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Title: Kate Coventry - An Autobiography
Author: Whyte-Melville, G. J.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Kate Coventry - An Autobiography" ***

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KATE COVENTRY

An Autobiography

Edited by

G. J. WHYTE-MELVILLE



[Illustration:  Now began a battle in good earnest.]



T. Nelson and Sons
1909



CONTENTS.

    Chapter I             3
    Chapter II           15
    Chapter III          24
    Chapter IV           35
    Chapter V            46
    Chapter VI           58
    Chapter VII          66
    Chapter VIII         77
    Chapter IX           89
    Chapter X           103
    Chapter XI          114
    Chapter XII         125
    Chapter XIII        138
    Chapter XIV         151
    Chapter XV          163
    Chapter XVI         175
    Chapter XVII        188
    Chapter XVIII       201
    Chapter XIX         214
    Chapter XX          228
    Chapter XXI         241
    Chapter XXII        254
    Chapter XXIII       267
    Chapter XXIV        274



KATE COVENTRY.

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY.



CHAPTER I.


"Kate," said Aunt Deborah to me as we sat with our feet on the fender
one rainy afternoon--or, as we were in London, I should say one rainy
morning--in June, "I think altogether, considering the weather and
what not, it would be as well for you to give up this Ascot
expedition, my dear."

I own I felt more than half inclined to cry--most girls would have
cried--but Aunt Deborah says I am very unlike the generality of women;
and so, although I had ordered a peach-coloured mantle, and such a
bonnet as can only be seen at Ascot on the Cup Day, I kept back my
tears, and swallowed that horrid choking feeling in my throat, whilst
I replied, with the most careless manner I could assume, "Goodness,
aunt, it won't rain for ever: not that I care; but think what a
disappointment for John!"

I must here be allowed the privilege of my sex, to enter on a slightly
discursive explanation as to who Aunt Deborah is and who I am, not
forgetting Cousin John, who is good-nature itself, and without whom I
cannot do the least bit. My earliest recollections of Aunt Deborah,
then, date from a period when I was a curly-headed little thing in a
white frock (not so very long ago, after all); and the first occasion
on which I can recollect her personality with any distinctness was on
a certain birthday, when poor grandfather said to me in his funny way,
"Kate, you romp, we must get you a rocking-horse."

Aunt Deborah lifted up her hands and eyes in holy horror and
deprecation. "A rocking-horse, Mr. Coventry," said she; "what an
injudicious selection! (Aunt Deborah likes to round her periods, as
the book-people say.) The child is a sad tomboy already, and if you
are going to teach her to ride, _I_ won't answer for the consequences
in after-life, when the habits of our youth have become the second
nature of our maturity."

Imagine such sentiments so expressed by a tall austere lady, with high
manly features, piercing dark eyes, a _front_ of jet-black hair coming
low down on a somewhat furrowed brow. Cousin John says all dark women
are inclined to be cross; and I own I think we _blondes_ have the best
of it as far as good temper is concerned. My aunt is not altered in
the slightest degree from what she was then. She dresses invariably in
gray silks of the most delicate shades and texture; carries spectacles
low down upon her nose, where they can be of no earthly use except for
inspection of the carpet; and wears lavender kid gloves at all hours
of the day and night--for Aunt Deborah is vain of her hand, and
preserves its whiteness as a mark of her birth and parentage. Most
families have a crotchet of some sort on which they plume themselves;
some will boast that their scions rejoice one and all in long noses;
others esteem the attenuated frames which they bequeath to their
descendants as the most precious of legacies; one would not part with
his family squint for the finest pair of eyes that ever adorned an
Andalusian maiden; another cherishes his hereditary gout as a
priceless patent of nobility; and even insanity is prized in
proportion to the tenacity with which it clings to a particular race.
So the Horsinghams never cease talking of the Horsingham hand; and if
I want to get anything out of Aunt Deborah, I have only to lend her a
pair of my gloves, and apologize to her for their being so _large_
that she can get both her hands into one.

Now the only thing we ever fall out about is what my aunt calls
_propriety_. I had a French governess once who left because I pinned
the tail of Cousin John's kite to her skirt, and put white mice in her
work-box; and she was always lecturing me about what she called "_les
convenances_." Aunt Deborah don't speak much French, though she says
she understands it perfectly, and she never lets me alone about
propriety. When I came home from church that rainy Sunday with Colonel
Bingham, under his umbrella (a cotton one), Aunt Deborah lectured me
on the impropriety of such a thing--though the Colonel is forty if he
is a day, and told me repeatedly he was a "safe old gentleman." I
didn't think him at all dangerous, I'm sure. I rode a race against Bob
Dashwood the other morning, once round the inner ring, down Rotten
Row, to finish in front of Apsley House, and beat him all to ribbons.
Wasn't it fun? And didn't I kick the dirt in his face? He looked like
a wall that's been fresh plastered when he pulled up. I don't know who
told Aunt Deborah. It wasn't the coachman, for he said he wouldn't;
but she heard of it somehow, and of course she said it was _improper_
and unladylike, and even _unfeminine_--as if anything a woman does can
be unfeminine. I know Bob didn't think so, though he got the worst of
it every way.

To be sure, we women are sadly kept down in this world, whatever we
shall be in the next. If they would only let us try, I think we could
beat the "lords of the creation," as they call themselves, at
everything they undertake. Dear me, they talk about our weakness and
vanity--why, they never know their own minds for two minutes together;
and as for vanity, only tell a man you think him good-looking, and he
falls in love with you directly; or if that is too great _a
bounce_--and indeed very few of them have the slightest pretensions to
beauty--you need only hint that he rides gallantly, or waltzes nicely,
or wears neat boots, and it will do quite as well. I recollect
perfectly that Cousin Emily made her great marriage--five thousand a
year and the chance of a baronetcy--by telling her partner in a
quadrille, quite innocently, that "she should know his figure
anywhere." The man had a hump, and one leg shorter than the other; but
he thought Emily was dying for him, and proposed within a fortnight.
Emily is an artless creature--"good, common-sense," Aunt Deborah calls
it--and so she threw over Harry Bloomfield and married the hump and
the legs that didn't match and the chance of the baronetcy forthwith;
and now they say he beats her, and I think it serves her right.

But we women--gracious! if we only take the trouble we can turn the
whole male sex round our little fingers. Who ever saw half a dozen of
us hovering and watching and fussing round a masculine biped, thankful
even to be _snubbed_ rather than not noticed at all. Who ever saw us
fetch and carry like so many retrievers, and "sit up," so to speak,
for a withered rose-bud at the fag end of an over-blown bouquet. Not
that we don't love flowers in their proper places, and _keep_ them
too, sometimes long after their colour has faded and their perfume
gone; but we don't make a parade of such things, and have the grace to
be ashamed of ourselves when we are so foolish.

But it's quite different with men. They give in to us about everything
if we only insist--and it's our own fault if we don't insist; for, of
course, if they find us complying and ready to oblige, why, there's no
end to their audacity. "Give 'em an inch, and they take an ell."
However, they do try to keep us down as much as they can. Now there's
that very exercise of riding that they are so proud of. They get us a
side-saddle, as they call it, of enormous weight and inconvenience, on
which they plant pommels enough to impale three women; they place us
in an attitude from which it is next to impossible to control a horse
should he be violent, and in a dress which ensures a horrible accident
should he fall; added to which, they constantly give us the worst
quadruped in the stable; and yet, with all these drawbacks, such is
our own innate talent and capacity, we ride many an impetuous steed in
safety and comfort that a man would find a dangerous and
incontrollable "mount." For my part, I only wish I had been born a
man--that's to say, if I could keep my own ideas and feelings. To be
sure, I should lose a good many personal adornments; not that I'm vain
enough to consider myself a beauty, but still one cannot help being
anxious about one's own appearance, particularly if one has a
full-length glass in one's bedroom. I need not be ashamed to own that
I know I've got bright eyes, and good teeth, and a fresh colour, and
loads of soft brown hair, and not a bad figure--so my dressmaker tells
me; though I think myself I look best in a riding-habit. Altogether
you can't call _that_ a perfect fright; but, nevertheless, I think if
I might I would change places with Cousin John. _He_ has no Aunt
Deborah to be continually preaching _propriety_ to _him_. He can go
out when he likes without being questioned, and come in without being
scolded. He can swagger about wherever he chooses without that most
odious of encumbrances called a chaperon; and though I shouldn't care
to smoke as many cigars as he does (much as I like the smell of them
in the open air), yet I confess it must be delightfully independent to
have a latchkey.

I often wonder whether other people think Cousin John good-looking. I
have known him so long that I believe I can hardly be a fair judge. He
is fresh-coloured, to be sure, and square and rather fat, and when he
smiles and shows all his white teeth, he has a very pleasant
appearance; but I think I admire a man who looks rather more of a
_roué_--not like Colonel Bingham exactly, whose face is all wrinkles
and whiskers, but a little care-worn and jaded, as if he was
accustomed to difficulties, and had other things to occupy his
thoughts besides his horses and his dinner. I don't like a man that
stares at you; and I don't like a man that can't look you in the face.
He provokes me if he is all smiles, and I've no patience with him if
he's cross. I'm not sure I know exactly what does please me best, but
I _do_ know that I like Cousin John's constant good-humour, and the
pains he takes to give me a day's amusement whenever he can, or what
he calls "have Cousin Kate out for a lark." And this brings me back to
Aunt Deborah and the expedition to Ascot, a thing of all others I
fancied was so perfectly delightful.

"My dear," said Aunt Deborah as she folded her lavender-gloved hands,
"if it wasn't for the weather and my rheumatism, I'd accompany you
myself; but I do consider that Ascot is hardly a place for _my_ niece
to be seen at without a chaperon, and with no other protector than
John Jones--John Jones," repeated the old lady reflectively--"an
excellent young man, doubtless (I heard him his Catechism when he was
_so_ high), but still hardly equal to so responsible a charge as that
of Miss Coventry."

I knew this was what John calls a "back-hander" at me, but I can be
_so_ good-tempered when I've anything to gain; therefore I only
said,--

"Well, aunt, of course you're the best judge, and I don't care the
least about going; only when John calls this afternoon, you must
explain it all to him, for he's ordered the carriage and the luncheon
and everything, and he'll be so disappointed."

I've long ago found out that if you want to do anything you should
never seem too anxious about it.

Aunt Deborah is fonder of John than she likes to confess. I know why,
because I overheard my old nurse tell the housekeeper when I was quite
a little thing; and what I hear, especially if I'm not intended to
hear it, I never forget. There were three Miss Horsinghams, all with
white hands--poor mamma, Aunt Deborah, and Aunt Dorcas. Now Aunt
Deborah wanted to marry old David Jones (John's papa). I can just
remember him--a snuffy little man with a brown wig, but perhaps he
wasn't always so; and David Jones, who was frightened at Aunt
Deborah's black eyes, thought he would rather marry Aunt Dorcas. Why
the two sisters didn't toss up for him I can't think; but he _did_
marry Aunt Dorcas, and Aunt Deborah has been an old maid ever since.
Sometimes even now she fixes her eyes on Cousin John, and then takes
them off with a great sigh. It seems ridiculous in an old lady, but I
don't know that it is so. That's the reason my cousin can do what he
likes with Aunt Deborah; and that's the reason why, when he called on
that rainy afternoon, he persuaded her to let me go down to Ascot with
him all alone by our two selves the following day.

How pleasant it is to wake on the morning of a gala day, to hear the
carts and cabs rumbling and clattering in the streets, and to know
that you must get up early, and be off directly after breakfast, and
will have the whole livelong day to amuse yourself in. What a bright
sunshiny morning it was, and what fun I had going with John in a
hansom cab to Paddington--I like a hansom cab, it goes so fast--and
then down to Windsor by the train in a carriage full of such smart
people, some of whom I knew quite well by name, though not to speak
to. The slang aristocracy, as they are called, muster in great force
at Ascot. Nor could anything be more delightful than the drive through
Windsor Forest up to the Course--such a neat phaeton and pair, and
John and I like a regular Darby and Joan sitting side by side. Somehow
that drive through Windsor Forest made me think of a great many things
I never think of at other times. Though I was going to the races, and
fully prepared for a day of gaiety and amusement, a half-melancholy
feeling stole over me as we rolled along amongst those stately old
trees, and that lovely scenery, and those picturesque little places
set down in that abode of beauty. I thought how charming it would be
to saunter about here in the early summer mornings or the still summer
nights, and listen to the thrush and the blackbird and the nightingale
in the copse; and then I thought I would not care to wander here
_quite_ alone, and that a whisper might steal on my ear, sweeter than
the note of the thrush and the nightingale; and that there might be a
somebody without whom all that sylvan beauty would be a blank, but
with whom any place would become a fairyland. And then I fell to
wondering who that somebody would be; and I looked at Cousin John, and
felt a little cross--which was very ungrateful; and a little
disappointed--which was very unjust.

"Here we are, Kate: that's the Grand Stand, and we'll have the
carriage right opposite; and the Queen's not come, and we're in heaps
of time; and there's Frank Lovell," exclaimed the unconscious John as
we drove on to the Course, and my daydreams were effectually dispelled
by the gay scene which spread itself before my eyes.

As I took John's arm and walked into the enclosure in front of the
stand, I must confess that the first impression on my mind was
this--"Never in my life have I seen so many well-dressed people
collected together before;" and when the Queen drove up the Course
with her brilliant suite of carriages and outriders, and the mob of
gentlemen and ladies cheered her to the echo, I was such a goose that
I felt as if I could have cried. After a time I got a little more
composed, and looked about at the different toilettes that surrounded
me. I own I saw nothing much neater than my own; and I was pleased to
find it so, as nothing gives one greater confidence in a crowd than
the consciousness of being well dressed. But what I delighted in more
than all the bonnets and gowns in the universe were those dear horses,
with their little darlings of jockeys. If there is one thing I like
better than another, it is a thoroughbred horse. What a gentleman he
looks amongst the rest of his kind! How he walks down the Course, as
if he knew his own value--self-confident, but not vain--and goes
swinging along in his breathing-gallop as easily and as smoothly as if
I was riding him myself, and he was proud of his burthen! When
Colonist won the Cup, I felt again as if I could have cried. It was a
near race, and closely contested the whole way from the distance in. I
felt my blood creeping quite chill, and I could perfectly understand
then the infatuation men cherish about racing, and why they ruin their
wives and children at that pursuit. What a relief it was when the
number was up, and I could be quite satisfied that the dear bay horse
had won. As for the little jockey that rode him, I could and _would_
have kissed him! Just then Cousin John came back to me, with his
sunny, laughing face, and I naturally asked him, "Had he won his
money?" John never bets; but he replied, "I'm just as pleased as if
I'd won a fortune; only think, Frank Lovell has landed twelve
hundred!" "Well," I replied, "I am glad of it--which is very good of
me, seeing that I don't know Mr. Lovell." "Don't know Frank Lovell!"
exclaimed John. "The greatest friend I have in the world." (Men's
friends always are the greatest in the world.) "I'll introduce him to
you; there he is--no he isn't. I saw him a moment ago." And forthwith
John launched into a long biography of his friend Frank Lovell--how
that gentleman was the nicest fellow and the finest rider and the best
shot in the universe; how he knew more about racing than any man of
his age, and had been in more difficulties, and got out of them
better, and robbed the public generally with a more plausible air; how
he sang a capital song, and was the pleasantest company, and had more
brains than the world gave him credit for (as indeed might easily be
the case); how he was very good-looking, and very agreeable, and met
with great success (whatever that means) in society; how Lady
Scapegrace was avowedly in love with him; and he had thrown over
pretty Miss Pinnifer because he wouldn't leave the army, and six
months afterwards was obliged to sell his commission, when Outsider
won the "Two Thousand;" together with various other details, which
lasted till it was time to have luncheon, and go back to Windsor to
catch the four o'clock train. Though evidently such a hero of John's,
I confess I didn't like what I heard of Frank Lovell at all.



CHAPTER II.


We've got such a sweet little house in Lowndes Street--to my mind the
very best situation in London. When I say _we_, of course I mean Aunt
Deborah and myself. We live together, as I hope we always shall do, as
Aunt Deborah says, till "one of us is married." And notwithstanding
the difference of our ages we get on as comfortably as any two forlorn
maidens can. Though a perfect fairy palace within, our stronghold is
guarded by no giant, griffin, dragon, or dwarf; nothing more frightful
than a policeman, whose measured tread may be heard at the midnight
hour pacing up and down beneath our windows. "It's a great comfort,"
says Aunt Deborah, "to know that assistance is close at hand. I am a
lone woman, Kate, and I confess to feeling nervous when I lie awake."
I quite agree with my aunt, though I'm not nervous, but I must say I
like the idea of being watched over during the hours of sleep; and
there is something romantic in hearing the regular tramp of the
sentinel whilst one is curled up snug in bed. I don't much think it
always is the policeman--at least I know that one night when I got up
to peep if it was a constable, he was wrapped in a very loose cloak,
such as is by no means the uniform of the force, and was besides,
unquestionably, smoking a cigar, which I am given to understand is not
permitted by the regulations when on duty. I watched the glowing light
for at least ten minutes, and when I went to bed again, I could not
get to sleep for wondering who the amateur policeman could be.

But the house is a perfect jewel of its kind. _Such_ a pretty
dining-room, _such_ a lovely drawing-room, opening into a
conservatory, with a fountain and gold-fish, to say nothing of flowers
(I am passionately fond of flowers), and _such_ a boudoir of my own,
where nobody ever intrudes except my special favourites--Cousin John,
for instance, when he is not in disgrace--and which I have fitted up
and furnished quite to my own taste. There's the "Amazon" in gilt
bronze, and a bas-relief from the Elgin marbles--not coloured like
those flaxen-haired abominations at Sydenham, but pure and simple as
the taste that created it; and an etching Landseer did for me himself
of my little Scotch terrier growling; and a veritable original sketch
of Horace Vernet--in which nothing is distinguishable save a phantom
charger rearing straight up amongst clouds of smoke. Then I've put up
a stand for my riding-whips, and a picture of my own thoroughbred
favourite horse over the chimney-piece; altogether, Aunt Deborah
describes the apartment exactly when she says to me, as she does about
once a week, "My dear, if you were a _man_, I should say your room was
fitted up in the most perfect taste; but as you happen to be a young
lady, I won't say what I think, because I know you won't agree with
me;" and I certainly do not agree with Aunt Deborah upon a great many
subjects.

However, there's no situation like Lowndes Street. I'm not going to
tell the number, nor at which end of the street we live; for it's very
disagreeable to have people riding by and stopping to alter their
stirrup-leathers, and squinting up at one's drawing-room windows where
one sits working in peace, and then cantering off and trotting by
again, as if something had been forgotten. No; if curiosity is so very
anxious to know where I live, let it look in the _Court Guide_; for my
part, I say nothing, except that there are always flowers in the
balcony, and there's no great singularity about that. But there are
two great advantages connected with a "residence in Belgravia," which
I wonder are not inserted in the advertisements of all houses to let
in that locality. In the first place, a lady may walk about all the
forenoon quite alone, without being hampered by a maid or hunted by a
footman; and in the second, she is most conveniently situated for a
morning ride or walk in the Park; and those are about the two
pleasantest things one does in London.

Well, the same conversation takes place nearly every morning at
breakfast between Aunt Deborah and myself (we breakfast early, never
after half-past nine, however late we may have been the night before).
Aunt Deborah begins,--

"My dear, I hope we shall have a quiet morning together; I've directed
the servants to deny me to all visitors; and if you'll get your work,
I will proceed with my readings from excellent Mrs. Hannah More."

Kate.--"Thank you, aunt; Hannah More amuses me very much"--(I confess
that prim moralist does make me laugh).

_Aunt Deborah_ (reprovingly).--"Instructive, Kate, not amusing;
certainly not ludicrous. If you'll shut the door we'll begin."

_Kate_.--"Can't we put it off for an hour? I must get my ride, you
know, aunt. What's the use of horses if one don't ride?"

_Aunt Deborah_.--"Kate, you ride too much; I don't object to the
afternoons with John Jones, but these morning scampers are really
quite uncalled for; they're spoiling your figure and complexion; it's
improper--more, it's unfeminine; but as you seem determined upon it,
go and get your ride, and come back a little sobered;" and
Kate--that's me--disappears into the boudoir, from which she emerges
in about five minutes with the neatest habit and the nicest hat, and
her hair done in two such killing plaits--John Jones says I never look
so well as when I've got my hair dressed for riding.

I always go out for these morning excursions quite alone. Aunt Deborah
fought for a long time, and insisted on my taking the coachman; but he
is an old family servant, and I soon knocked him up completely. In the
first place, the ride is always soft, and I hate going _slow_, so he
used to get a dreadful stitch in his side trying to keep up with me on
one of the high-actioned coach-horses; then he didn't see the fun of
having two horses to clean when he got home instead of one; so when he
found he couldn't get another helper, we begged him off between us,
and I go out now unencumbered by that excellent and pursy old man.
After all, I ought to be able to take care of myself. I have ridden
ever since I was five years old; and if habit is second nature, as
Aunt Deborah says, I'm sure my habit ought to be natural enough to me.
I recollect as well as if it was yesterday, when poor papa put me on a
shaggy Shetland pony, and telling me not to be frightened, gave it a
thump, and started me off by myself. I wasn't the least bit afraid, I
know that. It was a new sensation, and delightful; round and round the
field we went, I shaking my reins with one hand, and holding on a
great flapping straw hat with the other; the pony grunting and
squeaking, with his mane and tail floating on the breeze, and papa
standing in the middle, waving his hat and applauding with all his
might. After that I was qualified to ride anything; and by the time I
was twelve, there wasn't a hunter in the stables that I wouldn't get
on at a moment's notice. I am ashamed to confess that I have even
caught the loose cart-horses in a field, and ridden them without
saddle or bridle. I never was beat but once, and that was at Uncle
Horsingham's when I was about fifteen. He had bought a mare at
Tattersall's for his daughter to ride, and brought her down to
Dangerfield, thinking she would conduct herself like the rest of her
species. How well I remember my governess's face when she gave me
leave to go to the stable with Sir Harry and look over the new
purchase. I was a great pet of Uncle Horsingham; and as Cousin Amelia
was not much of an equestrian, he proposed that I should get upon the
chestnut mare first, and try her paces and temper before his daughter
mounted her. As we neared the stables out came one of the grooms with
a sidesaddle on his head, and the longest face I ever beheld.

"O Sir 'Arry," said he--I quote his exact words--"that new mare's a
wicious warmint; afore I was well into the stable, she ups and lets
out at me just above the knee: I do believe as my thigh's broke."

"Nonsense, man," said my uncle; "put the saddle on and bring her out."
Presently the chestnut mare appeared; and I saw at once that she was
not in the best of humours. But I was young, full of spirits, and
fresh from lessons; so, fearing if one of the men should venture to
mount her she might show temper, and I should lose my ride, I made a
sign to the head-groom to give me a hand; and before my uncle had time
to exclaim, "For goodness sake, Kate!" I was seated, muslin dress and
all, on the back of the chestnut mare. What she did I never could
quite make out; it seemed to me that she crouched as if she was going
to lie down, and then bounded into the air, with all four legs off the
ground. I was as near gone as possible; but for the only time in my
life I caught hold of the pommel with my right hand, and that saved
me. In another instant she had broke from the groom's hold, and was
careering along the approach like a mad thing. If I had pulled at her
the least she would have run away with me.

Luckily, the park was roomy, and the old trees far apart; so when we
got upon the grass I knew who would be mistress. I gave her a rousing
good gallop, shook my reins and patted her, to show her how confident
I was, and brought her back to my uncle as quiet as a lamb.
Unfortunately, however, the mare had taken a dislike to certain stone
pillars which supported the stable gates, and nothing would induce her
to pass them. Flushed with success, I borrowed my uncle's riding-whip
to punish her; and now began a battle in good earnest. She reared and
plunged, and wheeled round and round, and did all she knew to get rid
of me; whilst I flogged and jerked, and screamed at her (I didn't
swear, because I didn't know how), and vowed in my wicked little heart
I would be killed rather than give in. During the tussle we got nearer
and nearer to a certain large pond about a hundred yards from the
stable gates, at which the cattle used to water in the quiet summer
afternoons. I knew it wasn't very deep, for I had seen them standing
in it often. By the time we were close on the brink the whole
household had turned out to see "Miss Kate killed;" and just as I hit
the mare a finishing cut over the ears, I caught a glimpse of my
governess in an attitude of combined shame, horror, and disgust that I
shall never forget. The next moment we were overhead in the pond, the
mare having dashed blindly in, caught her fore-feet in the bridle, and
rolled completely over. What a ducking I got to be sure! But it was
nothing to the scolding I had to endure afterwards from all the
females of the family, including my governess; only Uncle Horsingham
stuck up for me, and from that time till the day of his death vowed he
had "never known but one plucky fellow in the world, and that was his
little niece Kate."

No wonder I feel at home on Brilliant, who never did wrong in his
life, who will eat out of my hand, put his foot in my apron-pocket,
follow me about like a dog, and is, I am firmly persuaded, the very
best horse in England. He is quite thoroughbred, though he has never
been in training--and is as beautiful as he is good. Bright bay, with
such black legs, and such a silky mane and tail! I know lots of ladies
whose hair is coarser than Brilliant's. Fifteen hands three inches,
and Cousin John says well up to his weight--an honest fourteen stone.
With the smallest nose, and the leanest head, and the fullest dark
eye, and the widest, reddest nostril--his expression of countenance,
when a little blown, is the most beautiful I ever beheld; and not a
white mark about him except a tiny star in the very middle of his
forehead; I know it well, for I have kissed it often and often. The
picture over my chimney-piece does not half do him justice; but then,
to be sure, its _pendant_, painted by the same artist, and
representing my other horse, White Stockings, flatters that very plain
and excellent animal most unblushingly.

Of all delights in the world give me my morning canter up the park on
Brilliant. Away we go, understanding each other perfectly; and I am
quite sure that he enjoys as much as I do the bright sunshine and the
morning breeze and the gleaming Serpentine, with its solitary swan,
and its hungry ducks, and its amphibious dogs continually swimming for
the inciting stick, only rescued to produce fresh exertions; and the
rosy children taking their morning walk; and, above all, the _liberty_
of London before two o'clock in the day, when the real London begins.
I pat Brilliant's smooth, hard neck, and he shakes his head, and
strikes an imaginary butterfly with one black fore-leg, and I draw my
rein a thought tighter, and away we go, much to the admiration of that
good-looking man with moustachios who is leaning on his umbrella close
to the rails, and smoking the cigar of meditation as if the park was
his own.

I often wondered who that man was. Morning after morning have I seen
him at the same place, always with an umbrella, and always with a
cigar. I quite missed him on the Derby day, when of course he was gone
to Epsom (by-the-bye, why don't we go to the Derby just as much as to
Ascot?); and yet it was rather a relief, too, for I had got almost shy
about passing him. It seemed so absurd to see the man every day and
never to speak; besides, I fancied, though of course it could only be
fancy, that he looked as if he was expecting me. At last I couldn't
help blushing, and I thought he saw it; for I'm sure he smiled, and
then I was so provoked with myself that I sent Brilliant up the ride
at a pace nothing short of a racehorse could have caught.



CHAPTER III.


I wonder whether any lady in England has a maid who, to use that
domestic's own expression, is capable of "giving satisfaction." If any
lady does rejoice in such an Abigail, I shall be too happy to "swap"
with her, and give anything else I possess except Brilliant into the
bargain. Mine is the greatest goose that ever stood upon two legs, and
how she can chatter as she does with her mouth full of pins is to me a
perfect miracle. Once or twice in the week I have to endure a certain
ordeal which, although a positive pleasure to some women, is to my
disposition intense martyrdom, termed dressing to go out; and I think
I never hated it more than the night of Lady Horsingham's ball. Lady
Horsingham is my poor uncle's widow; and as Aunt Deborah is extremely
punctilious on all matters relating to family connections, we
invariably attend these solemnities with a gravity befitting the
occasion.

Now, I may be singular in my ideas; but I confess that it does appear
to me a strange way of enjoying oneself in the dog-days, to make one's
toilette at eleven p.m., for the purpose of sitting in a carriage till
twelve, and struggling on a staircase amongst a mob of one's
fellow-creatures till half-past. After fighting one's way literally
step by step, and gaining a landing by assault, one looks round and
takes breath, and what does one see? Panting girls looking in vain for
the right partner, who is probably not ten yards from them, but wedged
in between substantial dowagers, whom he is cursing in his heart, but
from whom there is no escape; or perhaps philosophically and
perfidiously making the best of his unavoidable situation, and
flirting shamefully with the one he likes _next_ best to the
imprisoned maiden on the staircase; or, the tables turned, young
fledglings pining madly for their respective enslavers, and picturing
to themselves how she may be even now whirling round to that pealing
waltz in the arms of some former adorer or delightfully new
acquaintance, little heeding him who is languishing in his white
neckcloth, actually within speaking distance, but separated as
effectually as if he were in another country. By-the-bye, it's fatal
when people begin to think of each other as hes and shes; the softest
proper name that ever was whispered is not half so dangerous as those
demonstrative pronouns. In one corner is a stout old gentleman, wedged
against the wall, wiping the drops from his bald head, and wondering
what Jane and Julia can see in these gatherings to make them wild
about going to every ball for which they can get an invitation.
Deluded father! both Jane and Julia have the best of reasons in this
very house. You grudge not to spend a broiling September day in the
pursuit of _your_ game; each of your fair daughters, sir, flatters
herself that she, too, has winged her bird.

Swaying backwards and forwards in the mass, like some goodly
merchantman at anchor, pitching and rolling to a ground-swell, behold
the chaperon fulfilling her destiny, and skilfully playing that game
which to her is the business of life. Flushed and hot in person, she
is cool and composed in mind. Practice makes perfect; and the chaperon
is as much at home here as the stockbroker on 'Change, or the
betting-man in the ring, or the fisherman amidst the roar and turmoil
of the waves. With lynx eyes she notes how Lady Carmine's eldest girl
is "carrying on" with young Thriftless, and how Lord Looby's eyeglass
is fixed on her own youngest daughter; yet for all this she is not
absent or preoccupied, but can whisper to stupid Lady Dulwich the very
latest intelligence of a marriage, or listen, all attention, to the
freshest bit of scandal from Mrs. General Gabbler. But perhaps by this
time you have floated with the tide into the doorway, and received
from your hostess the cordial shake of the hand or formal bow which
makes you free of the place. So, with patience and perseverance you
work your way at last into the dancing-room, and you now see what
people come here for--dancing, of course. Each performer has about
eighteen inches of standing room, and on that space must be enacted in
hopeless pantomime the intricate evolutions of the quadrille, or the
rotatory struggles of the waltz. Sliding and smiling, and edging and
crushing, the conscientious dancers try to fulfil their duties, and
much confusion and begging of pardons are the natural results.

However, it's a rare place for love-making. What with the music and
the crowd and the confusion, the difficulty is more to make out what
one's partner _does_ say than to prevent his being overheard by other
people; but, I must confess, if anybody had anything very particular
to say to _me_, I had rather hear it in the quiet country by
moonlight, or even coming home from Greenwich by water--or anywhere,
in short, rather than in the turmoil of a London ball. But that's all
nonsense; and I hope I have too much pride to allow any man to address
me in such a strain. Trust me for setting him down!

It's no wonder, then, that I was cross when I was dressing for Lady
Horsingham's ball; and that silly Gertrude (that's my maid's name, and
what a name it is for a person in that class of life!) put me more and
more out of patience with her idiotic conversation, which she tries to
adapt to my tastes, and of which the following is a specimen:----

"Master John will be at her ladyship's ball, miss, I make no doubt;"
brushing away the while at my back hair, and pulling it unnecessarily
hard; no maid ever yet had a "light hand."

No answer. What business is it of hers, and why should she call him
_Master John?_ Gertrude tries again: "You look pale to-night, miss;
you that generally has such a colour. I'm afraid you're tired with
your ride."

"Not a bit of it--only sleepy. Why, it's time one was in bed."

"Lor, miss, I shouldn't want to go to bed, not if I was going to a
ball. But I think you like 'orse exercise best; and to be sure, your
'orse is a real beauty, Miss Kate."

The very name of Brilliant always puts me in good humour, so, of
course, I can but answer, "_That_ he is, Gertrude, and as good as he's
handsome;" on which my voluble handmaid goes off again at score.

"That's what I say, miss, when I see him coming round to the door,
with his long black tail and his elegant shape and his thin legs."
_Thin legs!_--I can't stand that; to hear my beautiful Brilliant's
great strong legs called _thin_, as if he were made of paper. I feel I
am getting savage again, so I cut Gertrude short, and bid her "finish
my hair," and hasten my dressing, for Aunt Deborah don't take long,
and we shall be late for the ball. At the mention of the word "ball,"
off goes Gertrude again.

"What a grand ball it'll be, miss, as all her ladyship's is; and I
know there'll be no young lady there as will be better dressed than my
young lady, nor better looking neither; and I'm sure, to see you and
Master John stand up together, as you did last Christmas when we was
all at Dangerfield! and I says to the steward, 'Mr. Musty,' says I, 'a
handsomer couple than them two I never clapped eyes on. Master John,
he looks so fresh, and so healthy and portly, as becomes a gentleman.'
And he says, 'No doubt,' says he; 'and Miss Kate, she steps away like
a real good one, with her merry eyes and her trim waist, as blooming,'
says he, 'as a beanfield, and as saucy as----'"

"There, that will do, Gertrude; now my pocket-handkerchief and some
scent, and my gloves and my fan. Good-night, Gertrude."

"Good-night, miss; I do humbly hope you'll enjoy your ball."

Enjoy my ball, indeed! How little does the girl know what I enjoy, and
what I don't enjoy! Lady Horsingham will be as stiff as the poker, and
about as communicative. Cousin Amelia will look at everything I've got
on, and say the most disagreeable things she can think of, because she
never can forgive me for being born two years later than herself. I
shall know very few people, and those I do know I shall not like. I
shall have a headache before I have been half an hour in the room. If
I dance I shall be hot, and if I don't dance I shall be bored. Enjoy
my ball, indeed! I'd much rather be going hay-making.

Up went the steps, bang went the door, and ere long we were safely
consigned to the "string" of carriages bound for the same destination
as ourselves. After much "cutting-in," and shaving of wheels, and
lashing of coach-horses, with not a little blasphemy, "Miss
Horsingham" and "Miss Coventry" were announced in a stentorian voice,
and we were struggling in a mass of silks and satins, blonde and
broadcloth, up the swarming staircase. Everything happened exactly as
I had predicted; Lady Horsingham accosted Aunt Deborah with the most
affectionate cordiality, and lent me two fingers of her left hand, to
be returned without delay. Cousin Amelia looked me well over from head
to foot, and asked after my own health and Brilliant's with a
supercilious smile. How that girl hates me! And I honestly confess to
returning the feeling with some cordiality. As far as appearance goes,
I think without vanity I may say I have the best of it, Cousin Amelia
being very short and pale, with a "turn-up" nose and long ringlets.
Why does a little woman with a turn-up nose always wear her hair in
ringlets? Is it that she wishes to resemble a King Charles's spaniel?
And why are our sex so apt to cherish feelings of animosity towards
those who are younger and better-looking than themselves? While I ask
myself these questions I was suddenly accosted by a lady who had been
some time in conversation with my chaperon, and from whom, I saw by
Aunt Deborah's countenance, she was anxious to make her escape. Poor
old soul! What could she do? A double rank of dowagers hemmed her in
in front; on one side of her was her unwelcome acquaintance and the
banisters--on the other, myself and three demure young ladies
(sisters), who looked frightened and uncomfortable--whilst her rear
was guarded by a tall cavalry officer with enormous moustachios,
heading an impervious column of dandies worse than himself. Aunt
Deborah was like a needle in a bottle of hay. Taking advantage of her
position, the lady before mentioned seized me by both hands, and vowed
she should have known me anywhere by my likeness to my poor mamma. "I
must make your acquaintance, my dear Miss Coventry--your uncle, Sir
Harry, was one of my oldest friends. I see you so often in the park,
and you ride the nicest horse in London, a bay with a white star." Of
course I bowed an affirmative, and shook my new friend by the hand
with a cordiality equal to her own. A conversation begun in so
promising a manner as by a reference to my favourite was sure to go on
swimmingly; besides, we could not have got away from each other if we
would; and ere long I found Mrs. Lumley--for that was the lady's
name--a most amusing and satirical personage, with a variety of
anecdotes about all her friends and acquaintances, and a sort of
flippant charm of manner that was quite irresistible.

Besides all this, she was doubtless a very pretty woman--less striking
perhaps than winning. At the first glance you hardly remarked her--at
the second you observed she was very well dressed--at the third it
occurred to you all of a sudden that she was far better-looking than
half the regular red-and-white beauties of the season; and after five
minutes' conversation all the men were over head and ears in love with
her. She was neither dark nor fair, neither pale nor ruddy, neither
short nor tall. I never could succeed in making out the colour of her
eyes, but she had wonderfully long thick eyelashes with a curl in them
(I wish mine had been cut when I was a baby), and a beautiful
healthy-looking skin, and such good teeth. After all, I think her
great attraction was her nose. It had more expression in its straight,
well-cut bridge and little, sharp point than all the rest of her
features put together. I believe it was her nose that conquered
everything, and that her small feet and pretty figure and white hands,
and dashing ways and _piquante_ conversation had much less to answer
for than one saucy little feature. How she rattled on: "You don't know
Lady Scapegrace, Miss Coventry, do you? There, that bold-looking woman
in yellow. Beautiful black hair, hasn't she?--false, every bit of it!
She'll bow to me to-night, because she sees me with your good aunt;
there, I told you so! Since she and Sir Guy are living together again
she sets up for being respectable--such stories, my dear! but I don't
believe half of 'em. However, I've seen her with my own eyes do _the
oddest_ things--at best, I'm afraid she's a shocking flirt! There's
your cousin, Mr. Jones--you see I know everybody. How black he
looks--he don't like me--a great many people don't--but I return good
for evil--I like everybody--it's never worth while to be cross;" and
as she said so she smiled with such a sunny, merry expression that I
liked her better and better.

Cousin John certainly did look very cross. "Who introduced you to that
horrid woman, Kate?" said he as soon as a fresh convulsion in the
crowd had stranded us a few steps higher up, and we were separated
from Mrs. Lumley and her attractions.

"My aunt, sir," I replied demurely, telling a "_white_ one" for the
sake of teasing him. "Why? Have you any objections?"

"Oh, of course, if my aunt did, it's all right," replied he. "I don't
know a great deal of her, and what I do know I don't much like. But,
Kate, there's a friend of mine wishes to be presented to you. You've
often heard me mention Frank Lovell--well, there he is; do you see
him?--turning round now to speak to Lady Scapegrace."

Good heavens! it was the man I had seen in the park so often, if
possible better-looking with his hat off than I had thought him in his
morning costume, with the eternal cigar in his mouth. I have a sort of
dim recollection of his making his bow to my aunt, who received him,
as she does all good-looking young men, with a patronizing smile, and
a vision of John "doing the polite," and laughing as he ceremoniously
introduced "Captain Lovell" and "Miss Coventry," and something said
about "the honour of the next waltz;" and although I am not easily
discomposed, I confess I felt a little shy and uncomfortable till I
found myself hanging on Captain Lovell's arm, and elbowing our way to
a place amongst the dancers.

I must say he wasn't the least what I expected--not at all forward,
and never alluded to our previous meeting, or to Brilliant, till we
went to have an ice in the tea-room, when Captain Lovell began to
enlarge upon the charm of those morning rides, and the fresh air, and
the beautiful scenery of Hyde Park; and though I never told him
exactly, he managed to find out that I rode every day at the same
early hour, "_even_ after a ball!" and that I was as likely to be
there to-morrow as any day in the week; and so we had another turn at
"the Colombetta" waltz, and he took me back to my aunt, half-inclined
to be pleased with _him_, and more than half-inclined to be angry with
_myself_. I am afraid I couldn't help watching him as he loitered
about amongst the crowd, now deep in conversation with Lady
Scapegrace, now laughing with my new friend, Mrs. Lumley. He looked so
like a gentleman, even amongst all the high-bred men there; and though
so handsome, he didn't appear the least conceited. I began to wonder
whether all could be true that I had heard of him, and to think that a
man who liked such early walks could not possibly be the _roué_ and
"good-for-nothing" they made him out. I was roused out of a brown
study by Cousin John's voice in my ear, "Now then, Kate, for _our_
waltz. The room's a little clearer, so we can go the 'pace' if you
like." And away we went to "the Odalisque" faster than any other
couple in the room. Somehow it wasn't half such a pretty air as the
Colombetta, and John, though he has a very good ear, didn't seem to
waltz quite so well as usual; perhaps I was getting a little tired. I
know I wasn't at all sorry when my aunt ordered the carriage; and I
thought the dawn never looked so beautiful as it did when we emerged
from those hot, lighted rooms into the pure, fragrant summer air. I
confess I do love the dawn, even in London. I like to see the "gates
of morning" open with that clear, light-green tinge that art has never
yet been able to imitate; and if I could do as I liked, which none of
us can, I should always be up and dressed by sunrise.

As we drove down Grosvenor Place I saw Captain Lovell walking home,
smoking a cigar. I think he caught a glimpse of my face at the
carriage-window, for I am almost sure he bowed, but I shrunk back into
the corner, and pretended to go to sleep; and when we arrived in
Lowndes Street I was not at all sorry to wish Aunt Deborah good-night,
and go upstairs to bed.



CHAPTER IV.


"Now then, Kate, late as usual; my phaeton's at the door, and we've
only an hour and five minutes to do the twelve miles," said Cousin
John's cheery voice as he accosted me on the following morning,
running upstairs to change my dress after my early ride. Yes,
notwithstanding the ball the night before, I was not going to
disappoint Brilliant of his gallop; besides, these things are all
habit; if you once get accustomed to early hours nothing is so easy as
to keep to them. Why, even Captain Lovell was in the park as usual
with his cigar--he seems regular enough about _that_, at all
events--and he took his hat off so gracefully when he spied me
cantering up the Ride that I hadn't the heart to pass without stopping
just to say, "How d'ye do?" but of course I didn't shake hands with
him.

"Come, Kate, bustle, bustle," exclaimed that fidget John; and in less
time than my lady-readers would believe, I had put on my pink bonnet
and my white dress, and was bowling down to Richmond by the side of my
cousin, behind a roan and a chestnut that stepped away in a style that
it did one good to see.

"What a clipper that off-horse is, John," said I as we cleared London,
and got to the level road by Kew Gardens; "let me take the reins for
five minutes--they're going so pleasantly." But John don't like me to
drive anything more sporting than a pony-carriage, and he refused
point blank, which, to say the least of it, was brutal on his part. If
I hadn't thought it would make me sick, I should have liked to smoke,
on purpose to provoke him. We did the distance with three minutes to
spare, and as we pulled up in front of the Castle Hotel, I was proud
to hear the admiration our _tout ensemble_ elicited from a knot of
idlers lounging round the door. "'Ere's a spicy set-out, Bill," said
one. "Crickey! vot a pretty gal!" said another. "Vouldn't I like to be
Vilikins with she for a Dinah!" exclaimed the dirtiest of the
conclave; and although I appreciated the compliment, I was forced to
turn my back on my unwashed admirer, and reply to the greetings of the
picnic party we had come down to join.

There was Mrs. Molasses and her two daughters to begin with, people of
unheard-of wealth, of which they seemed to carry a large portion on
their persons. The mamma, ample, black-eyed, fresh-coloured, and
brocaded, with an extremely natural wig. The eldest daughter, Mary,
with whom I had afterwards reason to be better acquainted, pale,
languid, very quiet, and low-toned, with fine eyes, and soft dark
hair, and what people call an _interesting_ look. She took the
sentimental line--was all feeling and poetry, and milk and water, and
as easily frightened as she was reassured again. The younger girl,
Jane, was the very reverse of her sister--short and dark and
energetic, rather blue, and I thought a little impudent; however, I
liked her the best of the two. Then came Sir Guy and Lady Scapegrace.
The Baronet, a stout, square, elderly man, with enormous dyed whiskers
and hair to match, combining as much as possible the manners of the
coachman with the morals of the _roué_. A tremendous dandy of the
Four-in-hand Club school--high neckcloth, huge pins, gorgeous
patterns, enormous buttons, and a flower in his mouth. His lady as
handsome as a star, though a little hollow-eyed and _passée_. She
looked like a tragedy queen, with her magnificent figure, and long
black hair, and fierce flashing eyes, and woe-begone expression, and
the black velvet ribbon with its diamond cross, which she always wore
round her neck. Ah me! what stories that diamond-cross could tell, if
all be true that we hear of Lady Scapegrace! A girl sold for money, to
become a rebellious wife to an unfeeling husband. A handsome young
cousin, who cut his own throat in despair--they brought it in
temporary insanity, of course. An elopement with a gallant Major to
the south of France, and a duel there, in which the Major was shot,
but not by Sir Guy; an English lady of rank travelling on the
Continent, independent and alone, breaking banks in all directions
with her luck and hearts with her beauty; a reconciliation, entirely
for money considerations, which drove another far less erring woman
into a madhouse (but that was Sir Guy's fault); and a darker tale
still of a certain potion prepared by her hand, which the Baronet was
prevented from swallowing only by his invariable habit of
contradicting his wife on all points, and which the lady herself had
the effrontery to boast "would have settled all accounts." Not a word
of truth in any of these stories probably; but still, such is the
character the world's good nature affixes to that dark handsome woman
at whom Cousin John seems so very much alarmed.

