This etext was produced by Pat Castevans
By George Meredith
XXX. THE EXPIATION
XXXI. THE MELTING OF THE THOUSAND XXXII. LA QUESTION D’ARGENT
XXXIII. EDWARD’S RETURN
XXXIV. FATHER AND SON
XXXV. THE NIGHT BEFORE
XXXVI. EDWARD MEETS HIS MATCH
XXXVII. EDWARD TRIES HIS ELOQUENCE XXXVIII. TOO LATE
Those two in the open carriage, one of whom had called out Sedgett’s name, were Robert and Major Waring. When the cab had flown by, they fell back into their seats, and smoked; the original stipulation for the day having been that no harassing matter should be spoken of till nightfall.
True to this, Robert tried to think hard on the scene of his recent enjoyment. Horses were to him what music is to a poet, and the glory of the Races he had witnessed was still quick in heart, and partly counteracted his astonishment at the sight of his old village enemy in company with Algernon Blancove.
It was not astonishing at all to him that they should have quarrelled and come to blows; for he knew Sedgett well, and the imperative necessity for fighting him, if only to preserve a man’s self-respect and the fair division of peace, when once he had been allowed to get upon terms sufficiently close to assert his black nature; but how had it come about? How was it that a gentleman could consent to appear publicly with such a fellow? He decided that it meant something, and something ominous–but what? Whom could it affect? Was Algernon Blancove such a poor creature that, feeling himself bound by certain dark dealings with Sedgett to keep him quiet, he permitted the bullying dog to hang to his coat-tail? It seemed improbable that any young gentleman should be so weak, but it might be the case; and “if so,” thought Robert, “and I let him know I bear him no ill-will for setting Sedgett upon me, I may be doing him a service.”
He remembered with pain Algernon’s glance of savage humiliation upward, just before he turned to follow Sedgett into the cab; and considered that he ought in kindness to see him and make him comfortable by apologizing, as if he himself had no complaint to make.
He resolved to do it when the opportunity should come. Meantime, what on earth brought them together?
“How white the hedges are!” he said.
“There’s a good deal of dust,” Major Waring replied.
“I wasn’t aware that cabs came to the races.”
“They do, you see.”
Robert perceived that Percy meant to fool him if he attempted a breach of the bond; but he longed so much for Percy’s opinion of the strange alliance between Sedgett and Algernon Blancove, that at any cost he was compelled to say, “I can’t get to the bottom of that.”
“That squabble in the road?” said Percy. “We shall see two or three more before we reach home.”
“No. What’s the meaning of a gentleman consorting with a blackguard?” Robert persisted.
“One or the other has discovered an assimilation, I suppose,” Percy gave answer. “That’s an odd remark on returning from Epsom. Those who jump into the same pond generally come out the same colour.”
Robert spoke low.
“Has it anything to do with the poor girl, do you think?”
“I told you I declined to think till we were home again. Confound it, man, have you no idea of a holiday?”
Robert puffed his tobacco-smoke.
“Let’s talk of Mrs. Lovell,” he said.
“That’s not a holiday for me,” Percy murmured but Robert’s mind was too preoccupied to observe the tone, and he asked,–
“Is she to be trusted to keep her word faithfully this time?”
“Come,” said Percy, “we haven’t betted to-day. I’ll bet you she will, if you like. Will you bet against it?”
“I won’t. I can’t nibble at anything. Betting’s like drinking.”
“But you can take a glass of wine. This sort of bet is much the same. However, don’t; for you would lose.”
“There,” said Robert; “I’ve heard of being angry with women for fickleness, changeableness, and all sorts of other things. She’s a lady I couldn’t understand being downright angry with, and here’s the reason– it ain’t a matter of reason at all–she fascinates me. I do, I declare, clean forget Rhoda; I forget the girl, if only I see Mrs. Lovell at a distance. How’s that? I’m not a fool, with nonsensical fancies of any kind. I know what loving a woman is; and a man in my position might be ass enough to–all sorts of things. It isn’t that; it’s fascination. I’m afraid of her. If she talks to me, I feel something like having gulped a bottle of wine. Some women you have a respect for; some you like or you love; some you despise: with her, I just feel I’m intoxicated.”
Major Waring eyed him steadily. He said: “I’ll unriddle it, if I can, to your comprehension. She admires you for what you are, and she lets you see it; I dare say she’s not unwilling that you should see it. She has a worship for bravery: it’s a deadly passion with her.”
Robert put up a protesting blush of modesty, as became him. “Then why, if she does me the honour to think anything of me, does she turn against me?”
“Ah! now you go deeper. She is giving you what assistance she can; at present: be thankful, if you can be satisfied with her present doings. Perhaps I’ll answer the other question by-and-by. Now we enter London, and our day is over. How did you like it?”
Robert’s imagination rushed back to the downs.
“The race was glorious. I wish we could go at that pace in life; I should have a certainty of winning. How miserably dull the streets look; and the people creep along–they creep, and seem to like it. Horseback’s my element.”
They drove up to Robert’s lodgings, where, since the Winter, he had been living austerely and recklessly; exiled by his sensitiveness from his two homes, Warbeach and Wrexby; and seeking over London for Dahlia–a pensioner on his friend’s bounty; and therein had lain the degrading misery to a man of his composition. Often had he thought of enlisting again, and getting drafted to a foreign station. Nothing but the consciousness that he was subsisting on money not his own would have kept him from his vice. As it was, he had lived through the months between Winter and Spring, like one threading his way through the tortuous lengths of a cavern; never coming to the light, but coming upon absurd mishaps in his effort to reach it. His adventures in London partook somewhat of the character of those in Warbeach, minus the victim; for whom two or three gentlemen in public thoroughfares had been taken. These misdemeanours, in the face of civil society, Robert made no mention of in his letters to Percy.
But there was light now, though at first it gave but a faint glimmer, in a lady’s coloured envelope, lying on the sitting-room table. Robert opened it hurriedly, and read it; seized Dahlia’s address, with a brain on fire, and said:
“It’s signed ‘Margaret Lovell.’ This time she calls me ‘Dear Sir.'”
“She could hardly do less,” Percy remarked.
“I know: but there is a change in her. There’s a summer in her writing now. She has kept her word, Percy. She’s the dearest lady in the world. I don’t ask why she didn’t help me before.”
“You acknowledge the policy of mild measures,” said Major Waring.
“She’s the dearest lady in the world,” Robert repeated. He checked his enthusiasm. “Lord in heaven! what an evening I shall have.”
The thought of his approaching interview with Dahlia kept him dumb.
As they were parting in the street, Major Waring said, “I will be here at twelve. Let me tell you this, Robert: she is going to be married; say nothing to dissuade her; it’s the best she can do; take a manly view of it. Good-bye.”
Robert was but slightly affected by the intelligence. His thoughts were on Dahlia as he had first seen her, when in her bloom, and the sister of his darling; now miserable; a thing trampled to earth! With him, pity for a victim soon became lost in rage at the author of the wrong, and as he walked along he reflected contemptuously on his feeble efforts to avenge her at Warbeach. She lived in a poor row of cottages, striking off from one of the main South-western suburb roads, not very distant from his own lodgings, at which he marvelled, as at a cruel irony. He could not discern the numbers, and had to turn up several of the dusky little strips of garden to read the numbers on the doors. A faint smell of lilac recalled the country and old days, and some church bells began ringing. The number of the house where he was to find Dahlia was seven. He was at the door of the house next to it, when he heard voices in the garden beside him.
A man said, “Then I have your answer?”
A woman said, “Yes; yes.”
“You will not trust to my pledged honour?”
“Pardon me; not that. I will not live in disgrace.”
“When I promise, on my soul, that the moment I am free I will set you right before the world?”
“Oh! pardon me.”
“No; no! I cannot.”
“You choose to give yourself to an obscure dog, who’ll ill-treat you, and for whom you don’t care a pin’s-head; and why? that you may be fenced from gossip, and nothing more. I thought you were a woman above that kind of meanness. And this is a common countryman. How will you endure that kind of life? You were made for elegance and happiness: you shall have it. I met you before your illness, when you would not listen to me: I met you after. I knew you at once. Am I changed? I swear to you I have dreamed of you ever since, and love you. Be as faded as you like; be hideous, if you like; but come with me. You know my name, and what I am. Twice I have followed you, and found your name and address; twice I have written to you, and made the same proposal. And you won’t trust to my honour? When I tell you I love you tenderly? When I give you my solemn assurance that you shall not regret it? You have been deceived by one man: why punish me? I know–I feel you are innocent and good. This is the third time that you have permitted me to speak to you: let it be final. Say you will trust yourself to me–trust in my honour. Say it shall be to-morrow. Yes; say the word. To-morrow. My sweet creature– do!”
The man spoke earnestly, but a third person and extraneous hearer could hardly avoid being struck by the bathetic conclusion. At least, in tone it bordered on a fall; but the woman did not feel it so.
She replied: “You mean kindly to me, sir. I thank you indeed, for I am very friendless. Oh! pardon me: I am quite–quite determined. Go–pray, forget me.”
This was Dahlia’s voice.
Robert was unconscious of having previously suspected it. Heartily ashamed of letting his ears be filled with secret talk, he went from the garden and crossed the street.
He knew this to be one of the temptations of young women in London.
Shortly after, the man came through the iron gateway of the garden. He passed under lamplight, and Robert perceived him to be a gentleman in garb.
A light appeared in the windows of the house. Now that he had heard her voice, the terrors of his interview were dispersed, and he had only plain sadness to encounter. He knocked at the door quietly. There was a long delay after he had sent in his name; but finally admission was given.
