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LORD ORMONT AND HIS AMINTA, Complete
By George Meredith
I. LOVE AT A SCHOOL
II. LADY CHARLOTTE
III. THE TUTOR
V. IN WHICH THE SHADES OF BROWNY AND MATEY ADVANCE AND RETIRE
VI. IN A MOOD OF LANGUOR
VII. EXHIBITS EFFECTS OF A PRATTLER’S DOSES VIII. MRS. LAWRENCE FINCHLEY
IX. A FLASH OF THE BRUISED WARRIOR X. A SHORT PASSAGE IN THE GAME PLAYED BY TWO XI. THE SECRETARY TAKEN AS AN ANTIDOTE
XII. MORE OF CUPER’S BOYS
XIII. WAR AT OLMER
XIV. OLD LOVERS NEW FRIENDS
XV. SHOWING A SECRET FISHED WITHOUT ANGLING XVI. ALONG TWO ROADS TO STEIGNTON
XVII. LADY CHARLOTTE’S TRIUMPH
XVIII. A SCENE ON THE ROAD BACK
XIX. THE PURSUERS
XX. AT THE SIGN OF THE JOLLY CRICKETERS XXI. UNDER-CURRENTS IN THE MINDS OF LADY CHARLOTTE AND LORD ORMONT XXII. TREATS OF THE FIRST DAY OF THE CONTENTION OF BROTHER AND SISTER XXIII. THE ORMONT JEWELS
XXIV. LOVERS MATED
XXXV. PREPARATIONS FOR A RESOLVE
XXVI. VISITS OF FAREWELL
XXVII. A MARINE DUET
XXVIII. THE PLIGHTING
XXIX. AMINTA TO HER LORD
LORD ORMONT AND HIS AMINTA.
I. LOVE AT A SCHOOL
II. LADY CHARLOTTE
III. THE TUTOR
LOVE AT A SCHOOL
A procession of schoolboys having to meet a procession of schoolgirls on the Sunday’s dead march, called a walk, round the park, could hardly go by without dropping to a hum in its chatter, and the shot of incurious half-eyes the petticoated creatures–all so much of a swarm unless you stare at them like lanterns. The boys cast glance because it relieved their heaviness; things were lumpish and gloomy that day of the week. The girls, who sped their peep of inquisition before the moment of transit, let it be seen that they had minds occupied with thoughts of their own.
Our gallant fellows forgot the intrusion of the foreign as soon as it had passed. A sarcastic discharge was jerked by chance at the usher and the governess–at the old game, it seemed; or why did they keep steering columns to meet? There was no fun in meeting; it would never be happening every other Sunday, and oftener, by sheer toss-penny accident. They were moved like pieces for the pleasure of these two.
Sometimes the meeting occurred twice during the stupid march-out, when it became so nearly vexatious to boys almost biliously oppressed by the tedium of a day merely allowing them to shove the legs along, ironically naming it animal excise, that some among them pronounced the sham variation of monotony to be a bothering nuisance if it was going to happen every Sunday, though Sunday required diversions. They hated the absurdity in this meeting and meeting; for they were obliged to anticipate it, as a part of their ignominious weekly performance; and they could not avoid reflecting on it, as a thing done over again: it had them in front and in rear; and it was a kind of broadside mirror, flashing at them the exact opposite of themselves in an identically similar situation, that forced a resemblance.
Touching the old game, Cuper’s fold was a healthy school, owing to the good lead of the head boy, Matey Weyburn, a lad with a heart for games to bring renown, and no thought about girls. His emulation, the fellows fancied, was for getting the school into a journal of the Sports. He used to read one sent him by a sporting officer of his name, and talk enviously of public schools, printed whatever they did–a privilege and dignity of which, they had unrivalled enjoyment in the past, days, when wealth was more jealously exclusive; and he was always prompting for challenges and saving up to pay expenses; and the fellows were to laugh at kicks and learn the art of self-defence–train to rejoice in whipcord muscles. The son of a tradesman, if a boy fell under the imputation, was worthy of honour with him, let the fellow but show grip and toughness. He loathed a skulker, and his face was known for any boy who would own to fatigue or confess himself beaten. “Go to bed,” was one of his terrible stings. Matey was good at lessons, too–liked them; liked Latin and Greek; would help a poor stumbler.
Where he did such good work was in sharpening the fellows to excel. He kept them to the grindstone, so that they had no time for rusty brooding; and it was fit done by exhortations off a pedestal, like St. Paul at the Athenians, it breathed out of him every day of the week. He carried a light for followers. Whatever he demanded of them, he himself did it easily. He would say to boys, “You’re going to be men,” meaning something better than women. There was a notion that Matey despised girls. Consequently, never much esteemed, they were in disfavour. The old game was mentioned only because of a tradition of an usher and governess leering sick eyes until they slunk away round a corner and married, and set up a school for themselves–an emasculate ending. Comment on it came of a design to show that the whole game had been examined dismissed as uninteresting and profitless.
One of the boys alluded in Matey’s presence to their general view upon the part played by womankind on the stage, confident of a backing; and he had it, in a way: their noble chief whisked the subject, as not worth a discussion; but he turned to a younger chap, who said he detested girls, and asked him how about a sister at home; and the youngster coloured, and Matey took him and spun him round, with a friendly tap on the shoulder.
Odd remarks at intervals caused it to be suspected that he had ideas concerning girls. They were high as his head above the school; and there they were left, with Algebra and Homer, for they were not of a sort to inflame; until the boys noticed how he gave up speaking, and fell to hard looking, though she was dark enough to get herself named Browny. In the absence of a fair girl of equal height to set beside her, Browny shone.
She had a nice mouth, ready for a smile at the corners, or so it was before Matey let her see that she was his mark. Now she kept her mouth asleep and her eyes half down, up to the moment of her nearing to pass, when the girl opened on him, as if lifting her eyelids from sleep to the window, a full side–look, like a throb, and no disguise–no slyness or boldness either, not a bit of languishing. You might think her heart came quietly out.
The look was like the fall of light on the hills from the first of morning. It lasted half a minute, and left a ruffle for a good half- hour. Even the younger fellows, without knowing what affected them, were moved by the new picture of a girl, as if it had been a frontispiece of a romantic story some day to be read. She looked compelled to look, but consenting and unashamed; at home in submission; just the look that wins observant boys, shrewd as dogs to read by signs, if they are interested in the persons. They read Browny’s meaning: that Matey had only to come and snatch her; he was her master, and she was a brave girl, ready to go all over the world with him; had taken to him as he to her, shot for shot. Her taking to the pick of the school was a capital proof that she was of the right sort. To be sure, she could not much help herself.
Some of the boys regretted her not being fair. But, as they felt, and sought to explain, in the manner of the wag of a tail, with elbows and eyebrows to one another’s understanding, fair girls could never have let fly such look; fair girls are softer, woollier, and when they mean to look serious, overdo it by craping solemn; or they pinafore a jigging eagerness, or hoist propriety on a chubby flaxen grin; or else they dart an eye, or they mince and prim and pout, and are sigh-away and dying- ducky, given to girls’ tricks. Browny, after all, was the girl for Matey.
She won a victory right away and out of hand, on behalf of her cloud-and- moon sisters, as against the sunny-meadowy; for slanting intermediates are not espied of boys in anything: conquered by Browny; they went over to her colour, equal to arguing, that Venus at her mightiest must have been dark, or she would not have stood a comparison with the forest Goddess of the Crescent, swanning it through a lake–on the leap for run of the chase–watching the dart, with her humming bow at breast. The fair are simple sugary thing’s, prone to fat, like broad-sops in milk; but the others are milky nuts, good to bite, Lacedaemonian virgins, hard to beat, putting us on our mettle; and they are for heroes, and they can be brave. So these boys felt, conquered by Browny. A sneaking native taste for the forsaken side, known to renegades, hauled at them if her image waned during the week; and it waned a little, but Sunday restored and stamped it.
By a sudden turn the whole upper-school had fallen to thinking of girls, and the meeting on the Sunday was a prospect. One of the day-boarders had a sister in the seminary of Miss Vincent. He was plied to obtain information concerning Browny’s name and her parents. He had it pat to hand in answer. No parents came to see her; an aunt came now and then. Her aunt’s name was not wanted. Browny’s name was Aminta Farrell.
Farrell might pass; Aminta was debated. This female Christian name had a foreign twang; it gave dissatisfaction. Boy after boy had a try at it, with the same effect: you could not speak the name without a pursing of the month and a puckering of the nose, beastly to see, as one little fellow reminded them on a day when Matey was in more than common favour, topping a pitch of rapture, for clean bowling, first ball, middle stump on the kick, the best bat of the other eleven in a match; and, says this youngster, drawling, soon after the cheers and claps had subsided to business, “Aminta.”
He made it funny by saying it as if to himself and the ground, in a subdued way, while he swung his leg on a half-circle, like a skater, hands in pockets. He was a sly young rascal, innocently precocious enough, and he meant no disrespect either to Browny or to Matey; but he had to run for it, his delivery of the name being so like what was in the breasts of the senior fellows, as to the inferiority of any Aminta to old Matey, that he set them laughing; and Browny was on the field, to reprove them, left of the tea-booth, with her school-mates, part of her head under a scarlet parasol.
A girl with such a name as Aminta might not be exactly up to the standard of old Matey, still, if he thought her so and she had spirit, the school was bound to subscribe; and that look of hers warranted her for taking her share in the story, like the brigand’s wife loading gnus for him while he knocks over the foremost carabineer on the mountain-ledge below, who drops on his back with a hellish expression.
Browny was then clearly seen all round, instead of only front-face, as on the Sunday in the park, when fellows could not spy backward after passing. The pleasure they had in seeing her all round involved no fresh stores of observation, for none could tell how she tied her back-hair, which was the question put to them by a cynic of a boy, said to be queasy with excess of sisters. They could tell that she was tall for a girl, or tallish–not a maypole. She drank a cup of tea, and ate a slice of bread-and-butter; no cake.
She appeared undisturbed when Matey, wearing his holiday white ducks, and all aglow, entered the booth. She was not expected to faint, only she stood for the foreign Aminta more than for their familiar Browny in his presence. Not a sign of the look which had fired the school did she throw at him. Change the colour and you might compare her to a lobster fixed on end, with a chin and no eyes. Matey talked to Miss Vincent up to the instant of his running to bat. She would have liked to guess how he knew she had a brother on the medical staff of one of the regiments in India: she asked him twice, and his cheeks were redder than cricket in the sun. He said he read all the reports from India, and asked her whether she did not admire Lord Ormont, our general of cavalry, whose charge at the head of fifteen hundred horse in the last great battle shattered the enemy’s right wing, and gave us the victory–rolled him up and stretched him out like a carpet for dusting. Miss Vincent exclaimed that it was really strange, now, he should speak of Lord Ormont, for she had been speaking of him herself in morning to one of her young ladies, whose mind was bent on his heroic deeds. Matey turned his face to the group of young ladies, quite pleased that one of them loved his hero; and he met a smile here and there–not from Miss Aminta Farrell. She was a complete disappointment to the boys that day. “Aminta” was mouthed at any allusions to her.