Then there was an elderly Miss Minnows, who was horribly afraid of
catching cold, but in whose character I could perceive no other very
salient point; and a fair-haired young gentleman, whose name I did not
distinctly catch, and who looked as if he ought to have been at
school, where, indeed, I think he would have been much happier; and
sundry regular stereotyped London men and women, well bred and well
dressed, and cool and composed, and altogether thoroughly respectable
and stupid; and a famous author, who drank a great deal of wine, and
never opened his lips to speak; and I think that was all--no,
by-the-bye, there was Captain Lovell, who came very late, and we went
soberly into Richmond Park, and dined under a tree.

I do not think I quite like a picnic. It is all very well, like most
other arrangements, if everything goes right; but I sat between Sir Guy
Scapegrace and the light-haired young gentleman, and although I could
hear lots of fun going on at the other end of the tablecloth, where
Cousin John and Mary Molasses and Captain Lovell had got together, I
was too far off to partake of it, and my _vis-à-vis_, Lady Scapegrace,
scowled at me so from under her black eyebrows, though I believe
utterly unconsciously, that she made me feel quite nervous. Then it was
not reassuring to have that odious Sir Guy pressing me to eat
everything, and looking right under my bonnet, and asking me to drink
champagne at least four times; and if I turned to my other neighbour,
and ventured to address him on the most commonplace subject, he blushed
so painfully that I began to think he was quite as much afraid of me as
I was of Sir Guy. Altogether I was rather glad when the things were
cleared away and put back into the hampers, and the gentlemen asked
leave to light their cigars, and we broke up our circle, and lounged
about and enjoyed ourselves in the shade of those fine trees on that
dry velvet sward. We were rather put to it though for amusement, and
had to propose games of forfeits and other pastimes; and Cousin John,
quite unwittingly, got me into a sad scrape by boasting about his
horses. "Not such another pair out of London to-day," expatiated John
to the company in general. "We came down in seven minutes under the
hour from my aunt's door in Lowndes Street; didn't we, Kate? And never
turned a hair; did we, Kate? Why, they went so smooth Kate couldn't
keep her hands off the reins; could you, Kate? And there are few better
judges, let me tell you, than Miss Coventry." I saw the ladies look at
me, and then at each other; and I knew by that indescribable glance,
which none but a woman can thoroughly appreciate, how from that moment
they had vowed, one and all, to hate me eternally in their hearts. The
offence had been committed; the sentence had gone forth. I had been
tried for being _fast_, and found guilty _nem. com._, from sneering
Lady Scapegrace to unmeaning Miss Minnows; each stared at me for about
two seconds, and so made up her mind. I cannot think why it is that
this should be so great a crime in the eyes of my own sex. Next to
being attractive to the other half of creation--and that I can easily
understand is totally unpardonable--there is nothing makes a woman so
angry with her sister as high spirits, natural courage, and above all a
love for a horse. It is very hard upon us that we should be debarred
from all out-of-door exercises and amusements by the prejudices of
those very individuals who ought to back us up in our efforts to
enlarge the circle of our amusements. I cannot see why it follows that
because I do not mind "weather," I must, therefore, be utterly
regardless of morality; nor how my knack of breaking in a horse should
imply an infraction of all the commandments. Are men the only bipeds
that can be at the same time brave and virtuous? Must pluck and piety
be for ever divorced in the female character? Shall I never be able to
keep the straight path in life because I can turn an awkward corner
with four horses at a trot? Female voices answer volubly in the
negative, and I give in.

But odious Sir Guy thinks none the worse of me for my coaching
predilections. "Fond of driving, Miss Coventry?" says he, leering at
me from over his great choking neckcloth. "Seen _my_ team--three greys
and a piebald? If you like going _fast_ I can accommodate you. Proud
to take you back on my drag. What? Go on the box. _Drive_, if you
like. Hey!"

I confess for one instant, much as I hated the old reprobate, I should
have liked to go, if it was only to make all the women so angry; but
just then I caught Captain Lovell's eye fixed upon me with a strange,
earnest expression, and all at once I felt that nothing should induce
me to trust myself with Sir Guy. I couldn't help blushing though as I
declined, more particularly when my would-be charioteer swore he
considered it "an engagement, hey?--only put off to another time--get
the coach new painted--begad, Miss Coventry's favourite colour!" And
the old monster grinned in my face till I could have boxed his ears.

The author by this time was fast asleep, with a handkerchief over his
face, Miss Minnows searching in vain for a fabulous pair of clogs, as
she imagined the dew must be falling--it was about six p.m., and hot
June weather. Sir Guy was off to the hampers in search of "brandy and
soda," and the rest of the party lounging about in twos and threes,
when Captain Lovell proposed we should stroll down to the river and
have a row in the cool of the evening. Mary Molasses voted it
"charming;" Lady Scapegrace was willing to go anywhere away from Sir
Guy; John, of course, all alive for a lark; and though Mrs. Molasses
preferred remaining on dry land, she had no objection to trusting her
girls with us. So we mustered a strong party for embarkation on Father
Thames. Our two cavaliers ran forward to get the boat ready, Captain
Lovell bounding over the fences and stiles almost as actively as
Brilliant could have done; and John, who is no mean proficient at such
exercises, following him; whilst we ladies paced along soberly in the
rear.

"Can you row, Miss Coventry?" asked Lady Scapegrace, who seemed to
have taken rather a fancy to me, probably out of contradiction to the
other women. "I can. I rowed four miles once on the Lake of Geneva,"
she added in her deep, melancholy voice, "and we were caught in one of
those squalls and nearly lost. If it hadn't been for poor Alphonse,
not one of us could have escaped. I wonder if drowning's a painful
death, Miss Coventry; the water always looks so inviting."

"Goodness, Lady Scapegrace!" exclaimed I; "don't take this opportunity
of finding out. None of us can swim but John; and if he saves anybody,
he's solemnly engaged to save _me_."

"I quite agree with you, Lady Scapegrace," said the romantic Miss
Molasses. "It looks so peaceful, and gives one such an idea of repose.
I for one have not the slightest fear of death, or indeed of any mere
bodily changes----Gracious goodness! the bull! the bull!"

What a rout it was! The courageous young lady who thus gave us the
first intimation of danger leading the flight with a speed and
activity of which I should have thought her languid frame totally
incapable; Lady Scapegrace making use of her long legs with an utter
forgetfulness of her usually grave and tragic demeanour; and the rest
of the party seeking safety helter-skelter.

It was indeed a situation of some peril. Our course to the riverside
had led us through a long narrow strip of meadow-land, bounded by high
impervious thorn fences, such as I knew would be _bullfinches_ in the
winter, and which now, in all the luxuriance of summer foliage,
presented a mass of thorns and fragrance that no mortal could expect
to get through. At either end of the field was a high hog-backed
stile, such as ladies usually make considerable difficulties about
surmounting, but which are by no means so impossible of transit when
an infuriated bull is bringing up the rear. We were already a quarter
of the way across the field, when Miss Mary's exclamation made us
aware of our enemy, who had been quietly cropping the grass in a
corner behind us, but who now, roused by our gaudy dresses and the
piercing screams of some of our party, was lashing himself into a
rage, and looking sufficiently mischievous to be a very unpleasant
acquaintance. It was impossible to turn round and make for the stile
we had just left, as the bull now occupied a position exactly between
us and that place of safety; it was hopeless, particularly in our
light muslin gowns, to attempt the hedge on either side; there was
nothing for it but a fair run to the other end of the meadow, about a
quarter of a mile, and _sauve qui peut_ was now the order of the day.

I will not allow that I am deficient in courage; on the contrary, as
Cousin John says, "I am rather proud of my pluck;" but there is
nothing so contagious as a panic, and I too ran for my very life. The
bull came galloping after us, tossing his head and rolling his great
body about as if he quite enjoyed the fun; nor do I know how the
adventure would have ended, for he must have overtaken some of us
before we could reach our haven, had not Lady Scapegrace caught her
foot in the long grass, and, falling prostrate, buried her face in her
hands, and giving herself up, as she afterwards assured me, to the
prospect of a horrible and violent death. I could not leave her in
such a situation. By an impulse for which I cannot account I stopped
short, turned round, got between the pursuer and his fallen foe, and
with a beating heart and my knees knocking together, faced the great
mischievous brute with no other weapon, offensive or defensive, than a
laced pocket handkerchief. I believe he was a well-meaning bull after
all; for instead of crashing in upon me, as I half expected he would,
and immolating me on the spot, he too stopped short, stared, bellowed,
and began sniffing the grass, and pawing up the turf, and whisking his
tail about, just as Brilliant does when he is going to lie down. I
don't think he had ever seen a young lady, certainly not a French
bonnet before, and he didn't seem to know what to make of the
combination; so there we stood, he and I staring each other out of
countenance, but without proceeding to any further extremities. I know
I have plenty of courage, for after the first minute I wasn't the
least bit afraid; I felt just as I do when I ride at a large fence--as
I get nearer and nearer I feel something rising and rising within me
that enables me to face anything; and so when I had confronted the
bull for a little time I felt inclined to carry the war into the
enemy's country, and advance upon him. But of course all this is very
indelicate and unfeminine; and it would have been far more virtuous
and lady-like to have run shrieking away like Miss Molasses, or laid
down and given in at once like poor Lady Scapegrace, who was quite
resigned to being tossed and trampled upon, and only gave vent every
now and then to a stifled moan.

Well, at last I did advance a few steps, and the bull gave ground in
the same proportion. I began to think I should beat him after all,
when to my great relief, I must allow, I heard a voice behind me
exclaim, "By Jove, what a plucky girl!" and I thought I heard
something muttered that sounded very like "darling," but of course
that couldn't be meant for me; and Captain Lovell, hot, handsome, and
breathless, made his appearance, and soon drove our enemy into the
farthest corner of the field. As soon as the coast was clear we raised
poor Lady Scapegrace, who kissed me with tears in her eyes as she
thanked me for what she called "saving her life." I had no idea the
woman had so much feeling. Captain Lovell gave each of us an arm as we
walked on to join our party, and he explained how the screams of Miss
Molasses had reached him even at the riverside, and how he had turned
and hastened back immediately, "Fortunately in time to be of some use.
But I never saw a finer thing done, Miss Coventry; if I live to a
hundred I shall never forget it;" and he looked as if he would have
added, "or you either."

Many were the exclamations, and much the conversation created by our
adventure. The ladies who had run away so gallantly were of course too
much agitated for the proposed boating excursion; so after sundry
restoratives at the hotel we ordered the carriages to return to town.
Cousin John gave "Frank" (as he calls him) a place in the back seat of
his phaeton, and he leaned over and talked to me the whole way home.
What a pleasant drive it was in the moonlight, and how happy I felt! I
was really sorry when we got back to London. Frank seemed quite
anxious to make Aunt Deborah's acquaintance; and I thought I shouldn't
wonder if he was to call in Lowndes Street very soon.



CHAPTER V.


When Aunt Deborah is laid up with one of _her_ colds she always has a
wonderful accession of "propriety" accompanying the disorder; and that
which would appear to her at the worst a harmless _escapade_ when in
her usual health and spirits becomes a crime of the blackest dye when
seen through the medium of barley-broth and water-gruel--these being
Aunt Deborah's infallible remedies for a catarrh. Now, the cold in
question had lasted its victim over the Ascot meeting, over our picnic
to Richmond, and bade fair to give her employment during the greater
part of the summer, so obstinate was the enemy when he had once
possessed himself of the citadel; and under these circumstances I
confess it appeared to me quite hopeless to ask her permission to
accompany Cousin John on a long-promised expedition to Hampton Races.
I did not dare make the request myself; and I own I had great
misgivings, even when I overheard from my boudoir the all-powerful
John preferring his petition, which he did with a sort of abrupt good
humour peculiarly his own.

"Going to take Kate out for another lark, aunt, if you have no
objection," says John, plumping down into an armchair, and forthwith
proceeding to entangle Aunt Deborah's knitting into the most hopeless
confusion. "Only some quiet races near town; all amongst ourselves,
you know--gentlemen riders, and that sort of thing."

Aunt Deborah, who is a good deal behindhand in all matters connected
with the turf, and who has set her face into a determined refusal when
she hears the word "racing," rather relaxes at the mention of
"_gentlemen_ riders," and replies gravely, "John, I want to talk to
you about Kate. The girl's wild after horses and hounds and all such
unfeminine pursuits. I wonder you like to see it yourself, my dear.
Now, don't you think it would be far better to encourage her in
domestic tastes and amusements? I give you my word, she hasn't done a
bit of worsted-work for a fortnight."

John's face must have been good at this piece of intelligence; if
there is one thing he hates more than another it is "cross-stitch."
But he replied with exemplary gravity that "Cousin Kate never was
strong, you know, aunt, and she is ordered to be a good deal in the
open air, with plenty of horse exercise; and this is delightful
weather for riding."

"Well, John," says Aunt Deborah, "of course, if you don't mind it, I
needn't; you'll be the sufferer, my dear, not I" (I wonder what she
meant by that?); "and I must let her go if you choose to take her,
John. How like your father you're growing, my handsome boy!" and Aunt
Deborah kissed Cousin John on the forehead, with tears in her eyes;
and they called to me to get ready, and the horses came round, and in
less than ten minutes we were up and away.

It was very gratifying to overhear the complimentary remarks made upon
the general appearance of White Stockings, whom I had ridden down to
save Brilliant, and who, despite his ugliness, is a very
hunting-looking horse.

"Looks a game 'un, don't he, squire?" remarked a jolly-looking Surrey
farmer in top-boots to a dilapidated friend in a white neckcloth.
"Shouldn't wonder if he couldn't kick the dirt in some of their faces,
with that tight lass to keep his head straight." The friend was a
melancholy man, and nodded his silent affirmative with a sigh. I
think, early as it was, they had both been drinking.

"Look at that chestnut horse!" exclaimed a good-looking boy of some
twenty summers, who had coached his own drag down, like a second
Phaethon, only as yet with better luck, and was now smoking a huge
cigar on its roof. "Isn't he the image of old Paleface? Who's the
woman, eh? Does nobody know her? I'll ask her to come and sit up here.
She looks like a lady, too," he added, checking himself. "Never mind,
here goes!" And he was jumping off the coach, to tender me, I presume,
his polite invitation in person, when his arm was caught by the man
next him, who was no other than John's friend, Captain Lovell.

"Charley, stop!" exclaimed Frank, flushing all over his handsome face
and temples. "I know her, I tell you. Have a care; it's Miss
Coventry." And in another instant he had bounded to the earth,
accosted my _chaperon_ with a hearty "Jack, how goes it?" and was deep
in conversation with my humble self, with his hand on my horse's
neck--Frank always wears such good gloves--and his pleasant
countenance beaming with delight at our chance interview. I liked the
races better after this, and should have spent a happier day, perhaps,
without the society of Mrs. Lumley, who appeared likewise on
horseback, quite unexpectedly, and was riding the most beautiful brown
mare I ever saw in my life. I quite wished I had brought down
Brilliant, if only to have met her on more equal terms. As we were the
only two ladies on horseback, of course we were obliged to fraternize
(if the weaker sex may use such an expression), as, indeed, we must
have done had we been the bitterest foes on earth, instead of merely
hating each other with common civility. Mrs. Lumley seemed on
particularly good terms with Frank Lovell--I do not know that I liked
her any the better for that--and expressed her sentiments and opinions
to the world in general with a vivacity and freedom peculiarly her
own.

"I am out on 'the sly,' you know," she observed with an arch smile. "I
have a good, quiet aunt who lives down at Richmond, and I do penance
there for a time, whenever I have been more than usually wicked; but
to-day I could not resist the fine weather and the crowd and the fun,
and above all the bad company, which amuses me more than all the rest
put together, though I do not include you, Miss Coventry, nor yet Mr.
Jones, but I am afraid I must Captain Lovell. Come, let's ride amongst
the carriages and see the ninnies."

So Mrs. Lumley and I plunged into the crowd, leaving Frank to return
to his drag and his betting-book, and Cousin John somewhat
discontentedly to bring up the rear.

"After all, I don't see much harm in Hampton," said my lively guide as
we threaded our way between the carriages, "though, to be sure, there
are some very queer-looking people on the course. I could tell you
strange stories of most of them, Miss Coventry, only you wouldn't
believe me. Do you see that old, plainish woman, with such black hair
and eyebrows--something like Lady Scapegrace, only not so handsome as
my favourite enemy? Would you believe it, she might marry three
coronets at this moment if she chose, and she won't have any one of
them. She is not good-looking, you can see; she can scarcely write her
own name. She has no conversation, I happen to know, for I met her
once at dinner, and she cannot by any chance put an 'H' into its right
place. Yet men see something in her that is totally inexplicable to
us, and she seems to have a mysterious influence over all ages and all
sorts. One of these infatuated noblemen is decrepit and twaddling; the
other a stern, reserved man that up to forty years of age was supposed
to be the very impersonation of common sense; and the third, young,
clever, and handsome, a man that might marry half the nicest women in
England if he liked. And why, do you think, she won't pick and choose
from such a trio? Why, forsooth, because she has set her stupid heart
on a drunken stockbroker, who won't have a word to say to her, and
would have been here to-day, I have no doubt, if he hadn't been afraid
of meeting _her_. Well, there's a stranger story than _that_ about the
girl with long fair hair in the next carriage. You can see her now, in
a pink bonnet, drinking sherry and soda water. It is supposed that she
is old Goldfinch's daughter, and that he won't give her a farthing;
but I know somebody who knows his lawyer, and that girl _will_ have
half a million, if she don't drink herself to death before old
Goldfinch takes his departure from this wicked world. She is beautiful
and clever and accomplished, and all the young men are in love with
her; but she cannot keep sober, and in three years' time she will have
lost her youth and her health and her faculties, and in all
probability will finish in a madhouse. There's Frank Lovell making
fierce love to her now."

And as Mrs. Lumley concluded with this amiable remark, I looked round
for Cousin John, and rode away from her in disgust at her flippancy,
and sick at heart to think of such a man as Captain Lovell wasting his
smiles on such a creature. To be sure, he only said three words to
her, for when I looked round again at the carriage he was gone. There
is something very amusing to me in the bustle of a racecourse; and
yet, after talking to Mrs. Lumley, the gloss seemed to be only on the
surface. She had told me enough of the company to make me fancy there
must be some strange history belonging to each. Like the man that saw
through the roofs of the houses in Madrid, thanks to the agency of his
familiar, I thought that my demon on a side-saddle had taught me to
see into the very hearts and secrets of the motley assemblage.

There was a handsome girl, with beautiful teeth and neatly-braided
hair and such a brilliant smile, attracting a crowd round her as she
sang piquant songs in a sweet, deep-toned voice that ought to have
made her fortune on the stage if it had been properly cultivated--sang
them, too, with a look and manner that I have seen seldom rivalled by
the cleverest actresses; and I thought what a face and form were
wasted here to make profit for one knave and sport for some fifty
fools. As she accompanied herself on the harp, and touched its strings
with a grace and expression which made amends for a certain want of
tuition, I could not help fancying her in a drawing-room, surrounded
by admirers, making many a heart ache with her arch smile and winning
ways. Without being _positively_ beautiful, she had the knack so few
women possess of looking charming in every attitude and with every
expression of countenance; and although her songs were of a somewhat
florid school, yet I could not help thinking that, with those natural
gifts and a plaintive old ballad, English or Scotch, such as "Annie
Laurie" or "The Nut-brown Maid" to bring them out, in a pretty
drawing-room, with the assistance of a good dressmaker--dear! she
might marry a duke if she liked.

And yet all this belonged to a dark, close-shaved ruffian, with silver
rings and a yellow handkerchief, who scowled and prowled about her,
and looked as if he was likely enough to beat her when they got home.
But she hands up an ivory bowl for contributions amongst the young
dandies on the roof of a neighbouring coach, who have been listening
open-mouthed to the siren, and shillings and half-crowns, and a bit of
gold from the one last out of the Bench, pour into it; and she moves
off, to make way for three French glee-maidens with a monkey and a
tambourine, and the swells return to their cigars and their betting,
and we are all attention for the next event on the card, because it is
a gentlemen-riders' race; and the performances will consequently be as
different as possible from what we have just seen.

"We'll secure a good place for this, Kate," says Cousin John, edging
his horse in as near the judges' stand as he can get. "Frank Lovell
has a mare to run, and I have backed her for a sovereign."

"Dear, I hope she'll win!" is my ardent rejoinder.

"Thank you, Kate," says kind Cousin John, who concludes I take an
unusual interest in his speculations; and forthwith we proceed to
criticize the three animals brought to the post, and to agree that
Captain Lovell's Parachute is far the best-looking of the lot; or, as
Sir Guy Scapegrace says to the well-pleased owner, "If make and shape
go for anything, Frank, she ought to beat them, as far as they can
see."

Sir Guy is _chaperoning_ a strange-looking party of men and women, who
have been very noisy since luncheon-time. He is attired in a
close-shaved hat (which he had the effrontery to take off to me, but I
looked the other way), a white coat, and a red neckcloth, the usual
flower in his mouth being replaced for the occasion by a large cigar.
Captain Lovell hopes "I admire his mare--she has a look of Brilliant
from here, Miss Coventry. 'Baby Larkins' of the Lancers is to ride;
and The Baby will do her justice if any one can. He's far the best of
the young ones now."

"Do you mean his name is 'Baby'?" said I, much amused, "or that you
call him so because he is such a child? He looks as if he ought to be
with mamma still." "We always call him 'Baby' in the Lancers,"
explained Frank, "because he joined us so very _young_. He is
nineteen, though you would guess him about twelve; but he's got the
brains of a man of sixty and the nerves of a giant. Ah! Parachute, you
may kick, old girl, but you won't get rid of _that_ child!"

And sure enough "The Baby" sat like a rock, with a grim smile, and
preserving throughout a silence and _sang froid_ which nothing seemed
able to overcome. Two more seedy-looking animals made up the entry.
The lamer one of the two was ridden by a stout major with a redundancy
of moustaches, the other by a lanky cornet of Heavy Dragoons, who
seemed not to know where on earth to dispose of his arms and legs,
besides finding his cap somewhat in his way, and being much
embarrassed with his whip. They gallop up and down before starting,
till I wonder how any galloping can be left for the race; and after a
futile attempt or two they get away, The Baby making strong running,
the stout Major waiting closely upon his infantine antagonist, while
the long cornet, looming like a windmill in the distance, brings up
the rear.

"Parachute still making running," says John, standing erect in his
stirrups, his honest face beaming with excitement. "Woa, horse!--Stand
still, White-Stockings--now they reach the turn, and The Baby takes a
pull--Gad, old Ganymede's coming up. Well done, Major--no, the old
one's flogging. Parachute wins. Now, Baby!--now Major--the horse!--the
mare!--Best race I ever saw in my life--a dead heat--Ha! ha! ha!" The
latter explosion of mirth is due to the procrastinated arrival of the
long cornet, who flogs and works as religiously home as if he had a
hundred more behind him, and who reaches the weighing enclosure in
time to ascertain with his own eyes that Ganymede has won, the lame
plater who rejoices in that classical appellation having struggled
home first by a head, "notwithstanding," as the sporting papers
afterwards expressed themselves, "the judicious riding and beautiful
finish of that promising young jockey, Mr. B. Larkins." The Baby
himself, however, is unmoved as usual, nodding to Parachute's
disappointed owner without moving a muscle of his countenance. He
merely remarks, "Short of work, Frank. Told you so afore I got up,"
and putting on a tiny white overcoat like a plaything, disappears, and
is seen no more.

What a confusion there is in getting away! Sir Guy Scapegrace has a
yearly bet with young Phaethon, who wanted to invite me on his box, as
to which shall get first to Kensington on their way back to town. You
would suppose Sir Guy was very happy at home by his anxiety to be off.
The two drags are soon bumping and rolling and rattling along the
sward. The narrow lane through which they must make their way is
completely blocked up with spring-vans, and tax-carts, and open
carriages, and shut carriages, and broughams, and landaus, and every
description of vehicle that ever came out of Long Acre; whilst more
four-horse coaches, with fast teams and still faster loads, are
thundering in the rear. Slang reigns supreme; and John Gilpin's
friend, who had a "ready wit," would here meet with his match. Nor are
jest and repartee (what John calls "chaff") the only missiles bandied
about. Toys, knocked off "the sticks" for the purpose, darken the air
as they fly from one vehicle to another, and the broadside from a
well-supplied coach is like that of a seventy-four. Fun and
good-humour abound, but confusion gets worse confounded. Young
Phaethon's wheel is locked with a market-gardener's, who is
accompanied by two sisters-in-law and the suitors of those nowise
disconcerted damsels, all more or less intoxicated. Thriftless has his
near leader in the back-seat of a pony-carriage, and Sir Guy's
off-wheeler is over the pole. John and I agree to make a detour, have
a pleasant ride in the country, never mind about dinner, and so get
back to London by moonlight. As we reach a quiet, sequestered lane,
and inhale the pleasant fragrance of the hawthorn--always sweetest
towards nightfall--we hear a horse's tramp behind us, and are joined
by Frank Lovell, who explains with unnecessary distinctness that "he
always makes a practice of _riding back_ from Hampton to avoid the
crowd, and always comes _that_ way." If so, he must be in the habit of
taking a considerable detour. But he joins our party, and we ride home
together.

How beautifully the moon shone upon the river as we crossed Kew Bridge
that calm, silent, summer night! How it flickered through their
branches and silvered over the old trees, and what a peaceful, lovely
landscape it was! I thought Frank's low, sweet voice quite in keeping
with the time and the scene. As we rode together, John lagging a good
deal behind (that bay horse of John's never _could_ walk with White
Stockings), I could not help thinking how much I had misunderstood
Captain Lovell's character. What a deal of feeling--almost of
romance--there was under that conventional exterior which he wore
before the world! I liked him so much more now I came to know him
better. I was quite sorry when we had to wish him "good-night" and
John and I rode thoughtfully home through the quiet streets. I thought
my cousin's manner was altered too, though I scarce knew how. His
farewell sounded more constrained, more polite than usual, when he
left me at Aunt Deborah's door. And whilst I was undressing I
reflected on all the proceedings of the day, and tried to remember
what I had done that could possibly have displeased good-natured John.
The more I went over it, backwards and forwards, the less could I make
of it. "Can it be possible," I thought at last; "can it be possible
that Cousin John----" And here I popped out my candle and jumped into
bed.



CHAPTER VI.


I really had not courage to take my usual canter the morning after
Hampton Races. I did not feel as if I could face the umbrella and the
cigar at the rails in "the Ride," and yet I rang the bell once for my
maid to help me on with my habit, and had my hand on it more than once
to order my horse; but I thought better of it. Poor Aunt Deborah's
cold was still bad, though she was downstairs; so I determined to take
care of her, in common gratitude, and give her the advantage of my
agreeable society. I am very fond of Aunt Deborah in my own way, and I
know there is nothing she likes so much as a "quiet morning with
Kate."

The hours passed off rather slowly till luncheon-time. I did forty-two
stitches of worsted-work--I never do more than fifty at a time, unless
it's "grounding"--and I got off Hannah More because Aunt Deborah was
too hoarse to read to _me_, and I really cannot read that excellent
work to _her_ without laughing; but I thought luncheon never would be
ready, and when it did come I couldn't eat any. However, I went
upstairs afterwards, and smoothed my hair and set my collar straight,
and was glad to hear Aunt Deborah give her usual order that she was
"at home" with her usual solemnity. I had not been ten minutes in the
drawing-room before a knock at the door brought my heart into my
mouth, and our tragic footman announced "Captain Lovell" in his most
tragic voice. In marched Frank, who had never set eyes on my aunt in
his life, and shook hands with _me_, and made _her_ a very low bow,
with a degree of effrontery that nothing but a _man_ could ever have
been capable of assuming. Aunt Deborah drew herself up--and she really
is very formidable when she gets on her _high horse_--and looked first
at me, and then at Frank, and then at me again; and I blushed like a
fool, and hesitated, and introduced "Captain Lovell" to "My aunt, Miss
Horsingham!" and I didn't the least know what to do next, and had a
great mind to make a bolt for it and run upstairs. But our visitor
seemed to have no misgivings whatever, and smoothed his hat and talked
about the weather as if he had known us all from childhood. I have
often remarked that if you only deprive a man of the free use of his
hands there is no difficulty which he is unable to face. Give him
something to handle and keep fidgeting at, and he seems immediately to
be in his element, never mind what it is--a paper-knife and a book to
open, or a flower to pull in pieces, or a pair of scissors and a bit
of thread to snip, or even the end of a stick to suck--and he draws
inspiration, and what is more to the purpose, _conversation_, from any
and all of these sources.

But let him have his hands entirely to himself, give him nothing to
"lay hold of," and he is completely dumbfoundered on the spot. Here
was Frank brushing and smoothing away at his hat till it shone like
black satin, and facing my aunt with a gallantry and steadiness beyond
all praise; but I believe if I could have snatched it away from him
and hid it under the sofa, he would have been routed at once, and must
have fled in utter bewilderment and dismay. After my aunt had replied
courteously enough to a few commonplace observations, she gave one of
her ominous coughs, and I trembled for the result.

"Captain _Beville_," said my aunt. "I think I once knew a family of
your name in Hampshire--the New Forest, if I remember rightly."

"Excuse me," said Frank, nowise disconcerted, and with a sly glance at
me, "my name is Lovell."

"Oh," replied my aunt, with a considerable assumption of stateliness,
"then--ahem!--Captain _Greville_, I don't think I have ever had the
pleasure of meeting you before."

And my aunt looked as if she didn't care whether she ever met him
again. This would have been a "poser" to most people; but Frank
applied himself diligently to his hat, and opened the trenches in his
own way.

"The fact is, Miss Horsingham," said he, "that I have taken advantage
of my intimacy with your nephew to call upon you without a previous
introduction, in hopes of ascertaining what has become of an old
brother officer of mine, a namesake of yours, and consequently, I
should conclude, a relative. There is, I believe, only one family in
England of your name. Excuse me, Miss Horsingham, for so personal a
remark, but I am convinced he must have been a near connection from a
peculiarity which every one who knows anything about our old English
families is aware belongs to yours: my poor friend Charlie had a
beautiful 'hand.' _You_, madame, I perceive, own the same advantage;
therefore I am convinced you must be a near connection of my old
comrade. You may think me impertinent, but there is no mistaking 'the
Horsingham hand.'"

Aunt Deborah gave in at once.

"I cannot call to mind at this moment any relative of mine who is
likely to have served with you" (nor was this to be wondered at, the
warrior _aux blanches mains_ being a fabulous creation of wicked
Frank); "but I have no doubt, Captain Lovell, that you are correct. I
have great pleasure in making your acquaintance, particularly as you
seem well acquainted with our belongings. Do you stay any length of
time in town?"

"I seldom remain till the end of the season; but this year I think I
shall. By the way, Miss Horsingham, I saw a curious old picture the
other day in the West of England, purporting to be a portrait of the
celebrated 'Ysonde of Brittany, with the White Hand,' in which I
traced a strong resemblance to some of the Horsinghams, with whom I am
acquainted. Yours is, I believe, an old Norman family; and as I am a
bit of an antiquary" (O Frank, Frank!), "I consulted my friend Sir J.
Burke on the subject, who assures me that the 'Le Montants'--Godfrey
le Montant, if you remember, distinguished himself highly in the
second crusade--that the Le Montants claimed direct descent from the
old Dukes of Brittany, and consequently from the very lady of whom we
are speaking. Roger le Montant came over with the Conqueror, and
although strangely omitted from the Roll of Battle Abbey, doubtless
received large grants of land in Hampshire from William; and two
generations later we can trace his descendant, Hugo, in the same
locality, under the Anglicized name of Horsengem, now corrupted to
Horsingham, of which illustrious family you are, of course, aware
yours is a younger branch. It is curious that the distinguishing mark
of the race should have been preserved in all its shapely beauty,"
added Frank, with the gravest face possible, and glancing at the
lavender kids, "through so many changes and so many successive
generations."

Aunt Deborah was delighted. "Such a clever young man, my dear!" she
said to me afterwards. "Such manners! such a voice! _quite_ one of the
old school--evidently well-bred, and with that respect for good blood
which in these days, I regret to say, is fast becoming obsolete. Kate,
I like him vastly!"

In the meantime she entered freely into conversation with our visitor;
and before he went away--by which time his hat looked as if it had
been ironed--"she hoped he would call again; she was always at home
till two o'clock, and trusted to have the pleasure of his company at
dinner as soon as she was well enough to get anybody to meet him."

So Frank went off to ride in the Park on the neatest possible brown
hack; for I saw him quite plainly trot round the corner as I went into
the balcony to water my poor geraniums.

Well, I waited and waited, and John never came for me, as was his
usual habit; and I began to think I must lose my ride, for I am not
allowed to go by myself in the afternoons; and at last I was obliged
to coax Aunt Deborah to take me out in the open carriage, for it was a
beautiful day, and it would be just the thing for her cold. So we went
dowagering about, and shopped in Bond Street, and looked at some lace
in Regent Street, and left cards for Lady Horsingham, as in duty
bound, after helping her to "make a good ball;" and then we went into
the Ring, and I looked and looked everywhere, but I could not see
anything like Frank or his brown hack. To be sure the Ride was as
crowded as a fair. But I _did_ see Cousin John, and I _must_ say it
was too bad of him to keep me waiting and watching all the afternoon,
and then never to take the trouble of sending a note or a message, but
to start off by himself and escort Miss Molasses, as if he was her
brother _at least_, if not a nearer relation. Miss Molasses, forsooth,
with her lackadaisical ways and her sentimental nonsense; and that
goose John taking it all in open-mouthed, as if she was an angel upon
earth. Well, at all events she don't _ride_ like me. Such a figure _I_
never saw on a horse!--all on one side, like the handle of a teapot,
bumping when she trots and wobbling when she canters, with braiding
all over her habit, and a _white_ feather in her hat, and gauntlet
gloves (_of course_ one may wear gauntlet gloves for hunting, but
_that's_ not London), and her sallow face. People call her
interesting, but _I_ call her _bilious_. And a wretched long-legged
Rosinante, with _round_ reins and tassels, and a netting over its
ears, and a head like a fiddle-case, and no more action than a
camp-stool. Such a couple I never beheld. I wonder John wasn't ashamed
to be seen with her, instead of leaning his hand upon her horse's
neck, and looking up in her face with his broad, honest smile, and
taking no more notice of her sister Jane, who is a clever girl, with
something in her, than if she had been the groom. I was provoked with
him beyond all patience. Had it been Mrs. Lumley, for instance, I
could have understood it; for she certainly is a chatty, amusing
woman, though dreadfully _bold_, and it is a pleasure to see her
canter up the Park in her close-fitting habit and her neat hat, with
her beautiful round figure swaying gracefully to every motion of her
horse, yet so imperceptibly that you could fancy she might balance a
glassful of water on her head without spilling a drop. To say nothing
of the brown mare, the only animal in London I covet, who is herself a
picture. Such action! such a mouth! and such a shape! I coaxed Aunt
Deborah to wait near Apsley House, on purpose that we might see her
before we left the Park. And sure enough we did see her, as usual
surrounded by a swarm of admirers; and next to her--positively next to
her--Frank Lovell, on the very brown hack that had been standing an
hour at our door. He saw me too, and took his hat off; and she said
something to him, and they both laughed!

I asked Aunt Deborah to go home, for it was getting late, and the
evening air was not very good for her poor cold. I did not feel well
myself somehow; and when dear aunty told me I looked pale, I was
forced to confess to a slight headache. I am not subject to low
spirits generally--I have no patience with a woman that is--but of
course one is sometimes a "little out of sorts;" and I confess I did
not feel quite up to the mark that evening, I cannot tell why. If John
flatters himself it was because he behaved so brutally in
disappointing me, he is very much mistaken; and as for Captain Lovell,
I am sure he may ride with anybody he likes for what I care. I wonder,
with all his cleverness, he can't see how that woman is only laughing
at him. However, it's no business of mine. So I went into my boudoir,
drank some tea, and then locked myself in and had a "good cry."



CHAPTER VII.


It is wonderful how soon the London season comes to an end; and, in
fact, it is difficult to say when its tide is really at the flood.
Single men--and they are necessary ingredients for gaiety wherever
there are young ladies--single men seldom go to town much before the
Derby. Then comes Ascot, for which meeting they leave the metropolis,
and enjoy some quiet retreat in the neighbourhood of Windsor, taking
with them many potables and what _they_ call a "dog cook." After Ascot
people begin to think about going away, and before you know where you
are three more weeks have elapsed, and it is July. Dear, what a
scatter there is then!--some off to Norway, some to Cowes, some to
Caithness, and some to Galway. Those that remain for Goodwood are sure
to go to Newmarket; and the man who sticks religiously to the
pavement, and resists the allurements of all the above-mentioned
resorts, only does so because he is meditating a trip to California,
Kamtschatka, or the Rocky Mountains, and is so preoccupied with
portable soup, patent saddle-bags, bowie-knives, and revolvers that he
might just as well be at his ultimate destination in person for all
the benefit one gets from his society. I confess I don't like the end
of the season. You keep on trying to be gay, whilst your friends are
dropping off and disappearing one by one. Like the survivor in some
horrid pestilence, you know your time must come too; but you shut your
eyes to the certainty, and greet every fresh departure with a gaiety
more forced and a smile more and more hopeless.

Well, _my_ London season too was drawing to its close, and I confess I
had enjoyed it very much. What with my morning gallops and afternoon
saunters (for John had returned to his allegiance, and came to take me
out regularly, although he always joined Miss Molasses' party when he
got into the Park); what with Aunt Deborah's tiresome cold, which
obliged me to go about a good deal by myself, and the agreeable
society of Frank Lovell, who never missed an opportunity of being with
us, I had been very happy, and I was quite sorry to think it was all
so soon to come to an end. John was already talking of a fishing
excursion to Norway, and actually proposed that I should accompany
him; an arrangement which Aunt Deborah declared "was totally
impracticable," and which I confess I do not myself think would have
been a very good plan. I had made several pleasant acquaintances,
amongst whom I may number Lady Scapegrace--that much-maligned dame
having taken a great fancy to me ever after the affair of the bull,
and proving, when I came to know her better, a very different person
from what the world gave her credit for being. With all her
faults--the chief of which were an uncontrollable temper and much too
strong feelings for the nineteenth century--she had a warm,
affectionate heart, and was altogether an energetic, straightforward
woman, very much in earnest, whether for good or evil. But there was
one thing that vexed me considerably amongst all my regrets for past
pleasures and castles in the air for the future, and this was the
conduct of Captain Lovell. What did he mean? I couldn't make him out
at all. One day calling on my aunt at eleven in the morning, and
staying to luncheon, and making himself so agreeable to _her_, and
bringing bouquets of the loveliest flowers (which I know came from
Harding's or else direct from Covent Garden) to _me_; and then going
away as if he had fifty more things to say, and lingering over his
farewell as if he was on the eve of departure for China instead of
Mayfair, and joining me again in the Park, and asking me if I was
going to the Opera, and finding out all my engagements and intentions,
as if he couldn't possibly live five minutes out of my sight; and
then, perhaps, never coming near us for days together, till even my
aunt "wondered what had become of that pleasant Captain Lovell;" and
when he met me in the Park, taking off his hat with a civil bow, as if
he had only been introduced the night before. All this I couldn't make
out, and I didn't half like, as I told Lady Scapegrace one hot
morning, sitting with her in her boudoir. I was a good deal at Lady
Scapegrace's now, and the more so because that was the place of all
others at which I was least likely to meet Sir Guy. "Men are so
uncertain, my dear," said her ladyship, sitting in a morning
deshabille, with her long black hair combed straight out over her
shoulders and reaching nearly to her knees. "If you ask me candidly
whether he _means_ anything, I tell you I think Frank Lovell a
shocking flirt." "_Flirt!_" I replied, half crying with vexation.
"It's time enough for him to _flirt_ with me when I give him any
encouragement. But I don't, Lady Scapegrace, and I never will. I hope
I'm too proud for that. Only when a man is always in _one's pocket_
wherever one goes; when he sends one bouquets, and rides out in the
rain to get one's bracelet mended, and watches one from a corner of
the room if one happens to be dancing with anybody else, and looks
pleased when one is dull and cross when one laughs--why, he either
does prefer, or ought to prefer, one's society to that of Miss
Molasses and Mrs. Lumley, and that is why I tell you I can't quite
make out Captain Lovell."

"Don't talk of that odious woman," exclaimed Lady Scapegrace, between
whom and Mrs. Lumley there was a polite feud of some years' standing.
"She is ready and willing to jump down Frank Lovell's throat, or any
one else's for the matter of that, so bold as she is, and so utterly
regardless--such stories, my dear. But take my advice, Kate: play that
cheerful cousin of yours against Master Frank. I never knew it fail
yet if you only go the right way to work. Men are not only very vain,
but very jealous. Don't let him think you are going _to marry_ your
cousin, or he may consider it a capital arrangement and a sort of
matter-of-course affair, which is all in his favour. Men like Frank
always prefer other people's property, and I have no doubt he would be
over head and ears in love with you if you were not single. So don't
be going to marry Mr. Jones, but just appeal to him about every
earthly thing you do or say, look after him when he leaves the room,
as if you couldn't bear him out of your sight. Get Frank to abuse him
if you can, and then fight his battles fiercely; and directly the
latter thinks there is a rival in the field he will be down on his
knees, you mark my words, in two days' time at the furthest. I think I
ought to know what men are, my dear" (and to do Lady Scapegrace
justice, she had studied that variety of the creation to some purpose,
or she was much maligned). "I know that they can't, any of them, see
three yards before their noses, and that you can turn and twist them
which way you will if you only go upon this principle--that they are
full of vanity and self-conceit, and totally deficient in brains."

"But I'm sure Captain Lovell's a clever man," said I, not disposed to
come to quite such sweeping conclusions as those of my monitress;
"and--and--I don't mean to say that I _care_ about him, Lady
Scapegrace, but still it mightn't answer with _him_, and--and--I
shouldn't like to lose him altogether."

"Pooh! Lose him! Fiddlestick!" rejoined her ladyship. "You'll see. He
is to join our party at Greenwich this afternoon. By the way, when Sir
Guy heard you were coming, he proposed to drive us all down on that
horrid coach. But I told him we should be taken for the people that
_usually_ occupy it, and nothing should induce me to go; so that plan
was given up. But you and I will go down in the barouche, and I'll
call for you, and we'll take Mr. Jones with us. And mind you're very
civil to him, and only notice the other in a quiet, good-humoured
way--for he mustn't think you do it out of pique--and before the
whitebait is on the table you'll see he'll be a different man. But now
you must go--there's a dear. I'll call for you at five. It's too bad
to turn you out; but I'm never at home to any one between three and
half-past four. Good-bye, dear, good-bye."

And Lady Scapegrace kissed me most affectionately, and promised to
call for me punctually at five, till which hour I cannot make out why
her time was always engaged.

As I tripped downstairs, hoping to make my escape without being
attended by the whole establishment to open the house-door, whom
should I come across but odious Sir Guy, in a sort of scarlet fancy
dress, which I concluded was his morning "demi-toilette." He actually
had the effrontery to propose that I should accompany him to the
stable, and that he should then "show me _his_ boudoir--hey? You look
like a rose this morning, Miss Coventry. Should like to transplant
you. What?" And whilst he stood dodging and grinning on the stairs, I
managed to slip by him and get safe into the street. I wonder _when_
men think they are beginning to grow old! I am sure Sir Guy fancies he
is still in the flower of his youth, and so charming that nobody can
resist him.