“If I had loved her!” groaned Robert, before he looked on her; but when he did look on her, affectionate pity washed the selfish man out of him. All these false sensations, peculiar to men, concerning the soiled purity of woman, the lost innocence; the brand of shame upon her, which are commonly the foul sentimentalism of such as can be too eager in the chase of corruption when occasion suits, and are another side of pruriency, not absolutely foreign to the best of us in our youth–all passed away from him in Dahlia’s presence.
The young man who can look on them we call fallen women with a noble eye, is to my mind he that is most nobly begotten of the race, and likeliest to be the sire of a noble line. Robert was less than he; but Dahlia’s aspect helped him to his rightful manliness. He saw that her worth survived.
The creature’s soul had put no gloss upon her sin. She had sinned, and her suffering was manifest.
She had chosen to stand up and take the scourge of God; after which the stones cast by men are not painful.
By this I mean that she had voluntarily stripped her spirit bare of evasion, and seen herself for what she was; pleading no excuse. His scourge is the Truth, and she had faced it.
Innumerable fanciful thoughts, few of them definite, beset the mind at interviews such as these; but Robert was distinctly impressed by her look. It was as that of one upon the yonder shore. Though they stood close together, he had the thought of their being separate–a gulf between.
The colourlessness of her features helped to it, and the odd little close-fitting white linen cap which she wore to conceal the stubborn-twisting clipped curls of her shorn head, made her unlike women of our world. She was dressed in black up to the throat. Her eyes were still luminously blue, and she let them dwell on Robert one gentle instant, giving him her hand humbly.
“Dahlia!–my dear sister, I wish I could say; but the luck’s against me,” Robert began.
She sat, with her fingers locked together in her lap, gazing forward on the floor, her head a little sideways bent.
“I believe,” he went on–“I haven’t heard, but I believe Rhoda is well.”
“She and father are well, I know,” said Dahlia.
Robert started: “Are you in communication with them?”
She shook her head. “At the end of some days I shall see them.”
“And then perhaps you’ll plead my cause, and make me thankful to you for life, Dahlia?”
“Rhoda does not love you.”
“That’s the fact, if a young woman’s to be trusted to know her own mind, in the first place, and to speak it, in the second.”
Dahlia, closed her lips. The long-lined underlip was no more very red. Her heart knew that it was not to speak of himself that he had come; but she was poor-witted, through weakness of her blood, and out of her own immediate line of thought could think neither far nor deep. He entertained her with talk of his notions of Rhoda, finishing:
“But at the end of a week you will see her, and I dare say she’ll give you her notions of me. Dahlia! how happy this’ll make them. I do say thank God! from my soul, for this.”
She pressed her hands in her lap, trembling. “If you will, please, not speak of it, Mr. Robert.”
“Say only you do mean it, Dahlia. You mean to let them see you?”
She shivered out a “Yes.”
“That’s right. Because, a father and a sister–haven’t they a claim? Think a while. They’ve had a terrible time. And it’s true that you’ve consented to a husband, Dahlia? I’m glad, if it is; and he’s good and kind. Right soul-glad I am.”
While he was speaking, her eyelids lifted and her eyes became fixed on him in a stony light of terror, like a creature in anguish before her executioner. Then again her eyelids dropped. She had not moved from her still posture.
“You love him?” he asked, in some wonderment.
She gave no answer.
“Don’t you care for him?”
There was no reply.
“Because, Dahlia, if you do not I know I have no right to fancy you do not. How is it? Tell me. Marriage is an awful thing, where there’s no love. And this man, whoever he is–is he in good circumstances? I wouldn’t speak of him; but, you see, I must, as your friend–and I’m that. Come: he loves you? Of course he does. He has said so. I believe it. And he’s a man you can honour and esteem? You wouldn’t consent without, I’m sure. What makes me anxious–I look on you as my sister, whether Rhoda will have it so or not; I’m anxious because–I’m anxious it should be over, for then Rhoda will be proud of the faith she had in you, and it will lighten the old man’s heart.”
Once more the inexplicable frozen look struck over him from her opened eyes, as if one of the minutes of Time had yawned to show him its deep, mute, tragic abyss, and was extinguished.
“When does it take place, Dahlia?”
Her long underlip, white almost as the row of teeth it revealed, hung loose.
“When?” he asked, leaning forward to hear, and the word was “Saturday,” uttered with a feeble harshness, not like the gentle voice of Dahlia.
“This coming Saturday?”
She fell into a visible trembling.
“You named the day?”
He pushed for an indication of cheerful consent to the act she was about to commit, or of reluctance.
Possibly she saw this, for now she answered, “I did.” The sound was deep in her throat.
“Saturday week,” said Robert. “I feel to the man as a brother, already. Do you live–you’ll live in the country?”
“Not in Old England? I’m sorry for that. But–well! Things must be as they’re ordered. Heigho! I’ve got to learn it.”
Dahlia smiled kindly.
“Rhoda will love you. She is firm when she loves.”
“When she loves. Where’s the consolation to me?”
“Do you think she loves me as much–as much”
“As much as ever? She loves her sister with all her heart–all, for I haven’t a bit of it.”
“It is because,” said Dahlia slowly, “it is because she thinks I am–“
Here the poor creature’s bosom heaved piteously.
“What has she said of me? I wish her to have blamed me–it is less pain.”
“Listen,” said Robert. “She does not, and couldn’t blame you, for it’s a sort of religion with her to believe no wrong of you. And the reason why she hates me is, that I, knowing something more of the world, suspected, and chose to let her know it–I said it, in fact–that you had been deceived by a–But this isn’t the time to abuse others. She would have had me, if I had thought proper to think as she thinks, or play hypocrite, and pretend to. I’ll tell you openly, Dahlia; your father thinks the worst. Ah! you look the ghost again. It’s hard for you to hear, but you give me a notion of having got strength to hear it. It’s your father’s way to think the worst. Now, when you can show him your husband, my dear, he’ll lift his head. He’s old English. He won’t dream of asking questions. He’ll see a brave and honest young man who must love you, or–he does love you, that’s settled. Your father’ll shake his hand, and as for Rhoda, she’ll triumph. The only person to speak out to, is the man who marries you, and that you’ve done.”
Robert looked the interrogation he did not utter.
“I have,” said Dahlia.
“Good: if I may call him brother, some day, all the better for me. Now, you won’t leave England the day you’re married.”
“Soon. I pray that it may be soon.”
“Yes; well, on that morning, I’ll have your father and Rhoda at my lodgings, not wide from here: if I’d only known it earlier!–and you and your husband shall come there and join us. It’ll be a happy meeting at last.”
Dahlia stopped her breathing.
“Will you see Rhoda?”
“I’ll go to her to-morrow, if you like.”
“If I might see her, just as I am leaving England! not before.”
“That’s not generous,” said Robert.
“Isn’t it?” she asked like a child.
“Fancy!–to see you she’s been longing for, and the ship that takes you off, perhaps everlastingly, as far as this world’s concerned!”
“Mr. Robert, I do not wish to deceive my sister. Father need not be distressed. Rhoda shall know. I will not be guilty of falsehoods any more–no more! Will you go to her? Tell her–tell Rhoda what I am. Say I have been ill. It will save her from a great shock.”
She covered her eyes.
“I said in all my letters that my husband was a gentleman.”
It was her first openly penitential utterance in his presence, and her cheeks were faintly reddened. It may have been this motion of her blood which aroused the sunken humanity within her; her heart leaped, and she cried “I can see her as I am, I can. I thought it impossible. Oh! I can. Will she come to me? My sister is a Christian and forgives. Oh! let me see her. And go to her, dear Mr. Robert, and ask her–tell her all, and ask her if I may be spared, and may work at something–anything, for my livelihood near my sister. It is difficult for women to earn money, but I think I can. I have done so since my illness. I have been in the hospital with brain fever. He was lodging in the house with me before. He found me at the hospital. When I came out, he walked with me to support me: I was very weak. He read to me, and then asked me to marry him. He asked again. I lay in bed one night, and with my eyes open, I saw the dangers of women, and the trouble of my father and sister; and pits of wickedness. I saw like places full of snakes. I had such a yearning for protection. I gave him my word I would be his wife, if he was not ashamed of a wife like me. I wished to look once in father’s face. I had fancied that Rhoda would spurn me, when she discovered my falsehood. She–sweet dear! would she ever? Go to her. Say, I do not love any man. I am heart-dead. I have no heart except for her. I cannot love a husband. He is good, and it is kind: but, oh! let me be spared. His face!–“
She pressed her hands tight into the hollow of her eyes.
“No; it can’t be meant. Am I very ungrateful? This does not seem to be what God orders. Only if this must be! only if it must be! If my sister cannot look on me without! He is good, and it is unselfish to take a moneyless, disgraced creature: but, my misery!–If my sister will see me, without my doing this!–Go to her, Mr. Robert. Say, Dahlia was false, and repents, and has worked with her needle to subsist, and can, and will, for her soul strives to be clean. Try to make her understand. If Rhoda could love you, she would know. She is locked up–she is only ideas. My sweet is so proud. I love her for her pride, if she will only let me creep to her feet, kiss her feet. Dear Mr. Robert, help me! help me! I will do anything she says. If she says I am to marry him, I will. Don’t mind my tears–they mean nothing now. Tell my dear, I will obey her. I will not be false any more to her. I wish to be quite stripped. And Rhoda may know me, and forgive me, if she can. And–Oh! if she thinks, for father’s sake, I ought, I will submit and speak the words; I will; I am ready. I pray for mercy.”
Robert sat with his fist at his temples, in a frowning meditation.
Had she declared her reluctance to take the step, in the first moments of their interview, he might have been ready to support her: but a project fairly launched becomes a reality in the brain–a thing once spoken of attracts like a living creature, and does not die voluntarily. Robert now beheld all that was in its favour, and saw nothing but flighty flimsy objections to it. He was hardly moved by her unexpected outburst.
