reading his
Bible."

Sedgett turned his dull brown eyes on him, the thick and hateful flush of
evil blood informing them with detestable malignity.

"Come; you be civil, if you're going to be my companion," he said.
"I don't like bad words; they don't go down my windpipe. 'Scoundrel 's
a name I've got a retort for, and if it hadn't been you, and you a
gentleman, you'd have had it spanking hot from the end o' my fist.
Perhaps you don't know what sort of a arm I've got? Just you feel
that ther' muscle."

He doubled his arm, the knuckles of the fist toward Algernon's face.

"Down with it, you dog!" cried Algernon, crushing his hat as he started
up.

"It'll come on your nose, if I downs with it, my lord," said Sedgett.
"You've what they Londoners calls 'bonneted yourself.'"

He pulled Algernon by the coat-tail into his seat.

"Stop!" Algernon shouted to the cabman.

"Drive ahead!" roared Sedgett.

This signal of a dissension was heard along the main street of Epsom, and
re-awakened the flagging hilarity of the road.

Algernon shrieked his commands; Sedgett thundered his. They tussled, and
each having inflicted an unpleasant squeeze on the other, they came apart
by mutual consent, and exchanged half-length blows. Overhead, the
cabman--not merely a cabman, but an individual--flicked the flanks of his
horse, and cocked his eye and head in answer to gesticulations from shop-
doors and pavement.

"Let 'em fight it out, I'm impartial," he remarked; and having lifted his
little observing door, and given one glance, parrot-wise, below, he shut
away the troubled prospect of those mortals, and drove along benignly.

Epsom permitted it; but Ewell contained a sturdy citizen, who, smoking
his pipe under his eaves, contemplative of passers-by, saw strife rushing
on like a meteor. He raised the waxed end of his pipe, and with an
authoritative motion of his head at the same time, pointed out the case
to a man in a donkey-cart, who looked behind, saw pugnacity upon wheels,
and manoeuvred a docile and wonderfully pretty-stepping little donkey in
such a manner that the cabman was fain to pull up.

The combatants jumped into the road.

"That's right, gentlemen; I don't want to spile sport," said the donkey's
man. "O' course you ends your Epsom-day with spirit."

"There's sunset on their faces," said the cabman. "Would you try a
by-lane, gentlemen?"

But now the donkey's man had inspected the figures of the antagonistic
couple.

"Taint fair play," he said to Sedgett. "You leave that gentleman alone,
you, sir?"

The man with the pipe came up.

"No fighting," he observed. "We ain't going to have our roads disgraced.
It shan't be said Englishmen don't know how to enjoy themselves without
getting drunk and disorderly. You drop your fists."

The separation had to be accomplished by violence, for Algernon's blood
was up.

A crowd was not long in collecting, which caused a stoppage of vehicles
of every description.

A gentleman leaned from an open carriage to look at the fray critically,
and his companion stretching his neck to do likewise, "Sedgett!" burst
from his lips involuntarily.

The pair of original disputants (for there were many by this time) turned
their heads simultaneously toward the carriage.

"Will you come on?" Sedgett roared, but whether to Algernon, or to one of
the gentlemen, or one of the crowd, was indefinite. None responding, he
shook with ox-like wrath, pushed among shoulders, and plunged back to his
seat, making the cabman above bound and sway, and the cab-horse to start
and antic.

Greatly to the amazement of the spectators, the manifest gentleman (by
comparison) who had recently been at a pummelling match with him, and
bore the stains of it, hung his head, stepped on the cab, and suffered
himself to be driven away.

"Sort of a 'man-and-wife' quarrel," was the donkey's man's comment.
"There's something as corks 'em up, and something uncorks 'em; but what
that something is, I ain't, nor you ain't, man enough to inform the
company."

He rubbed his little donkey's nose affectionately.

"Any gentleman open to a bet I don't overtake that ere Hansom within
three miles o' Ewell?" he asked, as he took the rein.

But his little donkey's quality was famous in the neighbourhood.

"Come on, then," he said; "and show what you can do, without emilation,
Master Tom."

Away the little donkey trotted.

ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

All women are the same--Know one, know all
Exceeding variety and quantity of things money can buy
He will be a part of every history (the fool)
I never pay compliments to transparent merit
I haven't got the pluck of a flea
Love dies like natural decay
Pleasant companion, who did not play the woman obtrusively among men
Silence is commonly the slow poison used by those who mean to murder love
The woman seeking for an anomaly wants a master
The backstairs of history (Memoirs)
To be her master, however, one must not begin by writhing as her slave
Wait till the day's ended before you curse your luck
With this money, said the demon, you might speculate
Work is medicine

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