So, she not being a match for Matey, they let her drop. The flush that had swept across the school withered to a dry recollection, except when on one of their Sunday afternoons she fanned the desert. Lord Ormont became the subject of inquiry and conversation; and for his own sake–not altogether to gratify Matey. The Saturday autumn evening’s walk home, after the race out to tea at a distant village, too late in the year for cricket, too early for regular football, suited Matey, going at long strides, for the story of his hero’s adventures; and it was nicer than talk about girls, and puzzling. Here lay a clear field; for he had the right to speak of a cavalry officer: his father died of wounds in the service, and Matey naturally intended to join the Dragoons; if he could get enough money to pay for mess, he said, laughing. Lord Ormont was his pattern of a warrior. We had in him a lord who cast off luxury to live like a Spartan when under arms, with a passion to serve his country and sustain the glory of our military annals. He revived respect for the noble class in the hearts of Englishmen. He was as good an authority on horseflesh as any Englishman alive; the best for the management of cavalry: there never was a better cavalry leader. The boys had come to know that Browny admired Lord Ormont, so they saw a double reason why Matey should; and walking home at his grand swing in the October dusk, their school hero drew their national hero closer to them.
Every fellow present was dead against the usher, Mr. Shalders, when he took advantage of a pause to strike in with his “Murat!”
He harped on Murat whenever he had a chance. Now he did it for the purpose of casting eclipse upon Major-General Lord Ormont, the son and grandson of English earls; for he was an earl by his title, and Murat was the son of an innkeeper. Shalders had to admit that Murat might have served in the stables when a boy. Honour to Murat, of course, for climbing the peaks! Shalders, too, might interest him in military affairs and Murat; he did no harm, and could be amusing. It rather added to his amount of dignity. It was rather absurd, at the same time, for an English usher to be spouting and glowing about a French general, who had been a stable-boy and became a king, with his Murat this, Murat that, and hurrah Murat in red and white and green uniform, tunic and breeches, and a chimney-afire of feathers; and how the giant he was charged at the head of ten thousand horse, all going like a cataract under a rainbow over the rocks, right into the middle of the enemy and through; and he a spark ahead, and the enemy streaming on all sides flat away, as you see puffed smoke and flame of a bonfire. That was fun to set boys jigging. No wonder how in Russia the Cossacks feared him, and scampered from the shadow of his plumes–were clouds flying off his breath! That was a fine warm picture for the boys on late autumn or early winter evenings, Shalders warming his back at the grate, describing bivouacs in the snow. They liked well enough to hear him when he was not opposing Matey and Lord Ormont. He perked on his toes, and fetched his hand from behind him to flourish it when his Murat came out. The speaking of his name clapped him on horseback–the only horseback he ever knew. He was as fond of giving out the name Murat as you see in old engravings of tobacco-shops men enjoying the emission of their whiff of smoke.
Matey was not inclined to class Lord Ormont alongside Murat, a first-rate horseman and an eagle-eye, as Shalders rightly said; and Matey agreed that forty thousand cavalry under your orders is a toss above fifteen hundred; but the claim for a Frenchman of a superlative merit to swallow and make nothing of the mention of our best cavalry generals irritated him to call Murat a mountebank.
Shalders retorted, that Lord Ormont was a reprobate.
Matey hoped he would some day write us an essay on the morale of illustrious generals of cavalry; and Shalders told him he did not advance his case by talking nonsense.
Each then repeated to the boys a famous exploit of his hero. Their verdict was favourable to Lord Ormont. Our English General learnt riding before he was ten years old, on the Pampas, where you ride all day, and cook your steak for your dinner between your seat and your saddle. He rode with his father and his uncle, Muncastle, the famous traveller, into Paraguay. He saw fighting before he was twelve. Before he was twenty he was learning outpost duty in the Austrian frontier cavalry. He served in the Peninsula, served in Canada, served in India, volunteered for any chance of distinction. No need to say much of his mastering the picked Indian swordsmen in single combat: he knew their trick, and was quick to save his reins when they made a dash threatening the headstroke–about the same as disabling sails in old naval engagements.
That was the part for the officer; we are speaking of the General. For that matter, he had as keen an eye for the field and the moment for his arm to strike as any Murat. One world have liked to see Murat matched against the sabre of a wily Rajpoot! As to campaigns and strategy, Lord Ormont’s head was a map. What of Murat and Lord Ormont horse to horse and sword to sword? Come, imagine that, if you are for comparisons. And if Lord Ormont never headed a lot of thousands, it does not prove he was unable. Lord Ormont was as big as Murat. More, he was a Christian to his horses. How about Murat in that respect? Lord Ormont cared for his men: did Murat so particularly much? And he was as cunning fronting odds, and a thunderbolt at the charge. Why speak of him in the past? He is an English lord, a lord by birth, and he is alive; things may be expected of him to-morrow or next day.
Shalders here cut Matey short by meanly objecting to that.
“Men are mortal,” he said, with a lot of pretended stuff, deploring our human condition in the elegy strain; and he fell to reckoning the English hero’s age–as that he, Lord Ormont, had been a name in the world for the last twenty-five years or more. The noble lord could be no chicken. We are justified in calculating, by the course of nature, that his term of activity is approaching, or has approached, or, in fact, has drawn to its close.
“If your estimate, sir, approaches to correctness,” rejoined Matey– tellingly, his comrades thought.
“Sixty, as you may learn some day, is a serious age, Matthew Weyburn.”
Matey said he should be happy to reach it with half the honours Lord Ormont had won.
“Excepting the duels,” Shalders had the impudence to say.
“If the cause is a good one!” cried Matey.
“The cause, or Lord Ormont has been maligned, was reprehensible in the extremest degree.” Shalders cockhorsed on his heels to his toes and back with a bang.
“What was the cause, if you please, sir?” a boy, probably naughty, inquired; and as Shalders did not vouchsafe a reply, the bigger boys knew.
They revelled in the devilish halo of skirts on the whirl encircling Lord Ormont’s laurelled head.
That was a spark in their blood struck from a dislike of the tone assumed by Mr. Shalders to sustain his argument; with his “men are mortal,” and talk of a true living champion as “no chicken,” and the wordy drawl over “justification for calculating the approach of a close to a term of activity”–in the case of a proved hero!
Guardians of boys should make sure that the boys are on their side before they raise the standard of virtue. Nor ought they to summon morality for support of a polemic. Matey Weyburn’s object of worship rode superior to a morality puffing its phrasy trumpet. And, somehow, the sacrifice of an enormous number of women to Lord Ormont’s glory seemed natural; the very thing that should be, in the case of a first-rate military hero and commander–Scipio notwithstanding. It brightens his flame, and it is agreeable to them. That is how they come to distinction: they have no other chance; they are only women; they are mad to be singed, and they rush pelf-mall, all for the honour of the candle.
Shortly after this discussion Matey was heard informing some of the bigger fellows he could tell them positively that Lord Ormont’s age was under fifty-four–the prime of manhood, and a jolly long way off death! The greater credit to him, therefore, if he bad been a name in the world for anything like the period Shalders insinuated, “to get himself out of a sad quandary.” Matey sounded the queer word so as to fix it sticking to the usher, calling him Mr. Peter Bell Shalders, at which the boys roared, and there was a question or two about names, which belonged to verses, for people caring to read poems.
To the joy of the school he displayed a greater knowledge of Murat than Shalders had: named the different places in Europe where Lord Ormont and Murat were both springing to the saddle at the same time–one a Marshal, the other a lieutenant; one a king, to be off his throne any day, the other a born English nobleman, seated firm as fate. And he accused Murat of carelessness of his horses, ingratitude to his benefactor, circussy style. Shalders went so far as to defend Murat for attending to the affairs of his kingdom, instead of galloping over hedges and ditches to swell Napoleon’s ranks in distress. Matey listened to him there; he became grave; he nodded like a man saying, “I suppose we must examine it in earnest.” The school was damped to hear him calling it a nice question. Still, he said he thought he should have gone; and that settled it.
The boys inclined to speak contemptuously of Shalders. Matey world not let them; he contrasted Shalders with the other ushers, who had no enthusiasms. He said enthusiasms were salt to a man; and he liked Shalders for spelling at his battles and thinking he understood them, and admiring Murat, and leading Virgil and parts of Lucan for his recreation. He said he liked the French because they could be splendidly enthusiastic. He almost lost his English flavour when he spoke in downright approval of a small French fellow, coming from Orthez, near the Pyrenees, for senselessly dashing and kicking at a couple of English who jeered to hear Orthez named–a place trampled under Wellington’s heels, on his march across conquered France. The foreign little cockerel was a clever lad, learning English fast, and anxious to show he had got hold of the English trick of not knowing when he was beaten. His French vanity insisted on his engaging the two, though one of them stood aside, and the other let him drive his nose all the compass round at a poker fist. What was worse, Matey examined these two, in the interests of fair play, as if he doubted.
Little Emile Grenat set matters right with his boast to vindicate his country against double the number, and Matey praised him, though he knew Emile had been floored without effort by the extension of a single fist. He would not hear the French abused; he said they were chivalrous, they were fine fellows, topping the world in some things; his father had fought them and learnt to respect them. Perhaps his father had learnt to respect Jews, for there was a boy named Abner, he protected, who smelt Jewish; he said they ran us Gentiles hard, and carried big guns.
Only a reputation like Matey’s could have kept his leadership from a challenge. Joseph Masner, formerly a rival, went about hinting and shrugging; all to no purpose, you find boys born to be chiefs. On the day of the snow-fight Matey won the toss, and chose J. Masner first pick; and Masner, aged seventeen and some months, big as a navvy, lumbered across to him and took his directions, proud to stand in the front centre, at the head of the attack, and bear the brunt–just what he was fit for, Matey gave no offence by choosing, half-way down the list, his little French friend, whom he stationed beside himself, rather off his battle-front, as at point at cricket, not quite so far removed. Two boys at his heels piled ammunition. The sides met midway of a marshy ground, where a couple of flat and shelving banks, formed for a broad new road, good for ten abreast–counting a step of the slopes–ran transverse; and the order of the game was to clear the bank and drive the enemy on to the frozen ditch-water. Miss Vincent heard in the morning from the sister of little Collett of the great engagement coming off; she was moved by curiosity, and so the young ladies of her establishment beheld the young gentlemen of Mr. Cuper’s in furious division, and Matey’s sore aim and hard fling, equal to a slinger’s, relieving J. Masner of a foremost assailant with a spanker on the nob. They may have fancied him clever for selecting a position rather comfortable, as things went, until they had sight of him with his little French ally and two others, ammunition boys to rear, descending one bank and scaling another right into the flank of the enemy, when his old tower of a Masner was being heavily pressed by numbers. Then came a fight hand to hand, but the enemy stood in a clamp; not to split like a nut between crackers, they gave way and rolled, backing in lumps from bank to ditch.