Besides, there was his own position in the case. Rhoda would smile on him, if he brought Dahlia to her, and brought her happy in the world’s eye. It will act as a sort of signal for general happiness. But if he had to go and explain matters base and mournful to her, there would be no smile on her face, and not much gratitude in her breast. There would be none for a time, certainly. Proximity to her faded sister made him conceive her attainable, and thrice precious by contrast.
He fixed his gaze on Dahlia, and the perfect refinement of her simplicity caused him to think that she might be aware of an inappropriateness in the contemplated union.
“Is he a clumsy fellow? I mean, do you read straight off that he has no pretension to any manners of a gentleman–nothing near it?”
To this question, put with hesitation by Robert, Dahlia made answer, “I respect him.”
She would not strengthen her prayer by drawing the man’s portrait. Speedily she forgot how the doing so would in any way have strengthened her prayer. The excitement had left her brain dull. She did little more than stare mildly, and absently bend her head, while Robert said that he would go to Rhoda on the morrow, and speak seriously with her.
“But I think I can reckon her ideas will side with mine, that it is to your interest, my dear, to make your feelings come round warm to a man you can respect, and who offers you a clear path,” he said.
Whereat Dahlia quietly blinked her eyes.
When he stood up, she rose likewise.
“Am I to take a kiss to Rhoda?” he said, and seeing her answer, bent his forehead, to which she put her lips.
“And now I must think all night long about the method of transferring it. Good-bye, Dahlia. You shall hear from your sister the morning after to-morrow. Good-bye!”
He pressed her hand, and went to the door.
“There’s nothing I can do for you, Dahlia?”
“God bless you, my dear!”
Robert breathed with the pleasant sense of breathing, when he was again in the street. Amazement, that what he had dreaded so much should be so easily over, set him thinking, in his fashion, on the marvels of life, and the naturalness in the aspect of all earthly things when you look at them with your eyes.
But in the depths of his heart there was disquiet.
“It’s the best she can do; she can do no better,” he said; and said it more frequently than it needed by a mind established in the conviction. Gradually he began to feel that certain things seen with the eyes, natural as they may then appear and little terrible, leave distinct, solid, and grave impressions. Something of what our human tragedy may show before high heaven possessed him. He saw it bare of any sentiment, in the person of the girl Dahlia. He could neither put a halo of imagination about her, nor could he conceive one degraded thought of the creature. She stood a naked sorrow, haunting his brain.
And still he continued saying, “It’s the best she can do: it’s best for all. She can do nothing better.”
He said it, unaware that he said it in self-defence.
The pale nun-like ghostly face hung before him, stronger in outline the farther time widened between him and that suffering flesh.
The thousand pounds were in Algernon’s hands at last. He had made his escape from Boyne’s Bank early in the afternoon, that he might obtain the cheque and feel the money in his pocket before that day’s sun was extinguished. There was a note for five hundred; four notes for a hundred severally; and two fifties. And all had come to him through the mere writing down of his name as a recipient of the sum!
It was enough to make one in love with civilization. Money, when it is once in your pocket, seems to have come there easily, even if you have worked for it; but if you have done no labour whatever, and still find it there, your sensations (supposing you to be a butterfly youth–the typical child of a wealthy country) exult marvellously, and soar above the conditions of earth.
He knew the very features of the notes. That gallant old Five Hundred, who might have been a Thousand, but that he had nobly split himself into centurions and skirmishers, stood in his imaginative contemplation like a grand white-headed warrior, clean from the slaughter and in court-ruffles–say, Blucher at the court of the Waterloo Regent. The Hundreds were his Generals; the Fifties his captains; and each one was possessed of unlimited power of splitting himself into serviceable regiments, at the call of his lord, Algernon.
He scarcely liked to make the secret confession that it was the largest sum he had ever as yet carried about; but, as it heightened his pleasure, he did confess it for half an instant. Five Hundred in the bulk he had never attained to. He felt it as a fortification against every mishap in life.
To a young man commonly in difficulties with regard to the paying of his cabman, and latterly the getting of his dinner, the sense of elevation imparted by the sum was intoxicating. But, thinking too much of the Five Hundred waxed dangerous for the fifties; it dwarfed them to such insignificance that it made them lose their self-respect. So, Algernon, pursuing excellent tactics, set his mind upon some stray shillings that he had a remainder of five pounds borrowed from old Anthony, when he endeavoured to obtain repayment of the one pound and interest dating from the night at the theatre. Algernon had stopped his mouth on that point, as well as concerning his acquaintance with Dahlia, by immediately attempting to borrow further, whenever Anthony led the way for a word in private. A one-pound creditor had no particular terrors for him, and he manoeuvred the old man neatly, saying, as previously, “Really, I don’t know the young person you allude to: I happened to meet her, or some one like her, casually,” and dropping his voice, “I’m rather short–what do you think? Could you?–a trifling accommodation?” from which Anthony fled.
But on the day closing the Epsom week he beckoned Anthony secretly to follow him out of the office, and volunteered to give news that he had just heard of Dahlia.
“Oh,” said Anthony, “I’ve seen her.”
“I haven’t,” said Algernon, “upon my honour.”
“Yes, I’ve seen her, sir, and sorry to hear her husband’s fallen a bit low.” Anthony touched his pocket. “What they calls ‘nip’ tides, ain’t it?”
Algernon sprang a compliment under him, which sent the vain old fellow up, whether he would or not, to the effect that Anthony’s tides were not subject to lunar influence.
“Now, Mr. Blancove, you must change them notions o’ me. I don’t say I shouldn’t be richer if I’d got what’s owing to me.”
“You’d have to be protected; you’d be Bullion on two legs,” said Algernon, always shrewd in detecting a weakness. “You’d have to go about with sentries on each side, and sleep in an iron safe!”
The end of the interview was a visit to the public-house, and the transferring of another legal instrument from Algernon to Anthony. The latter departed moaning over his five pounds ten shillings in paper; the former rejoicing at his five pounds in gold. That day was Saturday. On Monday, only a few shillings of the five pounds remained; but they were sufficient to command a cab, and, if modesty in dining was among the prescriptions for the day, a dinner. Algernon was driven to the West.
He remembered when he had plunged in the midst of the fashionable whirlpool, having felt reckless there formerly, but he had become remarkably sedate when he stepped along the walks. A certain equipage, or horse, was to his taste, and once he would have said: “That’s the thing for me;” being penniless. Now, on the contrary, he reckoned the possible cost, grudgingly, saying “Eh?” to himself, and responding “No,” faintly, and then more positively, “Won’t do.”
He was by no means acting as one on a footing of equality with the people he beholds. A man who is ready to wager a thousand pounds that no other man present has that amount in his pocket, can hardly feel unequal to his company.
Charming ladies on horseback cantered past. “Let them go,” he thought. Yesterday, the sight of one would have set him dreaming on grand alliances. When you can afford to be a bachelor, the case is otherwise. Presently, who should ride by but Mrs. Lovell! She was talking more earnestly than was becoming, to that easy-mannered dark-eyed fellow; the man who had made him savage by entering the opera-box.
“Poor old Ned!” said Algernon; “I must put him on his guard.” But, even the lifting of a finger–a hint on paper–would bring Edward over from Paris, as he knew; and that was not in his scheme; so he only determined to write to his cousin.
A flood of evening gold lay over the Western park.
“The glory of this place,” Algernon said to himself, “is, that you’re sure of meeting none but gentlemen here;” and he contrasted it with Epsom Downs.
A superstitious horror seized him when, casting his eyes ahead, he perceived Sedgett among the tasteful groups–as discordant a figure as could well be seen, and clumsily aware of it, for he could neither step nor look like a man at ease. Algernon swung round and retraced his way; but Sedgett had long sight.
“I’d heard of London”–Algernon soon had the hated voice in his ears,– “and I’ve bin up to London b’fore; I came here to have a wink at the fash’nables–hang me, if ever I see such a scrumptious lot. It’s worth a walk up and down for a hour or more. D’ you come heer often, sir?”
“Eh? Who are you? Oh!” said Algernon, half mad with rage. “Excuse me;” and he walked faster.
“Fifty times over,” Sedgett responded cheerfully. “I’d pace you for a match up and down this place if you liked. Ain’t the horses a spectacle? I’d rather be heer than there at they Races. As for the ladies, I’ll tell you what: ladies or no ladies, give my young woman time for her hair to grow; and her colour to come, by George! if she wouldn’t shine against e’er a one–smite me stone blind, if she wouldn’t! So she shall! Australia’ll see. I owe you my thanks for interdoocin’ me, and never fear my not remembering.”
Where there was a crowd, Algernon could elude his persecutor by threading his way rapidly; but the open spaces condemned him to merciless exposure, and he flew before eyes that his imagination exaggerated to a stretch of supernatural astonishment. The tips of his fingers, the roots of his hair, pricked with vexation, and still, manoeuvre as he might, Sedgett followed him.
“Call at my chambers,” he said sternly.
“You’re never at home, sir.”
“Call to-morrow morning, at ten.”
“And see a great big black door, and kick at it till my toe comes through my boot. Thank ye.”
“I tell you, I won’t have you annoying me in public; once for all.”
“Why, sir; I thought we parted friends, last time. Didn’t you shake my hand, now, didn’t you shake my hand, sir? I ask you, whether you shook my hand, or whether you didn’t? A plain answer. We had a bit of a scrimmage, coming home. I admit we had; but shaking hands, means ‘friends again we are.’ I know you’re a gentleman, and a man like me shouldn’t be so bold as fur to strike his betters. Only, don’t you see, sir, Full-o’-Beer’s a hasty chap, and up in a minute; and he’s sorry for it after.”