What a pleasant day we had! Only we four--Lady Scapegrace, Cousin
John, Captain Lovell, and I. We went down in Lady Scapegrace's
barouche, and walked in Greenwich Park, and adjourned to a nice room
with a bay window, and such a lookout over the river, blushing rose
colour in the evening sun. And the whitebait was so good, and the
champagne-cup so nice; and we were all in such spirits, and Frank was
so kind and attentive and agreeable I couldn't find it in my heart to
be cross to him. So it ended in our making up any little imaginary
differences we may have had and becoming better friends than ever. As
we sat in the balcony over the river--the two gentlemen smoking their
after-dinner cigars, and we ladies sipping our coffee--I thought I had
never enjoyed an evening so much; and even John, who was generally
dreadfully afraid of Lady Scapegrace, became quite lively and gallant
(for him), and they laughed and talked and joked about all sorts of
things; while Frank leant over my shoulder and conversed more gravely
than was his habit; and I listened, and thought him pleasanter even
than usual. By the way, that lilac bonnet never quite lost the odour
of tobacco afterwards.

"How quick the time passes!" said Frank, with almost a sigh. "Can't we
_do_ anything to put off horrid London and home and bed? Let's all go
to Vauxhall."

"What do _you_ say, Mr. Jones?" inquired Lady Scapegrace, who was
always ready for a lark; "you're our _chaperon_, you know. Do you
think you can be responsible?"

"Oh yes, John!" I exclaimed. "You promised to take me once before the
end of the season. We shall never have such another chance."

"This is a capital night to go," remarked Frank, "because there is a
new riding-woman; and you can take a lesson, Miss Coventry, in case
you should wish to perform in public." Cousin John could not possibly
hold out against all three; and although I think in his heart he did
not entirely approve, the carriage was ordered, the bill paid, and we
were rolling along through the cool summer night _en route_ for
Vauxhall.

"My dear," said Lady Scapegrace to me as we sidled through the
entrance of that place of amusement, and the gentlemen remained behind
to pay, "you are doing anything but what I told you; scarcely three
words have you spoken to your cousin, who, by the way, is very
pleasant. _I_ think I shall _take him up_ and improve him on my own
account; but as for you, my dear, I can see plainly it's all over with
you."

"And you _really_ leave town to-morrow?" said Frank as we walked arm
in arm up one of those shaded alleys which lead to the "Hermit," or
the "Gipsy," or some other excuse for a _tête-à-tête_ not too much
under the lamps. By the way, why is it that a party never can keep
together at Vauxhall? Lady Scapegrace and I had particularly
stipulated that we were not to separate under any circumstances.
"Whatever happens, do let us keep together," we mutually implored at
least ten times during the first five minutes, and yet no sooner did
we pair off arm in arm than the distance began gradually to increase,
till we found ourselves in "couples," totally independent of each
other's proceedings. In this manner we saw the horsemanship, and the
acrobats, and the man with the globe, and all the other eccentricities
of the circus. I really think I could have ridden quite as nicely as
Madame Rose d'Amour had I been mounted on an equally well-broken
animal with the one which curvetted and caracoled under that
much-rouged and widely-smiling dame. They do look pretty too at a
little distance those histrionic horsewomen, with their trappings and
their spangles and their costume of Francis I. I often wonder whether
people really rode out hawking, got up so entirely regardless of
expense, in the days of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. From the
horsemanship we went to see the people dance, which they did with a
degree of vigour and hilarity such as might be introduced in a
modified form with great advantage into good society; and here we came
across Cousin John and Lady Scapegrace just in time to witness a short
and abrupt interview between the latter and Sir Guy. Yes, there was
Sir Guy, with the flower in his mouth and all, dancing, actually
_dancing_--and he can't be much less than sixty--with a little smart
lady, wearing the most brilliant colour and the blackest eyelashes and
the reddest lips and the lightest eyes I ever saw upon a human being.
The little lady, whose hair, moreover, was dressed _à l'Impératrice_,
thereby imparting additional boldness to a countenance not remarkable
for modesty, frisked and whisked round Sir Guy with a vivacity that
must have been of Parisian growth; whilst the Baronet laboured
ponderously along with true British determination, like a man who
habitually wears very thick shoes and is used to take his own time. In
the course of his evolutions he brought his foot down heavily on the
skirt of a lady's dress, and turning round to apologize found himself
face to face with his wife! To do him justice he was not the least
taken aback--anger rather than confusion seemed to be his dominant
feeling; and although he tried to smother a rising oath in a laugh, or
rather a grin, it was such a muscular contraction of the mouth as does
not give me the idea of a smile.

"Come out for a lark too, my lady, hey?" said the Baronet, studiously
interposing his large person between "my lady" and his partner.
"Reminds one of Paris; dance with anybody, whether one knows them or
not." And Sir Guy tried to look as if he was telling the truth with
indifferent success. But Lady Scapegrace's face was a perfect study; I
never saw a countenance so expressive of scorn--intense scorn--and
yet, as it seemed to me, not so much of him as of herself.

"I am glad you amuse yourself, Sir Guy," she said very quietly; but
her lip was as white as ashes while she spoke. "I should think this
place must suit you exactly. Mr. Jones, we shall be late for the
fireworks." And she swept on, taking no further notice of the
discomfited Sir Guy, whilst Frank and I followed in her wake, feeling
rather awkward even at witnessing this ill-timed _rencontre_.

"And so you leave town to-morrow, Miss Coventry?" said Frank; and I
thought his voice shook a little whilst he spoke. "I shall ride down
Lowndes Street every day, and think how deserted it looks. No more
walks in the morning for _me_, no more pleasant rides in the
afternoons; I shall send my hacks home and sulk by myself, for I shall
be miserable when my friends are gone. Do you know, Miss Coventry"--I
listened, all attention; how could I tell what he might _not_ be going
to say?--"do you know that I have never had courage to ask you
something till to-night?" (Goodness! I thought, _now_ it's coming, and
my heart beat as it does when I'm going out hunting.) "I want you to
give me" (a lock of my hair, thinks I. Well, I don't know; perhaps I
may)--"I want you to give me--Miss Horsingham's receipt for making
barley-water; but I know it's a long business to write out, and I'm
afraid of being troublesome." So that was all, was it? I felt half
inclined to laugh, and more than half inclined to cry; but turning
round I was somewhat consoled to find Lady Scapegrace and her cavalier
close behind us; and I do confess I rather attributed Frank's
extremely moderate request to their immediate vicinity; there was no
opportunity, however, of renewing the subject. John had said all he
_had_ to say to his companion. John soon gets high and dry with these
smart ladies, and they seem mutually tired of each other; so we got
the carriage and took our departure, Frank pressing my hand as he bade
me farewell, and whispering, "_Au revoir_, Miss Coventry; something
tells me it won't be very long before we meet again." What _could_ he
mean?



CHAPTER VIII.


It was a melancholy work to glide out of London by the last train, and
to think that one's gaieties were over for that summer, and that there
was nothing to look forward to till the hunting season but Dangerfield
and Lady Horsingham, and the wearisome monotony of a regular
country-house life. Aunt Deborah and I settled ourselves comfortably
in a roomy first-class carriage, she with her knitting and I with the
last _Punch_--in which, by the way, was the portrait of a dandy, the
very image of Frank Lovell--and prepared for our journey, as ladies
generally do, by arranging multifarious outworks of smelling-bottles,
shawls, reticules, parasols, etc., without which paraphernalia no
well-bred woman can possibly travel a hundred yards. I confess I
dreaded the trip. I was too well aware by experience that a railway
always makes Aunt Deborah rather cross and me very sleepy; so I knew
what was coming, and I was not disappointed. Before we had fairly left
the outskirts of London I saw by the way in which my aunt laid down
her knitting and the ominous cough or two in which she indulged that I
was in for a lecture; and sure enough, just as we emerged on the open
fields and began to smell the fresh country air, it began.

"Kate," said my aunt, "as we are going to a very regular and
well-conducted establishment, I think it is a good opportunity for me
to say a few words to you as regards your past conduct."

"Good gracious, aunt!" I replied, quite frightened, "what have I
done?"

"My dear," said my aunt, "I have seen a great deal going on lately
that I have taken no notice of; but it don't follow that I should
approve of it any more than John."

"And what has John got to do with it, I should like to know?" I
rejoined, firing up on the instant, for such a chance of carrying the
war into the enemy's country was not to be neglected. "John, indeed!
I'm sure, aunt, John encourages me in all my _unfeminine_ pursuits, as
you call them; and if he has been telling tales or setting you against
me, I'll soon let him know what I think of such conduct. I'll soon
tell him that I'm not going to be accountable to him; indeed, that I'm
not going to----"

"Hush, my dear," said Aunt Deborah; "there is no occasion for all this
animosity against John. After all, it is very natural, poor fellow,
that he should feel aggrieved and annoyed. There's that Captain
Lovell: I don't mean to say that he's not an agreeable, well-informed
young man, but there he is coming to see you at all hours, riding with
you in the Park, whispering to you at the Opera, bringing you new
music and _old_ china and fresh flowers, and conducting himself
altogether as if he was either your accepted suitor or mine--and I
don't think the latter very likely, Kate--whereas, you know, John----"
My aunt stopped short. The ringing of the bell and loud exclamations
of "Trotter's Heath! Trotter's Heath! All out for Sheepshanks,
Fleecyfold, and Market Muddlebury!" announced that we had arrived at
the Muddlebury Junction; and the opportune entrance into the carriage
of a stranger, who seemed extremely anxious concerning the safety of a
brace of pointers that accompanied him, effectually prevented my aunt
from proceeding with her discourse; while the dead silence which
followed the renewed puffing of the engine, and the vibration of the
train, gave me an opportunity of studying attentively the person and
features of our new fellow-traveller.

I don't think I ever saw a man so freckled in my life. Even the backs
of his hands (for he wore no gloves--I should think didn't even know
_his number_!) were studded with spots till you could have hardly put
a pin's point on a place free from this horrid disfigurement. His
face, too, was like a plum-pudding on which the fruit had been
showered with a most liberal hand; but the features were good, and had
it not been for his red hair, a little grizzled, and his stiff red
whiskers, the bright-blue eyes and white teeth would almost have
entitled him to be considered "handsome." He had a strong, stiff-built
figure, about the middle size, well made for everything but dancing,
and large, _useful_ feet encased in the stoutest double-soled shooting
shoes. The latter articles of costume proved him at once to be a
country gentleman. Every one must have remarked this peculiarity in
that enviable class. Their attire, particularly as regards the lower
man, is invariably of a nature to defy the utmost inclemency of the
weather, and is worn totally irrespective of the season or the pursuit
in which the owner may chance to be engaged at the time. But even
independent of these tell-tales the stranger's social position was
easily enough discerned by the deference with which he was treated
"along the line," and the title of "Squire," which greeted him from
guards, porters, and book-keepers at every station we passed.

So humane a master of dumb animals, or one so fidgety as to their
welfare, I never came across; and this, I confess, prepossessed me in
his favour. Every time the train stopped out jumped our
fellow-traveller, and off he went to a certain van containing his
treasures, from which he emerged with a very red face and a
constantly-repeated apology for disturbing me on his return to his
seat. Despite of his thick shoes and his freckles, I could see the man
was a gentleman; but, dear me, what a contrast to the smart gentlemen
I had lately been accustomed to meet! Beyond a "Beg your pardon; I
fear I'm very much in your way," accompanied by such a vivid blush as
can be performed only by a red-haired man, the Squire did not venture
on any communication either with me or my aunt; and with the latter's
lecture fresh in my mind I did not, as may be supposed, dare to take
the initiative by dropping my gloves, or pretending I couldn't pull up
the window, or any other little lady-like manoeuvre which lays the
foundation of a temporary intimacy, and often furnishes one with an
agreeable hour's conversation. I can _not_ see why one should sit
"mum" opposite the same person for miles, merely because one has never
been introduced.

When we arrived at length at the Dangerfield Station, where Lady
Horsingham's emblazoned coach and fat horses were in waiting for us,
"the Squire," who was here treated with a deference bordering on
idolatry, got out too. He made an involuntary motion with his hand, as
though he would have taken his hat off, and wished us "good-morning;"
but his shyness got the better of him, and he disappeared from the
platform, entangled amongst his dumb favourites, with a blush that was
visible even at the back of his head, where the tips of his ears met
the rim of his white hat. As we toiled up the sandy lane leading from
Dangerfield Station to Dangerfield Park, we were overtaken by a smart,
high dogcart, drawn by a clever, raking-looking bay mare, and driven
by the owner of the freckles, the pointers, and the white hat.

"Bachelor, my dear," said Aunt Deborah as he whisked by, "and not at
all a bad-looking man either."

"How do you know he's a bachelor, aunt?" I naturally inquired.

"Common-sense, my dear," replied Aunt Deborah sententiously. "I judge
of people by their belongings. No lady could get into that dogcart
without dirtying her dress against the wheel; and if he had a wife,
that handsome bay horse would go with another in her carriage instead
of his. Besides, he wouldn't be so fond of his pointers if he had
anything else to care for; and above all, Kate," added my aunt
conclusively, "his silk handkerchief wasn't hemmed, and he'd a button
wanting in the front of his shirt."

All my life I have had a sinking at my heart when I have heard the
ring at that great Dangerfield front door bell. It was better in my
poor uncle's time, for he would have made any place lively; but since
his death the Park has relapsed into its natural solemnity, and I am
quite sure that if ever I _do_ go into a convent my sensations will be
exactly like those which I have always experienced when visiting Aunt
Horsingham. The moat alone is enough to give one the "blues;" but in
addition to that, the thick horse-chestnuts grow up to the very
windows, and dark Scotch firs shed a gloom all over the Park.
Dangerfield is one of those places that seem always to be in the
shade. How the strawberries ever ripen, or the flowers ever bloom, or
the birds ever sing there is to me a mystery. Outside there are dark
walls and yew hedges and cypresses, and here and there a copper beech,
with lawns that are never mown and copses that are never thinned, to
say nothing of that stagnant moat, with its sombre and prolific
vegetation; whilst within, black oak wainscoting, and heavy tapestry,
and winding staircases, and small, deep-set windows, and oddly-shaped
rooms, with steps at the door like going down into a bath, and doors
considerably up and down hill, and queer recesses that frighten one
out of one's wits to go into, form altogether a domicile that would
tame the wildest Merry-Andrew in a fortnight into as staid and sober
and stupid a personage as the veriest Lady Superior could desire. Aunt
Horsingham received us as usual with a freezing smile.

"How do you do, Kate?" said she, putting two of her cold bony fingers
into my hand. "I'm afraid you will find it rather dull here after
London; but it is _wholesome_ for young people to be occasionally
sobered a little."

Aunt Horsingham is tall and thin, with a turn-up nose, rather red at
the point, a back that never stoops, and a grim smile that never
varies. She dresses in bright colours, affecting strange and startling
contrasts, both of hues and material. Her hands are always cold and
seldom clean; and she has sundry uncomfortable notions about damping
the spirits of youth and checking the exuberance of its gaiety which
render her a perfect terror and bugbear to the rising generation. When
I was a little thing, laughing, prattling, and giggling, as children
will, an admonishing look from my aunt, with a gaunt finger held
aloft, and a cold "Kate, don't be silly, my dear," was always
sufficient to make me dull and gloomy for the rest of the day.

I should like to know indeed why children are not to be "_silly_." Are
grown-up people always so rational in their amusements or
irreproachable in their demeanour? "Let the child alone," poor Uncle
Harry used to say; and once I overheard him mutter, "I've more
patience with a _young_ fool than an _old_ one." Such training has not
had a good effect on Cousin Amelia. She has been so constantly tutored
to conceal her emotions and to adopt the carriage and manners of an
automaton that the girl is now a complete hypocrite. It is quite
impossible to make her out. If you tickled her, I don't believe you
could get her to laugh; and if you struck her, I very much doubt
whether she would cry. My aunt calls it "self-command;" I call it
"imbecility." She shook hands with me in her provokingly patronizing
manner--"hoped I had brought my horses with me" (as if I was coming to
spend months at Dangerfield without Brilliant!); "supposed I had my
side-saddle in the cap-box;" and showed me my room without so much as
a single kind word of welcome or a cousinly caress. It was quite a
relief to help dear Aunt Deborah to unpack her dressing-case, and kiss
her pleasant face, and give her the warm cup of tea without which Aunt
Deborah never dreams of dressing for dinner.

Oh, those solemn, heavy, silent, stupid dinners, with the massive
plate and the dark oak wainscoting, and the servants gliding about
like ghosts at a festival in Acheron! What a relief it would have been
even to have had a clownish footman spill soup over one's dress, or
ice-cream down one's back, or anything to break the monotony of the
entertainment! But, no; there we sat, Aunt Horsingham remarking that
the "weather was dull" and the "crops looking very unpromising;" Aunt
Deborah with her eyes fixed on a portrait of the late Mr. David Jones
as a boy, opposite which she invariably took her place, and on which,
though representing an insignificant urchin in a high frill and blue
jacket, she gazed intently during the whole repast; Cousin Amelia
looking at herself in the silver dish-covers, and when those were
removed relapsing into a state of irritable torpor; and as for poor
me, all I could do was to think over the pleasures of the past season,
and dwell rather more than I should otherwise have done on the image
of Frank Lovell, and the very agreeable acquisition he would have been
to such a party. And then the evenings were, if possible, worse than
the dinners--work, work, work--mum, mum, mum--till tea. And after tea
Aunt Horsingham would read to us, in her dry harsh voice, long
passages from the _Spectator_, very excellent articles from the
_Rambler_, highly interesting in their day no doubt, but which lose
some of their point after an interval of nearly a century; or, worse
than all, Pope's "Homer" or Cowper's "Task," running the lines into
each other, so as to avoid what she called "the sing-song of the
rhymes," till the poet's effusions sounded like the most extraordinary
prose, cut into lengths, as we ladies should say, for no earthly
purpose but to make nonsense of the whole thing. Her ladyship never
went to bed till eleven; so there, having dined at half-past six to a
minute, we were forced to sit three mortal hours and a half,
swallowing yawns and repressing that inexplicable disorder termed the
"fidgets" till the welcome bed-candles arrived. No wonder men drink
and smoke and commit all sort of enormities to fill up those dreadful
hours after dinner. I think if ever I take to tobacco it will be at
Dangerfield.

Then of course the Hall was haunted; and of course _my_ passage was
the one which the ghost particularly affected. It was a sad story that
of "the Dangerfield ghost." I have got it all out of Aunt Deborah at
different times; and though I don't exactly believe in the spectre, I
can't help sometimes crying over the incidents. The fact is, the
Horsinghams were quite as proud of their ghost as they were of their
hand; and although not a very creditable tale to any of the family,
Aunt Deborah would never forgive me if I were not to relate the
tragedy which conferred on Dangerfield the honour of being a haunted
house.

In the reign of George II, the head of the house, Sir Hugh Horsingham,
married a young wife, and brought her home to Dangerfield with the
usual demonstrations and rejoicings peculiar to such an event. Sir
Hugh was a dark, morose man, considerably older than his bride; stern
and forbidding in his manners, but possessing deep feelings under a
reserved exterior, and a courage and determination not to be daunted
or subdued. Such a man was capable of great things for good or for
evil; and such was the very nature on which a woman's influence might
have produced the most beneficial results. But, unfortunately, young
Lady Horsingham had but one feeling for her lord, and that was intense
terror of his anger. She never sought to win his confidence; she never
entered into his political schemes, his deeper studies, or even his
country amusements and pursuits. All she thought of was how to avoid
offending Sir Hugh; and ere long this one idea grew to such a pitch
that she quite trembled in his presence, could scarcely answer
distinctly when he spoke to her, and seemed hardly to draw breath in
freedom save when out of his sight. Such a state of things could have
but one ending--distrust and suspicion on one side, unqualified
aversion on the other. A marriage, never of inclination, as indeed in
those days amongst great families few marriages were, became an
insupportable slavery ere the first year of wedded life had elapsed;
and by the time an heir was born to the house of Horsingham, probably
there was no unhappier couple within fifty miles of Dangerfield than
dark Sir Hugh and his pretty, fair-haired, gentle wife. No; she ought
never to have married him at all. It was but the night before her
wedding that she walked in the garden of her father's old manor-house
with a bright, open-hearted, handsome youth, whose brow wore that
expression of acute agony which it is so pitiable to witness on a
young countenance--that look almost of _physical_ pain, which betokens
how the iron has indeed "entered the sufferer's soul." "Ah, you may
plead, 'Cousin Edward;' but we women are of a strange mixture, and
_the weakest_ of us may possess _obstinacy_ such as no earthly
consideration can overcome." "Lucy! Lucy! for _the last_ time, think
of it; for the love of Heaven, do not drive me mad; think of it once
more; it is the last, _last_ chance!" The speaker was white as a
sheet, and his hollow voice came in hoarse, inarticulate whispers as
he looked almost fiercely into that dear face to read his doom. Too
well he knew the set, fixed expression of her delicate profile. She
did not dare turn towards him; she could not have looked him in the
face and persevered; but she kept her eyes fastened on the horizon, as
though she saw her future in the fading sunset; and whilst her heart
seemed turning to very stone she kept her lips firmly closed; she
repressed the tears that would have choked her, and so for _that_ time
she conquered.

Lucy had a great idea of duty; hers was no high-principled love of
duty from the noblest motives, but a morbid dread of self-reproach.
She had not _character_ enough to do anything out of her own notions
of the beaten track. She had promised her father she would marry Sir
Hugh Horsingham--not that he had the slightest right to exact such a
promise--and she felt bound to fulfil it. She never remembered the
injury she was doing "Cousin Edward," the _right_ which such devotion
as _his_ ought to have given him. She _knew_ she loved him better than
any one in the world; she knew she was about to commit an act of the
greatest injustice towards Sir Hugh; but she had "promised papa," and
though she would have given worlds to avoid fulfilling her compact,
she had not strength of mind to break the chain and be free.

Cousin Edward! Cousin Edward! you should have carried her off then and
there; she would have been truly grateful for the rest of her life,
but she would have died sooner than open her lips. He was
hurt--reckless--almost savage. He thought her sullen. "Once more,
Lucy," he said, and his eye glared fiercely in the waning light--"once
more, _will_ you give me one word, or _never_ set eyes on me again?"
Her lip never moved. "I give you till we pass that tree"--he looked
dangerous now--"and then"--he swore a great oath--"I leave you for
ever!" Lucy thought the tree looked strange and ghastly in the rising
moon, she even remarked a knot upon its smooth white stem; but she
held out whilst one might have counted ten; and when she turned round,
poor girl, Cousin Edward was gone!



CHAPTER IX.


So the bells rung merrily at Dangerfield, and the rustics huzzaed for
their landlord and the comely village maidens envied the bride; and
Lucy was Lady Horsingham now, with new duties and a high position, and
a large, fine, gloomy house, and jewels in her hair, and an aching
heart in her bosom. Nevertheless, she determined to do her duty as a
wife; and every hour of the day she resolved _not_ to think of Cousin
Edward.

Years elapsed, and pretty Lucy became a gentle, handsome
woman--kindly, courteous, and beloved by all, timid, and shrinking
only with Sir Hugh. Her husband, wearied and discontented, mixed
himself fiercely in all the intrigues of the day--became a staunch
partisan of the House of Stuart, and sought for excitement abroad in
proportion as he missed congeniality of feeling at home. It was an
unhappy household. Their one child was the mother's sole consolation;
she scarcely ever let it out of her presence. They were a pretty
sight, that loving couple, as they basked in the sun of a fine
summer's morning on the terrace in front of the manor-house. The boy,
with his mother's blue eyes and his own golden curls and the arch,
merry smile that he never got from stern Sir Hugh; and the fair,
graceful woman, with her low, white brow and her soft brown hair and
her quiet gestures and gentle sorrowing face--that face that haunts
poor Cousin Edward still.

"Mamma!" says the urchin, pouting his rosy lips, "why don't you play
with me?--what are you thinking of?" and a shade passes over that kind
face, and she blushes, though there is no one with her but the child,
and catches him up and smothers him in kisses, and says "_You_, my
darling;" but, nevertheless, I do not think at that moment she was
thinking either of her boy or Sir Hugh.

And where was Cousin Edward all the time? Why, at that particular
instant, sword-point to sword-point with Colonel Bludyer of the
Dragoons, slightly wounded in two places--cool and wary, and seeming
to enjoy, with a sort of fierce pleasure, such a safety-valve for
excitement as a duel with one of the best fencers in Europe.

Cousin Edward was an altered man since he stood with the future Lady
Horsingham in the moonlight. "An evil counsellor is despair;" and he had
hugged that grim adviser to his heart. He had grown handsomer, indeed,
than ever; but the wild eye, the haggard brow, and the deep lines about
his mouth spoke of days spent in fierce excitement--nights passed in
reckless dissipation. He had never forgotten Lucy through it all, but
even her image only goaded him to fresh extravagances--anything to deaden
the sting of remembrance--anything to efface the maddening past. So
Cousin Edward too became a Jacobite; and was there a daring scheme to be
executed, a foolhardy exploit to be performed--life and limb to be risked
without a question--who so ready and so reckless as "handsome Ned
Meredith"?

In the course of their secret meetings and cabals he became slightly
acquainted with Sir Hugh Horsingham; and, with the inexplicable
infatuation peculiar to a man in love, he look a pleasure in being
near one so closely connected with Lucy, although that one was the
very person who had deprived him of all he valued on earth. So it fell
out that Sir Hugh Horsingham and Ned Meredith were supping at the Rose
and Thistle in close alliance, the table adjoining them being occupied
by those staunch Hanoverians, Colonel Bludyer and Mr. Thornton.

"Here's 'The Blackbird,'"* said Cousin Edward, tossing off a huge
goblet of Bordeaux, and looking round the room with an air of defiance
as he proposed so well-known a toast. Sir Hugh was a man of a certain
grim humour, and as he drained his goblet and nodded to his companion,
he added, "May the rats dance to his whistle, and the devil--that's
_you_, Ned--take the hindmost!"

  * One of the many passwords by which the adherents of the Chevalier
    distinguished that ill-fated Prince.

Colonel Bludyer rose from his chair, placed his cocked hat on his
head, and turned the buckle of his sword-belt in front. "The King!" he
shouted, raising his hat with one hand and filling a bumper with the
other. "The King!" he repeated, scowling fiercely at his two
neighbours.

"Over the water!" roared Ned Meredith; and the Colonel, turning
rapidly round and mistaking his man, flung his cocked hat right in Sir
Hugh Horsingham's face.

Swords were out in a second--thrust, parry, and return passed like
lightning, but the bystanders separated the combatants; and Meredith,
determining for the sake of Lucy that Sir Hugh should encounter no
unnecessary danger, took the whole quarrel on himself, and arranged a
meeting for the following morning with the redoubtable Colonel
Bludyer. Thus it was that while Lucy and her boy were basking in the
summer sunshine, Cousin Edward was exhausting all his knowledge of
swordsmanship in vain endeavours to get within that iron Colonel's
guard. The duel was fought on the ground now occupied by Leicester
Square, Sir Hugh and Mr. Thornton officiating as seconds, though, the
latter being disabled from the effects of a recent encounter, they did
not, as was usual in those days, fight to the death, merely "_pour se
désennuyer_." Stripped to their shirts--in breeches and silk
stockings, with no shoes--the antagonists lunged and glared and
panted, and twice paused for breath by mutual consent, with no further
damage than two slight wounds in Ned's sword-arm.

"Very pretty practice," said Mr. Thornton, coolly taking a pinch of
snuff, and offering his box to Sir Hugh. "I'm in despair at not being
able to oblige you this fine morning."

"Some other time," replied Sir Hugh with a grim smile; "d----ation,"
he added, "Ned's down!"

Sure enough Cousin Edward was on the grass, striving in vain to raise
himself, and gasping out that he "wasn't the least hurt." He had got
it just between the ribs, and was trying to stanch the blood with a
delicate laced handkerchief, in a corner of which, had he examined it
closely, Sir Hugh would have found embroidered the well-known name of
"Lucy." Poor Cousin Edward! it was all he had belonging to his lost
love, and he would have been unwilling to die without that fragment of
lace in his hand.

"A very promising fencer," remarked Colonel Bludyer, as he wiped his
rapier on the grass. "If he ever gets over it, he won't forget that
"_plongeant_" thrust in tierce. I never knew it fail, Thornton--never,
with a man under thirty." So the Colonel put his coat on, and drove
off to breakfast; while Sir Hugh took charge of Ned Meredith, and as
soon as he was recovered--for his wound was not mortal--carried him
down with him to get thoroughly well at Dangerfield Hall.

It is an old, old story. Love, outraged and set at defiance, bides his
time, and takes his revenge. Dangerfield looked like a different place
now, so thought Lucy; and her spirits rose, and the colour came back
to her cheek, and she even summoned courage to speak without
hesitating to Sir Hugh. When Cousin Edward was strong enough to limp
about the house, it seemed that glimpses of sunshine brightened those
dark oak rooms; and ere he was able to take the air, once more leaning
on Lucy's arm, alas! alas! he had become even dearer to the
impassioned, thoughtful woman than he ever was to the timid,
vacillating girl. There was an addition now to the party on the
terrace in the bright autumn mornings, but the little boy needed no
longer to ask mamma "what she was thinking of;" and the three would
have seemed to a careless observer a happy family party--husband,
wife, and child. Oh that it could but have been so!

In the meantime Sir Hugh was again as usual busied with his state
intrigues and party politics, and absented himself for weeks together
from the Hall; riding post to London night and day, returning at all
sorts of unexpected hours, leaving again at a moment's notice, and
otherwise comporting himself in his usual mysterious reserved manner.
Yet those who knew him best opined there was something wrong about Sir
Hugh. He was restless and preoccupied; his temper less easily excited
about trifles than was his wont, but perfectly ungovernable when once
he gave way to it. No man dared to question him. He had not a friend
in the world who would have ventured to offer him a word of advice or
consolation; but it was evident to his servants and his intimates that
Sir Hugh was ill at ease. Who can tell the struggles that rent that
strong, proud heart? Who could see beneath that cold surface, and read
the intense feelings of love, hatred, jealousy, or revenge that
smouldered below, stifled and kept down by the iron will, the
stubborn, indomitable pride? There is a deep meaning in the legend of
that Spartan boy who suffered the stolen fox to gnaw his very vitals,
the while he covered him with his tunic and preserved on his brave
face a smile of unconcern. Most of us have a stolen fox somewhere; but
the weak nature writhes and moans, and is delivered from its torment,
while the bold, unflinching spirit preserves a gallant bearing before
the world, and scorns to be relieved from the fangs that are draining
its very life away.

Whatever Sir Hugh saw or suspected, he said not a word to Lucy, nor
was it until surmise had become certainty that he forbade "Cousin
Edward" the house. To him he would not condescend to explain his
motives; he simply wrote to him to say that on his return he should
expect to find that his guest had departed, and that he had sufficient
reasons for requesting his visits might not be repeated. With his wife
he was, if possible, more austere and morose than ever; so once more
the Hall resumed its old aspect of cheerlessness and desolation, and
its mistress went moping about, more than ever miserable and
broken-hearted. Such a state of things could not long go on; the
visits forbidden openly took place by stealth; and the climax rapidly
approached which was to result in the celebrated Dangerfield tragedy.

At this period there was set on foot another of those determined plots
which during the first two reigns of the house of Hanover so
constantly harassed that dynasty. Sir Hugh of course was a prime mover
of the conspiracy, and was much in London and elsewhere gathering
intelligence, raising funds, and making converts to his opinions. Ned
Meredith, having, it is to be presumed, all his energies occupied in
his own private intrigues, had somewhat withdrawn of late from the
Jacobite party; and Sir Hugh heard, with his grim, unmoved smile, many
a jest and innuendo levelled at the absentee.

One stormy winter's evening the baronet, well armed, cloaked, and booted,
left his own house for the metropolis, accompanied by one trusty servant.
He was bearing papers of importance, and was hurrying on to lay them with
the greatest dispatch before his fellow-conspirators. As night was
drawing on, Sir Hugh's horse shied away from a wild figure, looming like
some spectre in the fading light; and ere he had forced the animal back
into the path, his bridle was caught by a half-naked lad, whom the rider
at once recognized as an emissary he had often before employed to be the
bearer of secret intelligence, and who, under an affectation of being
half-witted, concealed much shrewdness of observation and unimpeachable
fidelity to the cause.

"Whip and spur, Sir Hugh--whip and spur," said the lad, who seemed
flustered and confused with drink; "you may burst your best horse
betwixt this and London, and all to get there before you're wanted. A
dollar to drink, Sir Hugh, like handsome Ned gave me this morning--a
dollar to drink, and I'll save you a journey for the sake of the
'Bonny White Rose' and the 'Bird with the Yellow Bill.'"

Sir Hugh scrutinized the lad with a piercing eye, flung him a crown
from his purse, and bid him "out with what he had to say, for that he
himself was hurried, and must push on to further the good cause." The
lad was sobered in an instant.

"Look ye here, Sir Hugh," he said eagerly; "handsome Ned went down the
road at a gallop this morning. There's something brewing in London,
you may trust me, Sir Hugh, and I tried to stop him to learn his
errand; but he tossed me a crown and galloped on. He took the Hill
road, Sir Hugh, and you came up the Vale; but he's bound for
Dangerfield, I know, and mayhap he's got papers that will save your
journey to London. No offence, Sir Hugh," added the lad, for the
baronet's face was black as midnight.

"None, my good boy," was the reply in a hoarse, thick voice. "Hold,
there's another crown for you--drink it every farthing, you villain!
or I never give you a sixpence again;" and Sir Hugh rode on as though
bound for London, but stopped a mile farther forward, at a place where
two roads met; and entrusting his papers to his servant, bade him
hasten on with them, whilst he galloped back through the darkness in
the direction of his home.

Home, indeed! Had it ever been home to Sir Hugh? Would it be home
to-night? When he got back there, and skulked into his own house like
a midnight thief--what would he do?--why was he galloping so fast? Sir
Hugh set his teeth tight, and holding his powerful horse hard by the
head urged him on faster than before. The lights are all out in the
little village of which he is sole master, and his horse's hoofs
clattering through the street rouse the sleepy inmates for an instant
ere they return to their peaceful rest. Sir Hugh is not sleepy; he
feels as if he never should want to sleep again.

How dark it is in the Park under those huge old trees! He fastens his
horse to one of the drooping branches, and after removing his pistols
from their holsters spreads his cloak over the heaving flanks of the
heated animal. Habit is second nature, and he does not forget the good
horse. He strides through the shrubberies and across Lucy's garden,
crushing with his heavy boot-heel the last flower that had lingered on
into the winter. There is a light streaming from one of the windows in
the gallery. Ha!--he _may_ be right--he may not have returned in vain.
For an instant a feeling of sickness comes over him, and he learns for
the first time that he _had_ cherished a hope he might be deceived.

He can let himself in by the garden-gate with his own pass-key. Ere he
is aware, he is tramping up the corridor in his heavy horseman's
boots--his hand is on the door--there is a woman's shriek--and Sir
Hugh's tall, dark figure fills the doorway of Lucy's sitting-room,
where, alas! she is not alone, for the stern, angry husband is
confronted by Ned Meredith!

Lucy cowers down in a corner of the room with her face buried in her
hands. Cousin Edward draws himself up to his full height, and looks
his antagonist steadily in the face, but with an expression of calm
despair that seems to say fate has now done her worst. Sir Hugh is
cool, collected, and polite; nay, he can even smile, but he speaks
strangely, almost in a whisper, and hisses through his set teeth. He
has double-locked the door behind him, and turns to Cousin Edward with
a grave, courteous bow.

"You have done me the honour of an unexpected visit, Mr. Meredith," he
says. "I trust Lady Horsingham has entertained you hospitably! Pray do
not stir, madam. Mr. Meredith, we are now quits; you saved my life
when you encountered Colonel Bludyer; I forbore from taking yours when
I had proofs that it was my right. We have now entered on a fresh
account, but the game shall be fairly played. Mr. Meredith, you are a
man of honour--yes, it shall be fairly played." Ned's lip quivered,
but he bowed and stood perfectly still. "Lady Horsingham," continued
Sir Hugh, "be good enough to hand me those tables; they contain a
dice-box.--Nay, Mr. Meredith," seeing Ned about to assist the
helpless, frightened woman; "when _present_, at least, I expect my
wife to obey me." Lucy was forced to rise, and, trembling in every
limb, to present the tables to her lord. Sir Hugh placed the dice-box
on the table, laid his pistols beside it, and, taking a seat, motioned
to Cousin Edward to do the same. "You are a man of honour, Mr.
Meredith," he repeated; "we will throw three times, and the highest
caster shall blow the other's brains out." Lucy shrieked and rushed to
the door; it was fast, and her husband forced her to sit down and
watch the ghastly game.

"Good God, Sir Hugh!" exclaimed Cousin Edward, "this is too
horrible--for your wife's sake--any reparation I can make, I will; but
this is murder, deliberate murder!"

"You are a man of honour, Mr. Meredith," reiterated Sir Hugh. "I ask
for no reparation but this--the chances are equal if the stakes are
high. You are my guest, or rather, I should say, _Lady Horsingham's
guest_. Begin." Cousin Edward's face turned ghastly pale. He took the
box, shook it, hesitated; but the immovable eye was fixed on him, the
stern lips repeated once more, "You are a man of honour," and he
threw--"Four." It was now Sir Hugh's turn. With a courteous bow he
received the box, and threw--"Seven." Again the adversaries cast, the
one a six, the other a three; and now they were even in the ghastly
match. Once more Cousin Edward shook the box, and the leaping dice
turned up--"Eleven." Lucy's white face stood out in the lamplight, as
she watched with stony eyes that seemed to have lost the very power of
sight.

"For God's sake, forego this frightful determination, Sir Hugh,"
pleaded Cousin Edward; "take my life in a fair field. I will offer no
resistance; but you can hardly expect to outdo my throw, and nothing
shall induce me to take advantage of it. Think better of it, Sir Hugh,
I entreat you."

"You are a man of honour, Mr. Meredith, and so am I," was the only
reply, as Sir Hugh brandished the box aloft, and thundered it down on
the table--"Sixes!" "Good casting," he remarked; and at the same
instant cocking the pistol nearest to him, discharged it full into his
antagonist's bosom. The bullet sped through a delicate lace
handkerchief, which he always wore there, straight and true into
Cousin Edward's heart. As he fell forward across the table, a dark
stream flowed slowly along the carpet, till it dyed the border of
Lucy's white dress with a crimson stain. She was on her knees,
apparently insensible; but one small hand felt the cold, wet contact,
and she looked at it, and saw that it was blood. Once more she uttered
a shriek that rang through those vast buildings, and rushed again to
the door to find it locked. In sheer despair she made for the window,
threw open the casement, and ere Sir Hugh could seize or stop her
flung herself headlong into the court below. When the horrified
husband looked down into the darkness, a wisp of white garments, a
bruised and lifeless body, was all that remained of Lady Horsingham.

That night one half of Dangerfield Hall was consumed by fire. Its
mistress was said to have perished in the flames. The good neighbours,
the honest country people, pitied poor Sir Hugh, galloping back from
London, to find his house in ruins and his wife a corpse. His gay
companions missed "Ned Meredith" from his usual haunts; but it was
generally supposed he had obtained a mission to the court of St.
Germains, and there was a rumour that he had perished in a duel with a
French marquis. A certain half-witted lad, who had followed Sir Hugh
back to Dangerfield on that fearful night, might have elucidated the
mystery; but he had been kidnapped, and sent to the plantations. After
many years he returned to England, and on his deathbed left a written
statement, implicating Sir Hugh in the double crime of arson and
murder. But long ere this the culprit had appeared before a tribunal
which admits of no prevarication, and the pretty boy with the golden
curls had become lord of Dangerfield Hall. The long corridor had been
but partially destroyed. It was repaired and refurnished by successive
generations; but guests and servants alike refused to sleep again in
that dreary wing after the first trial. Every night, so surely as the
clock tolled out the hour of twelve, a rush of feet was heard along
the passage--a window looking into the court was thrown open--a
piercing scream from a woman's voice rang through the building--and
those who were bold enough to look out averred that they beheld a
white figure leap wildly into the air and disappear. Some even went so
far as to affirm that drops of blood, freshly sprinkled, were found
every morning on the pavement of the court. But no one ever doubted
the Dangerfield ghost to be the nightly apparition of Lucy, Lady
Horsingham. At length, in my grandfather's time, certain boards being
lifted to admit of fresh repairs in the accursed corridor, the
silver-mounted guard of a rapier, the stock and barrel of a pistol,
with a shred of lace, on which the letter "L" was yet visible, were
discovered by the workmen. They are in existence still. Whatever other
remains accompanied them turned to dust immediately on exposure to the
air. That dust was, however, religiously collected and buried in a
mausoleum appropriated to the Horsinghams. Since then the ghost has
been less troublesome; but most of the family have seen or heard it at
least once in their lives. I confess that if ever I lie awake at
Dangerfield till the clock strikes twelve I invariably stop my ears
and bury my head under the bedclothes for at least a quarter of an
hour. By these means I have hitherto avoided any personal acquaintance
with the spectre; but nothing on earth would induce me to walk down
that corridor at midnight and risk a private interview with the
Dangerfield ghost!



CHAPTER X.


As for spending a whole morning in the drawing-room with the ladies it
is what I cannot and will not submit to. Working and scandal, scandal
and working, from half-past ten till two is more than I can stand, so
the very first morning I was at Dangerfield I resolved to break the
chain at once, and do as I always meant to do for the future.
Accordingly, immediately after breakfast I popped my bonnet on--the
lavender one, that had done a good deal of London work, but was still
quite good enough for the country--and started off for a walk by
myself, confiding my intentions to no one; as I well knew if I did I
should have Aunt Deborah's "Kate, _pray_ don't overheat yourself, my
dear. Do wrap yourself up, and take care not to catch cold;" and Lady
Horsingham's sarcastic smile, and "In _my_ time, Miss Coventry, young
ladies were not in the habit of trailing all over the country by
themselves; but I expect soon to hear of their farming and fishing and
shooting, I shouldn't wonder--not worse than _hunting_, at any rate.
However, I say nothing;" and Cousin Amelia with her lackadaisical
sneer, and her avowal that "she was not _equal_ to walking," and her
offer to "go as far as the garden with me in the afternoon." So I
tripped down the back staircase and away to the stables with a bit of
sugar for Brilliant, who had arrived safely by the train in company
with White Stockings, and on through the kitchen-garden and the
home-farm up to the free, fresh, breezy down.

I do enjoy a walk by myself, and it was the last chance I should have
of one; for Cousin John was expected that very day, and when Cousin
John and I are anywhere, of course we are inseparable. But I am sure
an occasional stroll quite by oneself does one more good than
anything. I think of such quantities of things that never occur to me
at other times--fairies, brigands, knights, and damsels, and all sorts
of wild adventures; and I feel so brave and determined, as if I could
face anything in a right cause, and so _good_, and I make such
excellent resolutions, and walk faster and faster, and get more and
more romantic, like a goose, as I know I am.

Well, it was a beautiful morning, early in autumn--blue sky, light
fleecy clouds, a sharp, clear air from the north, the low country
studded with corn-ricks, and alive with reapers and cart-teams and
cattle. A green valley below me, rich in fine old timber, and clothed
with high, thick hedgerows, concealing the sluggish river that stole
softly away, and only gleamed out here and there to light up the
distance; whilst above and around me stretched far and wide the vast
expanse of down, cutting sharply against the sky, and dwarfing to mere
shrubs the clumps of old fir trees that relieved its magnificent
monotony. I was deep in a daydream and an imaginary conversation with
Frank Lovell--in which I was running over with much mental eloquence
what _I_ should say, and what _he_ would say, and what _I_ should
reply to _that_--when a shrill whistle caused me to start and turn
suddenly round; whilst at the same instant a great black retriever
bounced up against my legs, and two handsome pointers raced by me as
if just emancipated from the kennel. The consequence of all this was
that I stepped hastily on a loose stone, turned my foot the wrong way
under me, and came down with a slightly-sprained ankle, and the black
retriever, an animal of exceedingly noisome breath, affectionately
licking my face.

"Down, Juno!--I beg your pardon a million times; get down, you bitch!
How shall I ever apologize? Confound you, get down," said an agitated
voice above me; and looking up I espied the red-haired stranger of the
railway, dressed in a most conspicuous shooting-costume, white hat and
all, whose dogs had been the means of bringing me thus suddenly to the
earth, and on whom I was now dependent for succour and support till I
should be able to reach home.