The battle was over before the young ladies knew. They wondered to see Matey shuffling on his coat and hopping along at easy bounds to pay his respects to Miss Vincent, near whom was Browny; and this time he and Browny talked together. He then introduced little Emile to her. She spoke of Napoleon at Brienne, and complimented Matey. He said he was cavalry, not artillery, that day. They talked to hear one another’s voices. By constantly appealing to Miss Vincent he made their conversation together seem as under her conduct; and she took a slide on some French phrases with little Emile. Her young ladies looked shrinking and envious to see the fellows wet to the skin, laughing, wrestling, linking arms; and some, who were clown-faced with a wipe of scarlet, getting friends to rub their cheeks with snow, all of them happy as larks in air, a big tea steaming for them at the school. Those girls had a leap and a fail of the heart, glad to hug themselves in their dry clothes, and not so warm as the dripping boys were, nor so madly fond of their dress-circle seats to look on at a play they were not allowed even to desire to share. They looked on at blows given and taken in good temper, hardship sharpening jollity. The thought of the difference between themselves and the boys must have been something like the tight band–call it corset–over the chest, trying to lift and stretch for draughts of air. But Browny’s feeling naturally was, that all this advantage for the boys came of Matey Weyburn’s lead.
Miss Vincent with her young ladies walked off in couples, orderly chicks, the usual Sunday march of their every day. The school was coolish to them; one of the fellows hummed bars of some hymn tune, rather faster than church. And next day there was a murmur of letters passing between Matey and Browny regularly, little Collett for postman. Anybody might have guessed it, but the report spread a feeling that girls are not the entirely artificial beings or flat targets we suppose. The school began to brood, like air deadening on oven-heat. Winter is hen-mother to the idea of love in schools, if the idea has fairly entered. Various girls of different colours were selected by boys for animated correspondence, that never existed and was vigorously prosecuted, with efforts to repress contempt of them in courtship for their affections. They found their part of it by no means difficult when they imagined the lines without the words, or, better still, the letter without the lines. A holy satisfaction belonged to the sealed thing; the breaking of the seal and inspection of the contents imposed perplexity on that sentiment. They thought of certain possible sentences Matey and Browny would exchange; but the plain, conceivable, almost visible, outside of the letter had a stronger spell for them than the visionary inside. This fancied contemplation of the love-letter was reversed in them at once by the startling news of Miss Vincent’s discovery and seizure of the sealed thing, and her examination of the burden it contained. Then their thirst was for drama–to see, to drink every wonderful syllable those lovers had written.
Miss Vincent’s hand was upon one of Matey’s letters. She had come across the sister of little Collett, Selina her name was, carrying it. She saw nothing of the others. Aminta was not the girl to let her. Nor did Mr. Cuper dare demand from Matey a sight or restitution of the young lady’s half of the correspondence. He preached heavily at Matey; deplored that the boy he most trusted, etc.–the school could have repeated it without hearing. We know the master’s lecture in tones–it sings up to sing down, and touches nobody. As soon as he dropped to natural talk, and spoke of his responsibility and Miss Vincent’s, Matey gave the word of a man of honour that he would not seek to communicate farther with Miss Farrell at the school.
Now there was a regular thunder-hash among the boys on the rare occasions when they met the girls. All that Matey and Browny were forbidden to write they looked–much like what it had been before the discovery; and they dragged the boys back from promised instant events. It was, nevertheless, a heaving picture, like the sea in the background of a marine piece at the theatre, which rouses anticipations of storm, and shows readiness. Browny’s full eyebrow sat on her dark eye like a cloud of winter noons over the vanishing sun. Matey was the prisoner gazing at light of a barred window and measuring the strength of the bars. She looked unhappy, but looked unbeaten more. Her look at him fed the school on thoughts of what love really is, when it is not fished out of books and poetry. For though she was pale, starved and pale, they could see she was never the one to be sighing; and as for him, he looked ground dower all to edge. However much they puzzled over things, she made them feel they were sure, as to her, that she drove straight and meant blood, the life or death of it: all her own, if need be, and confidence in the captain she had chosen. She could have been imagined saying, There is a storm, but I am ready to embark with you this minute.
That sign of courage in real danger ennobled her among girls. The name Browny was put aside for a respectful Aminta. Big and bright events to come out in the world were hinted, from the love of such a couple. The boys were not ashamed to speak the very word love. How he does love that girl! Well, and how she loves him! She did, but the boys had to be seeing her look at Matey if they were to put the girl on some balanced equality with a fellow she was compelled to love. It seemed to them that he gave, and that she was a creature carried to him, like driftwood along the current of the flood, given, in spite of herself. When they saw those eyes of hers they were impressed with an idea of her as a voluntary giver too; pretty well the half to the bargain; and it confused their notion of feminine inferiority. They resolved to think her an exceptional girl, which, in truth, they could easily do, for none but an exceptional girl could win Matey to love her.
Since nothing appeared likely to happen at the school, they speculated upon what would occur out in the world, and were assisted to conjecture, by a rumour, telling of Aminta Farrell’s aunt as a resident at Dover. Those were days when the benevolently international M. de Porquet had begun to act as interpreter to English schools in the portico of the French language; and under his guidance it was asked, in contempt of the answer, Combien de postes d’ici a Douvres? But, accepting the rumour as a piece of information, the answer became important. Ici was twenty miles to the north-west of London. How long would it take Matey to reach Donvres? Or at which of the combien did he intend to waylay and away with Aminta? The boys went about pounding at the interrogative French phrase in due sincerity, behind the burlesque of traveller bothering coachman. Matey’s designs could be finessed only by a knowledge of his character: that he was not the fellow to give up the girl he had taken to; and impediments might multiply, but he would bear them down. Three days before the break-up of the school another rumour came tearing through it: Aminta’s aunt had withdrawn her from Miss Vincent’s. And now rose the question, two-dozen-mouthed, Did Matey know her address at Douvres? His face grew stringy and his voice harder, and his eyes ready to burst from a smother of fire. All the same, he did his work: he was the good old fellow at games, considerate in school affairs, kind to the youngsters; he was heard to laugh. He liked best the company of his little French friend from Orthez, over whose shoulder his hand was laid sometimes as they strolled and chatted in two languages. He really went a long way to make French fellows popular, and the boys were sorry that little Emile was off to finish his foreign education in Germany. His English was pretty good, thanks to Matey. He went away, promising to remember Old England, saying he was French first, and a Briton next. He had lots of plunk; which accounted for Matey’s choice of him as a friend among the juniors.
Love-passages at a school must produce a ringing crisis if they are to leave the rosy impression which spans the gap of holidays. Neither Matey nor Browny returned to their yoke, and Cuper’s boys recollected the couple chiefly on Sundays. They remembered several of Matey’s doings and sayings: his running and high leaping, his bowling, a maxim or two of his, and the tight strong fellow he was; also that the damsel’s colour distinctly counted for dark. She became nearly black in their minds. Well, and Englishmen have been known to marry Indian princesses: some have a liking for negresses. There are Nubians rather pretty in pictures, if you can stand thick lips. Her colour does not matter, provided the girl is of the right sort. The exchange of letters between the lovers was mentioned. The discovery by Miss Vincent of their cool habit of corresponding passed for an incident; and there it remained, stiff as a poet, not being heated by a story to run. So the foregone excitement lost warmth, and went out like a winter sun at noon or a match lighted before the candle is handy.
Lord Ormont continued to be a subject of discussion from time to time, for he was a name in the newspapers; and Mr. Shalders had been worked by Matey Weyburn into a state of raw antagonism at the mention of the gallant General; he could not avoid sitting in judgement on him.
According to Mr. Shalders, the opinion of all thoughtful people in England was with John Company and the better part of the Press to condemn Lord Ormont in his quarrel with the Commissioner of one of the Indian provinces, who had the support of the Governor of his Presidency and of the Viceroy; the latter not unreservedly, yet ostensibly inclined to condemn a too prompt military hand. The Gordian knot of a difficulty cut is agreeable in the contemplation of an official chief hesitating to use the sword and benefiting by having it done for him. Lord Ormont certainly cut the knot.
Mr. Shalders was cornered by the boys, coming at him one after another without a stop, vowing it was the exercise of a military judgement upon a military question at a period of urgency, which had brought about the quarrel with the Commissioner and the reproof of the Governor. He betrayed the man completely cornered by generalizing. He said–
“We are a civilian people; we pride ourselves on having civilian methods.”
“How can that be if we have won India with guns and swords?”
“But that splendid jewel for England’s tiara won,” said he (and he might as well have said crown), “we are bound to sheathe the sword and govern by the Book of the Law.”
“But if they won’t have the Book of the Law!”
“They knew the power behind it.”
“Not if we knock nothing harder than the Book of the Law upon their skulls.”
“Happily for the country, England’s councils are not directed by boys!”
“Ah, but we’re speaking of India, Mr. Shalders.”
“You are presuming to speak of an act of insubordination committed by a military officer under civilian command.”
“What if we find an influential prince engaged in conspiracy?”
“We look for proof.”
“Suppose we have good proof?”
“We summon him to exonerate himself.”
“No; we mount and ride straight away into his territory, spot the treason, deport him, and rule in his place!”
It was all very well for Mr. Shalders to say he talked to boys; he was cornered again, as his shrug confessed.
The boys asked among themselves whether he would have taken the same view if his Murat had done it!
These illogical boys fought for Matey Weyburn in their defence of Lord Ormont. Somewhere, they wee sure, old Matey was hammering to the same end–they could hear him. Thought of him inspired them to unwonted argumentative energy, that they might support his cause; and scatter the gloomy prediction of the school, as going to the dogs now Matey had left.
The subject provoked everywhere in Great Britain a division similar to that between master and boys at Cuper’s establishment: one party for our modern English magisterial methods with Indians, the other for the decisive Oriental at the early time, to suit their native tastes; and the Book of the Law is to be conciliatingly addressed to their sentiments by a benign civilizing Power, or the sword is out smartly at the hint of a warning to protect the sword’s conquests. Under one aspect we appear potteringly European; under another, drunk of the East.
Lord Ormont’s ride at the head of two hundred horsemen across a stretch of country including hill and forest, to fall like a bolt from the blue on the suspected Prince in the midst of his gathering warriors, was a handsome piece of daring, and the high-handed treatment of the Prince was held by his advocates to be justified by the provocation, and the result. He scattered an unprepared body of many hundreds, who might have enveloped him, and who would presumptively have stood their ground, had they not taken his handful to be the advance of regiments. These are the deeds that win empires! the argument in his favour ran. Are they of a character to maintain empires? the counter-question was urged. Men of a deliberative aspect were not wanting in approval of the sharp and summary of the sword in air when we have to deal with Indians. They chose to regard it as a matter of the dealing with Indians, and put aside the question of the contempt of civil authority.
Counting the cries, Lord Ormont won his case. Festival aldermen, smoking clubmen, buckskin squires, obsequious yet privately excitable tradesmen, sedentary coachmen and cabmen, of Viking descent, were set to think like boys about him: and the boys, the women, and the poets formed a tipsy chorea. Journalists, on the whole, were fairly halved, as regarded numbers. In relation to weight, they were with the burgess and the presbyter; they preponderated heavily in the direction of England’s burgess view of all cases disputed between civilian and soldier. But that was when the peril was over.
Admirers of Lord Ormont enjoyed a perusal of a letter addressed by him to the burgess’s journal; and so did his detractors. The printing of it was an act of editorial ruthlessness. The noble soldier had no mould in his intellectual or educational foundry for the casting of sentences; and the editor’s leading type to the letter, without further notice of the writer–who was given a prominent place or scaffolding for the execution of himself publicly, if it pleased him to do that thing–tickled the critical mind. Lord Ormont wrote intemperately.