Algernon conceived a brilliant notion. Drawing five shillings from his pocket, he held them over to Sedgett, and told him to drive down to his chambers, and await his coming. Sedgett took the money; but it was five shillings lost. He made no exhibition of receiving orders, and it was impossible to address him imperiously without provoking observations of an animated kind from the elegant groups parading and sitting.
Young Harry Latters caught Algernon’s eye; never was youth more joyfully greeted. Harry spoke of the Friday’s race, and the defection of the horse Tenpenny Nail. A man passed with a nod and “How d’ ye do?” for which he received in reply a cool stare.
“Who’s that?” Algernon asked.
“The son of a high dignitary,” said Harry.
“You cut him.”
“I can do the thing, you see, when it’s a public duty.”
“What’s the matter with him?”
“Merely a black-leg, a grec, a cheat, swindler, or whatever name you like,” said Harry. “We none of us nod to the professionals in this line; and I won’t exchange salutes with an amateur. I’m peculiar. He chose to be absent on the right day last year; so from that date; I consider him absent in toto; “none of your rrrrr–m reckonings, let’s have the rrrrr– m toto;”–you remember Suckling’s story of the Yankee fellow? Bye-bye; shall see you the day after to-morrow. You dine with me and Suckling at the club.”
Latters was hailed by other friends. Algernon was forced to let him go. He dipped under the iron rail, and crossed the row at a run; an indecorous proceeding; he could not help it. The hope was that Sedgett would not have the like audacity, or might be stopped, and Algernon’s reward for so just a calculation was, that on looking round, he found himself free. He slipped with all haste out of the Park. Sedgett’s presence had the deadening power of the torpedo on the thousand pounds.
For the last quarter of an hour, Algernon had not felt a motion of it. A cab, to make his escape certain, was suggested to his mind; and he would have called a cab, had not the novel apparition of economy, which now haunted him, suggested that he had recently tossed five shillings into the gutter. A man might dine on four shillings and sixpence, enjoying a modest half-pint of wine, and he possessed that sum. To pinch himself and deserve well of Providence, he resolved not to drink wine, but beer, that day. He named the beverage; a pint-bottle of ale; and laughed, as a royal economist may, who punishes himself to please himself.
“Mighty jolly, ain’t it, sir?” said Sedgett, at his elbow.
Algernon faced about, and swore an oath from his boots upward; so vehement was his disgust, and all-pervading his amazement.
“I’ll wallop you at that game,” said Sedgett.
“You infernal scoundrel!”
“If you begin swearing,” Sedgett warned him.
“What do you want with me?”
“I’ll tell you, sir. I don’t want to go to ne’er a cock-fight, nor betting hole.”
“Here, come up this street,” said Algernon, leading the way into a dusky defile from a main parade of fashion. “Now, what’s your business, confound you!”
“Well, sir, I ain’t goin’ to be confounded: that, I’ll–I’ll swear to. The long and the short is, I must have some money ‘fore the week’s out.”
“You won’t have a penny from me.”
“That’s blunt, though it ain’t in my pocket,” said Sedgett, grinning. “I say, sir, respectful as you like, I must. I’ve got to pay for passengerin’ over the sea, self and wife; and quick it must be. There’s things to buy on both sides. A small advance and you won’t be bothered. Say, fifty. Fifty, and you don’t see me till Saturday, when, accordin’ to agreement, you hand to me the cash, outside the church door; and then we parts to meet no more. Oh! let us be joyful–I’ll sing.”
Algernon’s loathing of the coarseness and profanity of villany increased almost to the depth of a sentiment as he listened to Sedgett.
“I do nothing of the sort,” he said. “You shall not have a farthing. Be off. If you follow me, I give you into custody of a policeman.”
“You durst n’t.” Sedgett eyed him warily.
He could spy a physical weakness, by affinity of cowardice, as quickly as Algernon a moral weakness, by the same sort of relationship to it.
“You don’t dare,” Sedgett pursued. “And why should you, sir? there’s ne’er a reason why. I’m civil. I asks for my own: no more ‘n my own, it ain’t. I call the bargain good: why sh’d I want fur to break it? I want the money bad. I’m sick o’ this country. I’d like to be off in the first ship that sails. Can’t you let me have ten till to-morrow? then t’ other forty. I’ve got a mortal need for it, that I have. Come, it’s no use your walking at that rate; my legs are’s good as yours.”
Algernon had turned back to the great thoroughfare. He was afraid that ten pounds must be forfeited to this worrying demon in the flesh, and sought the countenance of his well-dressed fellows to encourage him in resisting. He could think of no subterfuge; menace was clearly useless: and yet the idea of changeing one of the notes and for so infamous a creature, caused pangs that helped him further to endure his dogging feet and filthy tongue. This continued until he saw a woman’s hand waving from a cab. Presuming that such a signal, objectionable as it was, must be addressed to himself, he considered whether he should lift his hat, or simply smile as a favoured, but not too deeply flattered, man. The cab drew up, and the woman said, “Sedgett.” She was a well-looking woman, strongly coloured, brown-eyed, and hearty in appearance.
“What a brute you are, Sedgett, not to be at home when you brought me up to London with all the boxes and bedding–my goodness! It’s a Providence I caught you in my eye, or I should have been driving down to the docks, and seeing about the ship. You are a brute. Come in, at once.”
“If you’re up to calling names, I’ve got one or two for you,” Sedgett growled.
Algernon had heard enough. Sure that he had left Sedgett in hands not likely to relinquish him, he passed on with elastic step. Wine was greatly desired, after his torments. Where was credit to be had? True, he looked contemptuously on the blooming land of credit now, but an entry to it by one of the back doors would have been convenient, so that he might be nourished and restored by a benevolent dinner, while he kept his Thousand intact. However, he dismissed the contemplation of credit and its transient charms. “I won’t dine at all,” he said.
A beggar woman stretched out her hand–he dropped a shilling in it.
“Hang me, if I shall be able to,” was his next reflection; and with the remaining three and sixpence, he crossed the threshold of a tobacconist’s shop and bought cigars, to save himself from excesses in charity. After gravely reproaching the tobacconist for the growing costliness of cigars, he came into the air, feeling extraordinarily empty. Of this he soon understood the cause, and it amused him. Accustomed to the smell of tobacco always when he came from his dinner, it seemed, as the fumes of the shop took his nostril, that demands were being made within him by an inquisitive spirit, and dissatisfaction expressed at the vacancy there.
“What’s the use? I can’t dine,” he uttered argumentatively. “I’m not going to change a note, and I won’t dine. I’ve no Club. There’s not a fellow I can see who’ll ask me to dine. I’ll lounge along home. There is some Sherry there.”
But Algernon bore vividly in mind that he did not approve of that Sherry.
“I’ve heard of fellows frying sausages at home, and living on something like two shillings a day,” he remarked in meditation; and then it struck him that Mrs. Lovell’s parcel of returned jewels lay in one of his drawers at home–that is, if the laundress had left the parcel untouched.
In an agony of alarm, he called a cab, and drove hotly to the Temple. Finding the packet safe, he put a couple of rings and the necklace with the opal in his waistcoat pocket. The cabman must be paid, of course; so a jewel must be pawned. Which shall it be? diamond or opal? Change a dozen times and let it be the trinket in the right hand–the opal; let it be the opal. How much would the opal fetch? The pawnbroker can best inform us upon that point. So he drove to the pawnbroker; one whom he knew. The pawnbroker offered him five-and-twenty pounds on the security of the opal.
“What on earth is it that people think disgraceful in your entering a pawnbroker’s shop?” Algernon asked himself when, taking his ticket and the five-and-twenty pounds, he repelled the stare of a man behind a neighbouring partition.
“There are not many of that sort in the kingdom,” he said to the pawnbroker, who was loftily fondling the unlucky opal.
“Well–h’m; perhaps there’s not;” the pawnbroker was ready to admit it, now that the arrangement had been settled.
“I shan’t be able to let you keep it long.”
“As quick back as you like, sir.”
Algernon noticed as he turned away that the man behind the partition, who had more the look of a dapper young shopman than of a needy petitioner for loans or securities, stretched over the counter to look at the opal; and he certainly heard his name pronounced. It enraged him; but policy counselled a quiet behaviour in this place, and no quarrelling with his pawnbroker. Besides, his whole nature cried out for dinner. He dined and had his wine; as good, he ventured to assert, as any man could get for the money; for he knew the hotels with the venerable cellars.
“I should have made a first-rate courier to a millionaire,” he said, with scornful candour, but without abusing the disposition of things which had ordered his being a gentleman. Subsequently, from his having sat so long over his wine without moving a leg, he indulged in the belief that he had reflected profoundly; out of which depths he started, very much like a man who has dozed, and felt a discomfort in his limbs and head.
“I must forget myself,” he said. Nor was any grave mentor by, to assure him that his tragic state was the issue of an evil digestion of his dinner and wine. “I must forget myself. I’m under some doom. I see it now. Nobody cares for me. I don’t know what happiness is. I was born under a bad star. My fate’s written.” Following his youthful wisdom, this wounded hart dragged his slow limbs toward the halls of brandy and song.
One learns to have compassion for fools, by studying them: and the fool, though Nature is wise, is next door to Nature. He is naked in his simplicity; he can tell us much, and suggest more. My excuse for dwelling upon him is, that he holds the link of my story. Where fools are numerous, one of them must be prominent now and then in a veracious narration. There comes an hour when the veil drops on him, he not being always clean to the discreeter touch.
Algernon was late at the Bank next day, and not cheerful, though he received his customary reprimand with submission. This day was after the pattern of the day preceding, except that he did not visit the Park; the night likewise.
On Wednesday morning, he arose with the conviction that England was no place for him to dwell in. What if Rhoda were to accompany him to one of the colonies? The idea had been gradually taking shape in his mind from the moment that he had possessed the Thousand. Could she not make butter and cheeses capitally, while he rode on horseback through space? She was a strong girl, a loyal girl, and would be a grateful wife.