In such an emergency my new friend was not half so confused and shy as
I should have expected. He seemed to summon all his energies to
consider what was best to be done; and as my foot pained me
considerably when I tried to walk (particularly down hill), he made no
more ado, but lifted me carefully in his arms, and proceeded
incontinently to carry me off in the direction of Dangerfield Hall,
where he seemed intuitively to know I was at present residing.

It was, to say the least of it, an unusual situation. A man I had
never seen but once before in my life--and here was I lying in his
arms (precious weight he must have found me!) and looking up in his
face like a child in its nurse's, and the usages of society making it
incumbent on us both to attempt a sort of indifferent conversation
about the weather and the country and the beauty of the scenery, which
the juxtaposition of our respective faces rendered ludicrous in the
extreme.

"A tempting day for a walk, Miss--ah--ah" (he didn't know my name--how
should he?--and was now beginning to get very red, partly from the
return of his constitutional shyness and partly from the severity of
his exertions). "I hope your foot does not pain you quite so much; be
good enough to lean a little more this way." Poor man, how his arms
must have ached! Whilst I replied somewhat in this fashion, "Thank
you, I'm better; I shall soon be able to walk, I think; this is indeed
a lovely country. Don't you find me very heavy?" "I think I could
carry you a good many miles," he said quietly; and then seemed so
shocked at such an avowal that he hardly opened his lips again, and
put me down the very first time I asked him, and offered me his arm
with an accession of confusion that made me feel quite awkward myself.
Truth to tell, my ankle was not sprained, only _twisted_; and when the
immediate pain wore off I was pretty sound again, and managed, with
the assistance of my new acquaintance's arm, to make a very good walk
of it. So we plodded on quite sociably towards the Hall, and my friend
took leave of me at the farm with a polite bow and a sort of
hesitating manner that most shy men possess, and which would lead one
to infer they have always got something more to say that never is
said. I knew I should be well scolded if I avowed my accident to any
of the family; besides, I did not quite fancy facing all the inquiries
as to how I got home, and Cousin Amelia's sneers about errant damsels
and wandering knights; so I stole quietly up to my room, bathed my
foot in eau-de-Cologne, and remained _perdue_ till dinner-time, in
despite of repeated messages from my aunts and the arrival of Cousin
John.

People may talk about country pleasures and country duties and all the
charms of country life; but it appears to me that a good many things are
done under the titles of pleasure and duty which belong in reality to
neither; and that those who live entirely in the country inflict on
themselves a great variety of unnecessary disagreeables, as they lose a
great many of its chief delights. Of all receipts for weariness commend
me to a dinner-party of country neighbours by _daylight_--people who know
each other just well enough to have opposite interests and secret
jealousies--who arrive ill at ease in their smart dresses, to sit through
a protracted meal with hot servants and forced conversation, till one
young lady on her promotion being victimized at the pianoforte enables
them to yawn unobserved; and welcome ten o'clock brings round the
carriage and tipsy coachman, in order that they may enter on their long,
dark, dreary drive home through lanes and by-ways, which is only
endurable from the consideration that the annual ordeal has been
accomplished, and that they need not do it again till this time next
year.

There was a dinner-party at Dangerfield regularly once a month, and
this was the day. Aunt Horsingham was great on these occasions,
astonishing the neighbours as much with her London dresses as did
Cousin Amelia with her London manners. We all assembled a few minutes
earlier than usual in the drawing-room, so as to be ready to receive
our guests, and great was the infliction on poor Aunt Deborah and my
humble self. How they trooped in, one after another! Sir Brian and
Lady Banneret and Master Banneret and two Misses Banneret; these were
the great cards of the party; so Lady Horsingham kissed Lady Banneret
and the young ladies, and opined Master Banneret was _grown_, much to
the indignation of that young gentleman, who, being an Oxonian, of
course considered himself _a man_. Sir Brian was a good-humoured jolly
old boy, with a loud laugh, and stood with his coat-tails lifted and
his back to the empty fireplace in perfect ease and contentment. Not
so his lady; first she scrutinized everything Lady Horsingham had got
on, then she took a review of the furniture, and specially marked one
faded place in the carpet. Lastly, she turned a curious and
disappointed glance on myself. I accounted for the latter mark of
displeasure by the becoming shade of my gown; I knew it was a pretty
one, and would meet with feminine censure accordingly. The Bannerets
were soon followed by Mr. and Mrs. Plumridge, a newly-married couple,
who were _fêted_ accordingly. Mr. Plumridge was a light-haired,
unmeaning-looking individual, partially bald, with a blue coat and
white satin neckcloth; his bride a lively, sarcastic, black-eyed
little woman, who must have married him for her own convenience--they
said afterwards she was once a governess; but at all events she held
her own handsomely when alone with the ladies after dinner, and partly
from good-humour, partly from an exceedingly off-hand natural manner,
forced even Lady Banneret to be civil to her. Then came the Marmadukes
and the Marygolds, and old Miss Finch in a sedan-chair from the
adjoining village, and a goodish-looking man whose name I never made
out, and Mr. Sprigges the curate; and lastly, in a white heat and a
state of utter confusion, my shy acquaintance of the railway and the
pointers, who was ushered in by Lady Horsingham's pompous butler under
the style and title of Mr. Haycock. He appeared to be a great friend
of the family; and, much to his own discomfiture, was immediately laid
violent hands on by my aunt and cousin--the former not thinking it
necessary to present him to me, till he offered me his arm to take me
in to dinner, when her face of reproval, on his stammering out he "had
met Miss Coventry before," was worth anything, expressive as it was of
shocked propriety and puzzled astonishment.

When you have a secret only known to your two selves, even with a shy
man, it is wonderful how it brings him on. Before the soup was off the
table Squire Haycock and I had become wonderfully good friends. He had
hoped "my ankle did not pain me," and I had trusted "his arms did not
ache." He had even gone the length of "vowing" that he would have shot
his clumsy retriever for being the cause of the accident, only he let
him off because "if it hadn't been for the dog----" and here, seeing
Cousin Amelia's eye fixed upon us, my companion stopped dead short,
and concealed his blushes in a glass of champagne. Taking courage from
that well-iced stimulant, he reverted to our railway journey in
company.

"I knew you again this morning, Miss Coventry, I assure you, a long
way off; in fact, I was going the other way, only, seeing you walking
in that lonely part of the down, I feared you might be frightened" (he
was getting bright scarlet again), "and I determined to watch you at a
little distance, and be ready to assist you if you were alarmed by
tramps or sheep-dogs or----"

I thought he was getting on too fast, so I stopped him at once by
replying,--

"I am well able to take care of myself, Mr. Haycock, I assure you, and
I like best walking _quite_ alone;" after which I turned my shoulder a
little towards him, and completely discomfited him for the rest of
dinner. One great advantage of diffidence in a man is that one can so
easily reduce him to the lowest depths of despondency; but then, on
the other hand, he is apt to think one means to be more cruel than one
does, and one is obliged to be kind in proportion to previous
coldness, or the stupid creature breaks away altogether. When the
ladies got up to leave the dining-room, I dropped my handkerchief well
under the table, and when it was returned to me by the Squire, I gave
him such a look of gratitude as I knew would bring him back to me in
the evening. Nobody hates flirting so much as myself, but what is one
to do shut up in a country-house, with no earthly thing to occupy or
amuse one?

Tea and coffee served but little to produce cordiality amongst the
female portion of the guests after their flight to the drawing-room.
Lady Horsingham and Lady Banneret talked apart on a sofa; they were
deep in the merits of their respective preachers and the failings of
their respective maids. Mrs. Marmaduke and Mrs. Marygold, having had a
"Book-Club" feud, did not speak to each other, but communicated
through the medium of Miss Finch, whose deafness rendered this a
somewhat unsatisfactory process. Aunt Deborah went to sleep as usual;
and I tried the two Miss Bannerets consecutively, but ascertained that
neither would open her lips, at least in the presence of mamma. At
last I found a vacant place by the side of Mrs. Plumridge, and
discovered immediately, with the peculiar freemasonry which I believe
men do not possess, that she was _one of my sort_. She liked walking,
riding, driving, dancing--all that I liked, in short; and she hated
scandal-gossiping, _sensible_ women, morning visits, and worsted-work,
for all of which I confess to an unqualified aversion. We were getting
fast friends when the gentlemen came in from their wine, honest Sir
Brian's voice sounding long before he entered the room, and the worthy
gentleman himself rolling in with an unsteady step, partly from
incipient gout, and partly, I fancy, from a good deal of port wine. He
took a vacant seat by me almost immediately, chiefly, I think, because
it was the nearest seat; and avowing openly his great regard and
admiration for my neighbour, Mrs. Plumridge, proceeded to make himself
agreeable to both of us in his own way--though I am concerned to state
that he trod heavily on my _sprained_ foot, and spilt the greater part
of a cup of coffee over _her_ satin gown. The Squire, whose nerves for
the present were strung above blushing pitch, soon joined our little
party; and whilst the two Miss Bannerets performed an endless duet on
Aunt Horsingham's luckless pianoforte, and their brother, choking in
his stiff white neckcloth, turned over the leaves, Sir Brian bantered
Mr. Haycock gracefully on his abstemiousness after dinner, an effort
of self-denial of which no one could accuse him, and vowed, with much
laughter, that "Haycock must be in love! in love, Miss Coventry, don't
you think so? A man that always used to take his two bottles as
regularly as myself--I am a foe to excess, ladies, but Haycock's an
anchorite, d---- me--a monk! Haycock! monks mustn't marry, you
know!--wouldn't he look well with his feet shaved, Miss Coventry, and
his head bare and a rope round his neck?" Sir Brian was getting
confused, and had slightly transposed the clerical costume to which he
alluded; but was quite satisfied that his little badinage was witty
and amusing in the extreme. Indeed, Mrs. Plumridge and I couldn't help
laughing; but poor Squire Haycock's embarrassment was so intense that
he ordered his carriage immediately, and took leave, venturing,
however, at the very last, to shake me by the hand, and braving once
again the banter of the inebriated Baronet.

"Stole away," said Sir Brian; "a shy man, Miss Coventry--a shy,
diffident man, my friend Haycock, but true as steel--not a better
landlord in the county--excellent neighbour--useful magistrate--good
house--beautiful garden--lots of poultry, and a glass beehive--wants
nothing but a wife--order the carriage, my lady.--Mrs. Plumridge, you
must come and see us at Slopperly, and don't forget to bring
Plumridge.--Miss Coventry, you're a charming young lady; mind you come
too." So jolly Sir Brian wished us both a most affectionate
good-night, and, shaking Aunt Horsingham violently by both hands,
packed himself into his carriage in a state of high good-humour and
confusion. I have since heard that on his arrival at Slopperly he
stoutly refused to get out, declaring that he preferred to "sit in the
carriage whilst they changed horses," and avowing, much to his old
butler's astonishment, his resolution to go "at least one more stage
that night."



CHAPTER XI.


I must despair of being able in simple narrative to convey the
remotest idea of the dullness of Dangerfield Hall; but as during my
residence there I beguiled the weary hours by keeping a diary (bound
in blue velvet, with brass clasps and a Bramah lock), I have it in my
power, by transcribing a few of its pages, to present to my readers my
own impressions of life in that well-regulated establishment. I put
things down just as they happened, with my own reflections, more or
less philosophical, on the events of each day. My literary labours
were invariably carried on after the family had retired for the night;
and I may observe that a loose white dressing-gown, trimmed with
Mechlin lace and pink ribbons--one's hair, of course, being "taken
down"--is a costume extremely well adapted to the efforts of
composition. I take a day from the diary at random.

_Thursday_.--Up at half-past seven; peeped in the glass the instant I
was out of bed, and wondered how Cousin Amelia looks when she wakes.
Yellowish, I should think, and by no means captivating, particularly
if she wears a nightcap. I don't care how ugly a woman is, she has no
right to look anything but _fresh_ in the morning; and yet how few
possess this advantage! Nothing like open air and plenty of exercise;
_saving_ one's complexion is undoubtedly the very way to spoil it. Saw
Brilliant and White Stockings going to exercise in the Park. What
coddles they look on these fine autumn mornings, covered with
clothing! Felt very _keen_ about hunting; the same feeling always
comes on at the fall of the leaf; shouldn't wonder if I could jump a
gate, with my present nerves. Should like once in my life to _plant_ a
field of horsemen, and show these gentlemen how a woman _can_ ride.
Interrupted in my daydreams by Lady Horsingham's bell, and huddled on
my things in a tremendous hurry; forced to wash my hands in _cold_
water, which made the tips of my fingers as red as radishes for the
rest of the day. Got down to prayers by half-past eight, and took Aunt
Deborah her tea and toast from the breakfast-table at nine.

Breakfast dull, and most of the party cross: Aunt Horsingham is
generally out of humour at breakfast-time, particularly on Sundays.
Cousin Amelia suggested my towels were too coarse: "they had rubbed a
colour into my cheeks like a dairymaid's." John said I looked like a
rose--a tea-rose, he added, as I handed him his cup. Cousin John is
getting quite poetical, and decidedly improved since he left London. I
wonder whom he got that letter from that was lying on his plate when
he came down. I am _not_ curious, but I just glanced at the direction,
and I am certain it was in a lady's hand. Not that it's any business
of mine; only I should think Miss Molasses would hardly have the face
to _write_ to him. I wonder whether there is anything between John and
Miss Molasses. I asked him, half spitefully, the other day how he
could bear to be parted from her now the season was over; and he
seemed so pleased at my taking an interest in the thing at all that I
had no patience to go on with my cross-questioning. I don't think
she's good enough for John, I must confess; but he is easily imposed
on by young ladies--as indeed, for that matter, are the rest of his
great thick-headed sex. When breakfast was over and Cousin Amelia went
off as usual to practise her music for an hour or two, I thought I
might steal away for a visit to my favourites in the stable; indeed I
saw John at the front door in a hideous wide-awake, with a long cigar
in his mouth. But I was waylaid by Aunt Horsingham; and as these
visits to the stable are strictly forbidden, I was obliged to follow
her into the drawing-room, and resign myself for the whole morning to
that dreadful worsted-work, more especially as it was coming on a
drizzling mist, and there was no pretext for my usual walk.

"I am glad to see you getting more sociable, Kate," said Lady
Horsingham, in her dry, harsh voice, as I took a seat beside her and
opened my work-basket. "It is never advisable for any young lady to
affect singularity, and I have observed with some concern that your
demeanour on many occasions is very unlike that of the rest of your
sex."

I never give in to Aunt Horsingham--after all she's not _my own_
aunt--so I answered as pertly as ever I could:

"No: you mean I don't spend the morning in looking in the glass and
talking evil of my neighbours; I don't scream when I see a beetle, or
go into convulsions because there's a mouse in the room. I've got two
legs, very good legs, Aunt Horsingham--shall I show you them?--and I
like to use them, and to be out of doors amongst the trees and the
grass and the daisies, instead of counting stitches for work that
nobody wants or writing letters that nobody reads. I had rather give
Brilliant a good 'bucketing' (Aunt Horsingham shuddered; I knew she
would, and used the word on purpose) over an open heath or a line of
grass than go bodkin in a chariot, seven miles an hour, and both
windows up. Thank you, Aunt Horsingham; you would like to make a fine
lady of me--a useless, sickly, lackadaisical being instead of a
healthy, active, light-hearted woman. Much obliged to you; I had
rather stay as I am."

"Miss Coventry," said my aunt, who was completely posed by my
volubility, and apparently shocked beyond the power of expression at
my opinions--"Miss Coventry," she repeated, "if these are indeed your
sentiments, I must beg--nay, I must insist--on your keeping them to
yourself whilst under _this_ roof.--Amelia, my dear" (to my cousin,
who was gliding quietly into the room)--"Amelia, go back to your music
for ten minutes.--I must insist, Miss Coventry, that you do not
inoculate _my_ daughter with these pernicious doctrines--this mistaken
view of the whole duties and essentials of your sex. Do you think
_men_ appreciate a woman who, if she had but a beard, would be exactly
like one of themselves? Do you think they like to see their ideal hot
and dishevelled, plastered with mud, and draggled with wet? Do you
think they wish her to be strong and independent of them, and perhaps
their superior at those very sports and exercises on which they plume
themselves? Do you think they are to be taken by storm, and, so to
speak, bullied into admiration? You're wrong, Kate, you're wrong; and
I believe I am equally wrong to talk to you in this strain, inasmuch
as the admiration of the other sex ought to be the last thing coveted
or thought of by a young person of yours."

"I'm sure, aunt, I don't want the men to admire me," I replied; "but I
would not give much for the admiration of one who could be jealous of
me for so paltry a cause as my riding better than himself; and as for
ideals, I don't know much about such things, but I think a man's ideal
may do pretty well what she likes, and he is sure to think everything
she _does_ do is perfect. Besides, I don't see why I should _bully_
him into liking me because I'm fond of the beautiful 'out of doors'
instead of the fireside. And courageous women, like courageous men,
are generally a deal more gentle than the timid ones. I've known
ladies who would not venture into a carriage or a boat who could wage
a war of words bitterer than the veriest trooper would have at his
command; and I've heard Cousin John say that there is scarcely an
instance of a veritable heroine in history, from Joan of Arc
downwards, who was not in her private life as sweet, as gentle, and as
womanly as she was high-couraged and undaunted when the moment came
that summoned her energies to the encounter. Unselfishness is the
cause in both cases, you may depend. People that are always so
dreadfully afraid something is going to happen to them think a great
deal more of self than anything else; and the same cause which makes
them tremble at imaginary danger for their own sakes will make them
forgetful of real sufferings in which they themselves have no share. I
had rather be a hoyden, Aunt Horsingham, and go on in my own way. I
have much more enjoyment; and, upon my word, I don't think I'm one bit
a worse member of society than if I was the most delicate fine lady
that ever fainted away at the overpowering smell of a rose leaf or the
merry peal of a noisy child's laugh."

My aunt lifted up her hands and gave in, for the return of Cousin
Amelia from the music-room effectually prevented further discussion;
and we beguiled the time till luncheon by alternate fits of scandal
and work, running through the characters of most of the neighbours
within twenty miles, and completely demolishing the reputation of _my_
friend, as they called her--lively, sarcastic little Mrs. Plumridge.
John was off rabbit-shooting, so of course he did not appear at that
meal so essential to ladies; and after Cousin Amelia, by way of being
delicate, had got through two cutlets, the best part of a chicken, a
plateful of rice-pudding, and a large glass of sherry, I ventured to
propose to her that if the afternoon held up we should have a walk.

"I'm not equal to much fatigue," said she, with a languid air and a
heavy look about her eyes which I attributed to the luncheon; "but if
you like we'll go to the garden and the hothouses, and be back in time
for a cup of tea at five o'clock."

"Anything to get out of the house," was my reply, and forthwith I
rushed upstairs, two steps at a time, to put on my things; whilst my
aunt whispered to her daughter, loud enough for me to hear, "She
really ought to have been a man, Emmy; did you ever see such a hoyden
in your life?"

It was pleasant to get out even into that formal garden. The day was
soft and misty, such as one often finds it towards the close of
autumn--dark without being chill--and the withered leaves strewed the
earth in all the beauty of wholesome natural decay. Autumn makes some
people miserable; I confess it is the time of year that I like best.
Spring makes me cross if it's bad weather, and melancholy if it's
fine. Summer is very enjoyable certainly, but it has a luxuriance of
splendour that weighs down my spirits; and in those glorious hot,
dreamy haymaking days I seem unable to identify myself sufficiently
with all the beauty around me, and to pine for I don't exactly know
what. Winter is charming when it don't freeze, with its early
candle-light and long evenings; but autumn combines everything that to
me is most delightful--the joys of reality and the pleasures of
anticipation. Cousin Amelia don't think so at all.

"A nasty raw day, Kate," she remarked as we emerged from the hothouse
into the moist, heavy air. "How I hate the country! except whilst the
strawberries are ripe. Let's go back to the house, and read with our
feet on the fender till tea-time."

"Not yet, Emmy," I pleaded, for I really pined for a good walk; "let's
go on the highroad as far as the milestone--it's market day at
Muddlebury, and we shall see the tipsy farmers riding home and the
carriers' carts with their queer-looking loads; besides, think what a
colour you'll have for dinner. Come on, there's a dear!"

The last argument was unanswerable; and Cousin Amelia putting her best
foot foremost, we soon cleared the garden and the approach, and
emerged on the highroad three miles from Muddlebury, and well out of
the sight of the windows of Dangerfield Hall. As we rose the hill, on
the top of which is perched the well-known milestone, and my cousin
began already to complain of fatigue, the sound of hoofs behind us
caused us both to stop and look round.

"It's cavalry," said Amelia, who jumps rather rapidly to conclusions,
and is no judge of a horse.

"It's a stud," was my reply; "somebody coming to hunt with 'the
Heavy-top.' Let's stand in this gateway and see them pass." We took up
a position accordingly; and if I felt keen about the commencement of
the season previously, how much more so did I become to watch the
string of gallant well-bred horses now jogging quietly towards us with
all the paraphernalia and accessories of the chase!

Two, four, six, and a hack, all clothed and hooded, and packed for
travelling. Such a chestnut in the van, with a minute boy on him, who
cannot have weighed four stone; strong, flat, sinewy legs (the
chestnut's, not the boy's), hocks and thighs clean, full, and muscular
as Brilliant's, only twice the size; a long, square tail, and a wicked
eye. How I _should_ like to ride that chestnut! Then a brown and two
bays, one of the latter scarcely big enough for a hunter, to my fancy,
but apparently as thoroughbred as Eclipse; then a gray, who seemed to
have a strong objection to being led, and who held back and dragged at
his rein in a most provoking manner; and lastly, by the side of a
brown hack that I fancied I had seen before, a beautiful black horse,
the very impersonation of strength, symmetry, courage, speed, and all
that a horse should be.

"Ask the groom whose they are," whispered Amelia as he went by. "I
don't quite like to speak to him; he looks an impudent fellow with
those dark whiskers."

I should like to see the whiskers that would frighten _me_; so I
stepped boldly out into the road, and accosted him at once.

"Whose horses are those, my man?" I asked, with my most commanding
air.

"Captain Lovell's, miss," was the reply. My heart jumped into my
mouth, and you might have knocked me down with a feather.

"Captain Lovell's!" exclaimed Amelia; "why, that's your old flirt,
Kate. I see it all now." But I hardly heard her, and when I looked up
the horses were a mile off, and we were retracing our steps towards
Dangerfield Hall.

What a happy day this has been, and how unpromising was its beginning!
And yet I don't know why I should have been so happy. After all, there
is nothing extraordinary in Captain Lovell's sending down a stud of
horses to hunt with so favourite a pack as "the Heavy-top" hounds. I
wish I had summoned courage to ask the man when his master was coming
and where he was going to stay; but I really couldn't do it--no, not
if my life depended on it. All the way home Cousin Amelia laughed and
sneered and chattered, and once she acknowledged I was "the
best-tempered girl in the world;" but I am sure I have not an idea why
I deserve this character. Her words fell perfectly unheeded on my ear.
I was glad to get to the solitude of my own room, when it was time to
dress for dinner, that I might have the luxury, if it was only for
five minutes, of _thinking_ undisturbed. But there was Aunt Deborah to
be attended to; for poor Aunt Deborah, I am sorry to say, is by no
means well. And Gertrude came in "to do my hair;" and then the
dinner-bell rang, and the wearisome meal, and the long evening dragged
on in their accustomed monotony. But I did not find it as dull as
usual, though I was more rejoiced than ever when the hand-candles came
and we were dismissed to go to bed.

And now they are all fast asleep, and I can sit at my open window and
think, think, think as much as I like. What a lovely night it is! The
mist has cleared off, and the moat is glistening in the moonlight, and
the old trees are silvered over and blackened alternately by its
beams; the church tower stands out massively against the sky. How dark
the old belfry looks on such a night as this, contrasting with the
white tombstones in the churchyard, and the slated roof shimmering
above the aisle! There is a faint breeze sighing amongst the few
remaining leaves, now rising into a pleading whisper, now dying away
with a sad, unearthly moan. The deer are moving restlessly about the
Park, now standing out in bold relief on some open space brightened by
the moonlight, now flitting like spectres athwart the shade.
Everything breathes of romance and illusion; and I do believe it is
very bad for one to be watching here, dreaming wide awake, instead of
snoring healthily in bed. I wonder what he is about at this moment.
Perhaps smoking a cigar out of doors, and enjoying this beautiful
night. I wonder what he is thinking of. Perhaps, after all, he's
stewed up in some lamplit drawing-room talking nonsense to Lady
Scapegrace and Mrs. Lumley, or playing that odious whist at his club.
Well, I suppose I may as well go to bed. One more look into the night,
and then--hark! what is it? how beautiful, how charming! Distant music
from the wood at the low end of the Park. The deer are all listening,
and now they troop down towards the noise in scores. How softly it
dies away and rises again! 'Tis a cornet-à-piston, I think, and though
not very skilfully played it sounds heavenly by moonlight. I never
thought that old air of "You'll Remember Me" half so beautiful before.
Who can it be? I have never heard it since I came here. It can't be
Captain Lovell's groom; it's not quite impossible it might be Captain
Lovell himself. Ah, if I thought that! Well, it has ceased now. I may
as well go to bed. What a happy day this has been, and what dreams I
shall have!



CHAPTER XII.


_Friday._--This has been an eventful day. I thought somehow it would
be so; at all events, the first day's hunting is always an era to
me--so when I came down to breakfast in my riding-habit, and braved
the cold glances of my aunt and the sarcasms of my cousin, I was
prepared for a certain amount of excitement, although, I confess, I
did not bargain for quite so much as I got.

"You'll enjoy yourself to-day, I trust, Miss Coventry," said Aunt
Horsingham, looking as black as thunder.

"Mind you don't get a fall," observed Cousin Amelia with a sneer; but
I cared little for their remarks and remonstrances. White Stockings
was at the door, Cousin John ready to lift me into my saddle, and I
envied no mortal woman on earth, no not our gracious Queen upon the
throne, when I found myself fairly mounted, and jogging gently down
the park in all the delightful anticipation of a good day's sport. I
think I would rather have ridden Brilliant of the two, but John
suggested that the country was cramped and sticky, with small fields
and blind fences. Now, White Stockings is an animal of great
circumspection, and allows no earthly consideration to hurry him. He
is, moreover, as strong as a dray-horse, and as handy, so John
declares, "as a fiddle." To him, therefore, was entrusted the honour
of carrying me on my first appearance with the Heavy-top hounds. The
meet was at no great distance from Dangerfield Hall, and being the
beginning of the season, and a favourite place, there was a
considerable muster of the _élite_ of the county, and a goodly show of
very respectable horses to grace the covert side. As we rode up to the
mounted assemblage, I perceived, by the glance of curiosity, not to
say admiration, directed at myself and White Stockings, that ladies
were unusual visitors in that field, and that the Heavy-top gentlemen
were not prepared to be cut _down_, at all events by _a woman_. Cousin
John seems to know them all and to be a universal favourite.

"Who's the lady, John, my boy?" whispered a fat squire in a purple
garment, with a face to match; "good seat on a horse, eh? rides like a
bird, I'll warrant her." I did not catch John's answer; but the
corpulent sportsman nodded, and smiled, and winked, and wheezed out,
"Lucky dog--pretty cousin--double harness."

I don't know what he meant; but that it was something intensely
ludicrous I gather from his nearly choking with laughter at his own
concluding observation, though John blushed and looked rather like a
fool.

"Who's that girl on the chestnut?" I again heard asked by a
slang-looking man with red whiskers meeting under his chin; "looks
like a larker--I must get introduced to her," added the conceited
brute. How I hated him! If he had ventured to speak to me, I really
think I could have struck him over the face with my riding-whip.

"I told you it would not be long before we met, Miss Coventry," said a
well-known voice beside me; and turning round, I shook hands with
Captain Lovell; and I am ashamed to confess, shook all over into the
bargain. I am always a little nervous the first day of the season. How
well he looked in his red coat and neat appointments, with his
graceful seat upon a horse, and so high-bred, amongst all the country
squires and jolly yeomen that surrounded us! He had more colour too
than when in London, and altogether I thought I had never seen him
looking so handsome. The chestnut with the wicked eye, showing off his
fine shape, now divested of clothing, curvetted and bent to his
rider's hand as if he thoroughly enjoyed that light restraining touch:
the pair looked what the gentlemen call "all over like going," and I
am sure one of them thought so too.

"I saw your horses on their way to Muddlebury yesterday," I at length
found courage to say. "Are you going to hunt all the season with the
Heavy-top?"

"How long do you stay at Dangerfield?" was the counter question from
Frank; "you see I know the name of the place already; I believe I
could find my way now about the Park; very picturesque it is too by
night, Miss Coventry. Do you like music by moonlight?"

"Not if it's played out of tune," I answered with a laugh and a blush;
but just then Squire Haycock, whom I scarcely knew in his hunting
costume, rode up to us, and begged as a personal favour to himself
that we would accompany him to a particular point, from which he could
ensure us a good start if the fox went away--his face becoming scarlet
as he expressed a hope "Miss Coventry would not allow her fondness for
the chase to lead her into unnecessary danger;" whilst Frank looked at
him with a half-amused, half-puzzled expression that seemed to say,
"What a queer creature you are; and what the deuce can that matter to
you?"

I wonder why people always want to oblige you when you don't want to
be obliged; "too civil by half" is much more in the way than "not half
civil enough." So we rode on with Squire Haycock, and took up a
position at the end of the wood that commanded a view of the whole
proceedings, and, as Frank whispered to me, was "the likeliest place
in the world if we wanted to head the fox."

The Heavy-top hounds are an establishment such as, I am given to
understand, is not usually kept in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire,
and other so-called "flying counties." I like to gain all the
information I can--Cousin John calls this thirst for knowledge,
"female curiosity"--and gather from him that the Heavy-top consists of
twenty-two couples of hunting hounds, and that the whole twenty-two
come out three times a week during the season. I don't see why they
shouldn't, I'm sure; they look very fat, and remind me of the otter
hounds poor Uncle Horace used to keep when I was a child. He (that's
my oracle, Cousin John) further adds that they are remarkably
"steady"--which is more than can be said of their huntsman, who is
constantly drunk--and that they consume a vast quantity of "flesh,"
which, far from being a meritorious, appears to me a disgusting
tendency. They are capital "line-hunters," so says John; a
"line-hunter," I imagine, is a hound that keeps snuffing about under
the horses' feet, and must be a most useful auxiliary, when, as is
often the case, the sportsmen are standing on the identical spot where
the fox has crossed. He considers them a very "killing" pack, not in
manners or appearance certainly, but in perseverance and undying
determination. Their huntsman is what is called "one of the old sort."
If this is a correct description, I can only say that "the old sort"
must have worn the brownest and shabbiest of boots, the oldest of
coats, and the greasiest of caps; must have smelt of brandy on all
occasions, and lived in a besotted state of general confusion,
vibrating between "delirium audacious" and "delirium tremens." They
have, however, a certain whip called "Will," who appears to me to do
all the work, and to keep everything right. When old Tippler drinks
himself to death (a casualty which must shortly happen), Will is
pretty sure to succeed him--an event which I fancy will greatly add to
the efficiency of the Heavy-top hounds. To crown all, Frank Lovell
dubs the whole thing "slow;" but I have remarked gentlemen make use of
this epithet to convey their disapproval of that which they cannot
find any positive fault with--just as we ladies call a woman "bad
style" when we have nothing else to say in her disparagement.

"Gone away!" exclaims Squire Haycock, lifting his cap high above his
red head; "yonder he goes! Don't you see him, Miss Coventry, now
whisking under the gate?"

"Forward, forward!" holloas Frank, giving vent to his excitement in
one of those prolonged screams that proclaim how the astonished
sportsman has actually seen the fox with his own eyes. The next
instant he is through the hand-gate at the end of the ride, and rising
in his stirrups, with the wicked chestnut held hard by the head, is
speeding away over the adjoining pasture, alongside of the two or
three couples of leading hounds that have just emerged from the
covert. Ah! we are all forgotten now; women, children, everything is
lost in that first delirious five minutes when the hounds are really
away. Frank was gazing at me a minute ago as if his very life was at
my disposal, and now he is speeding away a field ahead of me, and
don't care whether I break my neck following him or not. But this is
no time for such thoughts as these; the drunken huntsman is sounding
his horn in our rear. Will, the whip, cap in hand, is bringing up the
body of the pack. Squire Haycock holds the gate open for me to pass,
Cousin John goes by me like a flash of lightning; White Stockings with
a loose rein, submits to be kicked along at any pace I like to ask
him. The fence at the end of the field is nothing; I shall go exactly
where Frank did. My blood thrills with ecstasy in my veins: moment of
moments! I have got a capital start, and we are in for a run.

As I sit here in my armchair and dressing-gown, I see the whole
panorama of to-day passing once more before my eyes. I see that dark,
wet, ploughed field, with the white hounds slipping noiselessly over
its furrowed surface. I can almost perceive the fresh, wholesome smell
of the newly-turned earth. I see the ragged, overgrown, straggling
fence at the far end, glistening with morning dew, and green with
formidable briers. I see Frank Lovell's chestnut rising at the weakest
place, the rider sitting well back, his spurs and stirrup-irons
shining in the sun; I see Squire Haycock's square scarlet back, as he
diverges to a well-known corner for some friendly egress; I hear
Cousin John's voice shouting, "Give him his head, Kate!" As White
Stockings and I rapidly approach the leap, my horse relapses of his
own accord into a trot, points his small ears, crashes into the very
middle of the fence, and just as I give myself up for lost, makes a
second bound that settles me once more in the saddle, and lands
gallantly in the adjoining field, Frank looking back over his shoulder
in evident anxiety and admiration, whilst John's cheery voice, with
its "Bravo, Kate!" rings in my delighted ears. We three are now
nearest the hounds, a long strip of rushy meadow-land before us, the
pack streaming along the side of a high, thick hedge that bounds it on
our left; the south wind fans my face and lifts my hair as I slacken
my horse's rein and urge him to his speed. I am alongside of Frank. I
could ride anywhere now, or do anything. I pass him with a smile and a
jest. I am the foremost with the chase. What is ten years of common
life, one's feet upon the fender, compared to five such golden minutes
as these? The hounds stop suddenly, and after scattering and spreading
themselves into the form of an open fan, look up in my face with an
air of mute bewilderment. The huntsman and the field come up, the
gentlemen in a high state of delight and confusion; but Mr. Tippler in
the worst of humours, and muttering as he trots off to a corner of the
meadow with the pack about his horse's heels,--

"Rode 'em slap off the scent--drove 'em to a check--wish she was at
home and abed and asleep, and be d----d to her!"

A grim old lady who has but one eye, and answers to the name of
"Jezebel," has threaded the fence, and proclaims in anything but a
sweet voice to her comrades, that she has discovered the line of our
fox. They join her in an instant, down go their heads in concert, and
away we all speed again, through an open gate, across a wide common,
into a strip of plantation, over a stile and foot-board that leads out
of it, and I find myself once more following Captain Lovell with
Cousin John alongside of me, and all the rest far, far behind. This is
indeed glorious. I should like it to go on till dinnertime. How I hope
we shan't kill the fox!

"Take hold of his head, Kate," says my cousin, whose horse has just
blundered on to his nose through a gap. "Even White Stockings won't
last for ever, and this is going to be something out of the common."

"Forward!" is my reply as I point with my whip towards the lessening
pack, now a whole field ahead of us. "Forward!" If we hadn't been
going such a pace I could have sung for joy.

There is a line of pollarded willow trees down in that hollow, and the
hounds have already left these behind them; they are rising the
opposite ground. Again Frank Lovell looks anxiously back at me, but
makes no sign.

"We _must_ have it, Kate!" says John; "there's your best place, under
the tree; send him at it as hard as he can lay legs to the ground."

I ply my whip and loosen my reins in vain. White Stockings stops dead
short, and lowers his nose to the water, as if he wanted to drink; all
of a sudden the stream is behind me, and with a flounder and a
struggle we are safe over the brook. Not so Cousin John; I see him on
his legs on the bank, with his horse's head lying helplessly between
his feet, the rest of that valuable animal being completely submerged.

"Go along, Kate!" he shouts encouragingly, and again I speed after
Frank Lovell, who is by this time nearly a quarter of a mile ahead of
me, and at least that distance behind the hounds. White Stockings is
going very pleasantly, but the ground is now entirely on the rise, and
he indulges occasionally in a trot without any hint on my part; the
fences fortunately get weaker and weaker; the fields are covered with
stones, and are light, good galloping enough, but the rise gets
steeper every yard; round hills are closing in about us; we are now on
the Downs, and the pack is still fleeting ahead, like a body of hounds
in a dream, every moment increasing their distance from us, and making
them more and more indistinct. Frank Lovell disappears over the brow
of that hill, and I urge White Stockings to overtake my only
companion. He don't seem to go much faster for all that. I strike him
once or twice with my light riding-whip; I shake my reins, and he
comes back into a trot; I rise in my stirrup and rouse his energies in
every way I can think of. I am afraid he must be ill, the trot
degenerates to a jog, a walk; he carries his head further out from him
than is his wont, and treats curb and snaffle with a like disregard
and callousness of mouth. Now he stops altogether, and catching a side
view of his head his eye appears to me more prominent than usual, and
the whole animal seems changed, till I can hardly fancy it is my own
horse. I get a little frightened now, and look round for assistance. I
am quite alone. Hounds, horsemen, all have disappeared; the wide,
dreary, solitary Downs stretch around me, and I begin to have
misgivings as to how I am to get back to Dangerfield Hall. Cousin John
has explained it all to me since.

"Nothing could be simpler, Kate," said he this evening when I handed
him his tea; "you _stopped your horse_. If ladies _will_ go in front
with a loose rein for five-and-forty minutes, 'riding jealous' of such
a first-rate performer as Frank Lovell, it is not an unlikely thing to
happen. If you could have lasted ten minutes longer, you would have
seen them kill their fox. Frank was the only one there, but he assures
me he could not have gone another hundred yards. Never mind, Kate,
better luck next time!"

Well, to return to my day. After a while White Stockings began to
recover himself. I'm sure I didn't know what to do with him. I got
off, and loosened his girths as well as I could, and turned his head
to the wind, and wiped his poor nose with my pocket-handkerchief. I
hadn't any eau-de-Cologne, and if I had it might not have done him
much good. At last he got better, and I got on again (all my life I've
been used to mounting and dismounting without assistance). Thinking
downhill must be the way home, downhill I turned him, and proceeded
slowly on, now running over in my own mind the glorious hour I had
just spent, now wondering whether I should be lost and have to sleep
amongst the Downs; and anon coming back to the old subject, and
resolving that hunting was the only thing to live for, and that for
the future I would devote my whole time and energies to that pursuit.
At last I got into a steep chalky lane, and at a turn a little farther
on espied to my great relief a red-coated back jogging leisurely home.
White Stockings pricked his ears and mended his pace, so I soon
overtook the returning sportsman, who proved to be no other than
Squire Haycock, thrown out like the rest of the Heavy-top gentlemen,
and only too happy to take care of me, and show me the shortest way
(eleven miles as the crow flies) back to Dangerfield Hall.

We jogged on amicably enough, the Squire complimenting me much on my
prowess, and not half so shy as usual--very often the case with a
diffident man when on horseback. We were forced to go very slow, both
our horses being pretty well tired; and to make matters better, we
were caught in a tremendous hailstorm about two miles from home, just
as it was getting dark, and close to the spot where our respective
roads diverged. I could not possibly miss mine, as it was perfectly
straight. Ah! that hailstorm has a deal to answer for. We were forced
to turn through a hand-gate, and take shelter in a friendly wood. What
a ridiculous position, pitch dark, pelting with rain, an elderly
gentleman and a young lady on horseback under a fir tree. The Squire
had been getting more incoherent for some time; I couldn't think what
he was driving at.

"You like our country, Miss Coventry; fine climate, excellent soil,
nice and dry for ladies?"

I willingly subscribed to all these advantages.

"Good neighbourhood," added the Squire; "capital hunting, charming
rides, wonderful scenery for sketching. Do you think you could live in
this part of the world?"

I thought I could if I was to try.

"You expressed your approbation of my house, Miss Coventry," the
Squire proceeded, with his hand on my horse's neck; "do you think--I
mean--should you consider--or rather I should say, is there any
alteration you would suggest--anything in my power--if you would
condescend to ride over any afternoon; may I consider you will so far
favour me?"

I said "I should be delighted, but that it had left off raining, and
it was time for us to get home."

"One word, Miss Coventry," pleaded the Squire with a shaking voice.
"Have I your permission to call upon Lady Horsingham to-morrow?"

I said I thought my aunt would be at home, and expressed my conviction
that she would be delighted to see him, and I wished him good-bye.

"Good-bye, Miss Coventry, good-bye," said the Squire, shaking hands
with a squeeze that crushed my favourite ring into my prettiest
finger; "you have made me _the happiest of men_--good-bye!"

I saw it all in an instant, just as I see it now. The Squire means to
propose for me to-morrow, and he thinks I have accepted him. What
_shall_ I do? _Mrs. Haycock_--Kate Haycock--Catherine Haycock. No, I
can't make it look well, write it how I will; and then, to vow never
to think of any one else; I suppose I mightn't even _speak_ to Frank.
Never, no, never; but what a scrape I have got into, and how I wish
to-morrow was over!



CHAPTER XIII.


My diary continued,--

_Saturday._--Well, it is over at last; and upon my word I begin to
think I am capable of anything after all I have got through to-day
since breakfast. Scarcely had I finished the slice of toast and single
cup of tea that constitute my morning meal, before I heard the tramp
of a horse on the gravel in front of the house, followed by the
ominous sound of the door-bell. I have remarked that in all country
families a ring at the door-bell brings everybody's heart into
everybody's mouth. Aunt Horsingham, brooding over the teapot as usual,
had been in her worst of humours ever since she came down, and tried
to look as if no bell that ever was cast had power to move her grim
resolve.

"A message by electric telegraph," exclaimed Cousin Amelia, who is
always anticipating some catastrophe; "no visitor would ever call at
such a time."

"Unless he came to propose for one of us," suggested John, who was
carving a ham at the side-table.

"Some one on business for _me_, probably," remarked Aunt Horsingham,
drawing herself up and looking more stately than usual.

"Mr. Haycock!" announced the butler, throwing open the door with a
flourish; and while all our untimely visitor's preparations, such as
wiping his shoes, arranging his dress, etc., were distinctly audible
outside, we looked at each other in mute astonishment, and I own I
_did_ feel the guilty one amongst the party.

The Squire made his entrance in a state of intense trepidation. Having
been forcibly deprived of his white hat in the hall, he had nothing
but natural means to resort to for concealment of his confusion. Had
it not been for an enormous silk handkerchief (white spots on a yellow
ground) with which he blew his nose and wiped his brow at short and
startling intervals his condition would have been pitiable in the
extreme. The "Squire's" dress too was of a more florid style than is
usual in these days of sad-coloured attire. A bright blue neckcloth,
well starched, and of great depth and volume; a buff waistcoat, with
massive gilt buttons; a grass-green riding-coat of peculiar shape and
somewhat scanty material; white cord trousers, York tan gaiters, and
enormous double-soled shooting-shoes, pierced and strapped, and
clamped and hobnailed, completing a _tout ensemble_ that almost upset
my aunt's gravity, and made me, nervous as I felt, stuff my
pocket-handkerchief into my mouth that I might not laugh outright.

"Fine morning, Lady Horsingham," observed the Squire, as if he had
come all that distance at this early hour on purpose to impart so
valuable a piece of information--"fine morning, but cold," he
repeated, rubbing his hands together though the perspiration stood on
his brow. "I don't recollect a much finer morning at this time of
year," he resumed, addressing Cousin John after a pause, during which
he had ceremoniously shaken hands with each of us in succession.

"Will you have some breakfast?" asked Lady Horsingham, whose cold and
formal demeanour contrasted strangely with the nervous excitement of
her visitor.

"No, thank you--if you please," answered the Squire in a breath. "I
breakfasted before I left home. Early hours, Lady Horsingham--I think
your ladyship approves of early hours--but I'll ask for a cup of tea,
if you please." So he sat down to a weak cup of lukewarm tea with much
assumed gusto and satisfaction.

It was now time for Cousin Amelia to turn her battery on the Squire;
so she presently attacked him about his poultry and his garden and his
farm, the honest gentleman's absent and inconsequent replies causing
my aunt and John to regard him with silent astonishment, as one who
was rapidly taking leave of his senses; whilst I who knew, or at least
guessed, the cause of his extraordinary behaviour began heartily to
wish myself back in Lowndes Street, and to wonder how this absurd
scene was going to end.