His Titanic hurling of blocks against critics did no harm to an enemy skilled in the use of trimmer weapons, notably the fine one of letting big missiles rebound. He wrote from India, with Indian heat–“curry and capsicums,” it was remarked. He dared to claim the countenance of the Commander-in-chief of the Army of India for an act disapproved by the India House. Other letters might be on their way, curryer than the preceding, his friends feared; and might also be malevolently printed, similarly commissioning the reverberation of them to belabour his name before the public. Admirers were still prepared to admire; but aldermen not at the feast, squire-archs not in the saddle or at the bottle, some few of the juvenile and female fervent, were becoming susceptible to a frosty critical tone in the public pronunciation of Lord Ormont’s name since the printing of his letter and the letters it called forth. None of them doubted that his case was good. The doubt concerned the effect on it of his manner of pleading it. And if he damaged his case, he compromised his admirers. Why, the case of a man who has cleverly won a bold stroke for his country must be good, as long as he holds his tongue. A grateful country will right him in the end: he has only to wait, and not so very long. “This I did: now examine it.” Nothing more needed to be said by him, if that.
True, he has a temper. It is owned that he is a hero. We take him with his qualities, impetuosity being one, and not unsuited to his arm of the service, as be has shown. If his temper is high, it is an element of a character proved heroical. So has the sun his blotches, and we believe that they go to nourish the luminary, rather than that they are a disease of the photosphere.
Lord Ormont’s apologists had to contend with anecdotes and dicta now pouring in from offended Britons, for illustration of an impetuosity fit to make another Charley XII. of Sweden–a gratuitous Coriolanus haughtiness as well, new among a people accustomed socially to bow the head to their nobles, and not, of late, expecting a kick for their pains. Newspapers wrote of him that, “a martinet to subordinates, he was known for the most unruly of lieutenants.” They alluded to current sayings, as that he “habitually took counsel of his horse on the field when a movement was entrusted to his discretion.” Numerous were the journalistic sentences running under an air of eulogy of the lordly warrior purposely to be tripped, and producing their damnable effect, despite the obvious artifice. The writer of the letter from Bombay, signed Ormont, was a born subject for the antithetical craftsmen’s tricky springes.
He was, additionally, of infamous repute for morale in burgess estimation, from his having a keen appreciation of female beauty and a prickly sense of masculine honour. The stir to his name roused pestilential domestic stories. In those days the aristocrat still claimed licence, and eminent soldier-nobles, comporting themselves as imitative servants of their god Mars, on the fields of love and war, stood necessarily prepared to vindicate their conduct as the field of the measured paces, without deeming themselves bounden to defend the course they took. Our burgess, who bowed head to his aristocrat, and hired the soldier to fight for him, could not see that such mis-behaviour necessarily ensued. Lord Ormont had fought duels at home and abroad. His readiness to fight again, and against odds, and with a totally unused weapon, was exhibited by his attack on the Press in the columns of the Press. It wore the comical face to the friends deploring it, which belongs to things we do that are so very like us. They agreed with his devoted sister, Lady Charlotte Eglett, as to the prudence of keeping him out of England for a time, if possible.
At the first perusal of the letter, Lady Charlotte quitted her place in Leicestershire, husband, horses, guests, the hunt, to scour across a vacant London and pick up acquaintances under stress to be spots there in the hunting season, with them to gossip for counsel on the subject of “Ormont’s hand-grenade,” and how to stop and extinguish a second. She was a person given to plain speech. “Stinkpot” she called it, when acknowledging foul elements in the composition and the harm it did to the unskilful balist. Her view of the burgess English imaged a mighty monster behind bars, to whom we offer anything but our hand. As soon as he gets held of that he has you; he won’t let it loose with flesh on the bones. We must offend him–we can’t be man or woman without offending his tastes and his worships; but while we keep from contact (i.e. intercommunication) he may growl, he is harmless. Witness the many occasions when her brother offended worse, and had been unworried, only growled at, and distantly, not in a way to rouse concern; and at the neat review, or procession into the City, or public display of any sort, Ormont had but to show himself, he was the popular favourite immediately. He had not committed the folly of writing a letter to a newspaper then.
Lady Charlotte paid an early visit to the office of the great London solicitor, Arthur Abner, who wielded the law as an instrument of protection for countless illustrious people afflicted by what they stir or attract in a wealthy metropolis. She went simply to gossip of her brother’s affairs with a refreshing man of the world, not given to circumlocutions, and not afraid of her: she had no deeper object; but fancying she heard the clerk, on his jump from the stool, inform her that Mr. Abner was out, “Out?” she cried, and rattled the room, thumping, under knitted brows. “Out of town?” For a man of business taking holidays, when a lady craves for gossip, disappointed her faith in him as cruelly as the shut-up, empty inn the broken hunter knocking at a hollow door miles off home.
Mr. Abner, hatted and gloved and smiling, came forth. “Going out, the man meant, Lady Charlotte. At your service for five minutes.”
She complimented his acuteness, in the remark, “You see I’ve only come to chat,” and entered his room.
He led her to her theme: “The excitement is pretty well over.”
“My brother’s my chief care–always was. I’m afraid he’ll be pitchforking at it again, and we shall have another blast. That letter ought never to have been printed. That editor deserves the horsewhip for letting it appear. If he prints a second one I shall treat him as a personal enemy.”
“Better make a friend of him.”
“Meet him at my table.”
She jumped an illumined half-about on her chair. “So I will, then. What are the creature’s tastes?”
“Hunts, does he?” The editor rose in her mind from the state of neuter to something of a man. “I recollect an article in that paper on the Ormont duel. I hate duelling, but I side with my brother. I had to laugh, though. Luckily, there’s no woman on hand at present, as far as I know. Ormont’s not likely to be hooked by garrison women or blacks. Those coloured women–some of ours too–send the nose to the clouds; not a bad sign for health. And there are men like that old Cardinal Guicciardini tells of…hum! Ormont’s not one of them. I hope he’ll stay in India till this blows over, or I shall be hearing of provocations.”
“You have seen the Duke?”
She nodded. Her reserve was a summary of the interview. “Kind, as he always is,” she said. “Ormont has no chance of employment unless there’s a European war. They can’t overlook him in case of war. He’ll have to pray for that.”
“Let us hope we shan’t get it.”
“My wish; but I have to think of my brother. If he’s in England with no employment, he’s in a mess with women and men both. He kicks if he’s laid aside to rust. He has a big heart. That’s what I said: all he wants is to serve his country. If you won’t have war, give him Gibraltar or Malta, or command of one of our military districts. The South-eastern ‘ll be vacant soon. He’d like to be Constable of the Castle, and have an eye on France.”
“I think he’s fond of the French?”
“Loves the French. Expects to have to fight them all the same. He loves his country best. Here’s the man everybody’s abusing!”
“I demur, my lady. I was dining the other day with a client of mine, and a youngster was present who spoke of Lord Ormont in a way I should like you to have heard. He seemed to know the whole of Lord Ormont’s career, from the time of the ride to Paraguay up to the capture of the plotting Rajah. He carried the table.”
“Good boy! We must turn to the boys for justice, then. Name your day for this man, this editor.”
“I will see him. You shall have the day to-night.”
Lady Charlotte and the editor met. She was racy, he anecdotal. Stag, fox, and hare ran before them, over fields and through drawing-rooms: the scent was rich. They found that they could talk to one another as they thought; that he was not the Isle-bound burgess, nor she the postured English great lady; and they exchanged salt, without which your current scandal is of exhausted savour. They enjoyed the peculiar novel relish of it, coming from a social pressman and a dame of high society. The different hemispheres became known as one sphere to these birds of broad wing convening in the upper blue above a quartered carcase earth.
A week later a letter, the envelope of a bulky letter in Lord Ormont’s handwriting, reached Lady Charlotte. There was a line from the editor:
“Would it please your ladyship to have this printed?”
She read the letter, and replied:
“Come to me for six days; you shall have the best mount in the county.”
An editor devoid of malice might probably have forborne to print a letter that appealed to Lady Charlotte, or touched her sensations, as if a glimpse of the moon, on the homeward ride in winter on a nodding horse, had suddenly bared to view a precipitous quarry within two steps. There is no knowing: few men can forbear to tell a spicy story of their friends; and an editor, to whom an exhibition of the immensely preposterous on the part of one writing arrogantly must be provocative, would feel the interests of his Journal, not to speak of the claims of readers, pluck at him when he meditated the consignment of such a precious composition to extinction. Lady Charlotte withheld a sight of the letter from Mr. Eglett. She laid it in her desk, understanding well that it was a laugh lost to the world. Poets could reasonably feign it to shake the desk inclosing it. She had a strong sense of humour; her mind reverted to the desk in a way to make her lips shut grimly. She sided with her brother.
Only pen in hand did he lay himself open to the enemy. In his personal intercourse he was the last of men to be taken at a disadvantage. Lady Charlotte was brought round to the distasteful idea of some help coming from a legitimate adjunct at his elbow: a restraining woman–wife, it had to be said. And to name the word wife for Thomas Rowsley, Earl of Ormont, put up the porcupine quills she bristled with at the survey of a sex thirsting, and likely to continue thirsting, for such honour. What woman had she known fit to bear the name? She had assumed the judicial seat upon the pretensions of several, and dismissed them to their limbo, after testifying against them. Who is to know the fit one in these mines of deception? Women of the class offering wives decline to be taken on trial; they are boxes of puzzles–often dire surprises. Her brother knew them well enough to shy at the box. Her brother Rowsley had a funny pride, like a boy at a game, at the never having been caught by one among the many he made captive. She let him have it all to himself.
He boasted it to a sister sharing the pride exultant in the cry of the hawk, scornful of ambitions poultry, a passed finger-post to the plucked, and really regretful that no woman had been created fit for him. When she was not aiding with her brother, women, however contemptible for their weakness, appeared to her as better than barn-door fowl, or vermin in their multitudes gnawing to get at the cheese-trap. She could be humane, even sisterly, with women whose conduct or prattle did not outrage plain sense, just as the stickler for the privileges of her class was large-heartedly charitable to the classes flowing in oily orderliness round about below it–if they did so flow. Unable to read woman’s character, except upon the broadest lines as it were the spider’s main threads of its web, she read men minutely, from the fact that they were neither mysteries nor terrors to her; but creatures of importunate appetites, humorous objects; very manageable, if we leave the road to their muscles, dress their wounds, smoothe their creases, plume their vanity; and she had an unerring eye for the man to be used when a blow was needed, methods for setting him in action likewise. She knew how much stronger than ordinary men the woman who can put them in motion. They can be set to serve as pieces of cannon, under compliments on their superior powers, which were not all undervalued by her on their own merits, for she worshipped strength. But the said, with a certain amount of truth, that the women unaware of the advantage Society gave them (as to mastering men) were fools.
Tender, is not a word coming near to Lady Charlotte. Thoughtful on behalf of the poor foolish victims of men she was. She had saved some, avenged others. It should be stated, that her notion of saving was the saving of them from the public: she had thrown up a screen. The saving of them from themselves was another matter–hopeless, to her thinking. How preach at a creature on the bend of passion’s rapids! One might as well read a chapter from the Bible to delirious patients. When once a woman is taken with the love-passion, we must treat her as bitten; hide her antics from the public: that is the principal business. If she recovers, she resumes her place, and horrid old Nature, who drove her to the frenzy, is unlikely to bother or, at least, overthrow her again, unless she is one of the detestable wantons, past compassion or consideration. In the case reviewed, the woman has gone through fire, and is none the worse for her experiences: worth ten times what she was, to an honest man, if men could be got to see it. Some do. Of those men who do not, Lady Charlotte spoke with the old family-nurse humour, which is familiar with the tricks and frailties of the infants; and it is a knife to probe the male, while seemingly it does the part of the napkin– pities and pats. They expect a return of much for the little that is next to nothing. They are fall of expectations: and of what else? They are hard bargainers.