“I’ll marry her,” he said; and hesitated. “Yes, I’ll marry her.” But it must be done immediately.
He resolved to run down to Wrexby, rejoice her with a declaration of love, astound her with a proposal of marriage, bewilder her little brain with hurrying adjectives, whisk her up to London, and in little more than a week be sailing on the high seas, new born; nothing of civilization about him, save a few last very first-rate cigars which he projected to smoke on the poop of the vessel, and so dream of the world he left behind.
He went down to the Bank in better spirits, and there wrote off a straightforward demand of an interview, to Rhoda, hinting at the purpose of it. While at his work, he thought of Harry Latters and Lord Suckling, and the folly of his dining with men in his present position. Settling-day, it or yesterday might be, but a colonist is not supposed to know anything of those arrangements. One of his fellow-clerks reminded him of a loan he had contracted, and showed him his name written under obligatory initials. He paid it, ostentatiously drawing out one of his fifties. Up came another, with a similar strip of paper. “You don’t want me to change this, do you?” said Algernon; and heard a tale of domestic needs–and a grappling landlady. He groaned inwardly: “Odd that I must pay for his landlady being a vixen!” The note was changed; the debt liquidated. On the door-step, as he was going to lunch, old Anthony waylaid him, and was almost noisily persistent in demanding his one pound three and his five pound ten. Algernon paid the sums, ready to believe that there was a suspicion abroad of his intention to become a colonist.
He employed the luncheon hour in a visit to a colonial shipping office, and nearly ran straight upon Sedgett at the office-door. The woman who had hailed him from the cab, was in Sedgett’s company, but Sedgett saw no one. His head hung and his sullen brows were drawn moodily. Algernon escaped from observation. His first inquiry at the office was as to the business of the preceding couple, and he was satisfied by hearing that Sedgett wanted berths for himself and wife.
“Who’s the woman, I wonder!” Algernon thought, and forgot her.
He obtained some particular information, and returning to the Bank, was called before his uncle, who curtly reckoned up his merits in a contemptuous rebuke, and confirmed him in his resolution to incur this sort of thing no longer. In consequence, he promised Sir William that he would amend his ways, and these were the first hopeful words that Sir William had ever heard from him.
Algernon’s design was to dress, that evening, in the uniform of society, so that, in the event of his meeting Harry Latters, he might assure him he was coming to his Club, and had been compelled to dine elsewhere with his uncle, or anybody. When he reached the door of his chambers, a man was standing there, who said,–
“Mr. Algernon Blancove?”
“Yes,” Algernon prolonged an affirmative, to diminish the confidence it might inspire, if possible.
“May I speak with you, sir?”
Algernon told him to follow in. The man was tall and large-featured, with an immense blank expression of face.
“I’ve come from Mr. Samuels, sir,” he said, deferentially.
Mr. Samuels was Algernon’s chief jeweller.
“Oh,” Algernon remarked. “Well, I don’t want anything; and let me say, I don’t approve of this touting for custom. I thought Mr. Samuels was above it.”
The man bowed. “My business is not that, sir. Ahem! I dare say you remember an opal you had from our house. It was set in a necklace.”
“All right; I remember it, perfectly,” said Algernon; cool, but not of the collected colour.
“The cost of it was fifty-five pounds, sir.”
“Was it? Well, I’ve forgotten.”
“We find that it has been pawned for five-and-twenty.”
“A little less than half,” said Algernon. “Pawnbrokers are simply cheats.”
“They mayn’t be worse than others,” the man observed.
Algernon was exactly in the position where righteous anger is the proper weapon, if not the sole resource. He flushed, but was not sure of his opportunity for the explosion. The man read the flush.
“May I ask you, did you pawn it, sir? I’m obliged to ask the question.”
“I?–I really don’t–I don’t choose to answer impudent questions. What do you mean by coming here?”
“I may as well be open with you, sir, to prevent misunderstandings. One of the young men was present when you pawned it. He saw the thing done.”
“Suppose he did?”
“He would be a witness.”
“Against me? I’ve dealt with Samuels for three-four years.”
“Yes, sir; but you have never yet paid any account; and I believe I am right in saying that this opal is not the first thing coming from our house that has been pledged–I can’t say you did it on the other occasions.”
“You had better not,” rejoined Algernon.
He broke an unpleasant silence by asking, “What further?”
“My master has sent you his bill.”
Algernon glanced at the prodigious figures.
“Five hun–!” he gasped, recoiling; and added, “Well, I can’t pay it on the spot.”
“Let me tell you, you’re liable to proceedings you’d better avoid, sir, for the sake of your relations.”
“You dare to threaten to expose me to my relatives?” Algernon said haughtily, and immediately perceived that indignation at this point was a clever stroke; for the man, while deprecating the idea of doing so, showed his more established belief in the possible virtue of such a threat.
“Not at all, sir; but you know that pledging things not paid for is illegal, and subject to penalties. No tradesman likes it; they can’t allow it. I may as well let you know that Mr. Samuels–“
“There, stop!” cried Algernon, laughing, as he thought, heartily. “Mr. Samuels is a very tolerable Jew; but he doesn’t seem to understand dealing with gentlemen. Pressure comes;” he waved his hand swimmingly; “one wants money, and gets it how one can. Mr. Samuels shall not go to bed thinking he has been defrauded. I will teach Mr. Samuels to think better of us Gentiles. Write me a receipt.”
“For what amount, sir?” said the man, briskly.
“For the value of the opal–that is to say, for the value put upon it by Mr. Samuels. Con! hang! never mind. Write the receipt.”
He cast a fluttering fifty and a fluttering five on the table, and pushed paper to the man for a receipt.
The man reflected, and refused to take them.
“I don’t think, sir,” he said, “that less than two-thirds of the bill will make Mr. Samuels easy. You see, this opal was in a necklace. It wasn’t like a ring you might have taken off your finger. It’s a lady’s ornament; and soon after you obtain it from us; you make use of it by turning it into cash. It’s a case for a criminal prosecution, which, for the sake of your relations, Mr. Samuels wouldn’t willingly bring on. The criminal box is no place for you, sir; but Mr. Samuels must have his own. His mind is not easy. I shouldn’t like, sir, to call a policeman.”
“Hey!” shouted Algernon; “you’d have to get a warrant.”
“It’s out, sir.”
Though inclined toward small villanies, he had not studied law, and judging from his own affrighted sensations, and the man’s impassive face, Algernon supposed that warrants were as lightly granted as writs of summons.
He tightened his muscles. In his time he had talked glibly of Perdition; but this was hot experience. He and the man measured the force of their eyes. Algernon let his chest fall.
“Do you mean?” he murmured.
“Why, sir, it’s no use doing things by halves. When a tradesman says he must have his money, he takes his precautions.”
“Are you in Mr. Samuels’ shop?”
“Not exactly, sir.”
“You’re a detective?”
“I have been in the service, sir.”
“Ah! now I understand.” Algernon raised his head with a strain at haughtiness. “If Mr. Samuels had accompanied you, I would have discharged the debt: It’s only fair that I should insist upon having a receipt from him personally, and for the whole amount.”
With this, he drew forth his purse and displayed the notable Five hundred.
His glow of victory was short. The impassive man likewise had something to exhibit.
“I assure you, sir,” he said, “Mr. Samuels does know how to deal with gentlemen. If you will do me the honour, sir, to run up with me to Mr. Samuels’ shop? Or, very well, sir; to save you that annoyance here is his receipt to the bill.”
Algernon mechanically crumpled up his note.
“Samuels?” ejaculated the unhappy fellow. “Why, my mother dealt with Samuels. My aunt dealt with Samuels. All my family have dealt with him for years; and he talks of proceeding against me, because–upon my soul, it’s too absurd! Sending a policeman, too! I’ll tell you what–the exposure would damage Mister Samuels most materially. Of course, my father would have to settle the matter; but Mister–Mister Samuels would not recover so easily. He’d be glad to refund the five hundred–what is it?–and twenty-five–why not, ‘and sixpence three farthings?’ I tell you, I shall let my father pay. Mr. Samuels had better serve me with a common writ. I tell you, I’m not going to denude myself of money altogether. I haven’t examined the bill. Leave it here. You can tear off the receipt. Leave it here.”
The man indulged in a slight demonstration of dissent.
“No, sir, that won’t do.”
“Half the bill,” roared Algernon; “half the bill, I wouldn’t mind paying.”
“About two-thirds, sir, is what Mr. Samuels asked for, and he’ll stop, and go on as before.”
“He’ll stop and he’ll go on, will he? Mr. Samuels is amazingly like one of his own watches,” Algernon sneered vehemently. “Well,” he pursued, in fancied security, “I’ll pay two-thirds.”
“Three hundred, sir.”
“Ay, three hundred. Tell him to send a receipt for the three hundred, and he shall have it. As to my entering his shop again, that I shall have to think over.”
“That’s what gentlemen in Mr. Samuels’ position have to run risk of, sir,” said the man.
Algernon, more in astonishment than trepidation, observed him feeling at his breast-pocket. The action resulted in an exhibition of a second bill, with a legal receipt attached to it, for three hundred pounds.
“Mr. Samuels is anxious to accommodate you in every way, sir. It isn’t the full sum he wants; it’s a portion. He thought you might prefer to discharge a portion.”
After this exhibition of foresight on the part of the jeweller, there was no more fight in Algernon beyond a strenuous “Faugh!” of uttermost disgust.
He examined the bill and receipt in the man’s hand with great apparent scrupulousness; not, in reality, seeing a clear syllable.
“Take it and change it,” he threw his Five hundred down, but recovered it from the enemy’s grasp; and with a “one, two, three,” banged his hundreds on the table: for which he had the loathsome receipt handed to him.