"Your dahlias must have suffered dreadfully from these early frosts,"
said Cousin Amelia, shaking her ringlets at the poor man in what she
fancies her most bewitching style.

"Beautifully," was the bewildered reply, "particularly the
shorthorns."

"You never sent us over the Alderney calf you promised, Mr. Haycock,"
pursued the lady, now adroitly changing her ground. "I begin to think
you are not to be depended on."

"You do me injustice, Miss Horsingham; indeed you do," broke out the
Squire in a white heat and with a deprecating glance at me. "I assure
you I sent over a very fine cutting, with a pot and everything,
directions for matting it in winter and transplanting after a year. If
you never got it I'll discharge my gardener; I will, upon my word."

"I have got such a Cochin China to show you," persisted his tormentor,
determined to renew the charge. "When you've finished breakfast I'll
take you to the poultry-yard if you like."

"Delighted," replied the Squire, looking ruefully around him as if he
meditated instant flight--"delighted, I'm sure; but they haven't
flowered well this year. I'll teach you how to bud them if you like;
but you're aware, Miss Horsingham, that they've no smell."

John could stand it no longer, and was forced to bolt out of the room.
My aunt too rose from the table with something approaching a smile;
and the Squire, screwing his courage to the sticking-place, was
following her into the drawing-room, evidently for a private
interview, when Cousin Amelia, who seemed to have made up her mind to
take bodily possession of him, hurried the visitor off to the
billiard-room, there to engage in a match which would probably last
till luncheon-time. I never saw anything so hopeless as the expression
of the victim's countenance whilst suffering himself to be thus led
into captivity. He did summon courage to entreat "Miss Coventry to
come and mark"--a favour which, notwithstanding my cousin's black
looks, I really had not the heart to refuse him.

Game after game they played, the gentleman apparently abandoning
himself to his fate. Sprawling over the table, making the most
ridiculous blunders in counting, missing the most palpable of cannons,
and failing to effect the easiest of hazards; the lady brandishing her
mace in the most becoming attitudes, drooping her long hair over the
cushions, and displaying the whiteness of her hand and slender
symmetry of her fingers, as she requested her astonished adversary to
teach her "how to make a bridge," or "pocket the red," or "screw it
off the white," and lisped out "how hard it was to be disappointed by
that provoking kiss!" The Squire made one or two futile attempts to
engage me in a game, but Cousin Amelia was determined to have him all
to herself; and as it was getting near the time at which I take Aunt
Deborah her broth--for poor Aunt Deborah, I am sorry to say, is very
ill in bed--I made my escape, and as I ran upstairs heard the
billiard-room bell ring, and Squire Haycock summon up courage to "know
if Lady Horsingham was at leisure, as he wished to see her for five
minutes alone in the drawing-room."

People may say what they like about superstition and credulity and old
women's tales, but I _have_ faith in presentiments. Didn't I get up
from my work and walk to the window at least a dozen times to watch
for Cousin John coming home that wet day two years ago when he broke
his leg with the harriers, and yet he had only gone out for a
morning's canter on the best horse he ever had in his life? Didn't I
feel for eight-and-forty hours as if something too delightful was
going to happen to me the week that Brilliant was bought and sent
home, looking like an angel in a horse's skin? That reminds me I never
go to see him now; I hope I am not inconstant to my old friends. And
what was it but a presentiment that made my heart beat and my knees
knock together when I entered my own room to-day before luncheon and
saw a brown paper parcel on the table, addressed, evidently by the
shop people, to "Miss Coventry, Dangerfield Hall"? How my fingers
trembled as I untied the thread and unfolded the paper; after all, it
was nothing but a packet of worsteds! To be sure, I hadn't ordered any
worsteds, but there might possibly be a note to explain; so I shook
every skein carefully, and turned the covering inside out, that the
document, if there should be one, might not escape my vigilance. How
could my presentiments deceive me? Of course there was a note--after
all, where was the harm? Captain Lovell had most politely sent me all
these worsteds for a cushion I had once talked about working, and very
naturally had enclosed a note to say so; and nothing to my mind could
be kinder or more welcome than the contents. I am not going to say
what they are, of course; though for that matter I easily could, since
I have got the note by me at this moment, and have read it over to-day
besides more than once. After all, there is nothing like a letter. Who
does not remember the first letter received in one's childish days,
written in a fair round text for childish eyes, or perhaps even
_printed_ by the kind and painstaking correspondent for the little
dunce of a recipient. Who has not slept with such a letter carefully
hoarded away under the pillow, that morning's first light might give
positive assurance of the actual existence of our treasure. Nor is the
little urchin the only glad supporter of our admirable postal
institutions. Manly eyes moisten with tears of joy over those faint
delicate lines traced by _her_ hand whose gentle influence has found
the _one_ soft place. Woman hides away in her bosom, close to her
loving heart, the precious scrap which assures her, visibly, tangibly,
unerringly, that he is hers and hers alone. Words may deceive, scenes
of bliss pass away like a dream. Though ever present to the mind it
requires an effort to disentangle the realities of memory from the
illusions of imagination; but a letter is proof positive; there it is
in black and white. You may read it again and again; you may kiss it
as often as you please; you may prize it and study it and pore over
it, and find a new meaning in every fresh perusal, a hidden
interpretation for every magic word. Nothing can unsay it, nothing can
deprive you of it; only don't forget to lock it up carefully, and mind
you don't go leaving about your keys.

I had hardly read my note over a second time before Cousin Amelia
bounced into the room without knocking. I should have locked the door
had I known she was coming; as it was, I had only time to pop the note
into my dress (the seal made a great scratch just below my neck)
before she was upon me, and throwing herself into my arms with a most
unusual excess of affections exclaimed,--

"Give me joy, Kate--give me joy--he's gone to mamma--he's in the
drawing-room with her now--O Kate, what shall I do?"

"My dear Amelia," I exclaimed, as the delightful thought flashed
across me that, after all, the Squire's visit might have been for my
cousin, though I must say I wondered at his taste, "am I to
congratulate you on being Mrs. Haycock? I do indeed from my heart. I
am sure he is an excellent, amiable man, and will make you a capital
husband."

"That he will!" exclaimed Cousin Amelia; "and such a nice place and
gardens, and a very good fortune too. Upon my word, Kate, I begin to
think I'm a lucky girl, though to be sure with my advantages I might
expect to make a good match. He's not so old, Kate, after all; at
least not so old as he looks; and he's very good-tempered, I know,
because his servants say so. I shall alter that tumble-down house of
his, and new-furnish the drawing-room. Of course he'll take me to
London for two or three months every year in the season. I wonder if
he knows about Mr. Johnson--not that I ever _cared_ for _him_--and, of
course, a poor curate like that one couldn't think of it. Do you know,
Kate, I thought his manner was very _odd_ the other day when he dined
here; though he sat next _you_ he kept looking at _me_, and I remarked
once that he coloured up, oh! so red. Poor fellow, I see it all now.
Kate, you shall be one of my bridesmaids--perhaps it will be _your_
turn to be a bride some of these days; who knows!"

Just then Gertrude tapped at the door.

"Miss Coventry, if you please, her ladyship wishes to see you in the
drawing-room."

My cousin's face fell several inches.

"Some mistake, Gertrude," she exclaimed. "It's me isn't it, that mamma
wants?"

"Her ladyship bid me tell Miss Kate she wished to see her
_immediately_," was my maid's reply; so I tripped downstairs with a
beating heart, and crossed the hall just in time to see Squire Haycock
riding leisurely away from the house (though it was bitter cold and a
hard frost, the first of the season), and looking up at the window,
doubtless in hopes of an encouraging wave from the white handkerchief
of his _fiancée_ presumptive.

Short as was the interval between my own door and that of the
drawing-room I had time to run over in my mind the whole advantages
and disadvantages of the flattering proposal which I was now convinced
had been made on my behalf. If I became Mrs. Haycock (and I saw
clearly that I had not mistaken the Squire's meaning on our return
from hunting), I should be at the head of a handsome establishment,
should have a good-tempered, easy-going, pleasant husband, who would
let me do just what I liked and hunt to my heart's content; should
live in the country, and look after the poor, and feed hens and
chickens, and sink down comfortably into a contented old age. I need
not separate from Aunt Deborah, who would never be able to do without
me; and I might, I am sure, turn the Squire with the greatest ease
round my little finger. But then there certainly were great
objections. I could have got over the colour of his hair, though a red
head opposite me every morning would undoubtedly be a trial; but the
freckles! No, I do not think I could do my duty as a wife by a man so
dreadfully freckled. I'm certain I couldn't love him; and if I didn't
love him I oughtn't to marry him, and I thought of the sad, sad tale
of Lucy, Lady Horsingham, whose ghost was now in the nightly habit of
haunting Dangerfield Hall. The struggles that poor thing must have
gone through, the leaden hours of dull, torpid misery, the agonizing
moments of acute remorse, the perpetual spirit-wearing conflict
between duty and inclination, much to the discomfiture of the former;
and the haunting face of Cousin Edward continually rising on that
heated imagination, pleading, reproaching, suing till she loved him,
if possibly more madly in his absence than when he was by her side. I
too was beginning to have a "Cousin Edward" of my own; Frank Lovell's
image was far too often present in my mind. I did not choose to
confess to myself how much I liked him; but the more I reflected on
Mr. Haycock's proposal the more I felt how impossible it would be
never to _think_ of Frank any more.

"No!" I said inwardly, with my hand on the drawing-room door, "I will
_not_ give him up. I have his note even now in my bosom; _he_ cares
for _me_, at any rate. I am happier to-day than I have been for
months, and I will _not_ go and destroy it all with my own hand." I
opened the door, and found myself in the formidable presence of Aunt
Horsingham.

Her ladyship looked colder and more reserved, if possible, than ever.
She motioned me stiffly to take a chair, and plunged at once into the
subject in her dry, measured tones.

"Before I congratulate you, Kate," she began, "on such an unlooked-for
piece of good fortune as has just come to my knowledge, I am bound to
confess, much to my astonishment----"

"Thank you, aunt," I put in; "that's complimentary, at any rate."

"I should wish to say a few words," proceeded my aunt, without heeding
the interruption, "on the duties which will now devolve upon you, and
the line of conduct which I should advise you to pursue in your new
sphere. These hoydenish manners, these ridiculous expeditions, these
scampers all over the country, must be renounced forthwith. Unbecoming
as they are in a young unmarried female, a much stricter sense of
decorum, a vastly different repose and reserve of manner, are
absolutely essential in a wife; and it is as a _wife_, Kate, that I am
now addressing you."

"A wife, aunt!" I exclaimed; "whose, I should like to know?"

"This is an ill-chosen time for jesting, Kate," said my aunt with a
frown. "I cannot congratulate you on your good taste in turning so
important a subject into ridicule. Mr. Haycock has proposed to you;
you have accepted him. Whilst poor Deborah is so ill I am your natural
guardian, and he has with great propriety requested my consent;
although, in the agitation very natural to a man so circumstanced,"
added my aunt, smothering a smile, "it was with some difficulty that I
made out exactly what he meant."

"He _never_ proposed to me; I _never_ accepted him," I broke in,
breathless with agitation. "I never _will_ be his wife, aunt; you had
no right to tell him so. Write to him immediately--send a man off on
horseback to overtake him. I'll put my bonnet on this instant, and
walk every mile of the way myself. He's a true-hearted gentleman, and
I won't have him made a fool of." I walked up and down the room--I
looked Aunt Horsingham full in the face; she was quite cowed by my
vehemence. I felt I was mistress now, while the excitement lasted, and
she gave in; she even wrote a note to the Squire at my dictation--she
dispatched it by a special messenger--she did everything I told her,
and never so much as ventured on remonstrance or reproach; but she
will never forgive me to her dying hour. There is no victory so
complete as that which one obtains over a person who is always
accustomed to meet with fear and obedience. Aunt Horsingham rules her
household with a rod of iron; nobody ever ventures to disagree with
her, or so much as to hint an opinion contrary to those which she is
known to hold. Such a person is so astonished at resistance as to be
incapable of quelling it; the very hardihood of the rebellion ensures
its success. When I walked out of the drawing-room to-day I felt that
for once I had obtained the victory in a contest with my aunt; that in
future I should no longer be the "wild, troublesome Kate," the "black
sheep" of the family, the scapegoat on whom were laid the faults and
misdemeanours of all, but the master-spirit, the bold, resolute woman,
whose value others were able to appreciate, and who was ready and
willing to assert her own independence. In the meantime poor Aunt
Deborah had to be informed of what had taken place, and Cousin Amelia
to be undeceived in her groundless expectations. That the latter would
never forgive me I was well enough acquainted with my own sex to be
assured; but the task required to be done, notwithstanding. Flushed
with my triumph, with heightened colour and flashing eyes, I stalked
off towards my chamber and met Cousin John in the hall.

"Good heavens, Kate, what is the matter? What has happened?" exclaimed
John in obvious perturbation.

"A piece of news!" was my reply; "a conquest, John! What do you think?
Mr. Haycock has just been here, and _proposed_ for me!"

He flushed up all over his face and temples, and then turned deadly
pale; even his lips were quite white and wide apart. How they quivered
as he tried to speak unconcernedly! And after all he got out nothing
but, "Well, Kate?"

"And I have refused him, John," I said quietly, but in a tone that
showed him there was no mistake about it.

"God bless you, Kate!" was all he replied, and turned away muttering
something about "wet things" and his "dressing-room;" but he was going
to the wrong door, and had to turn back, though he took care not to
let me see his face again.

I can't make John out. At dinner he was just as if nothing had
happened; but at all events I'm glad I've refused Mr. Haycock; so I
shall read Frank's note over once more and then go to bed.



CHAPTER XIV.


I need quote no more from my diary, as the next few days offered no
incident worthy of recording to break the monotony of our life at
Dangerfield Hall. Drearier than ever it was, and more especially to
me; for I felt that, although undeclared, there was "war to the knife"
between myself, my aunt, and cousin. The latter scarcely spoke to me
at all; and my aunt, whose defeat was rankling bitterly in her heart,
merely took such sullen notice of me as was absolutely necessitated by
the laws of hospitality and the usages of society. Poor Aunt Deborah
required to be kept very quiet and free from all worries and
annoyances. "The more she slept," the doctor said, "the sooner she
would get well enough to move to London for further advice;" so I had
not even her to talk to--there was no hunting--the frost got harder
and harder--that obstinate weather-cock over the stables kept veering
from north to north-east--the grooms went to exercise wrapped up in
greatcoats and shawl handkerchiefs, and stayed out as short a time as
was compatible with the mildest stable discipline; there would be no
change of the moon for a week, and it was obvious that I should have
but little use for Brilliant and White Stockings before our return to
town.

Oh! the hopelessness of a real bitter black frost coming on early in
the season, especially when you are not at your own home and your time
is limited; to get up morning after morning with the faint hope that
the change may have come at last; to see the dry slates and the clear
horizon and the iron-bound earth, and to ascertain in your own proper
person that the water gets colder and colder every day. You puzzle
over the almanac till your eyes ache, and study the thermometer till
you get a crick in your neck. You watch the smoke from every farmhouse
and cottage within your ken, and still, after curling high up into the
pure, rarefied atmosphere, it floats hopelessly away to the southward
and corroborates the odious dog-vane that you fondly imagined might
have got stuck in its northerly direction. You walk out and ask every
labourer you meet whether he "does not think we are going to have a
change?" The man looks up from his work, wonders at your solicitude,
opines "the gentry folk have queer ways," but answers honestly enough,
according to his convictions, in the negative--perhaps giving some
local reasons for his opinion, which, if an old man, he will tell you
he has never known to fail. Lastly, you quarrel with every one of your
non-hunting friends, whose unfeeling observations on "fine seasonable
weather" and "healthy, bracing frosts" you feel to be brutal in the
extreme.

How I hated the frost at Dangerfield! My only chance of meeting with
Frank Lovell was out hunting. I had written him an answer to his note
(I have often heard Aunt Horsingham say that nothing is so inexcusable
as not to answer a letter), and I had no possible means of delivering
it. I could not put it in the bag, for my aunt keeps the key. I did
not like to entrust it to any of the servants, and my own maid is the
last person in whose power I should choose to place myself. I did once
think of asking Cousin John to give it to Frank, and throwing myself
on kind, good John's generosity, and confessing everything to him, and
asking for his advice; but somehow I could not bring myself to it. If
he had been my brother, nothing would have been easier; but John is
only a cousin, and one or two little things of late had made me
suspect that he liked me even better than cousins generally do; so
altogether I thought I would leave it alone--besides, John was going
off to shoot pheasants in Wales. The third morning of the frost he
came down to breakfast in a suit of wondrous apparel that I knew meant
a move in some direction, and I attacked him accordingly.

"Is that killing 'get-up' entirely for our benefit, John?" I asked;
"or are you bound on some expedition that requires more fascinations
than common?"

John coloured--he has taken to blushing lately. "I'm going down to
Wales for a few days' shooting, Kate," was his reply. "I shall come
back again when the frost breaks up if Lady Horsingham will be good
enough to receive me." Aunt Horsingham is always very civil to John,
and so is Cousin Amelia. People generally are to young bachelors. I
wonder why men ever marry; they are so much more in request without
wives and children.

"Always happy to see _you_," said Aunt Horsingham, with an emphasis on
the pronoun. "By-the-way, what is your address in Wales, that I may
forward your letters?"

John looked rather guilty as he handed an envelope to my aunt and
begged her to copy it exactly.

"I can't pronounce the name of my friend Lloyd's place," he said, "but
you'll find it written there in seven consonants and one vowel."

"Lloyd!" said I--"Lloyd! Wasn't there a pretty Miss Lloyd you used to
dance with last season in London? John! John! I've found you out at
last. Now I can account for the splendour of your attire. Now I can
see why you post off to Wales in such a hurry, leaving your horses and
your hunting and your cousin, sir, for the _beaux yeux_ of Miss
Fanny--isn't that her name? Well, John, I give you joy; she is a
pretty girl, even in London, and Aunt Deborah says she's a fortune."

John looked so distressed I didn't like to pursue the subject. I
couldn't think what had come over him--he never spoke another word to
me till he jumped into his dog-cart to be off, and then he only
muttered "Goodbye, Kate" in a hoarse whisper, but he wrung my hand
very hard, and I even thought there were tears in his eyes! He is a
good fellow, John; I was sorry to think I might have said anything to
hurt his feelings.

After he went away it was drearier than ever. What could I do but
think of Frank Lovell, and wonder when I should see him again? Where
could he be? Perhaps at the inn at Muddlebury. I could see the smoke
of the town from the breakfast-room windows, and used to watch it with
a painful interest. Every time a servant came into the room I thought
something impossible was going to happen. If a carriage drove up to
the house--if a horse's tramp was heard in the approach--if the
door-bell rung, I fancied it must be Captain Lovell coming to
call--perhaps to explain everything--possibly to request an interview
with my aunt, such as Squire Haycock had undergone, "but," as I said
to myself with a beating heart, "to have a very different result." If
the dwelling solely on one idea be a species of madness, then was I
undoubtedly mad--nothing was so wild and extravagant as to appear
impossible to my heated fancy. I was always expecting and always
disappointed.

The fourth morning I got a letter from Mrs. Lumley, which did not add
much to my composure or comfort. Why is it ladies have such a knack of
making each other miserable equally by letter as by word of mouth? I
give the epistle of Mrs. Lumley verbatim, omitting only the dashes and
notes of admiration with which it was studded:--

  "MY DEAREST DEAR KATE,--Here we are settled at Brighton, much to
  the benefit of my poor, dear husband, whom you have never seen, but
  who knows you well by name, and have everything, even the weather,
  all we can wish. The only drawback to me is the loss of your
  charming society and the absence of your dear, merry face.

  "I am leading a highly virtuous and praiseworthy life, and have not
  done the least bit of mischief since I came here, except making the
  Dean's wife jealous, which I can hardly call a crime, as she is a
  vulgar little woman with a red nose and a yellow bonnet--the Dean
  is a fat, good-natured man, and calls here nearly every day. His
  wife abuses me in all societies, and tries to pass me without
  speaking. You know how I always return good for evil, so I go up and
  shake hands with her, and ask after her dear children, and patronize
  her till I make her so angry she don't know which way to look--it's
  rather good fun in such a slow place as this. My time is fully
  occupied nursing 'my old man,' who was very ill before we came here,
  and can only go out in a pony-carriage for an hour or two at a time;
  so I have brought the ponies down and drive him myself.

  "The only chance the brown mare has of a gallop is in the mornings,
  though next week I mean to have a day with the harriers; indeed,
  they have appointed them at a good place on purpose for me. I
  inspected the regiment of Dragoons quartered here yesterday morning;
  they were at exercise on the Downs, and as the Gitana (my brown
  mare) always behaves well with troops, which my enemies would affirm
  is more than can be said of her mistress, I am able to report upon
  their general appearance and efficiency. Such a set of 'gigs,' my
  dear, I never saw in my life; large underbred horses, and not a
  good-looking man amongst them. The officers are, if possible, more
  hideous than the privates; and they never give balls or theatricals
  or anything, so we need waste no more words upon them.

  "I am improving my mind, though, vastly, picking up shells for my
  little cousins, and perfecting my education besides by learning to
  swim. I wish you were here--what fun we would have enacting the
  part of mermaids! though I fear the cold will now put a stop to my
  aquatic exploits. The other morning I swam nearly two hundred yards
  on a stretch; and the tide having taken me out of my reckoning, I
  brought up, as the sailors say, opposite the gentlemen's
  bathing-machines. What could I do? It was as impossible to walk
  along the beach as to fight back against the current. Presence of
  mind, Kate, is the salient point of the heroic character; the door
  of a machine was open, and I popped in. My dear, there were all his
  clothes, his hair-brush, his button-hook, his wig, and, would you
  believe it? an instrument for curling his whiskers! I put everything
  on except the wig, crowned myself with his broad-brimmed white hat,
  felt in his pockets, which were full of gold and silver, and, to my
  credit be it said, only selected one shilling, with which I paid the
  bathing-man, and walked off undiscovered to my own machine. The fat
  old she-triton laughed till she cried. I dressed in my proper
  costume leisurely enough, and was amused to hear afterwards of the
  luckless plight in which a stout gentleman had found himself by the
  temporary loss of all his apparel whilst he was disporting in 'the
  briny.'

  "Other adventures I have had none; and the contrast is, as you may
  believe, somewhat striking after the last two or three weeks of the
  London season--always, to my mind, the pleasantest part of the
  year. I was sorry you left town when you did; we had such a number
  of charming little dinners and expeditions in our own set. Dear
  Frank Lovell was the life and soul of us all. I never knew him in
  such spirits--quite like a boy out of school; and there were few
  days that we did not meet either at Greenwich or Richmond, or
  Windsor or Vauxhall; and of course wherever _he_ went there was Lady
  Scapegrace. I must say that, although nobody can accuse me of being
  a prude, the way she goes on with Frank is rather too brazen-faced
  even for _her_--taking him everywhere in her carriage, setting him
  down at his club after the opera, walking with him in Kensington
  Gardens, his cab always at the door, and her ladyship 'not at home'
  even to me. To be sure, he is almost as bad, if it is true, as
  everybody says it is, that he is to marry Miss Molasses.

  "Poor Frank! he must get hold of somebody with money, or he will
  soon be in the Bench. He is rather a friend of yours, my dear, so I
  ought not to abuse him; but he is _very wild_, and though extremely
  agreeable, I am afraid utterly unprincipled. I do not believe,
  however, that he cares one snap of the fingers for Lady Scapegrace,
  or Miss Molasses either, for the matter of that. I meant to have
  written you a long letter; but my stupid servants have let the Dean
  in, and I hear his cough at this moment on the stairs--he is sadly
  out of wind before he reaches the first landing. I think even my
  poor 'old man' would beat him at even weights a hundred yards along
  the beach. As I shall not get rid of him under an hour, and the post
  will by that time be gone out, I must wish you good-bye.--Ever my
  dearest Kate's most affectionate

                                                 "M. L."

I threw the letter on the floor, and stamped upon it with my feet. And
was this the end of all? To have brooded and pined, and made myself
miserable and well-nigh broken my heart day by day for a man that was
to prove so utterly unworthy as this! To have been thrown over for a
Lady Scapegrace! or, worse still, to have allowed even to myself that
I cared for one who was ready and willing to be sold to a Miss
Molasses.

"Too degrading!" I thought. "No, I'll never care for him again; the
dream is over. What a fool I've been! And yet--why did he send his
horses down to Muddlebury? Why did he serenade me that night from the
Park? Why is he not now with his dear Lady Scapegrace at Scamperly,
where I see by the _Morning Post_ Sir Guy is 'entertaining a party of
fashionables during the frost'? No! I will not give him up quite yet."

On reading her letter over again, which I did many times during the
day, I found a ray of comfort in my voluble correspondent's own
opinion that Frank did not himself care a pin for either of the
ladies, to both of whom the world gave him so unhesitatingly. Well,
that was something, at any rate. As for his wildness and his debts,
and his recklessness and many escapades, I liked him none the worse
for these--what woman ever did? I thought it all over during the whole
day, and by the time that I opened my window for my usual lookout into
the night before going to bed, I am afraid I felt more inclined than
ever to forgive him all that had gone before, and more determined to
find some means of forwarding him the answer I had written to his
note, and which I had been so many times on the point of burning
during the day.

What a bitter cold night it was!--yet the keen north wind felt
pleasant and refreshing on my fevered forehead. There had been a
sprinkling of snow too since sunset, and the open surface of the Park
was completely whitened over--how cheerless and desolate it looked! I
hadn't the heart to stay very long at the window; it reminded me too
much of the pleasant evenings one short week ago. I felt weary and
desponding, and drowsy with uncertainty and unhappiness, so I was in
the act of shutting down the window, when I saw a dark figure moving
rapidly across the snow in the direction of the house. Not for an
instant did I mistake it for a deer, or a gamekeeper, or a poacher, or
a housebreaker. From the moment I set eyes on it, something told me it
must be Frank Lovell; and though I shrunk back that he might not see
me, I watched him with painful anxiety and a beating heart. He seemed
to know his way quite well. He came straight to the moat, felt his way
cautiously for a step or two, and finding the ice would bear him,
crossed at once, and took up a position under my window, not twenty
feet from where I was standing.

He must have seen my shadow across the candle-light, for he whispered
my name.

"Miss Coventry--Kate! Only one word." What could I do? Poor fellow! he
had walked all that distance in the cold and the snow only for one
word--and this was the man I had been doubting and misjudging all day!
Why, of course, though I know it was very wrong and very improper and
all that, of course I spoke to him, and listened to what he had to
say, and carried on a long conversation, the effect of which was
somewhat ludicrous, in consequence of the distance between the
parties, question and answer requiring to be _shouted_, as it were, in
a whisper. The night too was clouding over, more snow was falling, and
it was getting so dark I could not see Frank, even at the distance of
twelve or fourteen feet, and it could not have been much more between
my bedroom window and the ground.

"Did you get my note?" said he with sundry complimentary expressions.

"Here's the answer," was my practical reply, as I dropped my own
missive into the darkness.

I know he caught it, because--because--_I heard him kiss it_. At that
moment I was aware of a step in the passage, a hand on my door. Down
went my window in a twinkling, out went my candles--the wick of the
second one would keep glimmering like a light far off at sea--and in
came Aunt Horsingham, clad in flannel attire, with a wondrous
head-dress, the like of which I have never beheld before or since,
just as I popped into bed, and buried myself beneath the clothes as if
I had been asleep for hours.

"Where can it be, Kate?" said my aunt. "I have been in every room
along the passage to find out where the light comes from. I saw it
distinctly from my own room, streaming across the moat; there might be
thieves in the house," added my aunt, looking valiant even in flannel,
"or some of the men-servants carousing, but I have been in every room
on the ground floor myself; and then I thought perhaps you might be
sitting up reading."

"Reading, aunt? Oh dear, no! I assure you I wasn't reading," I
answered, every nerve racked with suspense, lest Frank should get
impatient and wonder what had become of me--perhaps throw a snowball
up at the window to attract my attention.

"What o'clock is it?" I added with a feigned yawn. "I think I must
have been asleep for hours."

As if to punish me for this gratuitous perversion of the truth, the
words were hardly out of my mouth when I heard a loud crack on the
ice, and a splash as of the sudden immersion of some daring
adventurer; then all was still--the snow-flakes fell softly against
the window panes. My aunt, shading her candle with her long hand,
talked drowsily on; and finally persisted in my coming to sleep with
her in her own room, as she said I was "the only person in the house
that had the nerves of a hen." I would have given all I was worth in
the world to have one more look out of the open window, though even
then it might be too late. I would willingly have walked barefoot in
the snow all the way to Muddlebury, only to know he was safe back at
the inn. For a moment I thought of confessing everything and alarming
the house, but I had _not_ courage; so I followed my aunt to her room,
and lay awake that livelong night in such a state of agony and
suspense as I hope I may never have to endure again.



CHAPTER XV.


It may easily be believed that I took an early walk next morning
before breakfast. No sooner had I made my escape from Aunt
Horsingham's room, than, in utter defiance of the cold thaw just
commencing, I put my bonnet on and made the best of my way to the
moat. Sure enough, large fragments of ice were floating about where
the surface had been broken, close to the side farthest from the Hall.
There were footprints on the snow though, leading away through the
Park in the direction of Muddlebury, and I came back to breakfast with
a heart lightened of at least half its load. We were to return to
London immediately. Aunt Deborah, pale and reduced, but undoubtedly
better, was able to appear at breakfast, and Lady Horsingham, now that
we were really about to take leave of her, seemed to value our
society, and to be sorry to part with us.

"My dear Deborah, I trust you are well wrapped up for this cold raw
day," said our hostess, pressing on her departing guest all kinds of
provision for the journey. "I have ordered them to put up a paper of
sandwiches and some sherry, and a few biscuits and a bottle of
peppermint-water."

"And, Aunt Deborah," put in Cousin Amelia, "here's a comforter I've
made you myself, and a box of cayenne lozenges for your throat; and
don't forget the stone jug of hot water for your poor feet; and mind
you write directly you arrive--you or Kate," she added, turning to
address me almost for the first time since the memorable mistake about
Squire Haycock.

Aunt Deborah was completely overpowered by so much kindness.

"You'd better have the carriage all to yourself--you and your maid,"
persisted Lady Horsingham. "I'll drive Kate as far as the station in
the pony-carriage.--Kate, you're not afraid to trust yourself with me
in the pony-carriage?"

"Not I, indeed, aunt," was my reply, "nor with anybody else, for that
matter. I've pretty good nerves--there are few things that I am afraid
of."

"Indeed, Kate, I fear it is so," was my aunt's reply. "I own I should
like to see you a little more of a coward."

So it was settled that Aunt Deborah and Gertrude being safely packed
up in the close carriage, I should accompany Lady Horsingham, who was
rather proud of her charioteering skill, and drove stiff and upright,
as if she had swallowed the poker--never looking to the right or left,
or allowing her attention to wander for an instant from the ponies she
had undertaken to control.

Now, these said ponies had been doing nothing during the frost except
consuming their three feeds a day with vigorous appetite and a
considerable accession of high spirits. Consequently they were, what
is termed in stable language, very much "above themselves"--a state of
self-exaltation which they demonstrated by sundry unbecoming squeaks
and gambols as soon as they found themselves fairly started on their
journey. Tiny, the youngest and handsomest, would persist in shying,
plunging, and swerving against the pole, much to the demoralization of
his comrade, Mouse, a stiff-built little fellow with a thick neck, who
was ordinarily extremely well-behaved, but apt on occasions like the
present to lower his rebellious little head and defy all control.

Lady Horsingham was tolerably courageous, but totally destitute of
what is termed "hand," a quality as necessary in driving as in riding,
particularly with fractious or high-spirited horses. The seat of a
pony-carriage, besides, is not a position from which a Jehu has much
command over the animals in front of him; and although, as I have
repeatedly said, I am not nervous, I had earned sufficient experience
in the ways of the equine race to know that we might easily be placed
in a position of some peril should anything occur to excite the
mischievous propensities of either of the specimens now gambolling
before us. More accidents have happened out of pony-carriages than all
other descriptions of vehicle put together.

It is said that in the olden and golden days of the road the usual
death of a "long coachman" was to be pitched out of a gig; and
doubtless that two-wheeled conveniency, particularly when going at any
pace, is capable of arriving at a large proportion of grief. But even
a gig, if properly constructed, admits of the driver having a certain
amount of control over his horse; he is well above the animal, and can
get a good purchase to pull him up from, when the acceleration is
becoming dangerous, or there is a tendency to the grosser
insubordination of a "kicking match." Not so in a pony-carriage: low
down upon the ground, even under their very heels, you are completely
at the mercy of your team; and the facility of egress in the event of
a runaway only tempts you to the fatal expedient of jumping
out--another form of expression for "certain death."

To be sure, if people will but sit still, there is no reason why they
should be much alarmed, as an "upset" from so low an elevation need
not necessarily produce any very serious results. But they never
_will_ sit still--at least they won't in nine cases out of ten, and
the consequence is that whilst newspaper columns are filled with
"horrid accidents" and "frightful occurrences," based on the fact of
the "unfortunate sufferer taking an airing in his or her
pony-carriage," many an elderly lady and cautious gentleman is not to
be persuaded into entering one of these little conveyances, but
prefers the slow and sure travelling of his or her own respectable
feet.

Well, Lady Horsingham seemed rather uncomfortable on her driving-seat,
although far too proud to acknowledge so derogatory a feeling. We had
no servant with us; and when I suggested that we might as well take
one of the stablemen to open the gates, my proposal was met with
derision and contempt.

"I should have thought such a masculine lady as yourself, Kate, would
have been above requiring any assistance. I am always in the habit of
driving these ponies quite by myself; but of course, if _you're
afraid_, I'll have a groom to go with us immediately."

_Afraid_, indeed! I scouted the idea: my blood was up, and I almost
hoped something would happen, that I might fling the word in my aunt's
teeth, and ask her, "Who's _afraid_ now?" It came sooner than I
bargained for.

The ponies were pulling hard, and had got their mouths so thoroughly
set against my aunt's iron hand, that she might as well have been
driving with a pair of halters for any power she had over them, when a
rush of colts in an adjoining paddock on one side of the lane, and a
covey of partridges "whirring up" out of a turnip-field on the other,
started them both at the same moment. My aunt gave a slight scream,
clutched at her reins with a jerk; down went the ponies' heads, and we
were off, as hard as ever they could lay legs to the ground, along a
deep-rutted narrow lane, with innumerable twistings and turnings in
front of us, for a certainty, and the off-chance of a wagon and bell
team blocking up the whole passage before we could emerge upon the
high road.

"Lay hold, Kate!" vociferated my aunt, pulling for her very life, with
the veins on her bare wrists swelling up like whipcord. "Gracious
goodness! can't you stop 'em? There's a gravel-pit not half a mile
farther on! I'll jump out! I'll jump out!"

My aunt began kicking her feet clear of the sundry wraps and shawls,
and the leather apron that kept our knees warm, though I must do her
the justice to say that she still tugged hard at the reins. I saw such
an expedient would be certain death, and I wound one arm round her
waist, and held her forcibly down in her seat, while with the other I
endeavoured to assist her in the hopeless task of stopping the runaway
ponies. Everything was against us: the ground was slightly on the
decline; the thaw had not yet reached the sheltered road we were
travelling, and the wheels rung against its frozen surface as they
spun round with a velocity that seemed to add to the excitement of our
flying steeds. Ever and anon we bounded and bumped over some rut or
inequality that was deeper than usual. Twice we were within an inch of
the ditch; once, for an awful hundred yards, we were balancing on two
wheels; and still we went faster and faster than ever. The trees and
hedges wheeled by us; the gravel road streamed away behind us. I began
to get giddy and to lose my strength. I could hardly hope to hold my
aunt in much longer, and now she began to struggle frightfully, for we
were nearing the gravel-pit turn! Ahead of us was a comfortable fat
farmer, jogging drowsily to market in his gig. I can see his broad,
well-to-do back now. What would I have given to be seated, I had
almost said _enthroned_, by his side? What a smash if we had touched
him! I pulled frantically at the off-rein, and we just cleared his
wheel. He said something; I could not make out what. I was nearly
exhausted, and shut my eyes, resigning myself to my fate, but still
clinging to my aunt. I think that if ever that austere woman was near
fainting it was on this occasion. I just caught a glimpse of her
white, stony face and fixed eyes; her terror even gave me a certain
confidence. A figure in front of us commenced gesticulating and
shouting and waving its hat. The ponies slackened their pace, and my
courage began to revive.

"Sit still," I exclaimed to my aunt as I indulged them with a good
strong "give-and-take" pull.

The gravel-pit corner was close at hand, but the figure had seized the
refractory little steeds by their heads, and though I shook all over,
and felt really frightened now the danger was past, I knew that we
were safe, and that we owed our safety to a tall, ragged cripple with
a crutch and a bandage over one eye.

My aunt jumped out in a twinkling, and the instant she touched _terra
firma_ put her hand to her side, and began to sob and gasp and pant,
as ladies will previous to an attack of what the doctors call
"hysteria." She leant upon the cripple's shoulder, and I observed a
strange, roguish sparkle in his unbandaged eye. Moreover, I remarked
that his hands were white and clean, and his figure, if he hadn't been
such a cripple, would have been tall and active.

"What shall I do?" gasped my aunt. "I won't get in; nothing shall
induce me to get in again. Kate, give this good man half a crown. What
a providential escape! He ought to have a sovereign. Perhaps ten
shillings will be enough. How am I to get back? I'll walk all the way
rather than get in."

"But, aunt," I suggested, "at any rate I must get to the station. Aunt
Deborah is sure to think something has happened, and she ought not to
be frightened till she gets stronger. How far is it to the station? I
think I should not mind driving the ponies on."

In the meantime the fat farmer whom we had passed so rapidly had
arrived at the scene of action, his anxiety not having induced him in
the slightest degree to increase the jog-trot pace at which all his
ideas seemed to travel. He knew Lady Horsingham quite well, and now
sat in his gig with his hat off, wiping his fat face, and expatiating
on the narrow escape her ladyship had made, but without offering the
slightest suggestion or assistance whatever.

At this juncture the cripple showed himself a man of energy.

"Your ladyship had best go home with this gentleman," said he,
indicating the fat farmer, "if the young lady is not afraid to go on.
I can take care of her as far as the railway, if it's not too great a
liberty, and bring the ponies back to the Hall afterwards, my lady?"
with an interrogative snatch at his ragged hat.

It seemed the best thing to be done under the circumstances. My aunt,
after much demurring and another incipient attack of the hysterics,
consented to entrust herself to the fat farmer's guidance, not,
however, until she was assured that his horse was both blind and
broken-winded. I put Mouse's bridle down on the lower bar instead of
the cheek, on which he had previously been driven. My aunt climbed
into the gig; I mounted the pony-carriage, the cripple took his seat
deferentially by my side, and away we went on our respective journeys;
certainly in a mode which we had little anticipated when we left the
front door at Dangerfield Hall.

My preserver sat half in and half out of the carriage, leaning his
white, well-shaped hand upon the splashboard. The bandaged side of his
face was towards me. The ponies went quietly enough; they had enjoyed
their gallop, and were, I think, a little blown. I had leisure to take
a good survey of my companion. When we had thus travelled for a
quarter of a mile in silence he turned his face towards me. We looked
at each other for about half a minute, and then both burst out
laughing.

"You didn't know me, Miss Coventry! not the least in the world,"
exclaimed the cripple, pulling the bandage off his face, and showing
another eye quite as handsome as the one that had previously been
uncovered.

"How could you do so, Captain Lovell?" was all I could reply.
"Conceive if my aunt had found you out, or even if any one should
recognize you now. What would people think of _me_? But how did you
know we were going to London to-day, and how could you tell the ponies
would run away?"

"Never mind how I knew your movements, Miss Coventry," was the reply.
"Kate! may I call you Kate? it's such a soft, sweet name," he added,
now sitting altogether _inside_ the carriage, which certainly was a
small one for two people. "You don't know how I've watched for you,
and waited and prowled about, during the last few days. You don't know
how anxious I've been only for one word--even one look. I've spent
hours out on the Down just to see the flutter of your white dress as
you went through the shrubbery--even at that distance it was something
to gaze at you and know you were there. Last night I crossed the ice
under your window."

"You did indeed!" I replied with a laugh; "and what a ducking you must
have got!"

Frank laughed too, and resumed. "I was sadly afraid that your aunt
might have found out you were holding a parley with the enemy outside
the walls. I knew you were to go to London to-day. I thought very
likely you might be annoyed, and put under surveillance on my account,
and I was resolved to see you, if only for one moment; so I borrowed
these ragged garments of a professional beggar, who I believe is a
great deal better off in reality than myself, and I determined to
watch for your carriage and trust to chance for a word, or even a
glance of recognition. She has befriended me more than I could expect.
At first, when I saw 'Aunt Deborah' alone in the chariot, it flashed
across me that perhaps you were to stay _en penitence_ at Dangerfield.
But I knew Lady Horsingham had a pony-carriage. I also knew--or what
would be the use of servants?--that it was ordered this morning; so I
stumped gaily along the road, thinking that at all events I might have
an opportunity of saying three words to you at the station whilst the
servants were putting the luggage on, and the dear aunts, who I
presume cherish a mutual hatred, were wishing each other a tender
farewell. But that such a chance as this runaway should befriend me
was more than I ever dared to hope for, and that I should be sitting
next _you_, Kate (and _so close_, I'm sure he might have added), in
Lady Horsingham's pony-phaeton is a piece of good luck that in my
wildest moments I never so much as dreamt of. We scarcely ever meet
now. There--you needn't drive so fast; the up-train don't go by till
the half-hour, and every minute is precious, at least to _me_. We are
kept sadly apart, Kate. If you can bear it, I can't. I should like to
be near you always--always to watch over you and worship you. Confound
that pony! he's off again."

Sure enough, Tiny was indulging in more vagaries, as if he meditated a
second fit of rebellion; and what with holding him and humouring
Mouse, and keeping my head down so as to hide my face from Frank, for
I didn't want him to see how I was blushing, I am sure I had enough to
do.

"Kate, you must really have pity on me," pursued Frank. "You don't
know how miserable I am sometimes (I wonder what he wanted me to
say?), or how happy you have it in your power to make me. Here we are
at that cursed station, and my dream is over. I must be the cripple
and the beggar once more--a beggar I am indeed, Kate, without your
affection. When shall we meet again, and where?"

"In London," was all I could answer.

"And you won't forget me, Kate?" pleaded poor Frank, looking so
handsome, poor fellow.

"_Never_," I replied, and before I knew how it was, I found myself
standing on the platform with Aunt Deborah and the servants and the
luggage. The great green engine was panting and gasping in front of
me, but ponies and pony-carriage and cripple had all vanished like a
dream.

As we steamed on to London I sometimes thought it _was_ a dream, not
altogether a pleasant one, nor yet exactly the reverse. I should have
liked my admirer to have been a little more explicit. It is all very
well to talk of being miserable and desperate, and to ring the changes
of meeting and parting, and looks and sighs, and all that; but after
all the real question is, "Will you?" or "Won't you?" and I don't
think a man is acting very fairly towards a girl who don't put the
case in that way at once before he allows himself to run into
rhapsodies about his feelings and his sufferings and such matters,
which, after all, lead to nothing, or at least to nothing
satisfactory. To be sure, men are strange creatures, and upon my word
I sometimes think they are more troubled with shyness than our own
sex. Perhaps it's their diffidence that makes them hesitate so, and,
as it were, "beat about the bush," when they have only got to "flush
the bird" and shoot it at once and put it in the game-bag. Perhaps
it's their pride for fear of being refused. Now, I think it's far more
creditable to a man to wear the willow, and take to _men dinners_ and
brandy-and-water for a month or six weeks, than to break a girl's
heart for a whole year; and I know it takes nearly that time for a
well-brought-up young lady to get over a _real_ matrimonial
disappointment. However, shy or not shy, they certainly ought to be
explicit. It's too bad to miss a chance because we cannot interpret
the metaphor in which some bashful swain thinks it decorous to couch
his proposals; and I once knew a young lady who, happening to dislike
needlework, and replying in the negative to the insidious question,
"Can you sew a button?" never knew for months that she had actually
declined a man she was really fond of, with large black whiskers, and
two-and-twenty hundred a year. Women can't be too cautious.



CHAPTER XVI.