She thought this of men; and she liked men by choice. She had old nurse’s preference for the lustier male child. The others are puling things, easier to rear, because they bend better; and less esteemed, though they give less trouble, rouse less care. But when it came to the duel between the man and the woman, her sense of justice was moved to join her with the party of her unfairly handled sisters–a strong party, if it were not so cowardly, she had to think.
Mr. Eglett, her husband, accepted her–accepted the position into which he naturally fell beside her, and the ideas she imposed on him; for she never went counter to his principles. These were the fixed principles of a very wealthy man, who abhorred debt, and was punctilious in veracity, scrupulous in cleanliness of mind and body, devoted to the honour of his country, the interests of his class. She respected the high landmark possessing such principles; and she was therefore enabled to lead without the wish to rule. As it had been between them at the beginning, so it was now, when they were grandparents running on three lines of progeny from two daughters and a son: they were excellent friends. Few couples can say more. The union was good English grey–that of a prolonged November, to which we are reconciled by occasions for the hunt and the gun. She was, nevertheless, an impassioned woman. The feeling for her brother helped to satisfy her heart’s fires, though as little with her brother as with her husband was she demonstrative. Lord Ormont disrelished the caresses of relatives.
She, for her part, had so strong a sympathy on behalf of poor gentlemen reduced to submit to any but a young woman’s hug, that when, bronzed from India, he quitted the carriage and mounted her steps at Olmer, the desire to fling herself on his neck and breast took form in the words: “Here you are home again, Rowsley; glad to have you.” They shook hands firmly.
He remained three days at Olmer. His temper was mild, his frame of mind bad as could be. Angry evaporations had left a residuum of solid scorn for these “English,” who rewarded soldierly services as though it were a question of damaged packages of calico. He threatened to take the first offer of a foreign State “not in insurrection.” But clear sky was overhead. He was the Rowsley of the old boyish delight in field sports, reminiscences of prowlings and trappings in the woods, gropings along water-banks, enjoyment of racy gossip. He spoke wrathfully of “one of their newspapers” which steadily persisted in withholding from publication every letter he wrote to it, after printing the first. And if it printed one, why not the others?
Lady Charlotte put it on the quaintness of editors.
He had found in London, perhaps, reason for saying that he should do well to be “out of this country” as early as he could; adding, presently, that he meant to go, though “it broke his heart to keep away from a six months’ rest at Steignton,” his Wiltshire estate.
No woman was in the field. Lady Charlotte could have submitted to the intrusion of one of those at times wholesome victims, for the sake of the mollification the unhappy proud thing might bring to a hero smarting under injustice at the hands of chiefs and authorities.
He passed on to Steignton, returned to London, and left England for Spain, as he wrote word, saying he hoped to settle at Steignton neat year. He was absent the next year, and longer. Lady Charlotte had the surprising news that Steignton was let, shooting and all, for five years; and he had no appointment out of England or at home. When he came to Olmer again he was under one of his fits of reserve, best undisturbed. Her sympathy with a great soldier snubbed, an active man rusting, kept her from remonstrance.
Three years later she was made meditative by the discovery of a woman’s being absolutely in the field, mistress of the field; and having been there for a considerable period, dating from about the time when he turned his back on England to visit a comrade-in-arms condemned by the doctors to pass the winter in Malaga; and it was a young woman, a girl in her teens, a handsome girl. Handsome was to be expected; Ormont bargained for beauty. But report said the girl was very handsome, and showed breeding: she seemed a foreigner, walked like a Goddess, sat her horse the perfect Amazon. Rumour called her a Spaniard.
“Not if she rides!” Lady Charlotte cut that short.
Rumour had subsequently more to say. The reporter in her ear did not confirm it, and she was resolutely deaf to a story incredible of her brother–the man, of all men living, proudest of his name, blood, station. So proud was he by nature, too, that he disdained to complain of rank injustice; he maintained a cheerful front against adversity and obloquy. And this man of complete self-command, who has every form of noble pride, gets cajoled like a twenty-year-old yahoo at college! Do you imagine it? To suppose of a man cherishing the name of Ormont, that he would bestow it legally on a woman, a stranger, and imperil his race by mixing blood with a creature of unknown lineage, was–why, of course, it was to suppose him struck mad, and there never had been madness among the Ormonts: they were too careful of the purity of the strain. Lady Charlotte talked. She was excited, and ran her sentences to blanks, a cunning way for ministering consolation to her hearing, where the sentence intended a question, and the blank ending caught up the query tone and carried it dwindling away to the most distant of throttled interrogatives. She had, in this manner, only to ask,–her hearing received the comforting answer it desired; for she could take that thin far sound as a travelling laughter of incredulity, triumphant derision.
This meant to her–though she scarcely knew it, though the most wilful of women declined to know it–a state of alarm. She had said of her brother in past days that he would have his time of danger after striking sixty. The dangerous person was to be young.
But, then, Ormont had high principles with regard to the dues to his family. His principles could always be trusted. The dangerous young person would have to be a person of lineage, of a certain station at least: no need for a titled woman, only for warranted good blood. Is that to be found certificated out of the rolls of Society? It may just possibly be found, without certificate, however, in those muddled caverns where the excluded intermingle. Here and there, in a peasant family, or a small country tradesman’s just raised above a peasant, honest regenerating blood will be found. Nobles wanting refreshment from the soil might do worse than try a slip of one of those juicy weeds; ill- fated, sickly Royalties would be set-up striding through another half- century with such invigoration, if it could be done for them! There are tales. The tales are honourably discredited by the crazy constitutions of the heirs to the diadem.
Yes, but we are speculating on the matter seriously, as though it were one of intimate concern to the family. What is there to make us think that Ormont would marry? Impossible to imagine him intimidated. Unlikely that he, a practised reader of women, having so little of the woman in him, would be melted by a wily girl; as women in the twilight situation have often played the trick to come into the bright beams. How? They do a desperate thing, and call it generosity, and then they appeal from it to my lord’s generosity; and so the two generosities drive off in a close carriage with a friend and a professional landlady for the blessing of the parson, and are legitimately united. Women have won round fools to give way in that way. And quite right too! thought Lady Charlotte, siding with nature and justice, as she reflected that no woman created would win round her brother to give way in that way. He was too acute. The moment the woman showed sign of becoming an actress, her doom was written. “Poor idiot!” was not uncharitably inscribed by the sisterly lady on the tombstone of hopes aimed with scarce pardonable ambition at her brother.
She blew away the rumour. Ormont, she vowed, had not entitled any woman to share and bear his title. And this was her interpretation of the report: he permitted (if he did permit) the woman to take his name, that he might have a scornful fling at the world maltreating him. Besides, the name was not published, it was not to be seen in the papers; it passed merely among male friends, tradesmen, servants: no great harm in that.
Listen further. Here is an unknown girl: why should he marry her? A girl consenting to the place beside a man of his handsome ripe age, is either bought, or she is madly enamoured; she does not dictate terms. Ormont is not of the brute buyers in that market. One sees it is the girl who leads the dance. A girl is rarely so madly enamoured as when she falls in love with her grandfather; she pitches herself at his head. This had not happened for the first time in Ormont’s case; and he had never proposed marriage. Why should he do it now?
But again, if the girl has breeding to some extent, he might think it her due that she should pass under the safeguard of his name, out of sight.
Then, so far the report is trustworthy. We blow the rumour out of belief. A young woman there is: she is not a wife. Lady Charlotte allowed her the fairly respectable post of Hecate of the Shades, as long as the girl was no pretender to the place and name in the upper sphere. Her deductions were plausible, convincing to friends shaken by her vehement manner of coming at them. She convinced herself by means of her multitude of reasons for not pursuing inquiry. Her brother said nothing. There was no need for him to speak. He seemed on one or two occasions in the act of getting himself together for the communication of a secret; and she made ready to listen hard, with ears, eyebrows, shut month, and a gleam at the back of her eyes, for a signification of something she would refer him to after he had spoken. He looked at her and held his peace, or virtually held it,–that is, he said not one word on the subject she was to have told him she had anticipated. Lady Charlotte ascribed it to his recollection of the quick blusher, the pained blusher, she was in her girlhood at mention or print of the story of men and women. Who, not having known her, could conceive it! But who could conceive that, behind the positive, plain-dealing, downright woman of the world, there was at times, when a nerve was touched or an old blocked path of imagination thrown open, a sensitive youthfulness; still quick to blush as far as the skin of a grandmother matron might show it!
There was no counting now on Lord Ormont’s presence in the British gathering seasons, when wheatears wing across our fields or swallows return to their eaves. He forsook the hunt to roam the Continent, one of the vulgar band of tourists, honouring town only when Mayflies had flown, and London’s indiscriminate people went about without their volatile heads.
Lady Charlotte put these changed conditions upon the behaviour of the military authorities to her brother, saying that the wonder was he did not shake the dust of his country from his feet. In her wise head she rejoiced to think he was not the donkey she sketched for admiration; and she was partly consoled, or played at the taking of a comfort needed in her perpetual struggle with a phantom of a fact, by the reflection that a young woman on his arm would tense him to feel himself more at home abroad. Her mind’s habit of living warmly beside him in separation was vexed by the fixed intrusion of a female third person, who checked the run of intimate chatter, especially damped the fancied talk over early days–of which the creature was ignorant; and her propinquity to him arrested or broke the dialogue Lady Charlotte invented and pressed to renew. But a wife, while letting him be seen, would have insisted on appropriating the thought of him–all his days, past as well as present. An impassioned sister’s jealousy preferred that it should not be a wife reigning to dispute her share of her brother in imagination.
Then came a rumour, telling of him as engaged upon the composition of his Memoirs.
Lady Charlotte’s impulsive outcry: “Writing them?” signified her grounds for alarm.
Happily, Memoirs are not among the silly deeds done in a moment; they were somewhere ahead and over the hills: a band of brigands rather than a homely shining mansion, it was true; but distant; and a principal question shrieked to know whether he was composing them for publication. She could look forward with a girl’s pleasure to the perusal of them in manuscript, in a woody nook, in a fervour of partizanship, easily avoiding sight of errors, grammatical or moral. She chafed at the possible printing and publishing of them. That would be equivalent to an exhibition of him clean-stripped for a run across London–brilliant in himself, spotty in the offence. Published Memoirs indicate the end of a man’s activity, and that he acknowledges the end; and at a period of Lord Ormont’s life when the denial of it should thunder. They are his final chapter, making mummy of the grand figure they wrap in the printed stuff. They are virtually his apology. Can those knowing Lord Ormont hear him apologize? But it is a craven apology if we stoop to expound: we are seen as pleading our case before the public. Call it by any name you please, and under any attitude, it is that. And set aside the writing: it may be perfect; the act is the degradation. It is a rousing of swarms. His friends and the public will see the proudest nobleman of his day, pleading his case in mangled English, in the headlong of an out- poured, undrilled, rabble vocabulary, doubling the ridicule by his imperturbability over the ridicule he excites: he who is no more ridiculous, cried the partizan sister, conjuring up the scene, not an ace more ridiculous, than a judge of assize calling himself miserable sinner on Sunday before the parson, after he has very properly condemned half a score of weekday miserable sinners to penal servitude or the rope. Nobody laughs at the judge. Everybody will be laughing at the scornful man down half-way to his knee-cape with a stutter of an apology for having done his duty to his country, after stigmatizing numbers for inability or ill-will to do it. But Ormont’s weapon is the sword, not a pen! Lady Charlotte hunted her simile till the dogs had it or it ran to earth.