“How,” he asked, chokingly, “did Mr. Samuels know I could–I had money?”
“Why, sir, you see,” the man, as one who throws off a mask, smiled cordially, after buttoning up the notes; “credit ‘d soon give up the ghost, if it hadn’t its own dodges,’ as I may say. This is only a feeler on Mr. Samuels’ part. He heard of his things going to pledge. Halloa! he sings out. And tradesmen are human, sir. Between us, I side with gentlemen, in most cases. Hows’-ever, I’m, so to speak, in Mr. Samuels’ pay. A young gentleman in debt, give him a good fright, out comes his money, if he’s got any. Sending of a bill receipted’s a good trying touch. It’s a compliment to him to suppose he can pay. Mr. Samuels, sir, wouldn’t go issuing a warrant: if he could, he wouldn’t. You named a warrant; that set me up to it. I shouldn’t have dreamed of a gentleman supposing it otherwise. Didn’t you notice me show a wall of a face? I shouldn’t ha’ dared to have tried that on an old hand–begging your pardon; I mean a real–a scoundrel. The regular ones must see features: we mustn’t be too cunning with them, else they grow suspicious: they’re keen as animals; they are. Good afternoon to you, sir.”
Algernon heard the door shut. He reeled into a chair, and muffling his head in his two arms on the table, sobbed desperately; seeing himself very distinctly reflected in one of the many facets of folly. Daylight became undesireable to him. He went to bed.
A man who can, in such extremities of despair, go premeditatingly to his pillow, obeys an animal instinct in pursuit of oblivion, that will befriend his nerves. Algernon awoke in deep darkness, with a delicious sensation of hunger. He jumped up. Six hundred and fifty pounds of the money remained intact; and he was joyful. He struck a light to look at his watch: the watch had stopped;–that was a bad sign. He could not forget it. Why had his watch stopped? A chilling thought as to whether predestination did not govern the world, allayed all tumult in his mind. He dressed carefully, and soon heard a great City bell, with horrid gulfs between the strokes, tell him that the hour was eleven toward midnight. “Not late,” he said.
“Who’d have thought it?” cried a voice on the landing of the stairs, as he went forth.
It was Sedgett.
Algernon had one inclination to strangle, and another to mollify the wretch.
“Why, sir, I’ve been lurking heer for your return from your larks. Never guessed you was in.”
“It’s no use,” Algernon began.
“Ay; but it is, though,” said Sedgett, and forced his way into the room. “Now, just listen. I’ve got a young woman I want to pack out o’ the country. I must do it, while I’m a–a bachelor boy. She must go, or we shall be having shindies. You saw how she caught me out of a cab. She’s sure to be in the place where she ain’t wanted. She goes to America. I’ve got to pay her passage, and mine too. Here’s the truth: she thinks I’m off with her. She knows I’m bankrup’ at home. So I am. All the more reason for her thinking me her companion. I get her away by train to the vessel, and on board, and there I give her the slip.
“Ship’s steaming away by this time t’morrow night. I’ve paid for her– and myself too, she thinks. Leave it to me. I’ll manage all that neatly enough. But heer’s the truth: I’m stumped. I must, and I will have fifty; I don’t want to utter ne’er a threat. I want the money, and if you don’t give it, I break off; and you mind this, Mr. Blancove: you don’t come off s’ easy, if I do break off, mind. I know all about your relations, and by–! I’ll let ’em know all about you. Why, you’re as quiet heer, sir, as if you was miles away, in a wood cottage, and ne’er a dog near.”
So Algernon was thinking; and without a light, save the gas lamp in the square, moreover.
They wrangled for an hour. When Algernon went forth a second time, he was by fifty pounds poorer. He consoled himself by thinking that the money had only anticipated its destination as arranged, and it became a partial gratification to him to reflect that he had, at any rate, paid so much of the sum, according to his bond in assuming possession of it.
And what were to be his proceedings? They were so manifestly in the hands of fate, that he declined to be troubled on that head.
Next morning came the usual short impatient scrawl on thin blue paper from Edward, scarce worthy of a passing thought. In a postscript, he asked: “Are there, on your oath, no letters for me? If there are, send them immediately–every one, bills as well. Don’t fail. I must have them.”
Algernon was at last persuaded to pack up Dahlia’s letters, saying: “I suppose they can’t do any harm now.” The expense of the postage afflicted him; but “women always cost a dozen to our one,” he remarked. On his way to the City, he had to decide whether he would go to the Bank, or take the train leading to Wrexby. He chose the latter course, until, feeling that he was about to embark in a serious undertaking, he said to himself, “No! duty first;” and postponed the expedition for the day following.
Squire Blancove, having business in town, called on his brother at the Bank, asking whether Sir William was at home, with sarcastic emphasis on the title, which smelt to him of commerce. Sir William invited him to dine and sleep at his house that night.
“You will meet Mrs. Lovell, and a Major Waring, a friend of hers, who knew her and her husband in India,” said the baronet.
“The deuce I shall,” said the squire, and accepted maliciously.
Where the squire dined, he drank, defying ladies and the new-fangled subserviency to those flustering teabodies. This was understood; so, when the Claret and Port had made a few rounds, Major Waring was permitted to follow Mrs. Lovell, and the squire and his brother settled to conversation; beginning upon gout. Sir William had recently had a touch of the family complaint, and spoke of it in terms which gave the squire some fraternal sentiment. From that, they fell to talking politics, and differed. The breach was healed by a divergence to their sons. The squire knew his own to be a scamp.
“You’ll never do anything with him,” he said.
“I don’t think I shall,” Sir William admitted.
“Didn’t I tell you so?”
“You did. But, the point is, what will you do with him?”
“Send him to Jericho to ride wild jackasses. That’s all he’s fit for.”
The superior complacency of Sir William’s smile caught the squire’s attention.
“What do you mean to do with Ned?” he asked.
“I hope,” was the answer, “to have him married before the year is out.”
“To the widow?”
“The widow?” Sir William raised his eyebrows.
“Mrs. Lovell, I mean.”
“What gives you that idea?”
“Why, Ned has made her an offer. Don’t you know that?”
“I know nothing of the sort.”
“And don’t believe it? He has. He’s only waiting now, over there in Paris, to get comfortably out of a scrape–you remember what I told you at Fairly–and then Mrs. Lovell’s going to have him–as he thinks; but, by George, it strikes me this major you’ve got here, knows how to follow petticoats and get in his harvest in the enemy’s absence.”
“I think you’re quite under a delusion, in both respects,” observed Sir William.
“What makes you think that?”
“I have Edward’s word.”
“He lies as naturally as an infant sucks.”
“Pardon me; this is my son you are speaking of.”
“And this is your Port I’m drinking; so I’ll say no more.”
The squire emptied his glass, and Sir William thrummed on the table.
“Now, my dog has got his name,” the squire resumed. “I’m not ambitious about him. You are, about yours; and you ought to know him. He spends or he don’t spend. It’s not the question whether he gets into debt, but whether he does mischief with what he spends. If Algy’s a bad fish, Ned’s a bit of a serpent; damned clever, no doubt. I suppose, you wouldn’t let him marry old Fleming’s daughter, now, if he wanted to?”
“Who is Fleming?” Sir William thundered out.
“Fleming’s the father of the girl. I’m sorry for him. He sells his farm-land which I’ve been looking at for years; so I profit by it; but I don’t like to see a man like that broken up. Algy, I said before, ‘s a bad fish. Hang me, if I think he’d have behaved like Ned. If he had, I’d have compelled him to marry her, and shipped them both off, clean out of the country, to try their luck elsewhere.
“You’re proud; I’m practical. I don’t expect you to do the same. I’m up in London now to raise money to buy the farm–Queen’s Anne’s Farm; it’s advertized for sale, I see. Fleeting won’t sell it to me privately, because my name’s Blancove, and I’m the father of my son, and he fancies Algy’s the man. Why? he saw Algy at the theatre in London with this girl of his;–we were all young fellows once!–and the rascal took Ned’s burden on his shoulders. So, I shall have to compete with other buyers, and pay, I dare say, a couple of hundred extra for the property. Do you believe what I tell you now?”
“Not a word of it,” said Sir William blandly.
The squire seized the decanter and drank in a fury.
“I had it from Algy.”
“That would all the less induce me to believe it.”
“H’m!” the squire frowned. “Let me tell you–he’s a dog–but it’s a damned hard thing to hear one’s own flesh and blood abused. Look here: there’s a couple. One of them has made a fool of a girl. It can’t be my rascal–stop a minute–he isn’t the man, because she’d have been sure to have made a fool of him, that’s certain. He’s a soft-hearted dog. He’d aim at a cock-sparrow, and be glad if he missed. There you have him. He was one of your good boys. I used to tell his poor mother, ‘When you leave off thinking for him, he’ll go to the first handy villain–and that’s the devil.’ And he’s done it. But, here’s the difference. He goes himself; he don’t send another. I’ll tell you what: if you don’t know about Mr. Ned’s tricks, you ought. And you ought to make him marry the girl, and be off to New Zealand, or any of the upside-down places, where he might begin by farming, and soon, with his abilities, be cock o’ the walk. He would, perhaps, be sending us a letter to say that he preferred to break away from the mother country and establish a republic. He’s got the same political opinions as you. Oh! he’ll do well enough over here; of course he will. He’s the very fellow to do well. Knock at him, he’s hard as nails, and ‘ll stick anywhere. You wouldn’t listen to me, when I told you about this at Fairly, where some old sweetheart of the girl mistook that poor devil of a scapegoat, Algy, for him, and went pegging at him like a madman.”
“No,” said Sir William; “No, I would not. Nor do I now. At least,” he struck out his right hand deprecatingly, “I listen.”
“Can you tell me what he was doing when he went to Italy?”