I was not sorry to be once again fairly settled in Lowndes Street.
Even in the winter London has its charms. People don't watch
everything you do or carp at everything you say. If there is more
apparent constraint, there is more real liberty than in the country.
Besides, you have so much society, and everybody is so much pleasanter
in the metropolis during December than July. The frost had set in
again harder than ever. Brilliant and White Stockings, like
"Speir-Adam's steeds," were compelled to "bide in stall." John was
lingering at the Lloyds or elsewhere in the Principality, though
expected back every day. Aunt Deborah was still weak, and had only
just sufficient energy to forbid Captain Lovell the house, and insist
on my never speaking to him. I can't think what she had found out or
what Aunt Horsingham had told her; but this I know, that if ever I
have a daughter, and I don't want her to like Mr. Dash, or to be
continually thinking about him, I shall not forbid her to speak to
him; nor shall I take every opportunity of impressing on her that he
is wild, unprincipled, reckless, and dissipated, and that the only
redeeming points about him are his agreeable conversation and his good
looks. Altogether, I should have been somewhat dull had it not been
for Mrs. Lumley; but of that vivacious lady I saw a good deal, and I
confess took a far greater pleasure in her society than on our first
acquaintance I should have esteemed possible. When I am ill at ease
with myself, not thoroughly satisfied with my own conduct, I always
like the society of _fast_ people; their liberality of sentiment and
general carelessness of demeanour convey no tacit reproach on my own
want of restraint, and I feel more at home with them than with such
severe moralists as Aunt Horsingham or hypocritical Cousin Amelia. So
I drove and shopped and visited with Mrs. Lumley--nay, I was even
permitted as a great favour to dine with her on one or two occasions,
Aunt Deborah only stipulating that there should be no male addition to
the party except Mr. Lumley himself, or, as the lady of the house
termed him, "her old man."

I confess I liked the "old man," and so I think in her own way did his
wife. Why she married him I cannot think, more particularly as he had
not then succeeded to the comfortable fortune they now enjoy: he was
little, old, ugly, decrepit, and an invalid, but he was good nature
and contentment personified. I believe he had great talents--for all
his want of physical beauty he had a fine head--but these talents were
wholly and unsparingly devoted to one pursuit: he was an entomologist.
With a black beetle and a microscope he was happy for the day. Piles
upon piles of manuscripts had he written upon the forms and
classification of the bluebottle fly. He could tell you how many legs
are flourished by the house-spider, and was thoroughly versed in the
anatomy of the common gnat. This pursuit, or science as he called it,
engrossed his whole attention. It was fortunate he had such an
absorbing occupation, inasmuch as his general debility prevented his
entering into any amusement out of doors. His wife and he seemed to
understand each other perfectly.

"My dear," he would say when listening to some escapade that it would
have been scarcely prudent to trust to most husbands' ears, "I never
interfere with your butterflies, and you never trouble yourself about
mine. I must, however, do myself the justice to observe that you get
tired of your insects infinitely the soonest of the two."

He never inquired where she went or what she did, but late or early
always received her with the same quiet welcome, the same sly,
good-humoured smile. I firmly believe that with all her levity,
whatever scandal might say, she was a good wife to him. He trusted her
implicitly; and I think she felt his confidence deserved to be
respected. Such was not the opinion of the world, I am well aware; but
we all know the charitable construction it is so eager to put on a
fair face with a loud laugh and a good set of teeth. Dear me! if he
looked for a lady that had never been _talked about_, Cæsar might have
searched London for a wife in vain. Good Mr. Lumley professed a great
affection for me, and would occasionally favour me with long and
technical dissertations on the interior economy of the flea, for
example; and once in the fullness of his heart confided to his wife
that "Miss Coventry was really a _dear_ girl; it's my belief, Madge,
that if she'd been a man she'd have been a naturalist." These little
dinners were indeed vastly agreeable. Nobody had such a comfortable
house or such a good cook or so many pretty things as Mrs. Lumley. Her
"old man" seemed to enjoy the relaxation of ladies' society after his
morning labours and researches. With me he was good-humoured and full
of fun; at his wife's jokes and stories, most of them somewhat
scandalous, he would laugh till he cried.

"I'm responsible for you, Miss Coventry," he would say with a sly
laugh. "You're not fit to be trusted with Madge; upon my life, I
believe she is the wildest of the two. If you won't have the carriage,
I must walk back with you myself.--How far is it, Madge? Do you think
I can _stay the distance_, as you sporting people term it in your
inexplicable jargon?"

"Why, you know you can't get a hundred yards, you foolish old man,"
laughed his wife. "A nice chaperon you'd make for Kate. Why, she'd
have to carry you, and you know you'd tumble off even then. No, no;
you and I will stay comfortably here by the fire, and I'll give you
your tea and put you tidily to bed. I shan't be home any other night
this week. Kate has a convoy coming for her;--haven't you, Kate?--_Le
beau cousin_ will take the best possible care of us; and even prim
Aunt Deborah won't object to our walking back with _him_. I believe he
came up from Wales on purpose. What would somebody else give to take
the charge off his hands?--You needn't blush, Kate; I can see through
a millstone as far as my neighbours. I'm not quite such a fool as I
look;--am I, 'old man'?--There's the doorbell.--John, ask Mr. Jones if
he won't step up and have some tea." We were sitting by a blazing fire
in the boudoir, a snug and beautiful little room, to which no one was
admitted but the lady's especial favourites; even the "old man" never
entered it during the day.

"Mr. Jones's compliments, and he hopes you'll excuse him, ma'am," was
the footman's answer on his return; "but it's very late, and he
promised to bring Miss Coventry back by eleven."

"Well, I'm sure," said Mrs. Lumley, "if I was you, Kate, I shouldn't
stand his anticipating his authority in this way. Never mind; be a
good girl, and do as you're bid--pop your bonnet on. Shall I lend you
an extra shawl? There, you may give my 'old man' a kiss, if you like.
Bless him! he's gone fast asleep. Good-night, Kate; mind you come to
luncheon to-morrow, there's a dear." So saying, Mrs. Lumley bid me a
most affectionate farewell; and I found myself leaning on John's arm,
to walk home through the clear frosty night.

I do like perambulating London streets by gaslight--of course with a
gentleman to take care of one. It is so much pleasanter than being
stewed up in a brougham. How I wish it was the fashion for people to
take their bonnets out to dinner with them, and walk back in the cool
fresh air! If it is delightful even in winter, how much more so in the
hot summer nights of the season! Your spirits rise and your nerves
brace themselves as you inhale the midnight air, with all its smoky
particles, pure by comparison with that which has just been poisoning
you in a crowded drawing-room. Your cavalier asks leave to indulge in
his "weed," and you enjoy its fragrance at second-hand as he puffs
contentedly away and chats on in that prosy, confidential sort of
manner which no _man_ ever succeeds in assuming, save with a cigar in
his mouth. John lit his, of course, but was less communicative, to my
fancy, than usual. After asking me if I had "enjoyed a pleasant
evening," and whether "I _preferred_ walking," he relapsed into a
somewhat constrained silence. I too walked on without speaking. Much
as I love the night, it always makes me rather melancholy; and I dare
say we should have got to Lowndes Street without exchanging a
syllable, had not some imp of mischief prompted me to cross-examine my
cousin a little upon his _séjour_ in Wales, and to quiz him half
spitefully on his supposed _penchant_ for pretty Fanny Lloyd. John
_rose_ freely in a moment.

"I know where you pick up all this nonsense, Kate," he burst out quite
savagely; "I know where half the scandal and half the mischief in
London originates! With that odious woman whose house we have just
quitted, whose tongue cannot be still for a single moment; who never
by any chance speaks a word of truth, and who is seldom so happy as
when she is making mischief. I pity that poor decrepit husband of
hers, though he ought to keep her in better order; yet it _is_ a hard
case upon any man to be tied to such a Jezebel as _that_."

"The Jezebel, as you call her, John," I interposed quietly, "is my
most intimate friend."

"That's exactly what I complain of," urged my cousin; "that's my great
objection to her, Kate; that's one of the things that I do believe are
driving me out of my senses day by day. You know I don't wish you to
associate with her; you know that I object extremely to your being
seen everywhere in her company. But you don't care: the more I
expostulate the more obstinate and wilful you seem to become."

It is my turn to be angry now.

"Obstinate and wilful indeed!" I repeated, drawing myself up. "I
should like to know what right you have to apply such terms to _me_!
Who gave _you_ authority to choose my society for me, or to determine
where I shall go or what I shall do? You presume on your relationship,
John; you take an ungenerous advantage of the regard and affection
which I have always entertained for you."

John was mollified in an instant.

"_Do_ you entertain regard and affection for me, Kate?" said he; "do
you value my good opinion and consider me as your dearest and best
friend?"

"Of course I do, John," was my reply. "Haven't we known each other
from childhood, and are you not like a brother to me?"

John's face fell a little and his voice shook as he spoke. "Am I never
to be more than a brother to you--never to obtain a greater interest
in you, a larger share of your regard than I have now? Listen to me,
Kate; I have something to tell you, and I can put it off no longer.
This delay, this uncertainty day by day, I do believe will drive me
mad. Kate, I promised Aunt Deborah faithfully that I would never enter
on this subject till you came of age, and you know by your father's
will you don't come of age till you're five-and-twenty. 'By that time,
John,' said my aunt, 'Kate will have seen plenty of others, and be old
enough to know her own mind. If she takes you then, she takes you with
her eyes open, and she won't get tired of you and find out she likes
some one else better. Promise me, John, that you'll wait till then.'
And I did promise, Kate; but I can't keep my word--I can't wait in
this state of anxiety and uncertainty, and perhaps lose you after all.
It's too great a stake to play for if one is to be kept so long in
suspense, and I have resolved to be put out of my pain one way or the
other."

John paused. I had never seen him so excited before. He was quite hot,
though the night was keen and frosty; his arm trembled as mine leant
upon it; and though his cigar was gone out, he kept puffing away,
utterly unconscious of the fact. He seemed to expect an answer. I
hesitated; I did not know what to reply. I had got so accustomed to
Cousin John that I never looked upon him in any other light than that
of a favourite brother, a constant companion and friend. Moreover, I
was not prepared to take any such decisive step as that to which he
now seemed to be urging me. There is a great difference between
_liking_ people and giving them power of life and death over one for
the rest of one's days. I will not say that the image of another did
not rise before me in all its winning beauty as I had seen it last,
scarcely one short week ago. Altogether I did not know what to say; so
I wisely said nothing, but walked on, looking straight before me, with
an uncomfortable feeling that I was driven into a corner, and should
ere long be compelled to do that which is always distasteful to our
liberty-loving sex--namely, to "make up my mind."

John too walked on for a few paces in silence. We were at the corner
of Lowndes Street. There was not a soul to be seen but our two selves.
All at once he stopped short under the light of a lamp and looked me
full in the face.

"Kate," said he, in a grave, deliberate voice, "you know what I
mean--Yes or No?"

I shook like a leaf. What would I have given to have been able to take
counsel of one of my own sex--Mrs. Lumley, Aunt Deborah, or even cold,
pitiless Lady Horsingham! But I had to choose for myself. I felt that
the turning-point of my destiny had arrived--that the game was in my
own hand, and that now I ought to decide one way or the other. I
shrank from the responsibility. Like a very woman, I adopted a middle
course.

"Give me time, John," I pleaded--"give me time to weigh matters over
in my own mind. This is an affair that equally concerns the happiness
of each of us. Do not let us decide in a hurry. Aunt Deborah was quite
right: her wishes ought to be my law. When I am five-and-twenty it
will be soon enough to enter on this subject again. In the interval,
believe me, John, I have the greatest regard and esteem for you."

"Nothing more, Kate," said John, looking as if he didn't know whether
he was pleased or annoyed--"nothing but _esteem_?"

"Well, I mustn't say any more," was my reply; "but you know you have
_that_."

John's face brightened considerably. "And in the meantime, Kate," he
urged, "you won't allow yourself to be entangled with any one else?"

"Of course not," was my vigorous disclaimer; and by this time we had
arrived at my aunt's door, and it was time to say good-night.

"What's the matter, Kate?" exclaimed Mrs. Lumley, when I called to
lunch with her the following day, according to promise. "You look pale
and worried. For goodness' sake tell me what has happened. Have you
found out _the rover_ transferring his adoration to Miss Molasses? or
did _mon cousin_ take advantage of the hour and the opportunity to
lecture us last night on our love of admiration and general levity of
conduct? Tell me all about it, dear. We shan't be disturbed. I'm not
'at home' to a soul; and my old man is busy dissecting an earwig, so
he's quite safe till dinner-time. Sit you down on the sofa, out with
your pocket-handkerchief, and make a clean breast of it!"

I told her the whole of my conversation with my cousin the previous
night, only suppressing the unflattering opinions he had thought fit
to express of my present _confidante_. "And oh, Mrs. Lumley," I
exclaimed as I concluded, "how could I sleep a wink last night, with
all this to harass and reproach me? No wonder I'm pale and worried and
perfectly miserable. I feel I'm behaving shamefully to John, and not
at all rightly towards Captain Lovell. I know I ought to come to an
understanding with my cousin, and that Frank ought to be more explicit
with me. I couldn't have given a decided answer last night if my life
had depended on it. I can't give up the one without knowing exactly
whether he means honestly (if I thought he did, Mrs. Lumley, nothing
should induce me to throw him over); and I don't like to make the
other miserable, which I am sure I should do if I refused him
point-blank; nor do I think I could do at all well without him,
accustomed as I have been to depend upon him for everything from
childhood. So I have wavered and prevaricated, and behaved
disingenuously, almost falsely; and what must he think of me now?"

"Think of you, my dear?" replied my worldly friend; "why, of course,
he thinks of you more than ever. There is nothing like uncertainty,
Kate, to keep them well up to the collar. You should always treat men
like the beasts of the field. If you want to retain the upper hand of
him, ride an adorer as you do Brilliant, my dear--a light hand, with
just enough liberty to make him fancy he is going quite at his ease;
and then, when he is getting a little careless and least expects it,
give him such a jerk as makes his fine mouth smart again. He'll wince
with the pain, and very likely rear straight on end; but he'll be all
on his haunches well under control, and go on much the pleasanter
during the rest of the day. Never mind how much they suffer; it's very
good for them, and they will like you all the better for it."

"That may answer very well with some," I replied, "but I should be
afraid to try the experiment too often. I am sure Brilliant would
break away altogether if I used _him_ so. And I think the very man
that minds it most would be the least likely to stand a repetition of
such treatment. No, Mrs. Lumley; I fear I must now choose between
Frank and my cousin. The latter has behaved honourably, considerately,
and kindly, and like a thorough gentleman. The former seems to think I
am to be at his beck and call, indeed, whenever he chooses. He has
never been to see me during the whole of this past week. At
Dangerfield he was as little careful of my reputation as he was of his
own limbs. Did I tell you how nearly drowned he was, crossing the
moat? How you would have laughed, you wicked, unfeeling woman, if you
had heard the splash that cold, snowy night! And then to disguise
himself like a tramp, and stop those runaway ponies at the risk of his
life, that he might speak three words to me before I went away. I will
say for him that he is afraid of nothing; but I cannot conceal from
myself which has behaved best towards _me_. And yet, Mrs. Lumley," I
concluded, rising and walking off to the window, "I would rather have
Frank for a lover than Cousin John for a husband."

"Many people would suggest there was no impossibility in your having
both; but I don't give such bad advice as that," replied Mrs. Lumley.
"However, Kate, do nothing in a hurry--that's my counsel. I grant you,
I think Master Frank a very slippery gentleman. I do know some
_curious_ stories about him; but I never tell tales out of school. In
the meantime you are, after all, only suffering from an _embarras de
richesses_; it's far better to have too many suitors than none at all.
Come, I'll take you out shopping with me till five; then we'll have
some tea, and you can go home quietly to dinner and ask Aunt Deborah's
leave to join me at the French play. I've got a capital box, and I'll
send the carriage for you. Wait half a second, whilst I put on my
bonnet."

So we went off shopping, and we had our tea, and I found no objections
from Aunt Deborah to my going out again in the evening; and I was so
restless I did not the least grudge the trouble of dressing, or
anything to take me away from my own thoughts. But all the afternoon
and all the evening I made up my mind that I would give up Frank
Lovell. A little resolution was all that was needed. It was plain he
did not _really_ care for me. Why, he wasn't even in London, though he
knew quite well I had been there more than a week. Very likely I
shouldn't see him all the winter, and my heart sank as I thought how
much easier this would make my sacrifice. At all events, I determined,
when I did see him, to be cold, and demure, and unmoved--to show him
unmistakably that I belonged to another; in which Spartan frame of
mind I betook myself to the French play.

Alas, alas! Well may the bard complain,--

    "Woman's vows are writ in water;
    Woman's faith is traced in sand."

Who should be in the back of the box but Frank Lovell himself!
Mischievous Mrs. Lumley, was this your doing? Before I went away I had
promised to meet him next morning in the park, and he was to _explain
all_.



CHAPTER XVII.


I hope I have as much command of countenance as falls to the lot of
any lady who don't paint; but when I returned from my walk in the Park
the following morning I must have looked flushed or excited, or in
some way different from usual. I met John at the corner of Lowndes
Street, and he stopped short, and looked me piercingly in the face.

"Where have you been, Kate?" said he, without waiting to bid me
"good-morning" or anything.

"A little stroll in the Park, John," was my reply.

"By yourself?" he asked, and his face looked pale and grave.

I cannot tell a story, so I hesitated and stammered,--

"No, not exactly--at least I met an acquaintance near the Serpentine."

"Have you any objection to telling me who it was?" said John, and his
voice sounded very strange.

"Good gracious! what's the matter?" I asked, in my turn. "Has anything
happened? Are you ill, John? you look quite upset."

"I insist upon knowing," answered he, without taking the slightest
notice of my tender inquiries after his health.

"Did you or did you not meet Captain Lovel this morning in Hyde Park?"

"Yes, I certainly _did_ meet him," I replied.

"Accidentally?" exclaimed my cousin.

"Why--no--not entirely," was my answer; "but the fact is----"

"Enough!" burst out John, breaking in upon my explanations with a
rudeness I had never before seen him exhibit. "Kate, I have been
deceived in you. I thought at least you were candid and
straightforward: I find you faithless, ungrateful, ungenerous! But I
will not reproach you," he added, checking himself by a strong effort:
"it is only natural, I conclude, for a woman to be false. I thought
you were different from the rest, and I was a fool for my pains. Kate,
let us understand each other at once. I offered you last night all
that man could give. I had a right to expect an answer then and there.
I _thought_ I had a favourable one, and I have spent twelve hours of
happiness. I now see that I have deceived myself. Perhaps I value my
own worth too highly; I own I feel sore and aggrieved, but _you_ shall
not be the sufferer. Kate, I am only 'Cousin John' once more. Give me
a few days to get over a natural disappointment, and you and I will be
friends and playfellows as we used to be. Shake hands, Kate: I spoke
harshly, in a moment of anger; it is over now. God bless you, dear!"

And with these words John walked away, and left me standing on that
eventful doorstep which seemed to witness all the changes and chances
of my life. How stately was his walk as he strode down the street! I
watched him all the way to the corner, but he never once looked back.
John was grown much handsomer of late; he used to be too ruddy and
prosperous-looking and boyish, but his countenance had altered
considerably in the last two or three months--only, seeing him every
day, I did not remark the change. Lady Scapegrace had found it out the
first. I perfectly remember her saying to me, on the day of our
Greenwich dinner,--

"My dear, your cousin has a great deal in him, if one did but know how
to get it _out_. You have no idea what a good-looking man he would be,
if you could only succeed in making him ill and unhappy."

Poor John! I am afraid I had made him unhappy, even now. It struck me
he had a nobler bearing than Captain Lovell himself; although, of
course, I could not think him so graceful, or so handsome, or half so
charming as my dear Frank. I rushed into the house and locked myself
in my boudoir, to think over and dwell upon the many events of that
most eventful morning--my happy walk, my delightful companion, whose
soft voice was still whispering in my ear, whose every look and
gesture I could recall, even to the wind freshening his handsome brow
and waving his clustering locks. How happy and contented I felt by his
side! And yet, there was a something. I was not satisfied; I was not
thoroughly at ease; my cousin's face would intrude itself upon my
thoughts. I could not get out of my head the tone of manly kindness
and regret in which he had last addressed me. I reflected on his
sincerity, his generosity, his undeviating fidelity and good-humour,
till my heart smote me to think of all he suffered for my sake; and I
began to wonder whether I was worthy of being so much cared for, and
whether I was justified in throwing all this faith and truth away.

Reader, have you ever lived for weeks and weeks in a place which bored
you to death? Have you learned to loathe every tree and shrub and
hedge-row in the dreary landscape? Have you shivered up and down the
melancholy walks, and yawned through the dull, dark rooms, till you
began to think the hour never would arrive that was to restore you
once again to liberty and light? And then, when the hour _has_ come at
last, have you been able to take your departure without some
half-reproachful feeling akin to melancholy--without some slight shade
of regret to think that much as you have hated it, you look upon it
all now for the _last_ time? Perhaps the sun breaks out and shines
upon the old place as you catch your last glimpse. Ah! it never used
to shine like that when you could see it from those windows every day;
you almost wish your departure had been put off till the morrow; you
think if you were back again, the walks would not be so very
melancholy, the rooms no longer so dull and gloomy. You sigh because
you are leaving it, and wonder at yourself for doing so. It is the
same thing with friends, and more especially with those who would fain
assume a tenderer title: we never know their value but by their loss.

"If it wasn't for Frank," I began to think, "I really believe I might
have been very happy with Cousin John. Of course, it's impossible now;
and, as he says himself, he'll never be anything but a cousin to me.
Poor John! he's a noble, true-hearted, unselfish, generous fellow."

But to return to my walk. When a lady and gentleman meet each other by
appointment, either at the edge of the Serpentine or elsewhere, their
conversation is not generally of a nature to be related in detail, nor
is it to be presumed that their colloquy would prove as interesting to
the general public as to themselves. What I learnt of Frank's private
history, his views, feelings, and intentions, on that morning, I may
as well give in my own words, suppressing divers interruptions,
protestations, and interjections, which, much as they added to its
zest, necessarily rather impeded the course of the narrative, and
postponed its completion till long after I ought to have been back at
luncheon.

Frank had been an only child, and spoiled as only children are in nine
cases out of ten. His father was a peer's second son, and married a
wealthy cotton-spinner's niece for the sake of her money, which money
lasted him about as long as his own constitution. When he died, the
widow was left with ten thousand pounds and the handsome, curly-pated,
mischievous boy. She soon followed her husband. Poor thing, she was
very fond of him, and he had neglected her shamefully. The boy went to
his uncle--the peer, not to his uncle the mill-owner--to be brought
up. Frank was consequently what the world calls a "well-bred one;" his
name was in the _Peerage_, though he had a first cousin once removed
who was but an industrious weaver. The peer, of course, sent him to
Eton.

"Ten thousand pounds," said that judicious relative, "will buy him his
commission. The lad's handsome and clever; he can play whist now
better than my boy's private tutor. By the time his ten thousand's
gone, we'll pick up an heiress for him. 'Gad! how like my poor brother
he is about the eyes!"

So Frank was started in life with a commission in the Light Dragoons,
an extremely good opinion of himself, and as much of his ten thousand
pounds as he had not already anticipated during the one term he spent
at Oxford before he was rusticated. By the way, so many of my
partners, and other young gentlemen with whom I am acquainted, have
gone through this process, that it was many years before I understood
the meaning of the term. For long I understood _rustication_ to be
merely a playful form of expression for "taking a degree;" and I was
the more confirmed in this impression from observing that those who
had experienced this treatment were spoken of with high respect and
approbation by their fellow-collegians.

What odd creatures young men are! I can understand their admiring
prowess in field-sports and athletic pursuits, just as I could
understand one's admiring a statesman, an author, an artist, or a
successful man in any pursuit of life; but why they should think it
creditable to get drunk, to run into debt, to set at defiance all the
rules and regulations enacted for their own benefit, and to conduct
themselves in unswerving opposition to the wishes of their nearest and
dearest friends, and all to do themselves as much harm as possible, is
more than I can comprehend. Girls are not wrong-headed like this.
Where the son is the source of all the annoyance, and ill-humour, and
retrenchment in a family, the daughter is generally the mainstay, and
comfort, and sunshine of the whole house. When shall we poor women be
done justice to? But to return to Frank. By his own account he was a
gambler, of course. A man turned loose upon the world, with such an
education as most English gentlemen deem befitting their sons, and
without means to indulge the tastes that education has led him to
acquire, is very likely to become so.

As a boy, the example of his elders teaches him to look upon frivolous
distinction as a great end and aim of life, whilst that of his
comrades leads him to neglect all study as dry, to despise all
application as "slow." At home he hears some good-looking, grown-up
cousin, or agreeable military uncle, admired and commented on for
being "such a capital shot," "such a good cricket-player," "such an
undeniable rider to hounds," what wonder the boy grows up thinking
that these accomplishments alone are the very essentials of a
gentleman? At school, if he makes an effort at distinction in
school-hours, he is stigmatized by his comrades as a "sap," and
derided for his pursuit of the very object it is natural to suppose he
has been sent there to attain. What wonder he hugs idleness as his
bosom-friend, and loses all his powers of application in their disuse.

Then come the realities of manhood, for which he is so ill prepared.
In the absence of all _useful_ knowledge and practical pursuits,
_amusement_ becomes the business of life. Human nature cannot be idle,
and if not doing good, is pretty sure to be doing harm. Pleasure,
excitement, and fashionable dissipation must be purchased, and paid
for pretty dearly, in hard coin of the realm. The younger son, with
his ten thousand pounds, must soar in the same flight, must "go as
fast" as his elder brother with ten thousand a year. How is it to be
done? Why, _of course_, he must _make_ money, if he can, by betting
and play. So it goes on smoothly enough for a time. The Arch-croupier
below, they say, arranges these matters for beginners; but the luck
turns at last. The capital is eaten into; the Jews are called in; and
the young gentleman is ruined. Frank, I think, at this time was in a
fair way of arriving pretty rapidly at the customary catastrophe. He
had gone through the whole educational process I have described above,
had been regularly and systematically "spoilt," was a habitual
gambler, and a confirmed "dandy." The ladies all liked him much, and I
confess I don't wonder at it. Always good-humoured, never sentimental
(I hate a sentimental man), invariably well dressed, with a very good
opinion of his own attractions, Frank could make himself agreeable in
all societies. He had never been troubled with shyness as a boy, and
in his manhood was as "cool a hand" as one would meet with often, even
in London. Then he had plenty of courage, which made the men respect
him; and, above all, was very good-looking--an advantage which,
doubtless, has a certain weight even with _our_ far-sighted and
reflective sex.

I never quite made out the rights of his _liaison_, or whatever people
call it, with Lady Scapegrace; nor do I think his own account entirely
satisfactory. He assured me that he met her first of all at a masked
ball in Paris, that she mistook him for some one else, and confided a
great deal to his ears which she would not have entrusted to any one
save the individual she supposed him to be; that when she discovered
her mistake she was in despair, and that his discretion and respect
for her feelings had made her his fast friend for life. I cannot tell
how this may be, but that they were great friends I have had reason to
know too well. He declared, however, that he looked upon her "quite as
a sister." I do not think, though she is always very kind to me, that
I should exactly like her for a _sister-in-law_. I certainly have
known Lady Scapegrace do most extraordinary things--such things as no
other woman would be permitted to do without drawing down the abuse of
the world. If she had been fair, and rosy, and pleasing, people would
have scouted her; but she was dark, and stern, and commanding. The
world was afraid of her, and it is very true that "in the world one
had better be feared than loved." Scandal did not _dare_ say all it
thought of Lady Scapegrace; and if she brought Frank Lovell home in
her carriage, or went to the opera alone with Count Coquin, or was
seen, day after day, perambulating Kensington Gardens arm in arm with
young Greenfinch of the Life Guards, instead of shouting and hissing,
and, so to speak, _pelting_ her off the stage, the world lifted its
fingers to its lips, shrugged up its worldly shoulders, and merely
remarked,--

"Always _was_ very odd, poor woman! Hers has been a curious
history--little cracked, I think, now--but what a handsome creature
she was years ago, when I left school, before _you_ were born, my
boy!"

Whatever may have been her carelessness of appearances and levity of
manner, I think it was never for an instant supposed that she liked
any human being half so much as she hated Sir Guy. Then, again, Sir
Guy and Frank were fast friends, almost inseparable. They say Frank
kept things right between the ill-assorted pair, and that his good
offices had many a time interposed to prevent scenes of abuse and
violence such as must have ended in a separation at least. I was not
quite clear that Frank's regard for the coach-driving baronet was
alone at the bottom of all this friendship. I cannot conceive two men
much worse suited to each other; but Frank vowed, when I
cross-questioned him on the subject, which I thought I had a right to
do, that he was under the greatest possible obligations to Sir Guy,
that the latter had even lent him money, and stood by him when such
assistance was most valuable; and that he looked upon _him_ as _a
brother_, just as he looked upon her ladyship as a sister. It seems to
have been quite a family party altogether. Frank warmed with the
topic.

"You will hear me talked about with all sorts of people, Kate," said
he, as we took about our twentieth turn, each of which I had protested
should be _the last_; "but the world is so officious and
mischief-making, you must never believe a word it says. They know I am
ruined, and they choose to decide that I must be making up to some
wealthy young lady. As if _I_ was a man to marry for money; as if I
cared for anything on earth but _one_ person, and _that_ for the sake
of her own dear self alone! You ask _me_ about Miss Molasses; you
declare I am continually riding with her, and dancing with her, and
what you ladies call 'paying her attention'--that yellow lackadaisical
miss! Do you think I would marry her if she had half a million? Do you
think I could stand those sentimental airs, that smattering of
learning, and affectation of being poetical, and romantic, and
blue--I, who have only lately learned what a woman should be, and what
a treasure such a woman is? No, no; I have known the whole family from
a child; I can't quite stand the lady part of it, but old Molasses is
a right good fellow, and one must be civil to them all. No, no, Kate;
with my many faults, I am a very different person from what you seem
to think. I have my hopes and wishes, certainly, but----"

I can't possibly go on to relate the conclusion of Frank's rhapsody,
but he took great pains to convince me that if there was ever a
high-principled, pure-minded, much-injured individual, that exemplary
character was the gentleman now walking by my side; and I was
convinced, but at the same time not exactly satisfied. In thinking
over the whole of our conversation, I could gather nothing very
definite, nothing that led to any particular result, from it.

One thing was clear to my mind, and that was at all events a
gratifying reflection. Frank did not seem to be aware that I had any
worldly prospects whatever: it was evident that if he liked me he
liked me entirely for myself. I confess I should not wish to be a
great heiress; I should always be fancying that it was the "fine eyes
of my casket," as the French say, which attracted my admirers, and I
could not stand that. No, Frank was not mercenary, I was sure, and if
even--why the competency I should be possessed of would be an
agreeable surprise. If, indeed! Nothing was clear, nothing was
settled. What a fool I was to dwell so upon an uncertainty, to anchor
my hopes upon a dream! I was not at all comfortable that afternoon:
the more I thought, the more I walked about my boudoir in a state of
high fidget and restlessness. One thing, however, was consolatory--the
frost was breaking. Already in London it was a decided thaw, and I
went to pay Brilliant a visit in the stable.

Now I dare say I shall be considered very bold and unladylike, and
_unfeminine_--that's the word--for owning that I do indeed enjoy
paying my favourites a visit in their comfortable quarters. It's worth
a good deal to see Brilliant's reception of me when I approach his
stable. From the instant I enter his abode and he hears my voice, he
begins to move restlessly to and fro, whisking his dear tail, cocking
his ears, and pawing up his "litter," till indeed that word alone
describes the state to which he reduces his bed; then when I go up to
him he lays back his ears with sheer delight, and gives a jump, as if
he was going to kick me, and whisks that thin tail about more than
ever. I lay my cheek to his smooth soft skin, and he nestles his
beautiful head in my arms, and pokes his pretty muzzle into my
pockets, and seems to ask for bits of bread and sugar and other
delicacies, all of which are conferred upon him forthwith. I am sure
he has more sense than a dog, and a great deal more affection than
most men. I don't care how _slang_ and "bad style" people may think
me, but I feel every one of those strong flat black legs, and look
into his hoofs, hind-feet and all, and turn his rug up to see that he
has been properly cleaned and treated as he deserves; for I _love_
Brilliant, and Brilliant loves me. It has sometimes been my lot to
have an aching heart, as I conclude it is the lot of all here below.
Like the rest of my fellow-creatures, I have been stung by
ingratitude, lacerated by indifference where I had a right to expect
attachment; or, worst of all, forced to confess myself deceived where
I had bestowed regard and esteem. When I feel sore and unhappy on any
or all of these points, nothing consoles and softens me so much as the
affection of a dumb animal, more particularly a horse. His honest
grave face seems to sympathize in one's grief, without obtruding the
impertinence of curiosity or the mockery of consolation. He gives
freely the affection one has been disappointed in finding elsewhere,
and seems to stand by one in his brute vigour and generous unreasoning
nature like a true friend. I always feel inclined to pour my griefs
into poor Brilliant's unintelligent ears, and many a tear have I shed
nestling close to my favourite, with my arms round him like a child's
round its nurse's neck. That very afternoon, when I had made sure
there was no one else in the stable, I leaned my head against
Brilliant's firm warm neck, and sobbed, like a fool as I was.



CHAPTER XVIII.


Gentlemen think it right to affect a contempt for stag-hunting, and
many a battle have I had with Cousin John when he has provoked me by
"pooh-poohing" that exhilarating amusement. I generally get the best
of the argument. I put a few pertinent questions to him which he
cannot answer satisfactorily. I ask him, "What is your principal
object in going out hunting? Is it to learn the habits of the wild
animal, or to watch the instinct of the hound that pursues him? Do you
enjoy seeing a fox _walked_ to death, as you call it, on a cold
scenting day--or do you care for the finest hunting run that ever was
seen in a woodland country? Have I not heard you say a hundred times,
when questioned as to your morning sport, 'Oh, wretched! hounds never
went any pace!--couldn't shake off the crowd--yes, we killed our fox;
but the whole thing was dead slow?' or else exclaim, with a face of
delight, 'The fastest thing I have seen for years! Eighteen minutes
_up wind_, extra pace! not a soul but myself in the same field with
them when they threw their heads up. Fox was _back_, of course, and we
never recovered him, but it was by far the best gallop of the season?'
It is evident to me that what you _like_ is riding a good hunter fast
over a stiff country--going a turn better than your neighbours, and
giving your own skill that credit which is due to the superiority of
your horse. You only consider the hounds as a fleeting object at which
to ride; the fox as a necessary evil, without which all this 'rasping'
and 'bruising' and 'cutting down,' as you call it in your ridiculous
jargon, cannot be attained. Why, then, do you waste so much energy,
and money, and civility, and 'soft-sawder,' to preserve the vulpine
race? Why don't you all hunt with stag-hounds, or, better still,
devote yourselves to a drag, when you may gallop and jump and bustle
about, and upset your horses, and break your own necks to your heart's
content?" To all of which John answers, as men invariably do when they
are worsted, that "women can't enter into these things, and I am
talking great nonsense about what I don't understand."

However, let him despise "the calf," as he termed it, as much as he
liked, I was not going to be stewed up in London, with the wind at
south-west, the thermometer 45°, and the mud over one's ankles, whilst
Brilliant and White Stockings were eating their heads off in the
stable, so I took advantage of John's good nature to exact a promise
that he would take me down and show me her Majesty's stag-hounds in
the field; and on the express stipulation that Mrs. Lumley should join
our party, and that we should confine ourselves religiously to the
lanes, I was promised the enjoyment of a day's hunting. John did
everything I asked him now; he was even kinder than he used to be; but
it was a different sort of kindness, and it cut me to the heart.

Still, the idea was enchanting: the Great Western made a delightful
cover-hack. We sent our horses on by the early train. The place of
meeting was scarcely three miles from the station, so we had time to
settle ourselves comfortably in the saddle, and to avoid the fuss and
parade of two ladies in their habits stepping out of a first-class
carriage into the midst of a metropolitan field. I ran my eye
jealously over the brown mare as Mrs. Lumley jogged quietly along by
my side, and I confess I had my misgivings whilst contemplating the
easy pliant seat and firm graceful figure of her mistress, the strong
lengthy frame and beautiful proportions of the mare herself; but then
Brilliant felt so light and elastic under me, the day was so soft and
fresh, the country air so fragrant, and the dewdrops sparkling so
brilliantly on the leafless hedges, that my courage rose with my
spirits, and I felt as if I could ride anywhere or do anything in
sheer gladness of heart.

"Mr. Jones is very strict," said my companion, taking the brown mare
lightly on the curb, and putting her into a canter along a level piece
of sward by the roadside; "he declares he only takes charge of us
under the solemn promise that there is to be no _jumping_. For my
part, I never do what I am told, Kate; do you?"

"I always do as I like with John," said I; "but then I always _like_
to do what he wishes."

My cousin's sorrowful smile almost brought the tears into my eyes.

"I dare say he's quite right," rejoined Mrs. Lumley. "For my part,
I've no nerves left now. If you'll promise not to jump, I'll promise
too. What say you, Kate--is it a bargain?"

"Agreed," I replied; and just then a turn in the lane brought us into
full view of the meet of her Majesty's stag-hounds.

What a motley assemblage it was! At first I could not catch a glimpse
of the hounds themselves, or even the servants, for the crowd, mostly
of foot-people, that surrounded them. Where did these queer-looking
pedestrians come from? They were not agricultural labourers; they were
not townspeople, nor operatives, nor mechanics; they were the sort of
people that one never sees except on such an occasion as this. I
believe if I was in the habit of attending low pigeon matches, dog
fights, or steeplechases, in the "Harrow County," I should recognize
most of them enjoying the spectacle of such diversions. One
peculiarity I remarked amongst them, with scarcely an exception.
Although in the last stage of shabbiness, their clothes had all been
once of fashionable texture and good material; but they entirely
neglected the "unities" in their personal apparel. A broadcloth coat,
much the worse for wear, was invariably surmounted by a greasy cap;
whilst he who rejoiced in a beaver, usually battered in at the crown
and encircled by a tag of threadbare crape, was safe to have discarded
his upper garment, and to appear in his waistcoat and shirt-sleeves. A
wiry sweep, in the full uniform of his profession, was by far the most
respectable-looking personage of the lot. They clustered round the
pack, and seemed to make remarks, more or less sarcastic, amongst
themselves. As they opened out a little, I observed a very
aristocratic-looking old man, clad in most gorgeous apparel of scarlet
and gold, and seated on a remarkably handsome, powerful horse, long
and low, with great strength in small compass, and to all appearance
quite thoroughbred.

"That's the huntsman," said Mrs. Lumley, who kindly undertook to be my
cicerone, for she often enjoyed "a day with the Queen's," and was
quite at home here; "he'll be so glad to see me. We're great friends.
If you like, Kate, I'll introduce you."

I declined the honour as rather too public. "But," said I, "do tell me
who is in that green carriage with its back to us. Is it Prince
Albert?" Mrs. Lumley laughed.

"Not exactly, my dear," she replied; "that's the calf! Come a little
this way; and when they open the door we shall see him bounce out." So
we edged our horses off to a spot at which the foot-people were
already beginning to congregate, and sat there quietly anticipating
the "enlargement of the deer."

"What are we waiting for now?" I asked at length, when my patience was
nearly worn out. "Why don't we begin?"

"The Master of the Buck hounds, of course," replied my cicerone. "He's
not come yet. You know, Kate, it's a political appointment, and they
generally give it to somebody who hates hunting, and particularly
stag-hunting, more than anything; so, of course, he wisely comes as
late and goes home as early as he can. But this man is a good
sportsman and a thorough gentleman, and very fond of it too, so we
shall not have to wait much longer."

In fact, the words were hardly out of her mouth before a
carriage-and-four drove up containing three very gentleman-like,
good-looking men, "got up" to the utmost extent of hunting splendour,
and looking the very personification of that dandyism which
Melton engrafted upon London would be likely to produce. When they
were mounted, I am obliged to confess that those magnificent animals
made Brilliant himself look small. By this time there was great
excitement amongst the foot-people; and an official in gold lace, a
sort of mounted beadle, riding up with a heavy-thonged whip, cleared a
lane at the back of the cart which I had so erroneously imagined to
contain the Prince Consort. The doors flew open, and I was all eyes to
witness the magnificent sight of "the monarch of the waste" leaping
forth into the sunshine, exulting in his freedom. Shall I confess that
I was somewhat disappointed?

A neutral-coloured beast, something like a donkey, bundled out in a
clumsy, unwilling sort of manner, and on his egress commenced cropping
the grass with the utmost _sang froid_ and placidity. My friend the
sweep threw his cap at him. He raised his head, shorn of its branching
honours, and, after staring about him, trotted quietly off amongst the
spectators, closely followed by two well-mounted officials, termed, I
believe, "flappers" by disrespectful sportsmen, but whose duty, it
appears, is to keep the chase in view till it either beats them off
for pace, or leaves them "planted" at some large awkward impediment,
the latter obstacle generally presenting itself in about three fields.
On this occasion I saw the deer trot quite composedly up to a high
thorn fence of at least six feet, and clear it without an effort;
whereon its pursuers, looking blandly around for gate or gap, and
finding none, prudently returned to their fellow-officials in scarlet
and gold lace--I conclude, to report upon their own inefficiency. In
the meantime nobody seemed to be in a hurry; there was, indeed, some
slight stir among the equestrians; but there was no throwing away of
cigars, no drawing of girths and taking up of curb-chains--none of the
bustle and confusion created by the departure of a wild fox over a
grass country. On the contrary, every one here seemed to know exactly
how much time he had to spare. We ladies were naturally the most
impatient of the throng. Presently the huntsman looked at his watch,
and said something to the noble master, who looked at his, and
replied, "I think we may begin."

There was a slight bustle among the "knowing ones;" two or three
officers of the Life Guards stole forward a few paces; one of the
officials cracked his whip; and ere I knew exactly what had happened,
the hounds were streaming away over an adjoining field, "heads up and
sterns down," running perfectly mute, but at a pace which would have
astonished my old friends of the Heavytop country to no small extent.
Several desperate speculators were making frightful efforts for a
start. Two of the Life Guardsmen were settled with the hounds, and the
third _would_ have been, had he not been "turned over" by an
uncompromising flight of rails. Four London dealers and a young
Berkshire farmer were flourishing about, determined to show their
horses whilst they were fresh; the noble Master and his aristocratic
friends were pounding down a lane running parallel to the line of
chase. Mrs. Lumley was getting excited, and the Gitana reared straight
on end. Brilliant was fighting most disagreeably with his bridle, and
John nervously endeavouring to quiet our horses, and prevail on
ourselves to submit to his guidance. We _did_ follow him into the
lane; but here what a scene of confusion it was! Mild equestrians,
much at the mercy of their infuriated steeds; hot foot-people,
springing out of the way of the charging squadrons, and revenging
themselves for threatened annihilation by sarcastic jeers, not
altogether undeserved.

"Give me a lead, sir!" implored a good-looking light-weight--who was
evidently not in his usual place, and most anxious to get out of the
lane--to a fat, jolly old sportsman in a green coat and brass buttons
on a stiff bay horse.

"Certainly, sir," said the good-natured man; and turned his horse
short at the fence, closely followed by the gentleman he was so ready
to oblige. The bank was rotten and the bay horse unwilling. As might
have been expected, the green coat kissed mother earth, whilst his own
horse and his pursuer and his pursuer's horse rolled about on the top
of him in a most complicated game of all-fours. As they picked each
other up, I heard the fat man in green, much to my astonishment,
apologizing for the accident with the greatest _empressement_.

"A thousand pardons, my dear sir! How could I be so clumsy? It might
have been a most serious accident!" All of which excuses the
aggressor, as was to be expected, received with boundless affability
and good-humour. In the meantime we had a beautiful view of the run.
The hounds were still streaming away, two fields in front of every
one; the huntsman and the two officers going gallantly abreast in
their wake. One of them reminded me a little of Frank Lovell. The
noble Master, too, had cut in, and was striding along over every
obstacle; the London dealers had dropped somewhat in the rear, and the
farmer's horse was already completely sobered by the pace. The hounds
turned towards us. John entreated us to stop. They crossed the lane
under our horses' heads, and taking up the scent in the adjoining
pasture, went off again at score--not a soul _really_ with them.