She struck at the conclusion, that the young woman had been persuading him. An adoring young woman is the person to imagine and induce to the commission of such folly. “What do you think? You have seen her, you say?” she asked of a man she welcomed for his flavour of the worldling’s fine bile.
Lord Adderwood made answer: “She may be having a hand in it. She worships, and that is your way of pulling gods to the ground.”
“Does she understand good English?”
“Can she write?”
“I have never had a letter from her.”
“You tell me Morsfield admires the woman–would marry her to-morrow, if he could get her.”
“He would go through the ceremony Ormont has performed, I do not doubt.”
“I don’t doubt all of you are ready. She doesn’t encourage one?”
“On the contrary, all.”
“She’s clever. This has been going on for now seven years, and, as far as I know, she has my brother fast.”
“She may have done the clever trick of having him fast from the beginning.”
“She’d like people to think it.”
“She has an aunt to advertise it.”
“Ormont can’t swallow the woman, I’m told.”
“Trying, if one is bound to get her down!”
“Boasts of the connection everywhere she’s admitted, Randeller says.”
“Randeller procures the admission to various parti-coloured places.”
“She must be a blinking moll-owl! And I ask any sane Christian or Pagan- -proof enough!–would my brother Rowsley let his wife visit those places, those people? Monstrous to have the suspicion that he would, you know him! Mrs. Lawrence Finchley, for example. I say nothing to hurt the poor woman; I back her against her imbecile of a husband. He brings a charge he can’t support; she punishes him by taking three years’ lease of independence and kicks up the grass all over the paddock, and then comes cuckoo, barking his name abroad to have her home again. You can win the shyest filly to corn at last. She goes, and he digests ruefully the hotch-potch of a dish the woman brings him. Only the world spies a side- head at her, husbanded or not, though the main fault was his, and she had a right to insist that he should be sure of his charge before he smacked her in the face with it before the world. In dealing with a woman, a man commonly prudent–put aside chivalry, justice, and the rest–should bind himself to disbelieve what he can’t prove. Otherwise, let him expect his whipping, with or without ornament. My opinion is, Lawrence Finchley had no solid foundation for his charge, except his being an imbecile. She wasn’t one of the adventurous women to jump the bars,–the gate had to be pushed open, and he did it. There she is; and I ask you, would my brother Rowsley let his wife be intimate with her? And there are others. And, sauf votre respect, the men–Morsfield for one, Randeller another!”
“They have a wholesome dread of the lion.”
“If they smell a chance with the lion’s bone–it’s the sweeter for being the lion’s. These metaphors carry us off our ground. I must let these Ormont Memoirs run and upset him, if they get to print. I’ve only to oppose, printed they’ll be. The same if I say a word of this woman, he marries her to-morrow morning. You speak of my driving men. Why can’t I drive Ormont? Because I’m too fond of him. There you have the secret of the subjection of women: they can hold their own, and a bit more, when they’ve no enemy beating inside.”
“Hearts!–ah, well, it’s possible. I don’t say no; I’ve not discovered them,” Lord Adderwood observed.
They are rarely discovered in the haunts he frequented.
Her allusion to Mrs. Lawrence Finchley rapped him smartly, and she admired his impassiveness under the stroke. Such a spectacle was one of her pleasures.
Lady Charlotte mentioned incidentally her want of a tutor for her grandson Leo during the winter holidays. He suggested an application to the clergyman of her parish. She was at feud with the Rev. Stephen Hampton-Evey, and would not take, she said, a man to be a bootblack in her backyard or a woman a scullery-wench in her kitchen upon his recommendation. She described the person of Mr. Hampton-Evey, his manner of speech, general opinions, professional doctrines; rolled him into a ball and bowled him, with a shrug for lamentation, over the decay of the good old order of manly English Protestant clergymen, who drank their port, bothered nobody about belief, abstained from preaching their sermon, if requested; were capital fellows in the hunting-field, too; for if they came, they had the spur to hunt in the devil’s despite. Now we are going to have a kind of bitter, clawed, forked female, in vestments over breeches. “How do you like that bundling of the sexes?”
Lord Adderwood liked the lines of division to be strictly and invitingly definite. He was thinking, as he reviewed the frittered appearance of the Rev. Stephen Hampton-Evey in Lady Charlotte’s hinds, of the possibility that Lord Ormont, who was reputed to fear nobody, feared her. In which case, the handsome young woman passing among his associates as the pseudo Lady Ormont might be the real one after all, and Isabella Lawrence Finchley prove right in the warning she gave to dogs of chase.
The tutor required by Lady Charlotte was found for her by Mr. Abner. Their correspondence on the subject filled the space of a week, and then the gentleman hired to drive a creaky wheel came down from London to Olmer, arriving late in the evening.
Lady Charlotte’s blunt “Oh!” when he entered her room and bowed upon the announcement of his name, was caused by an instantaneous perception and refection that it would be prudent to keep her grand-daughter Philippa, aged between seventeen and eighteen, out of his way.
“You are friend of Mr. Abner’s, are you?”
He was not disconcerted. He replied, in an assured and pleasant voice, “I have hardly the pretension to be called a friend, madam.”
“Are you a Jew?”
Her abruptness knocked something like a laugh almost out of him, but he restrained the signs of it.
“I am not.”
“You wouldn’t be ashamed to tell me you were one if you were?”
“Not at all.”
“You like the Jews?”
“Those I know I like.”
“Not many Christians have the good sense and the good heart of Arthur Abner. Now go and eat. Come back to me when you’ve done. I hope you are hungry. Ask the butler for the wine you prefer.”
She had not anticipated the enrolment in her household of a man so young and good-looking. These were qualifications for Cupid’s business, which his unstrained self-possession accentuated to a note of danger to her chicks, because she liked the taste of him. Her grand-daughter Philippa was in the girl’s waxen age; another, Beatrice, was coming to it. Both were under her care; and she was a vigilant woman, with an intuition and a knowledge of sex. She did not blame Arthur Abner for sending her a good-looking young man; she had only a general idea that tutors in a house, and even visiting tutors, should smell of dust and wear a snuffy appearance. The conditions will not always insure the tutors from foolishness, as her girl’s experience reminded her, but they protect the girl.
“Your name is Weyburn; your father was an officer in the army, killed on the battle-field, Arthur Abner tells me,” was her somewhat severely-toned greeting to the young tutor on his presenting himself the second time.
It had the sound of the preliminary of an indictment read in a Court of Law.
“My father died of his wounds in hospital,” he said.
“Why did you not enter the service?”
“Want of an income, my lady.”
“Bad look-out. Army or Navy for gentlemen, if they stick to the school of honour. The sedentary professions corrupt men: bad for the blood. Those monastery monks found that out. They had to birch the devil out of them three times a day and half the night, howling like full-moon dogs all through their lives, till the flesh was off them. That was their exercise, if they were for holiness. My brother, Lord Ormont, has never been still in his youth or his manhood. See him now. He counts his years by scores; and be has about as many wrinkles as you when you’re smiling. His cheeks are as red as yours now you’re blushing. You ought to have left off that trick by this time. It’s well enough in a boy.”
Against her will she was drawn to the young man, and her consciousness of it plucked her back to caution with occasional jerks–quaint alternations of the familiar and the harshly formal, in the stranger’s experience.
“If I have your permission, Lady Charlotte,” said he, “the reason why I mount red a little–if I do it–is, you mention Lord Ormont, and I have followed his career since I was the youngest of boys.”
“Good to begin with the worship of a hero. He can’t sham, can’t deceive –not even a woman; and you’re old enough to understand the temptation: they’re so silly. All the more, it’s a point of honour with a man of honour to shield her from herself. When it’s a girl–“
The young man’s eyebrows bent.
“Chapters of stories, if you want to hear them,” she resumed; “and I can vouch some of them true. Lord Ormont was never one of the wolves in a hood. Whatever you hear of him; you may be sure he laid no trap. He’s just the opposite to the hypocrite; so hypocrites date him. I’ve heard them called high-priests of decency. Then we choose to be indecent and honest, if there’s a God to worship. Fear, they’re in the habit of saying–we are to fear God. A man here, a Rev. Hampton-Evey, you’ll hear him harp on ‘fear God.’ Hypocrites may: honest sinners have no fear. And see the cause: they don’t deceive themselves–that is why. Do you think we call love what we fear? They love God, or they disbelieve. And if they believe in Him, they know they can’t conceal anything from Him. Honesty means piety: we can’t be one without the other. And here are people–parsons–who talk of dying as going into the presence of our Maker, as if He had been all the while outside the world He created. Those parsons, I told the Rev. Hampton-Evey here, make infidels–they make a puzzle of their God. I’m for a rational Deity. They preach up a supernatural eccentric. I don’t say all: I’ve heard good sermons, and met sound-headed clergymen–not like that gaping Hampton-Evey, when a woman tells him she thinks for herself. We have him sitting on our pariah. A free-thinker startles him as a kind of demon; but a female free-thinker is one of Satan’s concubines. He took it upon himself to reproach me–flung his glove at my feet, because I sent a cheque to a poor man punished for blasphemy. The man had the right to his opinions, and he had the courage of his opinions. I doubt whether the Rev. Hampton-Evey would go with a willing heart to prison for his. All the better for him if he comes head-up out of a trial. But now see: all these parsons and judges and mobcaps insist upon conformity. A man with common manly courage comes before them, and he’s cast in penalties. Yet we know from history, in England, France, Germany, that the time of nonconformity brought out the manhood of the nation. Now, I say, a nation, to be a nation, must have men–I mean brave men. That’s what those hosts of female men combine to try to stifle. They won’t succeed, but we shall want a war to teach the country the value of courage. You catch what I am driving at? They accuse my brother of immorality because he makes no pretence to be better than the men of his class.”
Weyburn’s eyelids fluttered. Her kite-like ascent into the general, with the sudden drop on her choice morsel, switched his humour at the moment when he was respectfully considering that her dartings and gyrations had motive as mach as the flight of the swallow for food. They had meaning; and here was one of the great ladies of the land who thought for herself, and was thoughtful for the country. If she came down like a bird winged, it was her love of her brother that did it. His look at Lady Charlotte glistened.