“He went partly at my suggestion.”
“Turns you round his little finger! He went off with this girl: wanted to educate her, or some nonsense of the sort. That was Mr. Ned’s business. Upon my soul, I’m sorry for old Fleming. I’m told he takes it to heart. It’s done him up. Now, if it should turn out to be Ned, would you let him right the girl by marrying her? You wouldn’t!”
“The principle of examining your hypothesis before you proceed to decide by it, is probably unknown to you,” Sir William observed, after bestowing a considerate smile on his brother, who muffled himself up from the chilling sententiousness, and drank.
Sir William, in the pride of superior intellect, had heard as good as nothing of the charge against his son.
“Well,” said the squire, “think as you like, act as you like; all’s one to me. You’re satisfied; that’s clear; and I’m some hundred of pounds out of pocket. This major’s paying court to the widow, is he?”
“I can’t say that he is.”
“It would be a good thing for her to get married.”
“I should be glad.”
“A good thing for her, I say.”
“A good thing for him, let us hope.”
“If he can pay her debts.”
Sir William was silent, and sipped his wine.
“And if he can keep a tight hand on the reins. That’s wanted,” said the squire.
The gentleman whose road to happiness was thus prescribed stood by Mrs. Lovell’s chair, in the drawing-room. He held a letter in his hand, for which her own was pleadingly extended.
“I know you to be the soul of truth, Percy,” she was saying.
“The question is not that; but whether you can bear the truth.”
“Can I not? Who would live without it?”
“Pardon me; there’s more. You say, you admire this friend of mine; no doubt you do. Mind, I am going to give you the letter. I wish you simply to ask yourself now, whether you are satisfied at my making a confidant of a man in Robert Eccles’s position, and think it natural and just–you do?”
“Quite just,” said Mrs. Lovell; “and natural? Yes, natural; though not common. Eccentric; which only means, hors du commun; and can be natural. It is natural. I was convinced he was a noble fellow, before I knew that you had made a friend of him. I am sure of it now. And did he not save your life, Percy?”
“I have warned you that you are partly the subject of the letter.”
“Do you forget that I am a woman, and want it all the more impatiently?”
Major Waring suffered the letter to be snatched from his hand, and stood like one who is submitting to a test, or watching the effect of a potent drug.
“It is his second letter to you,” Mrs. Lovell murmured. “I see; it is a reply to yours.”
She read a few lines, and glanced up, blushing. “Am I not made to bear more than I deserve?”
“If you can do such mischief, without meaning any, to a man who is in love with another woman–,” said Percy.
“Yes,” she nodded, “I perceive the deduction; but inferences are like shadows on the wall–they are thrown from an object, and are monstrous distortions of it. That is why you misjudge women. You infer one thing from another, and are ruled by the inference.”
He simply bowed. Edward would have answered her in a bright strain, and led her on to say brilliant things, and then have shown her, as by a sudden light, that she had lost herself, and reduced her to feel the strength and safety of his hard intellect. That was the idea in her brain. The next moment her heart ejected it.
“Petty, when I asked permission to look at this letter, I was not aware how great a compliment it would be to me if I was permitted to see it. It betrays your friend.”
“It betrays something more,” said he.
Mrs. Lovell cast down her eyes and read, without further comment.
These were the contents:–
“My Dear Percy,–Now that I see her every day again, I am worse than ever; and I remember thinking once or twice that Mrs. L. had cured me. I am a sort of man who would jump to reach the top of a mountain. I understand how superior Mrs. L. is to every woman in the world I have seen; but Rhoda cures me on that head. Mrs. Lovell makes men mad and happy, and Rhoda makes them sensible and miserable. I have had the talk with Rhoda. It is all over. I have felt like being in a big room with one candle alight ever since. She has not looked at me, and does nothing but get by her father whenever she can, and takes his hand and holds it. I see where the blow has struck her: it has killed her pride; and Rhoda is almost all pride. I suppose she thinks our plan is the best. She has not said she does, and does not mention her sister. She is going to die, or she turns nun, or marries a gentleman. I shall never get her. She will not forgive me for bringing this news to her. I told you how she coloured, the first day I came; which has all gone now. She just opens her lips to me. You remember Corporal Thwaites–you caught his horse, when he had his foot near wrenched off, going through the gate–and his way of breathing through the under-row of his teeth–the poor creature was in such pain–that’s just how she takes her breath. It makes her look sometimes like that woman’s head with the snakes for her hair. This bothers me–how is it you and Mrs. Lovell manage to talk together of such things? Why, two men rather hang their heads a bit. My notion is, that women– ladies, in especial, ought never to hear of sad things of this sort. Of course, I mean, if they do, it cannot harm them. It only upsets me. Why are ladies less particular than girls in Rhoda’s place?”
(“Shame being a virtue,” was Mrs. Lovell’s running comment.)
“She comes up to town with her father to-morrow. The farm is ruined. The poor old man had to ask me for a loan to pay the journey. Luckily, Rhoda has saved enough with her pennies and two- pences. Ever since I left the farm, it has been in the hands of an old donkey here, who has worked it his own way. What is in the ground will stop there, and may as well.
“I leave off writing, I write such stuff; and if I go on writing to you, I shall be putting these things ‘ -!–!–!’ The way you write about Mrs. Lovell, convinces me you are not in my scrape, or else gentlemen are just as different from their inferiors as ladies are from theirs. That’s the question. What is the meaning of your ‘not being able to leave her for a day, for fear she should fall under other influences’? Then, I copy your words, you say, ‘She is all things to everybody, and cannot help it.’ In that case, I would seize my opportunity and her waist, and tell her she was locked up from anybody else. Friendship with men–but I cannot understand friendship with women, and watching them to keep them right, which must mean that you do not think much of them.”
Mrs. Lovell, at this point, raised her eyes abruptly from the letter and returned it.
“You discuss me very freely with your friend,” she said.
Percy drooped to her. “I warned you when you wished to read it.”
“But, you see, you have bewildered him. It was scarcely wise to write other than plain facts. Men of that class.” She stopped.
“Of that class?” said he.
“Men of any class, then: you yourself: if any one wrote to you such things, what would you think? It is very unfair. I have the honour of seeing you daily, because you cannot trust me out of your sight? What is there inexplicable about me? Do you wonder that I talk openly of women who are betrayed, and do my best to help them?”.
“On the contrary; you command my esteem,” said Percy.
“But you think me a puppet?”
“Fond of them, perhaps?” his tone of voice queried in a manner that made her smile.
“I hate them,” she said, and her face expressed it.
“But you make them.”
“How? You torment me.”
“How can I explain the magic? Are you not making one of me now, where I stand?”
“Oh, Percy! do nothing ridiculous.”
Inveterate insight was a characteristic of Major Waring; but he was not the less in Mrs. Lovell’s net. He knew it to be a charm that she exercised almost unknowingly. She was simply a sweet instrument for those who could play on it, and therein lay her mighty fascination. Robert’s blunt advice that he should seize the chance, take her and make her his own, was powerful with him. He checked the particular appropriating action suggested by Robert.
“I owe you an explanation,” he said. “Margaret, my friend.”
“You can think of me as a friend, Percy?”
“If I can call you my friend, what would I not call you besides? I did you a great and shameful wrong when you were younger. Hush! you did not deserve that. Judge of yourself as you will; but I know now what my feelings were then. The sublime executioner was no more than a spiteful man. You give me your pardon, do you not? Your hand?”
She had reached her hand to him, but withdrew it quickly.
“Not your hand, Margaret? But, you must give it to some one. You will be ruined, if you do not.”
She looked at him with full eyes. “You know it then?” she said slowly; but the gaze diminished as he went on.
“I know, by what I know of you, that you of all women should owe a direct allegiance. Come; I will assume privileges. Are you free?”
“Would you talk to me so, if you thought otherwise?” she asked.
“I think I would,” said Percy. “A little depends upon the person. Are you pledged at all to Mr. Edward Blancove?”
“Do you suppose me one to pledge myself?”
“He is doing a base thing.”
“Then, Percy, let an assurance of my knowledge of that be my answer.”
“You do not love the man?”
Despise him, say!”
“Is he aware of it?”
“If clear writing can make him.”
“You have told him as much?”
“To his apprehension, certainly.”
“Further, Margaret, I must speak:–did he act with your concurrence, or knowledge of it at all, in acting as he has done?”
“Heavens! Percy, you question me like a husband.”
“It is what I mean to be, if I may.”
The frame of the fair lady quivered as from a blow, and then her eyes rose tenderly.
“I thought you knew me. This is not possible.”
“You will not be mine? Why is it not possible?”
“I think I could say, because I respect you too much.”
“Because you find you have not the courage?”
“To confess that you were under bad influence, and were not the Margaret I can make of you. Put that aside. If you remain as you are, think of the snares. If you marry one you despise, look at the pit. Yes; you will be mine! Half my love of my country and my profession is love of you. Margaret is fire in my blood. I used to pray for opportunities, that Margaret might hear of me. I knew that gallant actions touched her; I would have fallen gladly; I was sure her heart would leap when she heard of me. Let it beat against mine. Speak!”
“I will,” said Mrs. Lovell, and she suppressed the throbs of her bosom. Her voice was harsh and her face bloodless. “How much money have you, Percy?”
This sudden sluicing of cold water on his heat of passion petrified him.
“Money,” he said, with a strange frigid scrutiny of her features. As in the flash of a mirror, he beheld her bony, worn, sordid, unacceptable. But he was fain to admit it to be an eminently proper demand for enlightenment.
He said deliberately, “I possess an income of five hundred a year, extraneous, and in addition to my pay as major in Her Majesty’s service.”
Then he paused, and the silence was like a growing chasm between them.
She broke it by saying, “Have you any expectations?”