"Flesh and blood can't stand this!" exclaimed Mrs. Lumley as, turning
the Gitana short round at a high stile with a foot-board, she landed
lightly in the field. "Don't attempt it, Kate!" she screamed out to
me, half turning in her saddle. I heard John's voice too, raised in
expostulation, but it was too late. I was already in the air. I
thought Brilliant never would come to the ground; and when he did
touch it, he was so excited with his previous restraint and his
present position, that he broke clean away with me. I was a little
frightened, but I never lost my nerve. I flew past Mrs. Lumley like an
arrow; and though she put the Gitana to her speed, and made my horse
more violent still as she thundered close upon his quarters, I was too
proud to ask her to give me a pull, and a wicked, jealous feeling rose
in my heart that was an excellent substitute for true courage at the
time. My horse was almost frantic; but fortunately he knew my voice,
and by speaking to him I was able to steady him before we reached the
fence. He bounded over it like a deer, and went quite quietly, now
that he had nothing before him but the hounds. I had never known till
now what it was to ride for myself. Hitherto I had always followed a
leader, but henceforth I resolved to enjoy the true pleasure of
finding my own way. I looked back. I was positively _first_, but Mrs.
Lumley was not fifty yards behind me, and coming up rapidly.

"Well done, Kate!" said she as we flew our third fence side by side.
Still the hounds fleeted on, and I never took my eye off them, but
urged my horse in their wake, taking every turn they did, and swerving
from nothing. Fortunately, Brilliant was thoroughbred and the fences
light, or, even with my weight, such a style of riding must soon have
produced fatal results. I shall never go again as well as I did that
day; but do what I would I could not shake off Mrs. Lumley. If I lost
sight of her for an instant, she was sure to gain a turn upon me, and
on one or two occasions she was actually in my front. I felt I could
have ridden into a chalk pit, and _dared_ her to follow me with the
greatest satisfaction. At last the hounds checked; we stood alone with
them; I felt almost delirious with the excitement.

"What an example we have made of _the gentlemen_, Kate," said Mrs.
Lumley, turning the Gitana's head to the wind. "I had no idea _you_
could ride like this."

I did not answer, but I thought "Wait a little, and I'll show you." I
felt I _hated_ her, though she _was_ my friend. Again the hounds
stooped to the scent; they crossed a deep narrow lane, up which I saw
the crowd advancing. I put my horse into his pace.

"You can't go there, Kate," vociferated Mrs. Lumley. "This way; here's
a gate in this corner."

I clenched my teeth, and rode straight for the fence. It looked dark
and forbidding. I did not see _how_ it was to be done, but I trusted
to Brilliant, and Brilliant nearly did it--but _not quite_. There was
a loud crash; one of my pommels gave me an awkward dig in the side. I
saw the white star on my horse's forehead shoot below me; and the
muddy, gravelly lane seemed to rise in my face and rasp my hands and
smear my habit, and get conglomerated with my hair. The horsemen were
all round me when I got up. I did not care for my accident; I did not
care for being bruised--in fact, I did not know whether I was hurt or
not--but my prevailing feeling was one of burning shame and horror as
I thought of my dress. To have had a fall amongst all those men! I
could have sunk into the earth and thanked it for covering me. But
there was no lack of sympathy and assistance. The huntsman pulled up;
the noble Master offered me his carriage to go back to London;
everybody stopped to tender advice and condolences.

"The lady's had a fall."--"Give the lady some sherry."--"Catch the
lady's horse."--"Can we render the lady any assistance?" John, of
course, was much distressed and annoyed, but glad to find I was not
seriously hurt. Mrs. Lumley only stood aloof and sneered. "I told you
not to ride there, Kate," said she; "and what a fall you've
had--amongst all these people, too!" She very nearly made me an enemy
for life.

I was too much hurt to go on. The stag was taken, as usual, in a large
pond about a mile from where I met with my accident; but our party had
had enough of hunting for one day. I am sure I had; and I think the
Gitana was nearly beat, though her mistress would not confess it. We
soon got back to the station, where I washed my face and put myself to
rights. After all, I was very little the worse, and everybody said I
had "gone like a bird." As we returned to London by the fast train,
and I sat in that comfortable, well-cushioned carriage, enjoying the
delightful languor of rest after fatigue, I half resolved to devote my
whole life to a sport which was capable of affording such thrilling
excitement as that which I had so recently enjoyed. I had never been
so happy, I thought, in my existence as whilst I was leading the field
on my dear Brilliant. It was a pure, wholesome, legitimate excitement;
there were no harassing doubts and fears, no wounded feelings and
bitter thoughts, no hours and days of suspense and misery to atone for
a few short moments of delight. If I was disappointed in other things,
could I not devote myself wholly to hunting, and so lead a happy and
harmless life? If I had been a man, I should have answered in the
affirmative; but I am a woman, and gradually softer thoughts stole
over me. A distant vision of a happy home, with home-interests and
home-pleasures--others to love, others to care for, besides
myself--all a woman's duties, and all a woman's best delights. I shut
my eyes and tried to realize the picture. When I opened them again,
Mrs. Lumley had gone fast to sleep; but John was watching me with a
look of painful attention. He certainly had acquired a very earnest,
keen look of late, such as he never used to wear. I do not know what
prompted the question, but I could not forbear asking him, in a sort
of half-laughing way, "John, if I had broken my neck to-day, what on
earth should you have done?"

"Mourned for you _as a sister_, Kate," he replied gravely, even
severely. I did not speak another word the whole way home.



CHAPTER XIX.


"I shall miss you sadly, Kate; but if you enjoy your visit I shall be
quite satisfied."

It was Aunt Deborah who spoke. Dear Aunt Deborah! I felt as if I had
not been half attentive enough to her lately. I had selfishly been so
taken up with my own thoughts and my own schemes that I had neglected
my poor suffering relative, and now my heart smote me for my want of
consideration. Aunt Deborah had not left the house since our return
from Dangerfield. She looked worn and old, but had the same kind
smile, the same measured accents as ever. Though she endured a good
deal of pain and was kept in close confinement, she never complained:
patient and quiet, she had a kind word for every one; and even her
maid avowed that "missus's" temper was that of an angel. "Hangel," the
maid called it, but it was perfectly true. Aunt Deborah must have had
something very satisfactory to look forward to, or she never would
have been so light-hearted. One thing I remarked, she was fonder of
John than ever.

"I won't go, my dear aunt," was my reply, for my conscience smote me
hard. "I won't go; I don't care about it; I had much rather stay and
nurse you here."

But Aunt Deborah wouldn't hear of it.

"No, no," said she, "my dear; you are at the right age to enjoy
yourself. I don't know much about Scamperley, and I have a far more
charitable opinion of Lady Scapegrace than the world in general; but I
dare say you will have a pleasant party, and I can trust you anywhere
with John."

There it was, John again--always John--and I knew exactly what John
thought of me; and it made me thoroughly despise myself. I reflected
that if I were John, I should have a very poor opinion of my cousin; I
should consider her silly, vacillating, easily deceived, and by no
means to be depended upon; more than woman in her weaknesses, and less
than woman in her affections. "What a character! and what a contempt
he must have for me!"

My cousin called to take me to the railway, and to accompany me as a
chaperon on a visit to Sir Guy and Lady Scapegrace, who were, as
usual, "entertaining a distinguished party of fashionables at their
residence, Scamperley." By the way, what an odd phrase that same
"entertaining" always sounds to my ear. When I learn that the Marquis
of Mopes has been "entertaining" his friends, the Duke of Drearyshire,
Count and Countess Crotchet, Viscount Inane, Sir Simon and Lady
Sulkes, the Honourable Hercules Heavyhead, etc., etc., at his splendid
seat, Boudoir Castle, I cannot refrain from picturing to myself the
dignified host standing on his bald head for the amusement of his
immovable visitors, or otherwise, forgetful of his usual staid
demeanour, performing ludicrous antics, projecting disrespectful
"larks," to woo a smile from those stolid countenances in vain! Sir
Guy might be "entertaining," too, in this way, but hardly in any
other. What a disagreeable man he was! although I could not help
acknowledging his good nature in coming to fetch us from the station
himself.

As we emerged from the railway carriage, the first object that greeted
my eyes was Sir Guy's great gaudy drag, with its three piebalds and a
roan. The first tones that smote on my ear were those of his hoarse
harsh voice (how it jarred upon my nerves!) in loud obstreperous
welcome.

"Thought you'd come by this train, Miss Coventry," shouted Sir Guy
from the box, without making the slightest demonstration of
descending; "laid Frank five to two on the event.--Done him again,
hey, Frank--_I knew_ what you'd be up to; brought the drag over on
purpose. Now then, give us your hand; one foot on the box, one on the
roller-bolt, and now you're landed. Jones, my boy, get up behind. I've
sent the van for servants and luggage. 'Gad! what a pretty maid you've
got. Let 'em go, and sit tight!"

So we rolled smoothly out, the piebalds shaking their harness and
trotting merrily along, the roan placed on the off-side, for the
purpose of sustaining whatever amount of punishment our charioteer
thought fit to inflict.

Behold me, then, seated on the box of Sir Guy Scapegrace's drag! a
pretty position for a young lady who, during the last month or two,
had been making daily resolutions of amendment as to _slang_ conduct
and general levity of demeanour. How I hated myself, and loathed the
very sight of _him_, as I looked at my companion. Sir Guy was redder
and fatter than when I had seen him last; his voice was more
dissonant, his neckcloth more alarming, his jewellery more prominent,
his hat closer shaved and the flower in his mouth less like a flower
than ever. How came I there? Why, because I was piqued, and hurt, and
reckless. I was capable of almost any enormity. John's manner to me in
the train had well-nigh driven me mad. So quiet, so composed, so cold,
so kind and considerate, but a kindness and consideration such as that
with which one treats a child. He seemed to feel he was my superior;
he seemed even to soothe and pity me. I would have given worlds to
have spoken frankly _out_ to him, to have asked him what I had done to
offend him, even to have brought him back to that topic upon which I
felt he would never enter more. But it was impossible. I dared not
wound that kind, generous heart again--I dared not trust _myself_. No,
he was only "Cousin John" now; he had said so himself. Surely he need
not have given me up quite so easily; surely I was worthy of an effort
at least: yet I _knew_ it had been my own fault--though I would not
allow it even to myself--and this I believe it was that rankled and
gnawed at my heart till I could hardly bear my own identity. It was a
relief to do everything I could think of to annoy him. To heap
self-contempt on my wicked head, to show him I was reckless of his
good opinion as of my own, to lay up a store of agonizing reproaches
for the future, to gnash my teeth, as it were, and nerve myself into a
savage indifference for the present. Nay, there was even a diabolical
_pleasure_ in it. Frank Lovell occupied the seat behind me: at another
time I might have been gratified at his near neighbourhood, and
annoyed to think he should have been paying so long a visit to
Scamperley. I was startled to find how little I cared. He leaned over
and whispered to me occasionally, and seemed pleased with the marked
encouragement I gave him. After all, I could not help liking Frank
very much; and was not my cousin at the back of the coach, to witness
all that took place? But Sir Guy would not allow me to be
"monopolized," as he called it.

"You've lost your roses sadly in London, Miss Coventry," said he,
poking his odious face almost under my bonnet, and double-thonging the
off-wheeler most unmercifully. "Never mind; I think a woman looks best
when she is pale. Egad, you've more colour now, though. Don't be
angry, it's only my way; you know I'm your slave."

"Sir Guy don't _mean_ to be rude," whispered Frank, for I confess I
was beginning to get indignant; and the Baronet went on,--

"Do you remember our picnic at Richmond, Miss Coventry, and my promise
that if ever you honoured me by taking a place on my coach you should
_drive_? Take hold of 'em now, there's a good girl; you ought to know
something about the ribbons, and the next four miles is quite
straight, and a dead flat."

I was in that state of mind that I should not have had the least
scruple in upsetting the coach and risking the lives of all upon it,
my own included; but I know not what imp of evil prompted me to turn
round and call to my cousin at the back,--

"John, do you think I could drive four horses?"

"Pray don't," whispered Frank Lovell, who seemed to disapprove of the
whole proceeding; but I did not heed him, for my cousin never answered
till I asked him again.

"Do as you like, Kate," was his reply, "only I shouldn't advise you to
try;" but he looked very grave, and seriously hurt and annoyed.

This was enough for me. I laughed aloud. I was determined to provoke
him, and I changed places with Sir Guy. He showed me how to part and
hold the reins; he lectured me on the art of putting horses together;
he got into a state of high good-humour, and smiled, and swore, and
patronized me, and had the effrontery to call me a "d--d fine girl,"
and I never boxed his ears, though I confess to having been once or
twice sorely tempted. In short, I flirted with him shamefully, and
even Frank got grave and out of sorts. At last Sir Guy removed the
flower from his mouth, and pulled out his cigar-case.

"Have a weed, Miss Coventry!" said he, with his detestable leer. "Of
course you smoke; any one who can tool 'em along as you do _must_ be
able to smoke. Mine are very mild, let me choose one for you."

I accepted his offer, though I had considerable misgivings as to
whether it would not make me sick. I looked round to see how my cousin
approved of all these goings on, and particularly this last cigar
movement. He was sitting with his back to us, reading the morning
newspaper, apparently totally indifferent to my proceedings. That
decided me. I would have smoked now if there had been a barrel of
gunpowder under my nose. I didn't care how sick it made me! I lit my
cigar from Sir Guy's, I suffered him to put his horrid red face close
to mine. I flirted, and laughed, and drove, and puffed away as if I
had been used to these accomplishments all my life. I rattled through
the turnpike without stopping to pay, as if it were a good joke. I
double-thonged a sleeping carter over the face and eyes as I passed
him. My near leader shied at a wheelbarrow, and I _almost_ swore as I
rated him and flanked him, and exclaimed,--

"Confound you, _I'll_ teach you to keep straight!"

As we drove into the Park at Scamperley--for I fearlessly rounded the
avenue turn, and vowed I would not abandon the reins till I had
delivered my load at the front door--even Frank was completely
disgusted. My cousin took not the slightest notice, but kept his seat
with his back turned to the horses, and was still deep in his
newspaper. Sir Guy was delighted; he shouted, and grinned, and swore
more than ever. I was a "trump"--I was a "girl of the right sort"--I
was a "well-bred one"--I had no end of "devil" in me--I was fit to be
a "queen!" Whilst the object of all these polished encomiums could
willingly have burst out crying at a moment's notice; indeed, she
would have found it an unspeakable relief; and felt as she had never
felt before, and as she trusts in heaven she may never feel again.

It was a lovely spot Scamperley--beautiful as a dream--with the quiet
woodland beauty of a real English place. Such timber! Such an avenue!
I wonder if any of the sporting dandies and thoughtless visitors who
came down "to stay with Scapegrace" because he had more pheasants and
better "dry" (meaning champagne) than anybody else ever thought of the
many proprietors those old oaks and chestnuts had seen pass away, the
strange doings they must have witnessed as generation after generation
of Scapegraces lived their short hour and went to their account,
having done all the mischief they could, for they were a wild, wicked
race from father to son. The present Baronet's childhood was nursed in
profligacy and excess. Sir Gilbert had been a fitting sire to Sir Guy,
and drank, and drove, and sinned, and turned his wife out-of-doors,
and gathered his boon companions about him, and placed his heir, a
little child, upon the table, and baptized him, in mockery, with
blood-red wine; and one fine morning he was found dead in his
dressing-room, with a dark stream stealing slowly along the floor.
They talked of "broken blood-vessels," and "hard living," and "a full
habit;" but some people thought he had died by his own hand; and the
dressing-room was shut up and made a lumber-room of, and nobody ever
used it any more. However, it was the only thing to save the family. A
long minority put the present possessor fairly on his legs again, and
the oaks and the chestnuts were spared the fate that had seemed too
surely awaiting them. Nor was this the only escape they had
experienced. A Scapegrace of former days had served in the
Parliamentary army during his father's lifetime; had gone over to the
king at his death; had fought at Edgehill and Marston Moor--and to do
Sir Neville justice, he could fight like a demon; had abandoned the
royal cause when it was hopeless, and, by betraying his sovereign,
escaped the usual fate and amercement of malcontent--the Protector
remarking, with a certain solemn humour, "that Sir Neville was an
instrument in the hand of the Lord, but that Satan had a share in him,
which doubtless he would not fail to claim in due time." So Sir
Neville lived at Scamperley in abundance and honour, and preserved his
oaks and his rents, and professed the strictest Puritanism; and died
in a fit brought on by excessive drinking to the success of the
Restoration, when he heard that Charles had landed, and the king was
really "to enjoy his own again." He was succeeded by his grandson Sir
Montague, the best-looking, the best-hearted, and the weakest of his
race. There was a picture of him hanging over against the great
staircase--a handsome, well-proportioned man, with a woman's beauty of
countenance, and more than womanly softness of expression. Lady
Scapegrace and I have stopped and gazed at it for hours.

"He's not very like the present Baronet, my dear," she would say, her
haughty features gathering into a sneer--and Lady Scapegrace's sneer
was that of Mephistopheles himself; "he is beautiful, exceedingly. I
love to look at his hazel eyes, his low antique brow, his silky
chestnut hair, and his sweet melancholy smile. Depend upon it, Kate,
no man with such a smile as that is ever capable of succeeding in any
one thing he undertakes. I don't care what his intellect may be, I
don't care what animal courage he may possess, however dashing his
spirit, however chivalrous his sentiments--so surely as he has woman's
strength of affection, woman's weakness of heart, so surely must he go
to the wall. I have seen it a hundred times, Kate, and I never knew it
otherwise."

Since the affair of the bull Lady Scapegrace had contracted a great
affection for me, and would have me to roam about the house with her
for hours. She was a clever, intellectual woman, without one idea or
sentiment in common with her husband. In this state of mental
widowhood she had consoled herself by study, amongst other things; and
the history of the family into which she had married afforded her
ample materials for reflection and research. She had collected every
scrap of writing, every private memorandum, letter, and document that
could throw any light upon the subject; and I verily believe she could
have concocted a highly interesting volume, detailing the exploits and
misdeeds, the fortunes and misfortunes, of the Scapegraces.

"I know all about him, Kate," she would proceed, fixing her great
hollow eyes upon my face, and laying her hand on my arm, as was her
habit when interested. "He is my pet amongst the family, though I
despise him thoroughly. You see that distant castle, sufficiently
badly painted, in the corner of the picture? That was the residence of
her who exercised such a fatal influence over the life of poor Sir
Montague. All his little sonnets, some of them touching and pretty
enough, are addressed to 'The Lady Mabel.' I have found two or three
of his love-letters, probably returned by her, tied up in a faded bit
of ribbon; there is also one note from the lady to her admirer; such a
production, Kate! Not a word but what is misspelt, not a sentence of
common grammar in the whole of it; and yet this was the woman he broke
his heart for! Look well at him, my dear, and you will see why. With
all its beauty, such a face as that was made to be imposed upon. The
Lady Mabel, however, seems to have been a notable strong-minded
personage enough. She acknowledges the receipt of her lover's letters;
which, however, without condescending to give any further explanation,
she avers 'came to hand at an untoward moment,' and finishes by
sending him a receipt for making elderflower wine--assuring him, with
a certain sly malice, that it is 'a sovereign specific against colic,
vertigo, and all ailments of the heart and stomach!' What a contrast
to his protestations endorsed, 'These, with haste--ride--ride--ride!'
which many a good horse must have been spurred and hurried to deliver.
How he rings the changes upon his unalterable and eternal devotion!
How he implores 'his dear heart' never to forget him! and calls her
'his sweet life,' and protests that 'he welcomes the very night-breeze
blowing from the castle, because it must have swept past the windows
of his love!' and pours out his foolish heart like a child pouring
water into a sieve. Lady Mabel, however, seems to have been proof
against sentiment, as she undoubtedly was against good looks. From all
that I can gather, she appears to have made use of her adorer in
furtherance of sundry political schemes, such as were so numerous at
that period, and to have thrown him away, like a rusty blade, when she
had no further occasion for his services. I cannot help thinking she
despised him thoroughly. There are certain bills and memoranda, with
his signature attached, relating to levies of men and great purchases
of arms, which look as if he had plunged into some desperate
enterprise, doubtless at her instigation; and in his sonnets there are
frequent allusions to 'winning her by the sword,' 'loving her to the
death,' and such Quixotic protestations, that look as if he had at one
time meditated an unusually daring stroke. He was a fool," said Lady
Scapegrace reflectively, "but he was a fine fellow, too, to throw
wealth, life, and honour at the feet of a woman who was not worth a
throb of that kind, generous heart, a drop of that loyal, gallant
blood!

"Then he married, I can't quite make out why, as there is a
considerable gap in the correspondence of the family about this time,
only partially connected by the diary of an old chaplain, who seems to
have been formerly tutor to Sir Montague, and to have cherished a
great regard for his pupil. The lady was a foreigner and a Romanist;
and although we have no picture of her, we gather from the reverend
chronicler that she was 'low of stature, dark-browed, and swarthy in
complexion,' though he gallantly adds that she was 'doubtless pleasing
to the eyes of those who loved such southern beauty.' At the wedding
it appears that Lady Mabel was present; and 'my good master's attire
and ornaments,' consisting of 'peach-coloured doublet, and
pearl-silken hose, and many gems of unspeakable price, dazzling to the
sight of humble men,' are detailed with strange minuteness and
fidelity. Even the plume in his hat and the jewelled hilt of his
rapier are dwelt upon at considerable length. But notwithstanding his
magnificence, the worthy chaplain did not fail to remark that 'my good
master seemed ill at ease, and the vertigo seizing him during the
ceremony, he must have fallen had I not caught him something cunningly
under the arm-pits, assisted by worthy Master Holder and one of the
groomsmen.' The chaplain, who seems to have been as blind as became
his reverend character, cannot forbear from expressing his admiration
of the Lady Mabel, whom he describes as 'fair and comely in colour,
like the bloom of the spring rose; of a buxom stature, and of a lofty
gait and gestures withal.' What was she doing at Sir Montague's
wedding? No wonder the old attack of 'vertigo,' which her elderflower
wine seems rather to have increased, should have come on again.

"One thing is pretty clear, the Baronet detested his wife (the
Scapegraces have generally owned that amiable weakness, my dear). I
think it must have been in consequence of her religion that he became
so strenuous a supporter of the opposite faith. At last he joined
Monmouth, and still the correspondence seems to have gone on, for the
night before Sedgmoor he wrote her a letter. Such a letter, Kate! I
was lucky enough to get it from a descendant of the lady, who was
under great obligations to me; I'll show it you to-morrow. No man with
_that mouth_ could have written such a letter, except when death was
looking him in the face. I often think when she got it she must have
given way at last. But it was too late. He was killed in the first
charge made by the royal troops. His own regiment, raw recruits and
countrymen, turned at the first shot; but he died like a Scapegrace,
waving his hat and cheering them on. We are rather proud of him in the
family, after all. Compared with the rest of them, his was a harmless
life and a creditable end."

"But what became of Lady Mabel?" I asked; for I confess I was a little
interested in this disjointed romance of long-past days.

"Did you ever know a thoroughly unfeeling person in your life that did
not prosper?" was her ladyship's reply; and again her features writhed
into the Mephistopheles' sneer. "Lady Mabel married an earl, and had
sons and daughters, and lived to a green old age. I have seen a
picture of her at fifty, and she was still 'fair and comely and buxom'
as when she dazzled the old chaplain's eyes and broke Sir Montague's
heart. Yes, yes, Kate, there's nothing like a _sensible_ woman; she's
the evergreen in the garden, and blooms, and buds, and puts forth
fresh shoots, when the rose is lying withered and trampled into the
earth; but for all that, she has never had the charm of the rose, and
never can have."

Such is a specimen of one of my many conversations with Lady
Scapegrace, whom I liked more and more the better I knew her. But I
have been anticipating sadly during my drive of Sir Guy's coach up Sir
Guy's avenue. When I reached the front door, with all my recklessness,
I felt glad to see no head poking out of windows--above all, no
_female_ witness to my unwomanly conduct. I felt thoroughly ashamed of
myself as I got down from the box; and I confess it was with feelings
of intense relief that a polite groom of the chambers informed me,
with many apologies, "her ladyship and all the ladies had gone to
dress," and handed me over, with a courtly bow, to a tidy elderly
woman, in a cap that could only belong to a housekeeper. She conducted
me to my room, and consigned me to Gertrude, already hard at work
unpacking upon her knees.



CHAPTER XX.


A very pretty little room it was; none of your enormous dreary
state-apartments, dull as a theatre in the daytime, with a bed like a
mourning coach, and corners of gloom and mystery, uncomfortable even
at noon, and fatal to the nerves when seen by the light of a solitary
wax-candle. On the contrary, it was quite the room for a young lady:
pink hangings tinted one's complexion with that roseate bloom which
the poet avers is as indispensable to woman as "man's imperial
front"--whatever _that_ means--is to the male biped. A dark carpet
with a rich border relieved the light-coloured paper, picked out
sparingly with flowers; the toilet-table was covered with a blushing
transparency of pink under white, like sunset on snow--perhaps I
should rather say like a muslin dress over a satin slip; and there was
a charming full-length glass, in which I could contemplate my whole
person from top to toe, without slanting it an inch off the
perpendicular. The lookout was into Lady Scapegrace's garden, a little
_bijou_ of a place, that bore ample witness to the good taste of its
mistress. Every shrub had been transplanted under her own eye, every
border filled according to her personal directions. She tied her own
carnations, and budded her own roses, like the most exemplary
clergyman's wife in England. I do believe she _would_ have been a good
wife to anybody but Sir Guy.

However, it was too dark for me to see anything of her ladyship's
garden. It was already getting dusk when we arrived, and although it
wanted three mortal hours of dinner, all the ladies, including the
hostess, had retired to their own rooms, to while away the time by
writing letters, reading novels, and going to sleep. I was much too
restless to embark in any of these occupations. It would have been a
relief to write, certainly--to pour out all one's thoughts and
feelings before some sympathizing correspondent; but I owned none
such. I could not have settled to read, no, not the most interesting
novel that was ever penned, although I might have left it off the day
before in an agony of uncertainty at the critical place which is
always to be found near the conclusion of the second volume; and as
for sleep--sleep, indeed!--I felt as if I should never sleep again.

When I am unhappy, and particularly when I am angry with myself, I
must always be doing something--no matter what--but I _must_ be
occupied, so I hurried Gertrude, and bustled about, and got myself
dressed, and found my own way to one of the drawing-rooms, where I
hoped to be at least secure from interruption, and to brood and worry
myself for an hour or two in unbroken solitude. I ought to have been
safe enough here. As I had wandered through unknown passages and
passed uncertain doors, I had heard the click of billiard balls, the
sound of many voices, and the harsh laugh of Sir Guy; I knew
consequently that the gentlemen were all busy at "pool," or some
equally intellectual pastime, and had not yet gone to dress. I was
sufficiently conversant with the habits of my own sex to be aware that
no lady would willingly tarnish the freshness of her dinner toilette
by coming down before the very last minute, and I anticipated
therefore no further interruption than a housemaid coming to put the
fire to rights, or a groom of the chambers to light fresh candles,
functionaries, especially the former, who would be much more
incommoded by my presence than I should be by theirs. Good gracious!
there was a gentleman down and dressed already; sitting with his back
to me, immersed in the thrilling pages of "The Drawing-Room Scrap
Book," which he was studying upside-down. I came in very softly, and
he never heard me, nor turned his head, but I knew the back of that
head pretty well. It was Cousin John. I also took a book, and sat
down.

"Perhaps," I thought, "he's not going to speak to me at all. Well,
what do I care? I've a temper, too, if it comes to that."

So I read my book assiduously; it was the "Comic Almanac," but I don't
know that it made me feel very much inclined to laugh. The clock
ticked loud and disagreeably. I determined not to speak till I was
spoken to; but after a time the silence grew irksome, and the ticking
of the clock so loud, that I ventured on a slight cough, merely to
break it. "Ahem," said I, still intent on the "Comic Almanac." John
turned slowly round, made a half rise, as if out of compliment to my
presence, and returned to "The Drawing-Room Scrap Book," which,
however, he was now reading the right way. This would not do; I
resolved to wait a little longer, just a quarter of an hour by the
clock, and see whether he would not have the common civility to speak
to me. What a long quarter of an hour it was! The hand reached it at
last--it passed it--I gave him another five minutes. It was getting
painful. I spoke, and the sound of my own voice quite startled me, yet
was my remark as harmless and commonplace as well could be.

"John," said I, "what time do we dine?"

"A quarter before eight, I believe," answered John, quite
good-humouredly, and as if nothing had happened to estrange us. "Dear
me, Kate, how early you're dressed!"

I could have cried with vexation; but I resolved, if possible, to find
a sore place somewhere, and give him "one" before I had done with him;
so I made a saucy face, and asked him, half laughing, whether "he
didn't think I had driven them very well from the station?"

"Inimitably, Kate," was his reply; "I hadn't the least idea you were
so accomplished a charioteer."

I should have burst into tears, I verily believe, but just then Lady
Scapegrace sailed in, and the usual forms of society had to be gone
through; and she kissed me, and shook hands with Mr. Jones, as if she
really liked us; and we talked of the weather, and the shameful
stoppages of the train we had come by, and the general inconveniences
of railways; and presently more ladies came down, neat and crisp as if
turned out of a bandbox, followed by their lords in choking white
neckcloths; and then Sir Guy himself appeared in a costume of
surpassing splendour; but still, although in his evening dress,
brilliant with starch and polish and buttons and jewellery, looking
like a coachman in masquerade; and "dinner" was announced, and we all
paired off with the utmost ceremony, and I found myself seated between
Frank Lovell and dear old Mr. Lumley, and opposite the elder Miss
Molasses, who scowled at me with an asperity of which I should have
believed her unmeaning face incapable, as if she hated me on this
particular evening more than all the other days of the year. I soon
discovered the cause. Frank was more attentive to me than I had ever
known him, although there was a _something_ in his manner that I did
not altogether like, a sort of freedom that I had never remarked
before, and which made me colder and more reserved than usual. It was
evident he thought he might venture as far as he liked with a young
lady who drove four horses and smoked a cigar the while. I felt I was
blushing _under my skin_; but I was determined to brave it all out, to
hide from every living soul my own vexation and self-contempt. Once I
caught a telegraphic signal exchanged between my neighbour and Miss
Molasses, after which she seemed more at ease, and went on with her
dinner in comfort. I was so angry now that I turned my shoulder
towards Master Frank, and took refuge with my dear old friend Mr.
Lumley, who, utterly regardless of the noise and flirtation his better
half was carrying on at the other end of the table, discussed his
cutlet quite contentedly, and prosed away to me in his usual kind,
consolatory manner. I was one of his great favourites; in fact, he
told me so, then and there. He always called me "my dear," and often
vowed that if he had only the use of his legs he would walk to the end
of the world to make me a thoroughgoing naturalist like himself. I was
getting more at ease under his dear old wing. I had gone through so
much excitement during the day that this comparative inaction was a
positive relief, and I was really beginning to enjoy a sort of repose,
when the Baronet's horrid voice from the bottom of the table aroused
me once more to an agony of shame and despite.

"Do me the honour to drink a glass of champagne; the champagne to Miss
Coventry!" shouted Sir Guy; "you must require it after your exertion.
Egad! my team won't get over it in a hurry--the roads were woolly and
the time short--hey, Miss Kate? But d----n me if the whipcord was
scarce. I've done that seven miles in all weathers, and a sweet seven
miles it is, but I never came anything like the pace we did to-day.
Your good health, Miss Kate; I'll have a fresh team put together for
you to-morrow, and a better cigar to smoke than the one I gave you
to-day."

I could willingly have sunk into the earth--nay, crept under the
table-cloth--anything to hide my dishonoured head. The ladies looked
at each other aghast, and then at _me_. The gentlemen, even the
stiffest of them, turned boldly round to survey such a phenomenon as
the tobacco-smoking, four-in-hand Miss Coventry. Mrs. Lumley showered
her long ringlets all over her face with one toss of her pretty little
head that I might not see how heartily she was laughing. Lady
Scapegrace good-naturedly made an immense clatter with something that
was handed to her, to distract attention from my unfortunate self; but
I believe I must have got up and left the room had not Cousin John
come adroitly to the rescue. He had not been studying the daily paper
for nothing, and his voice rose loud and clear through the awful
silence that succeeded Sir Guy's polished remarks.

"Did you see that article in to-day's _Times_ about Ministers?" asked
John, of the public in general; "there's another split in the
Cabinet--this time it's on the malt-tax. To-day, in the City, they
were betting five to two there's a general election within a
fortnight, and taking two to one Ambidexter is Premier before the
first of next month."

John! John! if you had saved my life I could not have been more
obliged to you. Many of the present party were members of
Parliament--all were deep in politics. Most of them had seen the
Times, but none, like John, had the earliest intelligence from the
City. I have since had reason to believe he invented every syllable of
it. However, such a topic was too engrossing not to swamp every other,
and no more allusions were made to my unfortunate escapade till Lady
Scapegrace had drawn on her gloves, bent her haughty head, and "made
the move," at which we all sailed away to tea and coffee in the
drawing-room.

Here I was more at my ease. Lady Scapegrace and Mrs. Lumley, hating
each other, were, of course, inclined to be excessively kind to me--I
formed a bond of union between the foes. We three, particularly with
such a weapon as the tongue of Mrs. Lumley, were more than a match for
any number of our own sex, and most of the other ladies gave in at
once. Only Miss Molasses held out, and eyed me once more with an
expression of eager malice for which I could not easily account. I
remarked, too, that she seemed restless and fidgety, glanced anxiously
ever and anon at the door by which the gentlemen would join us, and
seemed uncomfortable if any of us approached an empty chair which was
next to her seat. I began to have my suspicions of Frank Lovell,
notwithstanding all his asseverations. I determined to watch him
narrowly; and _if_ I found my misgivings were true--if I discovered he
was false and treacherous, why, then, I would--after all, what _could_
I do? It stung me to think how powerless I was.

Now, the establishment of Scamperley, although doubtless the bonds of
domestic discipline were by no means over-tightly drawn, was one in
which servants, from the stately curly-headed "groom of the chambers,"
down to the little boy in green that was always too late for the post,
had more than enough upon their hands. In the first place, nobody ever
seemed to think of going to bed much before daylight. This entailed a
breakfast, protracted by one late sleeper after another till
luncheon-time; that meal was of unusual magnificence and variety;
besides which, a hot repast, dressed by the French cook, and
accompanied by iced champagne, etc., required to be served in one of
the woods for the refreshment of Sir Guy's shooting guests. Then in
the afternoon there were constant fresh arrivals and rooms to be got
ready; for when the host and hostess were at home they kept the house
full, and the day concluded with a large dinner-party, at which seldom
less than sixteen sat down to discuss the inspirations of Monsieur
Horsd'oeuvre and the priceless wines of Sir Guy. No wonder the
servants looked tired and overworked, though I fancy the luxury and
good living _downstairs_ was quite equal to that which elicited
encomiums from _bon-vivants_ and connoisseurs above. Nevertheless, it
was but just that they too should have their share of relaxation and
amusement; therefore did Sir Guy in his generosity give an annual
servants' ball, which he attended and opened himself in a state of
hilarity not calculated to inspire much respect amongst his retainers.
He had, however, sufficient self-command invariably to select as his
partner the prettiest maidservant in his establishment. But if the
baronet failed in his dignity as head of the house, her ladyship had
enough for both. She looked like a queen as she sailed in, amongst her
own domestics and all the retainers and hangers-on for miles round. On
the evening in question it amused me much to see the admiration,
almost the adoration, she elicited from old and young. No wonder: that
stately form, that queenly brow, had been bent over many a sick-bed;
those deep, thrilling tones had spoken words of comfort to many a
humble sufferer; that white hand was ever ready to aid, ever open to
relieve; good or bad, none ever applied to Lady Scapegrace in vain.

"The virtuous it is pleasant to relieve and make friends of," she has
often said to me in her moments of confidence; "the wicked it is a
duty to assist and to pity. Who should feel for them, Kate, if I
didn't? God knows I have been wicked enough myself."

The men-servants never took their eyes off her, and I fear made but
sorry partners to the buxom lasses of the household till "my lady" had
left the room. I saw two stable-boys, evidently fresh arrivals, who
seemed perfectly transfixed with admiration, as at an apparition such
as they had never pictured to themselves in their dreams; and one
rough fellow, a sort of under-keeper in velveteen, with the frame of a
Hercules and a fist that could have stunned an ox, having gazed at her
open-mouthed for about ten minutes without winking an eyelash, struck
his hand against his thigh, and exclaimed aloud to his own
inexpressible relief, though utterly unconscious of anything but the
presence which so overpowered him,--

"Noa, dashed if ever I _did_!"

This was soon after "my lady" had sailed into the servants' hall at
the head of her guests. It was the custom of the place for all the
"fashionables" and smart people who were actually in the house to
attend the servants' ball, most of us only staying long enough to set
the thing going with spirit, though I believe some of the young
dandies who found partners to their liking remained to the end, and
"kept it up" till daylight. Down we all went, as soon as the gentlemen
had finished their wine and discussed their coffee in the
drawing-room, down we went, through stone passages and long
underground galleries into a splendidly-lighted apartment, somewhat
devoid of furniture, but decorated with evergreens, and further
adorned by a sort of muslin transparency hanging from the roof. This
was the servants' hall, and although on a stone floor, a capital room
for dancing it was. We were all soon provided with partners. Sir Guy,
much to her triumph, selected my maid, Gertrude. Lady Scapegrace
paired off with the steward, a fat, rosy man, who quite _shone_ with
delight at the honour. The French cook carried off Miss Molasses, with
whose native stupidity I thought the vivacious foreigner seemed a
little disappointed. Frank Lovell was taken possession of by the fat
housekeeper, to whom he "did the amiable," as Frank had the knack of
doing to anything with a petticoat. Cousin John handed off a stately
damsel, whom I afterwards recognized as the upper housemaid, and I was
claimed by a dapper little second-horse rider, of whom I flatter
myself I made a complete conquest by the interest I took in his
profession and the thorough knowledge I displayed of its details. I
had to make most of the conversation myself, certainly, for his
replies, though couched in terms of the deepest respect, and
accompanied by a chivalrous deference for my sex to which I was
totally unaccustomed from the partners of a London ball-room,
consisted for the most part of little more than "Yes, Miss," and "No,
Miss," with an additional smooth of the smoothest, shiniest head I
ever beheld. When I had exhausted the meets of the hounds for the
ensuing week, with a few general observations on the pursuit of
hunting, and the merits of that noble animal, the horse, I began to
get high and dry for further topics, and was not sorry when three
fiddles and a flute struck up their inspiriting tones, and away we all
went, "cross hands," "down the middle and up again," to the lively and
by this time tolerably familiar air of "Sir Roger de Coverley."

I am bound to confess that, as far as the servants were concerned,
everything went on with the utmost propriety and respect. Sir Guy,
indeed, pulled his partner about with an unnecessary degree of vigour,
which at times almost degenerated into a romp, and squeezed my hands
in "the Poussette" with an energy of affection which I could well have
dispensed with; but every one else was a very pattern of politeness
and decorum. In fact, the thing was almost getting stupid, when my
little second-horse rider and myself, returning breathless from our
rapid excursion down some two-and-thirty couple, were "brought up,"
startled and dismayed, by a piercing scream from at least that number
of female voices, all raised at the same instant.

"Fire! fire!" exclaimed the tall housemaid at my elbow.

"Save me! save me!" shrieked the fat housekeeper, plumping into Frank
Lovell's arms, and well-nigh bringing him to the ground, in which case
she _must_ have crushed him.

"Murder! murder!" shouted my idiot of a maid, Gertrude, rushing
frantically for the doorway, followed by Sir Guy, who was swearing, I
am sorry to say, most fearfully.

"Stand still, fools!" I heard Lady Scapegrace exclaim in her deep
tones, "and let nobody open the door!"

By this time there was a rush of all the women towards the door; and
as the centre of the room was cleared, I saw what had happened. The
muslin transparency had caught fire--a large fragment of it was even
now blazing on the floor, and the consequences amongst all those light
floating dresses and terrified women might have been indeed awful. For
an instant everybody seemed paralyzed--everybody but Cousin John;
during that instant he had flung off his coat, and kneeling upon it,
extinguished the flames. They were still blazing over his head: with a
desperate bound he tore down the ill-fated transparency; regardless of
singed hair and blistered hands, he clasped and pressed it, and
stamped upon it, and smothered it. Ere one could have counted fifty
the danger was over and not a vestige of the fire remained. How
handsome he looked with his brave face lighted up and his eyes
sparkling with excitement! Nobody could say John wanted expression of
countenance now. The next moment he was quietly apologizing in his
usual tone to Lady Scapegrace for "spoiling her beautiful
transparency," and parrying her thanks and encomiums on his courage
and presence of mind with an assurance that he "only pulled it down
because he happened to be directly under it;" but he could not help
turning to me and saying,--

"Kate, I hope you were not much frightened."

The words were not much, but they were uttered in the old kind voice;
they rung in my ears all the evening, and I went to bed happier than I
ever thought I could have been after such a day.



CHAPTER XXI.


The Sunday at Scamperley, I am sorry to say, was hardly observed with
that degree of respect and strictness which is due to the one sacred
day of the week. Very few people went to morning service, as indeed
the late hours overnight kept most of us in our rooms till eleven or
twelve o'clock, when we dawdled down to a breakfast that seemed to
lengthen itself out till luncheon-time. To be sure, when the latter
meal had been discussed, and we had marked our reverence for the day
by a conversation in which we expressed our disapproval of the
personal appearance, faults and foibles, and general character of our
friends, some of us would declare an intention of attending afternoon
church; on which subject much discussion would arise, and the
probability of the weather holding up would be volubly commented
on--the church being situated about a quarter of a mile from the
house, and the way to it through the Park being so completely
sheltered by evergreens that to have got wet, save in a downright
_pour_ of rain, was next to impossible. At last we would get under
way--the ladies mincing along with their magnificently covered
prayer-books, affecting an air of unwilling decorum; the dandies
carrying cloaks, shawls, and umbrellas for their respective goddesses,
and following them, so to speak, under protest, as if there was
something to be ashamed of in the whole proceeding. Lady Scapegrace
always went early, and quite by herself; she sat apart, too, from her
guests and relatives. Not so Sir Guy. It was his great delight to
create as much noise and confusion as possible, that on his entrance
the respectable yeomen and humble parishioners might be dazzled with
his glory, and whisper one to another, "That be Sir Guy," as he
marched to the front of his family pew in a blaze of wondrous apparel.
It was natural that he should create a sensation with his red face and
gaudy-coloured clothes, and huge, dyed whiskers, and the eternal
flower in his mouth, which was always on duty save when relieved by a
cigar or a toothpick. Pew it could scarcely with propriety be called,
inasmuch as it was more like a box at the opera than a seat in a place
of worship. We entered by a staircase outside the church, with a
private door of our own; passing through which we found ourselves in a
very comfortable chamber, with a good many chairs and sofas, a
handsome bookcase, and a blazing fire. This, again, led to a smaller
apartment, into which Sir Guy would swagger with much unnecessary
noise and bustle. Throwing up a large window, he leaned over as it
were from a hustings, and, behold! we were at church.

When the sermon was concluded Sir Guy shut the window down again, and
we took our departure, much edified, as may easily be imagined, by the
lessons of meekness and humility which we had received in so becoming
a manner. From church we invariably proceeded to the kennel, where a
stout, healthy-looking keeper paraded the Baronet's pointers and
setters for the inspection of the ladies. Here Sir Guy took entire
possession of me once more.

"Don't be alarmed, my dear," said he, as a great bull-headed,
black-and-white brute, surnamed Don, came blundering up and tried to
put his muddy paws on my dress. Sir Guy's affectation of the
"paternal," and his odious way of calling one "my dear," provoked me
intensely; and I gave Don such a crack over his double nose with my
parasol as broke the ivory handle of that instrument, and completely
quelled all further demonstrations of affection from the uninteresting
brute. Sir Guy was charmed.

"Hit him hard," said he; "he's got no friends. What a vixen it is! How
she punished my near leader the other day! I _love_ that girl!"

The latter sentence, be it observed, was spoken _sotto voce_, and
required, as indeed it received, no reply.

"What interesting creatures!" exclaimed Miss Molasses, indicating an
old pointer lady, who went swinging by with all the appearance of
having lately brought up a large and thirsty family. "Do tell me, can
that dog really _catch_ a hare?"

The keeper's face was a study; he was apparently a humorous
individual. But Miss Molasses addressed her remarks to Frank Lovell;
and Frank, as in duty bound, replied. That girl was evidently making
up to him, and, thinking he was fond of field-sports, pretended to
take an interest in everything connected with those pursuits for his
sake.