She raised her defences against the basilisk fascinating Philippa; and with a vow to keep them apart and deprive him of his chance, she relapsed upon the stiff frigidity which was not natural to her. It lasted long enough to put him on his guard under the seductions of a noble dame’s condescension to a familiar tone. But, as he was too well bred to show the change in his mind for her change of manner, and as she was the sister of his boyhood’s hero, and could be full of flavour, his eyes retained something of their sparkle. They were ready to lighten again, in the way peculiar to him, when she, quite forgetting her defence of Philippa, disburdened herself of her antagonisms and enthusiasms, her hates and her loves all round the neighbourhood and over the world, won to confidential communication by this young man’s face. She confessed as much, had he been guided to perceive it. She said, “Arthur Abner’s a reader of men: I can trust his word about them.”
Presently, it is true, she added: “No man’s to be relied upon where there’s a woman.” She refused her implicit trust to saints–“if ever a man really was a saint before he was canonized!”
Her penetrative instinct of sex kindled the scepticism. Sex she saw at play everywhere, dogging the conduct of affairs, directing them at times; she saw it as the animation of nature, senselessly stigmatized, hypocritically concealed, active in our thoughts where not in our deeds; and the declining of the decorous to see it, or admit the sight, got them abhorred bad names from her, after a touch at the deadly poison coming of that blindness, or blindfoldedness, and a grimly melancholy shrug over the cruelties resulting–cruelties chiefly affecting women.
“You’re too young to have thought upon such matters,” she said, for a finish to them.
That was hardly true.
“I have thought,” said Weyburn, and his head fell to reckoning of the small sum of his thoughts upon them.
He was pulled up instantly for close inspection by the judge. “What is your age?”
“I am in my twenty-sixth year.”
“You have been among men: have you studied women?”
“Not largely, Lady Charlotte. Opportunity has been wanting at French and German colleges.”
“It’s only a large and a close and a pretty long study of them that can teach you anything; and you must get rid of the poetry about them, and be sure you haven’t lost it altogether. That’s what is called the golden mean. I’m not for the golden mean in every instance; it’s a way of exhorting to brutal selfishness. I grant it’s the right way in those questions. You’ll learn in time.” Her scanning gaze at the young man’s face drove him along an avenue of his very possible chances of learning. “Certain to. But don’t tell me that at your age you have thought about women. You may say you have felt. A young man’s feelings about women are better reading for him six or a dozen chapters farther on. Then he can sift and strain. It won’t be perfectly clear, but it will do.”
Mr. Eglett hereupon threw the door open, and ushered in Master Leo.
Lady Charlotte noticed that the tutor shook the boy’s hand offhandedly, with not a whit of the usual obtrusive geniality, and merely dropped him a word. Soon after, he was talking to Mr. Eglett of games at home and games abroad. Poor fun over there! We head the world in field games, at all events. He drew a picture of a foreigner of his acquaintance looking on at football. On the other hand, French boys and German, having passed a year or two at an English school, get the liking for our games, and do a lot of good when they go home. The things we learn from them are to dance, to sing, and to study:–they are more in earnest than we about study. They teach us at fencing too. The tutor praised fencing as an exercise and an accomplishment. He had large reserves of eulogy for boxing. He knew the qualities of the famous bruisers of the time, cited fisty names, whose owners were then to be seen all over an admiring land in prints; in the glorious defensive-offensive attitude, England’s own– Touch me, if you dare! with bullish, or bull-dog, or oak-bole fronts for the blow, handsome to pugilistic eyes.
The young tutor had lighted on a pet theme of Mr. Eglett’s–the excelling virtues of the practice of pugilism in Old England, and the school of honour that it is to our lower population. “Fifty times better for them than cock-fighting,” he exclaimed, admitting that he could be an interested spectator at a ring or the pit cock-fighting or ratting.
“Ratting seems to have more excuse,” the tutor said, and made no sign of a liking for either of those popular pastimes. As he disapproved without squeamishness, the impulsive but sharply critical woman close by nodded; and she gave him his dues for being no courtier.
Leo had to be off to bed. The tutor spared him any struggle over the shaking of hands, and saying, “Goodnight, Leo,” continued the conversation. The boy went away, visibly relieved of the cramp that seizes on a youngster at the formalities pertaining to these chilly and fateful introductions.
“What do you think of the look of him?” Mr. Eglett asked.
The tutor had not appeared to inspect the boy. “Big head,” he remarked. “Yes, Leo won’t want pushing at books when he’s once in harness. He will have six weeks of me. It’s more than the yeomanry get for drill per annum, and they’re expected to know something of a soldier’s duties. There’s a chance of putting him on the right road in certain matters. We’ll walk, or ride, or skate, if the frost holds to-morrow: no lessons the first day.”
“Do as you think fit,” said lady Charlotte.
The one defect she saw in the tutor did not concern his pupil. And a girl, if hit, would be unable to see that this tutor, judged as a man, was to some extent despicable for accepting tutorships, and, one might say, dishonouring the family of a soldier of rank and distinction, by coming into houses at the back way, with footing enough to air his graces when once established there. He ought to have knocked at every door in the kingdom for help, rather than accept tutorships, and disturb households (or providently-minded mistresses of them) with all sorts of probably groundless apprehensions, founded naturally enough on the good looks he intrudes.
This tutor committed the offence next day of showing he had a firm and easy seat in the saddle, which increased Lady Charlotte’s liking for him and irritated her watchful forecasts. She rode with the young man after lunch, “to show him the country,” and gave him a taste of what he took for her variable moods. He misjudged her. Like a swimmer going through warm and cold springs of certain lake waters, he thought her a capricious ladyship, dangerous for intimacy, alluring to the deeps and gripping with cramps.
She pushed him to defend his choice of the tutor’s profession.
“Think you understand boys?” she caught up his words; “you can’t. You can humour them, as you humour women. They’re just as hard to read. And don’t tell me a young man can read women. Boys and women go on their instincts. Egyptologists can spell you hieroglyphs; they’d be stumped, as Leo would say, to read a spider out of an ink-pot over a sheet of paper.”
“One gets to interpret by degrees, by observing their habits,” the tutor said, and vexed her with a towering complacency under provocation that went some way further to melt the woman she was, while her knowledge of the softness warned her still more of the duty of playing dragon round such a young man in her house. The despot is alert at every issue, to every chance; and she was one, the wakefuller for being benevolent; her mind had no sleep by day.
For a month she subjected Mr. Matthew Weyburn to the microscope of her observation and the probe of her instinct. He proved that he could manage without cajoling a boy. The practical fact established, by agreement between herself and the unobservant gentleman who was her husband, Lady Charlotte allowed her meditations to drop an indifferent glance at the speculative views upon education entertained by this young tutor. To her mind they were flighty; but she liked him, and as her feelings dictated to her mind when she had not to think for others, she spoke of his views toleratingly, almost with an implied approval, after passing them through the form of burlesque to which she customarily treated things failing to waft her enthusiasm. In regard to Philippa, he behaved well: he bestowed more of his attention on Beatrice, nearer Leo’s age, in talk about games and story-books and battles; nothing that he did when the girls were present betrayed the strutting plumed cock, bent to attract, or the sickly reptile, thirsty for a prize above him and meaning to have it, like Satan in Eden. Still, of course, he could not help his being a handsome fellow, having a vivid face and eyes transparent, whether blue or green, to flame of the brain exciting them; and that becomes a picture in the dream of girls–a picture creating the dream often. And Philippa had asked her grandmother, very ingenuously indeed, with a most natural candour, why “they saw so little of Leo’s hero.” Simple female child!
However, there was no harm done, and Lady Charlotte liked him. She liked few. Forthwith, in the manner of her particular head, a restless head, she fell to work at combinations.
Thus:–he is a nice young fellow, well bred, no cringing courtier, accomplished, good at classics, fairish at mathematics, a scholar in French, German, Italian, with a shrewd knowledge of the different races, and with sound English sentiment too, and the capacity for writing good English, although in those views of his the ideas are unusual, therefore un-English, profoundly so. But his intentions are patriotic; they would not displease Lord Ormont. He has a worship of Lord Ormont. All we can say on behalf of an untried inferior is in that,–only the valiant admire devotedly. Well, he can write grammatical, readable English. What if Lord Ormont were to take him as a secretary while the Memoirs are in hand? He might help to chasten the sentences laughed at by those newspapers. Or he might, being a terrible critic of writing, and funny about styles, put it in an absurd light, that would cause the Memoirs to be tossed into the fire. He was made for the post of secretary! The young man’s good looks would be out of harm’s way then. If any sprig of womankind come across him there, it will, at any rate, not be a girl. Women must take care of themselves. Only the fools among them run to mischief in the case of a handsome young fellow.
Supposing a certain woman to be one of the fools? Lady Charlotte merely suggested it in the dashing current of her meditations–did not strike it out interrogatively. The woman would be a fine specimen among her class; that was all. For the favourite of Lord Ormont to stoop from her place beside him–ay, but women do; heroes have had the woeful experience of that fact. First we see them aiming themselves at their hero; next they are shooting an eye at the handsome man. The thirst of nature comes after that of their fancy, in conventional women. Sick of the hero tried, tired of their place in the market, no longer ashamed to acknowledge it, they begin to consult their own taste for beauty–they have it quite as much as the men have it; and when their worshipped figure of manliness, in a romantic sombrero, is a threadbare giant, showing bruises, they sink on their inherent desire for a dance with the handsome man. And the really handsome man is the most extraordinary of the rarities. No wonder that when he appears he slays them, walks over them like a pestilence!
This young Weyburn would touch the fancy of a woman of a romantic turn. Supposing her enthusiastic in her worship of the hero, after a number of years–for anything may be imagined where a woman is concerned–why, another enthusiasm for the same object, and on the part of a stranger, a stranger with effective eyes, rapidly leads to sympathy. Suppose the reverse–the enthusiasm gone to dust, or become a wheezy old bellows, as it does where there’s disparity of age, or it frequently does–then the sympathy with a good-looking stranger comes more rapidly still.
These were Lady Charlotte’s glances right and left–idle flights of the eye of a mounted Amazon across hedges at the canter along the main road of her scheme; which was to do a service to the young man she liked and to the brother she loved, for the marked advantage of both equally; perhaps for the chance of a little gossip to follow about that tenacious woman by whom her brother was held hard and fast, kept away from friends and relatives, isolated, insomuch as to have given up living on his estate–the old home!–because he would not disgrace it or incur odium by taking her there.
In consequence of Lord Ormont’s resistance to pressure from her on two or three occasions, she chose to nurse and be governed by the maxim for herself: Never propose a plan to him, if you want it adopted. That was her way of harmlessly solacing love’s vindictiveness for an injury.
She sent Arthur Abner a letter, thanking him for his recommendation of young Mr. Weyburn, stating her benevolent wishes as regarded the young man and “those hateful Memoirs,” requesting that her name should not be mentioned in the affair, because she was anxious on all grounds to have the proposal accepted by her brother. She could have vowed to herself that she wrote sincerely.
“He must want a secretary. He would be shy at an offer of one from me. Do you hint it, if you get a chance. You gave us Mr. Weyburn, and Mr. Eglett and I like him. Ormont would too, I am certain. You have obliged him before; this will be better than anything you have done for us. It will stop the Memoirs, or else give them a polish. Your young friend has made me laugh over stuff taken for literature until we put on our spectacles. Leo jogs along in harness now, and may do some work at school yet.”
Having posted her letter, she left the issue to chance, as we may when conscience is easy. An answer came the day before Weyburn’s departure. Arthur Abner had met Lord Ormont in the street, had spoken of the rumour of Memoirs promised to the world, hinted at the possible need for a secretary; “Lord Ormont would appoint a day to see Mr. Weyburn.”