This was crueller still, though no longer astonishing. He complained in his heart merely that her voice had become so unpleasant.
With emotionless precision, he replied, “At my mother’s death–“
She interposed a soft exclamation.
“At my mother’s death there will come to me by reversion, five or six thousand pounds. When my father dies, he may possibly bequeath his property to me. On that I cannot count.”
Veritable tears were in her eyes. Was she affecting to weep sympathetically in view of these remote contingencies?
“You will not pretend that you know me now, Percy,” she said, trying to smile; and she had recovered the natural feminine key of her voice. “I am mercenary, you see; not a mercenary friend. So, keep me as a friend– say you will be my friend.”
“Nay, you had a right to know,” he protested.
“It was disgraceful–horrible; but it was necessary for me to know.”
“And now that you do know?”
“Now that I know, I have only to say–be as merciful in your idea of me as you can.”
She dropped her hand in his, and it was with a thrill of dismay that he felt the rush of passion reanimating his frozen veins.
“Be mercenary, but be mine! I will give you something better to live for than this absurd life of fashion. You reckon on what our expenditure will be by that standard. It’s comparative poverty; but–but you can have some luxuries. You can have a carriage, a horse to ride. Active service may come: I may rise. Give yourself to me, and you must love me, and regret nothing.”
“Nothing! I should regret nothing. I don’t want carriages, or horses, or luxuries. I could live with you on a subaltern’s pay. I can’t marry you, Percy, and for the very reason which would make me wish to marry you.”
“Charade?” said he; and the contempt of the utterance brought her head close under his.
“Dearest friend, you have not to learn how to punish me.”
The little reproach, added to the wound to his pride, required a healing medicament; she put her lips to his fingers.
Assuredly the comedy would not have ended there, but it was stopped by an intrusion of the squire, followed by Sir William, who, while the squire– full of wine and vindictive humours–went on humming, “Ah! h’m–m–m! Soh!” said in the doorway to some one behind him: “And if you have lost your key, and Algernon is away, of what use is it to drive down to the Temple for a bed? I make it an especial request that you sleep here tonight. I wish it. I have to speak with you.”
Mrs. Lovell was informed that the baronet had been addressing his son, who was fresh from Paris, and not, in his own modest opinion, presentable before a lady.
Once more Farmer Fleming and Rhoda prepared for their melancholy journey up to London. A light cart was at the gateway, near which Robert stood with the farmer, who, in his stiff brown overcoat, that reached to his ankles, and broad country-hat, kept his posture of dumb expectation like a stalled ox, and nodded to Robert’s remarks on the care which the garden had been receiving latterly, the many roses clean in bud, and the trim blue and white and red garden beds. Every word was a blow to him; but he took it, as well as Rhoda’s apparent dilatoriness, among the things to be submitted to by a man cut away by the roots from the home of his labour and old associations. Above his bowed head there was a board proclaiming that Queen Anne’s Farm, and all belonging thereunto, was for sale. His prospect in the vague wilderness of the future, was to seek for acceptance as a common labourer on some kind gentleman’s property. The phrase “kind gentleman” was adopted by his deliberate irony of the fate which cast him out. Robert was stamping fretfully for Rhoda to come. At times, Mrs. Sumfit showed her head from the window of her bed-room, crying, “D’rectly!” and disappearing.
The still aspect of the house on the shining May afternoon was otherwise undisturbed. Besides Rhoda, Master Gammon was being waited for; on whom would devolve the driving of the cart back from the station. Robert heaped his vexed exclamations upon this old man. The farmer restrained his voice in Master Gammon’s defence, thinking of the comparison he could make between him and Robert: for Master Gammon had never run away from the farm and kept absent, leaving it to take care of itself. Gammon, slow as he might be, was faithful, and it was not he who had made it necessary for the farm to be sold. Gammon was obstinate, but it was not he who, after taking a lead, and making the farm dependent on his lead, had absconded with the brains and energy of the establishment. Such reflections passed through the farmer’s mind.
Rhoda and Mrs. Sumfit came together down the trim pathway; and Robert now had a clear charge against Master Gammon. He recommended an immediate departure.
“The horse ‘ll bring himself home quite as well and as fast as Gammon will,” he said.
“But for the shakin’ and the joltin’, which tells o’ sovereigns and silver,” Mrs. Sumfit was observing to Rhoda, “you might carry the box– and who would have guessed how stout it was, and me to hit it with a poker and not break it, I couldn’t, nor get a single one through the slit;–the sight I was, with a poker in my hand! I do declare I felt azactly like a housebreaker;–and no soul to notice what you carries. Where you hear the gold, my dear, go so”–Mrs. Sumfit performed a methodical “Ahem!” and noised the sole of her shoe on the gravel “so, and folks ‘ll think it’s a mistake they made.”
“What’s that?”–the farmer pointed at a projection under Rhoda’s shawl.
“It is a present, father, for my sister,” said Rhoda.
“What is it?” the farmer questioned again.
Mrs. Sumfit fawned before him penitently–“Ah! William, she’s poor, and she do want a little to spend, or she will be so nipped and like a frost-bitten body, she will. And, perhaps, dear, haven’t money in her sight for next day’s dinner, which is–oh, such a panic for a young wife! for it ain’t her hunger, dear William–her husband, she thinks of. And her cookery at a stand-still! Thinks she, ‘he will charge it on the kitchen;’ so unreasonable’s men. Yes,” she added, in answer to the rigid dejection of his look, “I said true to you. I know I said, ‘Not a penny can I get, William,’ when you asked me for loans; and how could I get it? I can’t get it now. See here, dear!”
She took the box from under Rhoda’s shawl, and rattled it with a down turn and an up turn.
“You didn’t ask me, dear William, whether I had a money-box. I’d ha’ told you so at once, had ye but asked me. And had you said, “Gi’ me your money-box,” it was yours, only for your asking. You do see, you can’t get any of it out. So, when you asked for money I was right to say, I’d got none.”
The farmer bore with her dreary rattling of the box in demonstration of its retentive capacities. The mere force of the show stopped him from retorting; but when, to excuse Master Gammon for his tardiness, she related that he also had a money-box, and was in search of it, the farmer threw up his head with the vigour of a young man, and thundered for Master Gammon, by name, vehemently wrathful at the combined hypocrisy of the pair. He called twice, and his face was purple and red as he turned toward the cart, saying,–
“We’ll go without the old man.”
Mrs. Sumfit then intertwisted her fingers, and related how that she and Master Gammon had one day, six years distant, talked on a lonely evening over the mischances which befel poor people when they grew infirm, or met with accident, and what “useless clays” they were; and yet they had their feelings. It was a long and confidential talk on a summer evening; and, at the end of it, Master Gammon walked into Wrexby, and paid a visit to Mr. Hammond, the carpenter, who produced two strong saving-boxes excellently manufactured by his own hand, without a lid to them, or lock and key: so that there would be no getting at the contents until the boxes were full, or a pressing occasion counselled the destruction of the boxes. A constant subject of jest between Mrs. Sumfit and Master Gammon was, as to which first of them would be overpowered by curiosity to know the amount of their respective savings; and their confessions of mutual weakness and futile endeavours to extract one piece of gold from the hoard.
“And now, think it or not,” said Mrs. Sumfit, “I got that power over him, from doctorin’ him, and cookin’ for him, I persuaded him to help my poor Dahly in my blessed’s need. I’d like him to do it by halves, but he can’t.”
Master Gammon appeared round a corner of the house, his box, draped by his handkerchief, under his arm. The farmer and Robert knew, when he was in sight, that gestures and shouts expressing extremities of the need for haste, would fail to accelerate his steps, so they allowed him to come on at his own equal pace, steady as Time, with the peculiar lopping bend of knees which jerked the moveless trunk regularly upward, and the ancient round eyes fixed contemplatively forward. There was an affectingness in this view of the mechanical old man bearing his poor hoard to bestow it.
Robert said out, unawares, “He mustn’t be let to part with h’ old pennies.”
“No; the farmer took him up; “nor I won’t let him.”
“Yes, father!” Rhoda intercepted his address to Master Gammon. “Yes, father!” she hardened her accent. “It is for my sister. He does a good thing. Let him do it.”
“Mas’ Gammon, what ha’ ye got there?” the farmer sung out.
But Master Gammon knew that he was about his own business. He was a difficult old man when he served the farmer; he was quite unmanageable in his private affairs.
Without replying, he said to Mrs. Sumfit,–
“I’d gummed it.”
The side of the box showed that it had been made adhesive, for the sake of security, to another substance.
“That’s what’s caused ye to be so long, Mas’ Gammon?”
The veteran of the fields responded with a grin, designed to show a lively cunning.
“Deary me, Mas’ Gammon, I’d give a fortnight’s work to know how much you’m saved, now, I would. And, there! Your comfort’s in your heart. And it shall be paid to you. I do pray heaven in mercy to forgive me,” she whimpered, “if ever knowin’ly I hasted you at a meal, or did deceive you when you looked for the pickings of fresh-killed pig. But if you only knew how–to cookit spoils the temper of a woman! I’d a aunt was cook in a gentleman’s fam’ly, and daily he dirtied his thirteen plates– never more nor never less; and one day–was ever a woman punished so! her best black silk dress she greased from the top to the bottom, and he sent down nine clean plates, and no word vouchsafed of explanation. For gentlefolks, they won’t teach themselves how it do hang together with cooks in a kitchen–“
“Jump up, Mas’ Gammon,” cried the farmer, wrathful at having been deceived by two members of his household, who had sworn to him, both, that they had no money, and had disregarded his necessity. Such being human nature!
Mrs. Sumfit confided the termination of her story to Rhoda; or suggested rather, at what distant point it might end; and then, giving Master Gammon’s box to her custody, with directions for Dahlia to take the boxes