Lady Charlotte considered that to be as good as the engagement.
“So we keep you in the family,” she said. “And now look here: you ought to know my brother’s ways, if you’re going to serve him. You’ll have to guess at half of everything he tells you; he’ll expect you to know the whole. There’s no man so secret. Why? He fears nothing; I can’t tell why. And what his mouth shuts on, he exposes as if in his hand. Of course he’s proud, and good reason. You’ll see when you mustn’t offend. A lady’s in the house–I hear of it. She takes his name, they say. She may be a respectable woman–I’ve heard no scandal. We have to hear of a Lady Ormont out of Society! We have to suppose it means there’s not to be a real one. He can’t marry if he has allowed her to go about bearing his name. She has a fool of an aunt, I’m told; as often in the house as not. Good proof of his fondness for the woman, if he swallows half a year of the aunt! Well, you won’t, unless you’ve mere man’s eyes, be able to help seeing him trying to hide what he suffers from that aunt. He bears it, like the man he is; but woe to another betraying it! She has a tongue that goes like the reel of a rod, with a pike bolting out of the shallows to the snag he knows–to wind round it and defy you to pull. Often my brother Rowsley and I have fished the day long, and in hard weather, and brought home a basket; and he boasted of it more than of anything he has ever done since. That woman holds him away from me now. I say no harm of her. She may be right enough from her point of view; or it mayn’t be owing to her. I wouldn’t blame a woman. Well, but my point with you is, you swallow the woman’s aunt–the lady’s aunt–without betraying you suffer at all. Lord Ormont has eyes of an eagle for a speck above the surface. All the more because the aunt is a gabbling idiot does he–I say it seeing it–fire up to defend her from the sneer of the lip or half a sign of it! No, you would be an your guard; I can trust you. Of course you’d behave like the gentleman you are where any kind of woman’s concerned; but you mustn’t let a shadow be seen, think what you may. The woman–lady–calling herself Lady Ormont,–poor woman, I should do the same in her place,–she has a hard game to play; I have to be for my family: she has manners, I’m told; holds herself properly. She fancies she brings him up to the altar, in the end, by decent behaviour. That’s a delusion. It’s creditable to her, only she can’t understand the claims of the family upon a man like my brother. When you have spare time–‘kick-ups,’ he need to call it, writing to me from school–come here; you’re welcome, after three days’ notice. I shall be glad to see you again. You’ve gone some way to make a man of Leo.”
He liked her well: he promised to come. She was a sinewy bite of the gentle sex, but she had much flavour, and she gave nourishment.
“Let me have three days’ notice,” she repeated.
“Not less, Lady Charlotte,” said he.
Weyburn received intimation from Arthur Abner of the likely day Lord Ormont would appoint, and he left Olmer for London to hold himself in readiness. Lady Charlotte and Leo drove him to meet the coach. Philippa, so strangely baffled in her natural curiosity, begged for a seat; she begged to be allowed to ride. Petitions were rejected. She stood at the window seeing “Grandmama’s tutor,” as she named him, carried off by grandmama. Her nature was avenged on her tyrant grandmama: it brought up almost to her tongue thoughts which would have remained subterranean, under control of her habit of mind, or the nursery’s modesty, if she had been less tyrannically treated. They were subterranean thoughts, Nature’s original, such as the sense of injustice will rouse in young women; and they are better unstirred, for they ripen girls over-rapidly when they are made to revolve near the surface. It flashed on the girl why she had been treated tyrannically.
“Grandmama has good taste in tutors,” was all that she said while the thoughts rolled over.
Our applicant for the post of secretary entered the street of Lord Ormont’s London house, to present himself to his boyhood’s hero by appointment.
He was to see, perhaps to serve, the great soldier. Things had come to this; and he thought it singular. But for the previous introduction to Lady Charlotte, he would have thought it passing wonderful. He ascribed it to the whirligig.
The young man was not yet of an age to gather knowledge of himself and of life from his present experience of the fact, that passionate devotion to an object strikes a vein through circumstances, as a travelling run of flame darts the seeming haphazard zigzags to catch at the dry of dead wood amid the damp; and when passion has become quiescent in the admirer, there is often the unsubsided first impulsion carrying it on. He will almost sorely embrace his idol with one or other of the senses.
Weyburn still read the world as it came to him, by bite, marvelling at this and that, after the fashion of most of us. He had not deserted his adolescent’s hero, or fallen upon analysis of a past season. But he was now a young man, stoutly and cognizantly on the climb, with a good aim overhead, axed green youth’s enthusiasms a step below his heels: one of the lovers of life, beautiful to behold, when we spy into them; generally their aspect is an enlivenment, whatever may be the carving of their features. For the sake of holy unity, this lover of life, whose gaze was to the front in hungry animation, held fast to his young dreams, perceiving a soul of meaning in them, though the fire might have gone out; and he confessed to a past pursuit of delusions. Young men of this kind will have, for the like reason, a similar rational sentiment on behalf of our world’s historic forward march, while admitting that history has to be taken from far backward if we would gain assurance of man’s advance. It nerves an admonished ambition.
He was ushered into a London house’s library, looking over a niggard enclosure of gravel and dull grass, against a wall where ivy dribbled. An armchair was beside the fireplace. To right and left of it a floreate company of books in high cases paraded shoulder to shoulder, without a gap; grenadiers on the line. Weyburn read the titles on their scarlet- and-blue facings. They were approved English classics; honoured veterans, who have emerged from the conflict with contemporary opinion, stamped excellent, or have been pushed by the roar of contemporaneous applauses to wear the leather-and-gilt uniform of our Immortals, until a more qualmish posterity disgorges them. The books had costly bindings. Lord Ormont’s treatment of Literature appeared to resemble Lady Charlotte’s, in being reverential and uninquiring. The books she bought to read were Memoirs of her time by dead men and women once known to her. These did fatigue duty in cloth or undress. It was high drill with all of Lord Ormont’s books, and there was not a modern or a minor name among the regiments. They smelt strongly of the bookseller’s lump lots by order; but if a show soldiery, they were not a sham, like a certain row of venerably-titled backs, that Lady Charlotte, without scruple, left standing to blow an ecclesiastical trumpet of empty contents; any one might have his battle of brains with them, for the twining of an absent key.
The door opened. Weyburn bowed to his old star in human shape: a grey head on square shoulders, filling the doorway. He had seen at Olmer Lady Charlotte’s treasured miniature portrait of her brother; a perfect likeness, she said–complaining the neat instant of injustice done to the fire of his look.
Fire was low down behind the eyes at present. They were quick to scan and take summary of their object, as the young man felt while observing for himself. Height and build of body were such as might be expected in the brother of Lady Charlotte and from the tales of his prowess. Weyburn had a glance back at Cuper’s boys listening to the tales.
The soldier-lord’s manner was courteously military–that of an established superior indifferent to the deferential attitude he must needs enact. His curt nick of the head, for a response to the visitor’s formal salutation, signified the requisite acknowledgment, like a city creditor’s busy stroke of the type-stamp receipt upon payment.
The ceremony over, he pitched a bugle voice to fit the contracted area: “I hear from Mr. Abner that you have made acquaintance with Olmer. Good hunting country there.”
“Lady Charlotte kindly gave me a mount, my lord.”
“I knew your father by name–Colonel Sidney Weyburn. You lost him at Toulouse. We were in the Peninsula; I was at Talavera with him. Bad day for our cavalry.”
“Our officers were young at their work then.”
“They taught the Emperor’s troops to respect a charge of English horse. It was teaching their fox to set traps for them.”
Lord Ormont indicated a chair. He stood.
“The French had good cavalry leaders,” Weyburn said, for cover to a continued study of the face,
“Montbrun, yes: Murat, Lassalle, Bessieres. Under the Emperor they had.”
“You think them not at home in the saddle, my lord?”
“Frenchmen have nerves; horses are nerves. They pile excitement too high. When cool, they’re among the best. None of them had head for command of all the arms.”
“One might say the same of Seidlitz and Ziethen?”
“Of Ziethen. Seidlitz had a wider grasp, I suppose.” He pursed his month, pondering. “No; and in the Austrian service, too; generals of cavalry are left to whistle for an independent command. There’s a jealousy of our branch!” The injured warrior frowned and hummed. He spoke his thought mildly: “Jealousy of the name of soldier in this country! Out of the service, is the place to recommend. I’d have advised a son of mine to train for a jockey rather than enter it. We deal with that to-morrow, in my papers. You come to me? Mr. Abner has arranged the terms? So I see you at ten in the morning. I am glad to meet a young man–Englishman–who takes an interest in the service.”
Weyburn fancied the hearing of a step; he heard the whispering dress. It passed him; a lady went to the armchair. She took her seat, as she had moved, with sedateness, the exchange of a toneless word with my lord. She was a brune. He saw that when he rose to do homage.
Lord Ormont resumed: “Some are born to it, must be soldiers; and in peace they are snubbed by the heads; in war they are abused by the country. They don’t understand in England how to treat an army; how to make one either!
“The gentleman–Mr. Weyburn: Mr. Arthur Abner’s recommendation,” he added hurriedly, with a light wave of his hand and a murmur, that might be the lady’s title; continuing: “A young man of military tastes should take service abroad. They’re in earnest about it over there. Here they play at it; and an army’s shipped to land without commissariat, ambulances, medical stores, and march against the odds, as usual–if it can march!
“Albuera, my lord?”
“Our men can spurt, for a flick o’ the whip. They’re expected to be constantly ready for doing prodigies–to repair the country’s omissions. All the country cares for is to hope Dick Turpin may get to York. Our men are good beasts; they give the best in ’em, and drop. More’s the scandal to a country that has grand material and overtasks it. A blazing disaster ends the chapter!”
This was talk of an injured veteran. It did not deepen the hue of his ruddied skin. He spoke in the tone of matter of fact. Weyburn had been prepared for something of the sort by his friend, Arthur Abner. He noted the speaker’s heightened likeness under excitement to Lady Charlotte. Excitement came at an early call of their voices to both; and both had handsome, open features, bluntly cut, nothing of aquiline or the supercilious; eyes bluish-grey, in arched recesses, horny between the thick lids, lively to shoot their meaning when the trap-mouth was active; effectively expressing promptitute for combat, pleasure in attack, wrestle, tag, whatever pertained to strife; an absolute sense of their right.
As there was a third person present at this dissuasion of military topics, the silence of the lady drew Weyburn to consult her opinion in her look.
It was on him. Strange are the woman’s eyes which can unoffendingly assume the privilege to dwell on such a living object as a man without become gateways for his return look, and can seem in pursuit of thoughts while they enfold. They were large dark eyes, eyes of southern night. They sped no shot; they rolled forth an envelopment. A child among toys, caught to think of other toys, may gaze in that way. But these were a woman’s eyes.
He gave Lord Ormont his whole face, as an auditor should. He was interested besides, as he told a ruffled conscience. He fell upon the study of his old hero determinedly.
The pain of a memory waking under pillows, unable to do more than strain for breath, distracted his attention. There was a memory: that was all he knew. Or else he would have lashed himself for hanging on the beautiful eyes of a woman. To be seeing and hearing his old hero was wonder enough.