"Come and see the tame pheasants, Miss Coventry," said Sir Guy. I knew
what this meant: I knew it would entail a _tête-à-tête_ walk with my
aversion, and I cast an imploring look at Frank, as much as to say,
"_Do_ save me." He caught my meaning in an instant, and skilfully
interposed. Of course, as he accompanied us, so did Miss Molasses; but
Frank and I lingered a little behind the rest of the party, made a
wrong turn in the shrubbery, and found ourselves, I never knew exactly
how, taking a long walk all alone in the waning twilight. I don't know
what Aunt Deborah would have said to such proceedings, and I am quite
sure Lady Horsingham would have been unspeakably shocked; but these
Sunday walks were the custom of the country at Scamperley--and, after
all, it was not my doing, and consequently not my fault.

I wonder why it is that, in the very convenient code of morality which
the world has adopted for its private use, places and people should so
completely alter facts. You may do things with impunity in London that
would destroy the character of a Diana in the country; and, again,
certain rural practices, harmless--nay, even praiseworthy--when
confined to a picturesque domain, if flourished before the eyes of the
metropolis, would sink the performer to the lowest depths of social
degradation. It is not what you _do_ that matters one whit, but what
the world _thinks_ of your actions; and the gentlemen use a proverb
which I have often heard in connection with certain racing enormities,
that "One man may steal a horse, while another must not even _look at
a halter_:" and if this be the case with that sex who arrogate to
themselves the exclusive privilege of doing wrong, how much more does
the adage hold good with us poor, weak, trampled-upon women? Lady
Straitlace may do what she likes: she assumes a severe air in society,
is strict with her children, and harsh with her servants. In all ranks
of her acquaintance (of course below that of a countess) she visits
the slightest dereliction from female propriety with unrelenting
bitterness. Woe be to the trespasser, high or low! The weapon is
always ready to probe and gash and lacerate; the lash is constantly
raised, "swift to smite and never to spare." But who would venture to
speak a word against the decorum of Lady Straitlace? If she goes out
in the dark, 'tis to visit a sick friend; if she encourages young
Antinöus to be what ladies call continually "in her pocket," that is
only in order to give the lad good advice and keep him out of
mischief. Major Ramrod is never out of the house; but what then? The
visits of fifty Major Ramrods would not entitle the world to breathe a
whisper against a person of such strict propriety as Lady Straitlace.
But how that same forbearing world indemnifies itself on poor Mrs.
Peony! It is never tired of shrugging its worldly shoulders and
raising its worldly hands and eyebrows at the sayings and doings of
unfortunate Mrs. Peony.

"Did you hear of her going to the bachelors' ball with three gentlemen
in a fly?" (Nobody thinks it worth while to specify that the three
Lotharios consisted of her grandfather, her husband, and her nephew.)
"Did you see her drop her bracelet, to make young Stiffneck pick it
up? Do you know that she takes morning walks with Colonel Chanticleer,
and evening strolls with Bob Bulbul? She chatters, she laughs, she
flirts, she makes eyes; she's bad style, she's an odious woman; 'pon
my word, I don't know whether mamma will go on visiting her!"

And why should the world make this dead set at poor Mrs. Peony? She is
good-looking, soft-hearted, and unaffected; she laughs when she is
pleased, and cries when she is touched. She is altogether frank, and
natural, and womanly. Can these be good reasons for running her down?
Heavens knows! but run down she is, just as the hypocritical Lady
Straitlace is cried up. Well, we must take things as they are and make
the best of them. So Frank and I walked on through the pleasant fields
in the darkening twilight, and I, for one, enjoyed it excessively, and
was quite sorry when a great bell sounding from the house warned us
that it was time to return, and that our absence would too surely be
the subject of remark should we linger out of doors any longer. I
never knew Frank so agreeable; on every topic he was brilliant, and
lively, and amusing. Only once, in some casual remark about the
future, there was a shade of melancholy in his tone, more like what he
used to be formerly. Somehow, I don't think I liked him so well in his
best spirits; perhaps I was myself changed in the last few weeks. I
used often to think so. At first, during that walk, I feared lest
Frank should touch upon a topic which would have been far from
unwelcome a short time ago. I soon saw he had not the slightest
intention of doing so, and I confess I was immensely relieved. I had
dreaded the possibility of being obliged at last to give a decided
answer--of having my own fate in my own hands, and feeling totally
incapable of choosing for myself. But I might have spared my nerves
all such misgivings: my cavalier never gave me an opportunity of even
fancying myself in such a dilemma till just as we reached the house,
when, espying Mrs. Lumley and Miss Molasses returning from _their_
stroll, he started, coloured up a little, like a guilty man, and acted
as though he would have escaped their notice. I was provoked.

"Don't desert your colours, Captain Lovell," I said, in a firm voice;
"Miss Molasses is looking for you, even now."

"Unfeeling," muttered Frank, biting his lip, and looking really
annoyed. "O Miss Coventry! O Kate! give me an opportunity of
explaining all."

"Explain nothing," was my reply; "we understand each other perfectly.
It is time for me to go in and dress."

So I marched into the house, and left him looking foolish--if Frank
ever _could_ look foolish--on the doorstep. As I hurried along the
passages I encountered Lady Scapegrace.

"What's the matter, Kate?" said she, following me into my room; "you
look as if something had happened. No bad news, I trust, from Aunt
Deborah?"

I burst into tears. Kindness always overcomes me completely, and then
I make a fool of myself.

"Nothing's the matter," I sobbed out; "only I'm tired and nervous,
Lady Scapegrace, and I want to dress."

My hostess slipped quietly out of the room, and presently returned
with some sal volatile and water: she made me drink it every drop.

"I must have a talk to you, Kate," said she, "but not now; the
dinner-bell will ring in ten minutes." And she too hurried away to
perform her toilette.

As I get older I take to moralizing, and I am afraid I waste a good
deal of valuable time in speculating on the thoughts, ideas, and, so
to speak, the inner life of my neighbours. It is curious to observe a
large, well-dressed party seated at dinner, all apparently frank and
open as the day, full of fun and good humour, saying whatever comes
uppermost, and to all outward seeming laying bare every crevice and
cranny of their hearts, and then to reflect that each one of the
throng has a separate life, entirely distinct from that which he or
she parades before the public, cherished perhaps with a miser's care
or endured with a martyr's fortitude. Sir Guy, sitting at the bottom
of his table, drinking rather more wine than usual--perhaps because it
was Sunday, and the enforced decencies of the day had somewhat damped
his spirits--looked a jovial, thoughtless, merry country gentleman,
somewhat slang, it may be, not to say vulgar, but still open-hearted,
joyous, and hospitable. Was there no skeleton in Sir Guy's mental
cupboard? Were there no phantoms that _would_ rise up, like Banquo's
ghost, to their seat, unbidden, at his board? While he smacked his
great lips over those bumpers of dark red Burgundy, had he quite
forgotten the days of old--the friends he had pledged and made fools
of--the kind hearts he had loved and betrayed? Did he ever think of
Damocles and the hanging sword? Could he summon courage to look into
the future, or fortitude even to _think_ of the past? Sir Guy's was a
strong, healthy, sensuous nature, in which the physical far outweighed
the intellectual; and yet I verily believe his conscience sometimes
nearly drove him mad.

Then there was my lady, sitting at the top of her table, the very
picture of a courteous, affable, well-bred hostess; perhaps, if
anything, a little too placid and immovable in her outward demeanour.
Who would have guessed at the wild and stormy passions that could rage
beneath so calm a surface? Who would suppose that stately, reserved,
majestic-looking woman had the recklessness of a brigand and the
caprices of a child? A physiognomist might have marked the traces of
strong feelings in her deepened eyes and the lines about her
mouth--damages done by the hurricane, that years of calm can never
repair; but there had been a page or two in Lady Scapegrace's life
that, with all his acuteness, would have astonished Lavater himself.
Then there was Miss Molasses, the pink of propriety and
"what-would-mamma-say" young ladyism--cold as a statue, and, as old
Chaucer says, "upright as a bolt," but all the time over head and ears
in love with Frank Lovell, and ready to do anything he asked her at a
moment's notice. There was Frank himself, gay and _débonnair_:
outwardly the lightest-hearted man in the company; inwardly, I have
reason to know, tormented with misgivings and stung by self-reproach.
Playing a double game--attached to one woman and courting another,
despising himself thoroughly the while; hemmed in by difficulties and
loaded with debt, hampered by a bad book on "The Two Thousand," and
playing hide-and-seek even now with the Jews--Frank's real existence
was very different from the one he showed his friends. So with the
rest of the party. Old Mrs. Molasses was bothered by her maid; Mr.
Lumley puzzled by his beetles; his wife involved in a thousand schemes
of mischief-making, which kept her in perpetual hot water: all, even
honest Cousin John, were sedulously hiding their real thoughts from
their companions; all were playing the game with counters, of which
indeed they were lavish enough; but had you asked for a bit of
sterling coin, fresh from the Mint and stamped with the impress of
truth, they would have buttoned their pockets closer than ever--ay,
though you had been bankrupt and penniless, they would have seen you
further first, and _then they wouldn't_.

So we flirted, and talked, and laughed, and adjourned to the
drawing-room, where, after a proper interval, we were joined by the
gentlemen, who, in consideration of the day, consented for that one
evening in the week to forego their usual games of chance or skill,
such as whist, billiards, and cockamaroo. But the essential inanity of
a fashionable party requires to be amused, so we set round a large
table, and played at "letters," sedulously "shuffling" the handsome
ivory capitals as we gave each other long jaw-breaking words, the
difficulties of which were much enhanced by their being usually
misspelt, but which, nevertheless, formed a very appropriate vehicle
for what the world calls "flirtation." I can always find out other
people's words much quicker than my own, and whilst I was puzzling
over "centipede," and teasing Mrs. Lumley, who had given it me, for
the initial letter, I peeped over the shoulder of my next neighbour,
Miss Molasses, and made out clearly enough the word she had just
received from Frank Lovell. _She_ would not have discovered it for a
century, but I read it at a glance. I just _looked_ at Frank, who
blushed like a girl, took it back, vowing he had spelt it wrong, and
gave her another. Did he think to throw dust in my eyes? There is a
stage of mental suffering at which we grow naturally clear-sighted. I
had arrived at it long ago. Watching every action of my neighbours, I
had yet ears for all that was going on around. Sir Guy, occupying a
position on the hearth-rug, with his coat-tails over his arms, was
haranguing the clergyman of the parish, a quiet, meek little man, who
dined at Scamperley regularly on Sunday, and appeared frightened out
of his wits. He was a man of education and intellect, a ripe scholar,
a middling preacher, and a profound logician; but he was completely
overpowered by coarse, ignorant, noisy Sir Guy.

"Driving--hey?" said the Baronet; "we're all fond of driving, here,
Mr. Waxy: there's a young lady who will teach you to handle the
ribbons. Gad, she'd make the crop-eared mare step along. Have you got
the old mare still? Devilish good old mare!"

No child of man is too learned, or too quiet, or too humble, to feel
flattered at praise of his horse. Mr. Waxy blushed a moist yellow as
he replied,--

"Very good of you to remember her, Sir Guy; docile and safe, and
gentle withal, Sir Guy. But I don't drive her myself, Sir Guy," added
Mr. Waxy, raising his hands deprecatingly, as who should say, "Heaven
forbid!" "I don't drive myself, sir; no--no, my lad assumes the reins;
and notwithstanding the potency of your Scamperley ale, Sir Guy, we
manage to arrive pretty safe at our destination."

"Quite right, Mr. Waxy," vociferated Sir Guy. "Did I ever tell you
what happened to me once, when I took it into my head to drive my own
chariot home? Look ye here, sir, I'll tell you how it was. I was
unmarried then, Mr. Waxy, and as innocent as a babe, d'ye see? Well,
sir, I'd been to a _battue_ at my friend Rocketer's; and what with
staying to dinner, and a ball and a supper afterwards, it was very
late before I started for Scamperley, and all the servants were drunk,
as a matter of course. Why, sir, when I came out of the house there
were my carriage and horses standing in the line with some dozen
others, and devil a soul to look after 'em. What should you have done,
Mr. Waxy? Sworn like a trooper, I'll warrant it!"

Mr. Waxy shook his head with an air of mild deprecation.

"Well, sir," continued Sir Guy, "I'll tell you what I did. I jumped on
the box, Sir, before you could say Jack Robinson. I put on my own
coachman's box-coat, Sir, and drove 'em home myself. Thinks I, 'I'll
give the rascals a precious benefit: they'll have to walk every mile
of the way'--nine miles, and as dark as pitch, Mr. Waxy, as dark as
pitch! Well, sir, I'd a London footman, who was a sharpish fellow, and
used to dissipation in general; he heard the carriage drive off, and
ran to catch it. I gave _him_ a pretty good breather as I rattled down
the avenue. The fellow puffed like a grampus when he got up behind,
making no doubt it was all right, and he hadn't been found out. The
horses knew they were going home, and it wasn't long before I pulled
up at my own door. Down gets John, all officiousness and alacrity to
make up for past enormities, and rings a peal that might waken the
dead. Directly he hears them beginning to unbar he opens the
carriage-door and looks in. No master! The day was just dawning. I
shall never forget the fellow's face as he looked up, mistaking me,
muffled as I was in my own livery, for his fellow-servant.

"'I always told you how it would be, Peter,' said he, turning up a
face of drunken wisdom; 'and now it's come to pass. The devil's been
and took Sir Guy at last; and if he's as wicious there as he's been
here, it's a precious bad bargain for both of 'em!'"

Poor Mr. Waxy was obliged to laugh, but he took his departure
immediately; and of course, directly there was a move, the ladies went
to bed.

"Come to my room, Kate," whispered Lady Scapegrace, as we lighted our
hand-candles--"you can go the short way through the boudoir--I want to
speak a word with you."



CHAPTER XXII.


"Kate," said Lady Scapegrace, as she shut the door of her snug
dressing-room and wheeled an easy-chair before the fire for my
benefit--"Kate, you're a foolish girl; it strikes me you are playing a
dangerous game, and playing it all wrong, moreover. I can see more
than you think. Do you know the difference between real diamonds and
paste? Not you, you little goose. But you _shall_, if I can teach it
you. Kate, have you ever heard me talked about? Did you ever hear any
good of me?" I was forced to answer both questions--the former in the
affirmative, the latter in the negative.

"Do you believe I'm as bad as they give me credit for?" proceeded her
ladyship.

"No, no!" I replied, taking her hand and kissing it; for I really
liked Lady Scapegrace. "Let them say what they will, I won't believe
anything bad of you at all."

"I have had a strange life, Kate," said she; "and perhaps not quite
fair play. Well, the worst is over now, at any rate. I don't _much_
care how short the remainder may be. Kate, did you ever hear I was a
murderess?"

"No, no!" I repeated, taking her hand once more; for I was shocked and
half frightened at the expression of her countenance. "I never heard
anybody say more than that you were _odd_, and a flirt, and perhaps
not very much attached to Sir Guy."

Lady Scapegrace shuddered. "I owe you a great deal, Kate Coventry,"
she resumed--"a great deal more than I can ever hope to repay. I
consider that you once saved my life, but of that I make small
account; you have done me a far greater kindness--you have interested
me; you have made me fond of you; you have taught me to feel like a
_woman_ again. The least I can do in return is to watch you and warn
you--to show you the rock on which I made shipwreck, and beseech you
to avoid it. Kate, you've heard of my Cousin Latimer; would you like
to see his picture?"

Lady Scapegrace rose, walked to a small cabinet, unlocked it, and
produced a miniature, which she placed in my hands. If the painter had
not flattered him, Cousin Latimer was indeed a handsome boy. There was
genius on his wide, bold forehead, and resolution in his firm,
well-cut mouth; his large dark eyes betrayed strong passions and keen
intelligence, whilst high birth was stamped on his fine features and
chivalrous expression of countenance. Poor Cousin Latimer!

"Look at that, Kate," said Lady Scapegrace, in low chilling tones;
"the last time I saw him that was his very image. Thank God, I never
beheld him when those kind features were cold and rigid--that white
neck gashed by his own hand! O Kate! 'tis a sad story. I have not
mentioned it for twenty years; but it's a relief to _talk_ of it now.
Surely I was not altogether to blame; surely he might have given me
time; he need not have been so hasty--so desperate.

"Listen, Kate. I was one of a large family of girls. All my sisters
were beautiful; all were vain of their charms. As I grew up, I heard
nothing talked about but conquests, and lovers, and captivations. I
thought, to dazzle and enslave the opposite sex was the noblest aim of
woman. Latimer was brought up with us: we called him 'cousin,' though
he was in reality a very distant connection. Poor boy! day by day I
could see he was growing more and more attached to me. Latimer always
brought me the earliest roses. Latimer would walk miles by the side of
my pony. Latimer helped me with my drawing, and did my commissions,
and turned the leaves when I played on the pianoforte, and hung over
the instrument when I sang. In short, Latimer was my slave, body and
soul; and the consequence was, Kate, that I cared very little for him.
My sisters, to be sure, joked me about my conquest; and I felt, I
confess, a proper pride in owning a lover like the rest; but of real
affection for him I had then very little; and I often think, my dear,
that we women seldom value devotion such as his till too late. I was
not old enough to think seriously of marriage; but Latimer was
convinced I should become his wife, and (poor fellow!) made all his
arrangements and schemes for the future under this idea, with a
forethought scarcely to be expected from one so young.

"Well, years crept on, and I 'came out,' as you young ladies call it,
and was presented at court, and went to balls, and began to make the
most of my time, and enjoy life after the manner of my kind. Of
course, I was no wiser than my elders. I danced, and smiled, and
flirted, as I had seen my sisters do; and the more partners I could
refuse the better I was pleased. One day Cousin Latimer came to me,
and spoke out honestly and explicitly. He told me of all his hopes,
his misgivings, his future as I had the power to make it, and his
love. I was pleased and flattered. I felt that I liked Cousin Latimer
better than any one in the world; but there were two things I liked
even better than Cousin Latimer: these were power and admiration. Of
the former I never could obtain as much as I coveted; of the latter I
determined to take my fill. We were that night to have a grand ball in
the house, and were much occupied with decorating the rooms, and other
preparations, such as we girls delighted in. I put off Latimer with
half-promises and vague assurances, which sent him away more in love
with me than ever. I was to dance the first quadrille with him. It was
an engagement of at least a month's standing, and he had rather
wearied me by too often reminding me of it.

"There was a regiment of hussars quartered in our neighbourhood, and
we were well acquainted with most of the officers. The more so, as one
of my sisters was engaged to be married to the major, who, by the way,
ran away from her a year afterwards. One of these officers, a captain
in the regiment, was an especial flirt of mine; he was a good-looking,
agreeable man, and a beautiful waltzer. I recollect the night as well
as if it was yesterday--the officers arriving in their uniforms; my
father standing behind us, proclaiming aloud his pride in his six
handsome daughters; Cousin Latimer claiming my hand for the first
dance, and my refusal, notwithstanding my long promise, on the plea
that I was engaged to Captain Normanton. Poor boy! I can see his
pained, eager face now. 'You do what you like with me,' he said; 'but
you _must_ dance the next.' I laughed and promised.

"Captain Normanton was very agreeable; he was the most dashing-looking
man in the room, and I liked the vanity of parading him about in his
uniform, and showing my sisters and others the power I had over Cousin
Latimer. Once more the latter claimed my promise, and once more I
threw him over. I glanced triumphantly at him as he watched me from a
corner; and the more he gazed, the more _I acted at him_, as if I was
making violent love to my partner. Somehow, without looking, I saw
every shade of Latimer's countenance. Once or twice I had compassion,
but there was the excitement of vanity and novelty to lure me on.

"For the first time in my life I knew how much it was possible for men
to care for us, and I could not resist torturing my victim to the
utmost. Fool that I was! Cousin Latimer came up to me once more.
Though annoyed and hurt, he mustered a good-humoured smile as he said,
'For the _third_ and _last_ time, will you dance with me?' 'But you
don't waltz half as well as Captain Normanton,' I replied; 'I like
_him_ best;' and away I whirled again with the delighted hussar.

"The instant I had spoken, I felt I had gone too far. I would have
given anything to unsay those foolish words, but it was too late. When
I stopped, panting and breathless, after the dance, Cousin Latimer
came quite close to me. I never saw a face so changed: he was deadly
pale, and there was a sweet, melancholy expression in his countenance
that contrasted strangely with the wild gleam in his eye. He spoke
very low, almost softly, but in a voice I had never heard before. He
only said, 'God forgive you, dear; you try me too much.' I never saw
him again, Kate--never.

"When I heard what had happened, I was laid up for months with brain
fever. They cut all my hair off; they pinioned me; they did all that
skill and science could do, and I recovered. Would to God that I had
died! I do not think my head has ever been right since.

"Kate! Kate! would you have such feelings as mine? Should you like to
live all your life haunted by one pale face? Would you wish never to
enjoy a strain of music, a gleam of sunshine, a single, simple,
natural pleasure, because of the phantom? Be warned, my dear, before
it is too late. I tell you honestly, I never forgot him; I tell you, I
never forgave myself. What did I care for any of them, except poor
Alphonse--and I only liked Alphonse because he reminded me of the
dead. Do you think I was not a reckless woman when I married Sir Guy?

"Do you think I have not been punished and humiliated enough? Heaven
forbid, my dear, that your fate should resemble mine! I read your
feelings far more plainly than you do yourself. You have a kind,
generous, noble heart deeply attached to you. Don't be a fool, as I
was; don't throw him over for the sake of an empty-headed, flirting,
good-for-nothing roué, who will forget you in a fortnight. Strong
language, Kate, is it not? But think over what I have told you.
Good-night, dear. What would I give to yawn as honestly as you do, and
to sleep sound once again, as I used to sleep when I was a girl!"

I took my candle, and kissed Lady Scapegrace affectionately as I
thanked her, and wished her "good-night." It was already late, and my
room was quite at the other end of the house. As I sped along,
devoutly trusting I should not meet any of the gentlemen on their way
to bed, I spied a figure advancing towards me from the end of a long
corridor. It was attired in a flowing dressing-gown of crimson silk,
with magnificent Turkish slippers, and carried a hand candlestick much
off the perpendicular, as it swayed up the passage in a somewhat
devious course. When it caught sight of me, it extended both its arms,
regardless of the melted wax with which such a manoeuvre bedaubed the
wall, and prepared, with many endearing and complimentary expressions,
to bar my further progress.

The figure was no less a person than Sir Guy, half tipsy, proceeding
from his dressing-room to bed. What to do I knew not. I shuddered at
the idea of meeting the Baronet at such an hour, and in so excited a
state. I loathed and hated him at all times, and I quite trembled now
to face his odious compliments and impertinent _double entendres_. My
hunting experience, however, had given me a quick eye to see my way
out of a difficulty; and espying a green baise door on my right I
rushed through it, and down a flight of stone steps that led I knew
not where. Giving a view-holloa that must have startled every light
sleeper in the house, Sir Guy followed close in my wake, dropping the
silver candlestick with a most alarming clatter. I saw I had not the
speed of him to any great extent, so I dodged into the first empty
room I came to, and blowing out my light, resolved to lie there
_perdue_ till my pursuer had overrun the scent.

The manoeuvre answered admirably so far. I heard the enemy swearing
volubly as he blundered along the passage, thinking I was still before
him; and I now prepared to grope my way back in the dark to my own
room. But I had not escaped yet. To my infinite dismay, I heard the
voices of gentlemen wishing each other the usual "Good-night, old
fellow," and proceeding along the passage from the direction of the
smoking-room. Horror of horrors! a light approached the door of the
very room in which I had taken refuge; in another second he would
enter--the man would find me in his room. He stopped a moment on the
threshold to fire a parting jest at his companions, and the light from
his candle showed me my only chance. A covered showerbath stood in the
corner of the apartment, and into that shower-bath I jumped, closing
the curtains all round me, but, as may be easily believed, taking very
particular care not to pull the string. Scarcely was I fairly
ensconced before Frank Lovell made his appearance; and I saw at once,
through a hole in the curtains, that he was the lawful occupier and
possessor of the apartment.

Here was a predicament indeed! If the emergency had not been so
desperate, I must have fainted. "Good gracious," I thought, "if he
should lock the door!" Frank, however, seemed to have no such
intention; I believe this is a precaution gentlemen seldom adopt. On
the contrary, he proceeded to make himself thoroughly at home.
Lighting his candle, he leisurely divested himself of his coat,
waistcoat, and neckcloth, enfolded his person in a large loose
dressing-gown, leaned his head on both hands, and gave a deep sigh.
Apparently much relieved by this process, he took up his hair-brushes,
and after a good refreshing turn at his locks and whiskers, and a
muttered compliment to his own reflection in the glass, that sounded
very like "You fool!" he unlocked a small writing-case, and producing
from it a little bundle of letters, tied up with pink ribbon, selected
them one by one, and read them over from beginning to end, kissing
each with devout fervour as he replaced it carefully in its envelope.
I would have given a great deal to know who they were from; their
perusal seemed to afford him mingled satisfaction and annoyance; but
he sighed heavily again, and I saw he had a long lock of hair in his
fingers, which he gazed at till the tears stood in his eyes. He kissed
it, the traitor! and fondled it, and spoke to it, and clasped it to
his heart (men are just as great fools as we are). Whose could it be?
Not mine, certainly, for I never gave him such a thing; Miss
Molasses'? No; hers was black, and rather coarse; this was a silky
chestnut. Could it have belonged to Mrs. Lumley? Hers was very much
the colour, and I often thought Frank rather _épris_ with her.
Nonsense! that lively lady had not an atom of sentiment in her
composition; she would just as soon have thought of working him a
counterpane!

I was so interested in my discoveries that I forgot altogether my own
critical position, the impracticability of escape till Frank had gone
to sleep, the chance of arousing him as I went out, or, more alarming
still, the awful possibility of his lying awake all night. When
morning dawned, concealment could no longer be preserved, and what to
do then? I meditated a bold stroke. To rush from my hiding-place, blow
out both the candles before my host had recovered his surprise, and
then run for it. Thrice was I on the eve of this perilous enterprise.
Thrice my courage failed me at the critical moment. The fourth time I
think I should have gone, when a knock at the door arrested my
attention, and Frank's "Come in" welcomed a visitor whose voice I well
knew to be that of Cousin John. The plot began to thicken. It was
impossible to get away now.

"Lovell," said John, in an unusually grave voice, "I told you I wanted
to speak a word with you, and this is the only time I can make sure of
finding you alone."

Frank was busy huddling his treasures back into the writing-case.

"Drive on, old fellow," said he, "there's lots of time; it's not two
o'clock yet."

"Lovell," proceeded John, "you are an old friend of mine, and I have a
great regard for you, but I have a duty to perform, and I must go
through with it. Point-blank, on your honour as a gentleman, I ask
you, _Are you_ or _are you not_ engaged to be married to Miss
Molasses?"

Frank coloured, hesitated, looked confused, and then got angry.

"No intimacy can give you a right to ask such a question," he replied,
talking very fast and excitedly: "you take an unwarrantable liberty,
both with her and me. Who told you I was going to be married at all?
or what business is it of yours whether I am married or not?"

John began to get heated too, but he looked very determined.

"I am sorry you should take it thus," he replied, "for you force me to
come at once to the point. As the nearest relation and natural
guardian of my cousin, Miss Coventry, I must ask your intention with
regard to that young lady. I have often remarked you paid her great
attention, but it was not till to-day that I heard your name coupled
with hers, and a doubt expressed as to which of the ladies I have
mentioned you meant to honour with your preference. I don't want to
quarrel with you, Frank," added John, softening, "I don't want to
mistrust your good feelings or your honour. Perhaps you don't know her
as well as I do; perhaps you can't appreciate her value like me. Many
men would give away their lives for her--would think no sacrifice too
dear at which to purchase her regard. Believe me, Frank, she's worth
anything. If you have proposed to her, as I have reason to think you
must have done, confide in me; I will smooth all difficulties; I will
arrange everything for you both. God knows I love her better than
anything on earth; but _her_ happiness is my first consideration, and
if she likes you, Frank, she shall marry you."

Captain Lovell seemed to be of a different opinion. He bit his lip,
looking angry and annoyed.

"You go too fast, Mr. Jones," he replied very stiffly; "I have never
given the young lady you mention an opportunity of either accepting or
refusing me. If ever _I am_ fool enough to marry, I shall take the
liberty of selecting my own wife, without consulting your taste; and I
really cannot undertake to wed every lively young lady that
condescends to flirt with me, merely _pour passer le temps_."

John's face grew dark with anger. How noble he looked as he squared
his fine figure and reared his gallant head, standing erect before his
enemy, and scanning him from top to toe. He was very quiet too; he
only said,--

"Captain Lovell, I claim a brother's right to protect Miss Coventry's
reputation, and as a brother I demand reparation for the wrong you
have done her; need I say any more?"

"Not another syllable," replied Frank Lovell carelessly. "Whenever you
like, only the sooner the better. Popham always acts for me on these
occasions; he don't go away till to-morrow afternoon, so I refer you
to him. I'm getting sleepy now, Mr. Jones. I wish you a good-night."

Cousin John took up his candle, and retired. Never in my life had I
been in such a position as this. That there would be a duel I had not
the slightest shadow of doubt--and all for my sake. That my gallant,
generous, true-hearted cousin should have behaved so nobly, so
unselfishly, did not surprise me; but that he should be sacrificed to
his devoted fidelity--I could not bear to think of it for a moment!
How I loved him now! How I wondered that I could ever have compared
the two for an instant! How I resolved to make him full amends, and,
come what might, to frustrate this projected duel! But what could I
do? In the first place, how was I to get out of the room?

My situation was so embarrassing, and at the same time so ridiculous,
that I could with difficulty resist a hysterical inclination to laugh.
Here I was, at all events, a close prisoner till Captain Lovell should
go to bed, and he seemed to have no idea of that rational proceeding,
though it was now past three o'clock. He walked about the room,
whistling softly. Once he came so near my hiding-place that I felt his
breath on my cheek. "Good heavens," thought I, "if he should take it
into his head to have a shower-bath now to brace his nerves!" At last
he walked to a drawer, selected a cigar, lit it, and throwing open the
window, proceeded deliberately to get out. I almost hoped he would
break his neck! But I conclude there was a ledge or balcony of some
sort to sustain him, and that he was accustomed to a nightly cigar in
that position. Here was a chance not to be lost! I bolted out of the
shower-bath; I popped the extinguisher on one candle, and blew the
other out at the same instant. I heard the smoker's exclamation of
astonishment, but heeded it not. I rushed through the door. I flew
along the dark passages, breathless and trembling; at last I reached
my own room, more by instinct, I believe, than any other faculty, and
having locked the door and struck a light, sat me down, in a state of
immense confusion and bewilderment, to think what I should do next.



CHAPTER XXIII.


Who was there to whom I could apply? Sir Guy, of course, was out of
the question. Then, in an affair of such delicacy, I could not consult
a _young_ man; besides, these boys, I fancy, are always for fighting,
right or wrong. A woman was no use, or I should have gone straight
back to Lady Scapegrace. I pondered matters over and over again. I
thought of every horror in the way of duelling I had ever heard of.

My own uncle was shot dead by a Frenchman when attached to the army of
occupation at Cambray. It was a romantic story, and I had often heard
the particulars from my godfather, General Grape, who officiated as
his second. My uncle was a handsome, chivalrous youth, deeply attached
to a countrywoman of his own, whose picture he wore constantly next
his heart. Such a man was not likely to become compromised with
another lady. It happened, however, that my uncle was quartered in the
vicinity of a château belonging to a retired general of the Grand
Army, who hated an Englishman as a matter of taste, and a British
officer as a matter of duty.

The French general had a charming daughter, and Rosalie, besides being
_belle comme le jour_, was likewise what her acquaintance called _tant
soit peu coquette_. So she made love to my uncle on every available
opportunity, and of course, because he didn't care for her two pins,
set her faithless heart upon him, as a woman will. To make things
simpler, she was herself engaged to a young marquis in the
neighbourhood. Well, my uncle, like a sensible man, did his best to
keep clear of the whole thing, but he could not avoid meeting Rosalie
occasionally in his walks, nor could he absolutely refuse to make her
acquaintance, or refrain from perusing the letters she wrote to him,
or, finally, prevent that forward young person from falling into his
arms, and bursting into tears, with her head on his shoulder. The
moment was, however, ill-chosen for so dramatic a scene, inasmuch as
it occurred under the very noses of her father and her _fiancé_, both
of whom, unknown to the fair wanderer, had followed Rosalie, on
purpose to find out where it was she walked day after day so
perseveringly.

My uncle had scarcely recovered his surprise at the first
demonstration ere he was staggered by the second--"_Malheureuse!_"
exclaimed the father; "_Perfide!_" groaned the lover; "_Traître!_"
shouted the marquis; "_Lâche!_" growled the general. My uncle turned
from one to the other, completely at a nonplus, Rosalie in the
meantime clinging to his breast and imploring him passionately to save
her! My uncle's waistcoat came undone--his real mistress's miniature
dropped out; the sight added fuel to the fire of the belligerents.
Nothing would satisfy them but his blood. In vain he protested, in
vain he swore, in extremely bad French, that he had no _penchant_ for
Rosalie, had never made love to her in his life; in fact, rather
disliked her than otherwise.

The Frenchmen _sacréed_, and fumed, and stormed at him, and jostled
him, till my uncle lost all patience, shook himself clear of Rosalie,
who fell fainting to the ground, knocked each of his adversaries down
in turn, and walked home to his quarters, very much disgusted with the
world in general, and the wilfulness of French young ladies in
particular. Of course he knew perfectly well it was not to end here.
He sent for Grape, then a brother subaltern, and placed his honour in
that officer's hands.

No message came for two days, that interval having elapsed in
consequence of a deadly quarrel between the marquis and the general as
to who should take the thing up first. Grape firmly believes they
decided the matter with small swords; another version is, that they
played piquet for eight-and-forty hours to settle it--the best out of
so many games. Be this how it may, the general appeared as the
ostensible champion, and the marquis officiated as his _témoin_.
Grape, as my uncle's second, chose pistols for the weapons, and
selected a retired piece of ground in a large garden near the château
as the lists. I give the conclusion in his own words:--


  "Horsingham was as cool as a cucumber, and the only thing that
  seemed to annoy him was a possibility that the cause of his
  _rencontre_ might be misrepresented to her he loved at home.

  "'Tell her I was faithful to the last,' said he to me as he squeezed
  my hand just before _I put him up_. 'Tell her, if I fall, that I
  never loved another; that my heart is pure and spotless as that
  white rose, which I will wear upon it for her sake.'

  "While he spoke, he plucked a white rose from a neighbouring bush,
  and in spite of my remonstrances fixed it in the breast of his
  close-fitting dark coat.

  "'What are you about, Charlie?' I urged. 'This is no time for
  romance. Don't you know all these cursed Frenchmen are dead shots?
  You might as well chalk out a bull's eye over the pit of your
  stomach!'

  "He was a romantic, foolish fellow. I can see him now, drawing
  himself up, and looking like a knight of the olden time, with his
  brightening eye, and his smooth, unruffled forehead."

  "'Give her the white rose,' he only said. 'She'll keep it when it's
  withered, perhaps. And tell her I never wavered--never for an
  hour!'"

  "I knew too well how it would be. From the instant he came on the
  ground the old general never took his eye off his man. What an eye
  it was! Cold and gray and leaden; half shut, like that of some wild
  animal, with a pupil that contracted visibly while I watched it. I
  knew my friend had no chance. I did all I could. As I had the
  privilege of placing the men, I stationed our adversary where he
  would have to look over his shoulder to see my signal, whilst my
  friend's face was turned towards me. They were to fire when I
  dropped my hat. I dropped it with a flourish. Alas! all was of no
  use. The general shot him right through the heart. I knew he would;
  and the bullet cut the stalk of the rose in two, smashed the lower
  part of the miniature, leaving only the face untouched, and poor
  Charlie Horsingham never spoke again. As we lifted him and
  unbuttoned his waistcoat, the two Frenchmen gazed at the miniature
  with looks of anger and curiosity. Great was their astonishment to
  behold the portrait of another than Rosalie. The younger man was
  much affected; he groaned aloud and covered his face with his hands.
  Not so the old general. '_Tenez_,' said he, wiping the barrel of his
  weapon on his glove, '_c'est dommage! je ne contais pas là-dessus;
  mais, que voulez-vous? Peste! ce n'est qu'un Anglais de moins._'"

This is the carelessness with which men talk and think of human life;
and here was my cousin about to go through the fearful ordeal, perhaps
to be shot dead, like poor Charles Horsingham. The more I thought of
it, the more resolutely I determined to prevent it. I had never taken
off my dinner-dress--my candles were nearly burned down--the clock
struck five--in two hours it would be daylight. There was not a moment
to lose. All at once a bright thought struck me. I would rouse good
old Mr. Lumley. He was clever, sensible, and respected; he was
likewise a man of honour and a gentleman. With all his infirmities, I
had seen him show energy enough when he could do any good. I would go
to him at once; and I left my room with the resolution that I, for
one, would move heaven and earth ere a hair of Cousin John's precious
head should be imperilled on my account.

I lit my candle and tripped once more along the silent passages. I
knew where Mrs. Lumley slept, and soon reached the door of her room;
audible snores, base and treble, attested, if not the good
consciences, at least the sound digestions of the inmates. I tapped
loudly; no answer. Again I knocked till my knuckles smarted. A sleepy
"Come in" was the reply to my summons. They probably thought it was
the housemaid arrived to open the shutters. It was no time for false
delicacy or diffidence, and I walked boldly into the apartment. By the
light of the night-lamp I beheld the happy pair. Of course, I am not
going to describe the lady's dress; but all I can say is, that if ever
I am prevailed on to marry, and such a catastrophe is by no means
impossible, I shall _not_ permit my husband to disfigure himself at
any hour by adopting such a custom as that of dear, kind, good old Mr.
Lumley.

A white cotton nightcap, coming well over the ears, and tied under the
throat with tape to match, surmounted by a high _bonnet rouge_ like an
extinguisher, the entire headdress being further secured by a broad
black ribbon, would make Plato himself look ridiculous; and a sleepy
old face, with a small turn-up nose, and a rough stubbly chin of
unshaven gray, does not add to the beauty or the dignity of such a
recumbent subject. However, what I wanted was Mr. Lumley; and Mr.
Lumley I was forced to take as I could get him.

"What's o'clock?" he murmured drowsily. "Come again to light the fire
in half an hour."

"Why, it's Kate!" exclaimed his better half, rousing up, bright and
warm, in a moment, like a child. "Goodness, Kate, what are you doing
here?"

"Miss Coventry!" ejaculated her husband. "What is it? A perfect
specimen of the common house-spider, I'll lay my life. What an
energetic girl! Found it on her pillow, and lost not a moment in
bringing it here! I'm eternally obliged to you. Where is it? Mind you
don't injure the legs. Pray don't stick a pin through the back."

"Oh, Mr. Lumley!" I sobbed out, "it's worse than a spider. Get up,
please; there's going to be a duel, and I want you to stop it. Captain
Lovell and Cousin--Cousin----"

I fairly broke down here, and burst into tears; but the kind old man
understood me in an instant.

"Margery, my dear," he shouted, "get me up directly; there's not a
moment to lose. Oh, these boys! these boys! young blood and absence of
brains! If they would but devote their energies to science. Don't
distress yourself, my dear; I'll manage it all. Where does Captain
Lovell sleep?"

"First door on the right, when you get down the steps in the
Bachelors' wing," I replied unhesitatingly, much to the surprise of
Mrs. Lumley. She would have known too, if she had been shut up there
for a couple of hours in a shower-bath.

"I'll go to him as soon as I'm dressed," promised Mr. Lumley. "I
pledge you my honour he shan't fight till I give him leave. Go to bed,
my dear, and leave everything in my hands. Don't cry, there's a good
girl. By the way, the housemaids here are infernally officious; you
haven't _seen_ a good specimen of the common house-spider anywhere
about, have you?"

I assured the kind-hearted old naturalist I had not; and as he was
already half out of bed, I took my departure, and sought my own
couch--not to sleep, Heaven knows, but to toss and turn and tumble,
and see horrid visions, waken as I was, and think of everything
dreadful that might happen to my cousin, and confess to my own heart
how I loved him now, and hated myself for having treated him as I had,
and revel, as it were, in self-reproach and self-torture. It was broad
daylight ere I fell into a sort of fitful dose, so out-wearied and
over-excited was I, both in body and mind.



CHAPTER XXIV.


It is very disagreeable to face a large party with anything on your
mind that you cannot help thinking must be known, or at least
suspected, by your associates. When I came down to breakfast, after a
hasty and uncomfortable toilette, and found the greater portion of the
guests assembled at that gossiping meal, I could not help fancying
that every listless dandy and affected fine lady present was
acquainted with my proceedings during the last twelve hours, and was
laughing in his or her sleeve accordingly. I cast a rapid and
frightened glance round the table, and, to my infinite relief, beheld
Cousin John eating his egg as composedly as possible; whilst a
reassuring smile and a pleasant "Good-morning" from Mr. Lumley gave me
to understand that his mediation had averted all fatal proceedings.

The other guests ate and drank, and laughed and chattered much as
usual; but still I could not help remarking on the face of each of
them a subdued expression of intelligence, as though in possession of
some charming bit of news or delightful morsel of scandal. Lady
Scapegrace was the first to put me on a footing of equality with the
rest.

"We have lost some of our party, Kate," said she, as she handed me my
tea. "I confess I suspected it last year, in London. She is a most
amiable girl, and will have a large fortune."

I looked at her ladyship as if I was dreaming.

"You needn't be so surprised, Kate," said she, laughing at my utter
bewilderment; "don't you miss anybody? Look round the table."

Sure enough the Molasses party were absent, and there was no Frank
Lovell. Then it was true, after all! He had sold himself to that
lackadaisical young lady, and had been making a fool of _me_, Kate
Coventry, the whole time. How angry I ought to have been! I was
surprised to find I was _not_. On the contrary, my first feeling was
one of inexpressible relief, as I thought there was now no earthly
obstacle between myself and that kind face on the other side of the
breakfast-table; though too soon a horrid tide of doubts and fears
surged up as I reflected on my own unworthiness and caprice.

How I had undervalued that noble, generous character! How often I had
wounded and annoyed him in sheer carelessness or petulance, and
thought little of inflicting on him days of pain to afford myself the
short and doubtful amusement of an hour's flirtation and folly!

What if he should cast _me_ off now? What if he had obtained an
insight into my character which had cured him entirely of any regard
he might previously have entertained for me? What if I should find
that I had all my life been neglecting the gem which I was too
ignorant to appreciate, and now, when I knew its real value and would
give my life for it, it was beyond my grasp?

At all events, I would never forget _him_. Come what might now, I
would never care for another. I felt quite glad Frank Lovell was as
good as married, and out of the way. The instant I had swallowed my
breakfast I put my bonnet on and rushed into the garden, for I felt as
if fresh air was indispensable to my very existence. The first person
I met amongst the flower-beds was dear old Mr. Lumley. He had hobbled
out on his crutches purposely to give me an interview. I thanked him,
as if he had been my father, for all his kindness; and he talked to me
gently and considerately, as a parent would to a child.

"I promised you, my dear, that they should not fight, and I think I
have kept my word. Your cousin, Miss Coventry, is a noble fellow,"
said the old man, his benevolent features kindling into admiration;
"but I had more difficulty with him than his antagonist. He would not
be satisfied till Captain Lovell had assured him, on his honour, that
you had yourself declined his advances in a manner which admitted of
no misconstruction; and that then, and not till then, he considered
himself free. You were right, my dear--I am an old man, and I take a
great interest in you, so do not think me impertinent--you were right
to have nothing to say to a _roué_ and a gambler.

"I was not always the old cripple you are so forbearing with now. I
lived in the world once, and saw a good deal of life and men. My
experience has convinced me that selfishness is the bane of the
generality of mankind; but that nowhere is it so thoroughly developed
as in those who live what people call 'by their wits,' and enjoy all
the luxuries and pleasures of life by dint of imposing on the world. I
consider Frank Lovell, though we all vote him such a good fellow, one
of that class, and I do not think he would have made a good husband to
my young friend Miss Coventry. Your cousin, my dear, is a character of
another stamp altogether; and if, as I hear everybody say, he is
really to be married to that Welsh girl, I think you will agree with
me that she has got a prize such as falls to the lot of few."

Mr. Lumley was by this time out of breath; but I could not have
answered him to save my life. Like one of his own favourite
house-spiders, I had been unconsciously spinning a web of delightful
self-delusion, and here came the ruthless housemaid and swept it all
away. How blind I must have been not to see it long ago! John might be
very fond of pheasant-shooting, and I believe, when the game is
plentiful and the thing well managed, that sport is fascinating
enough; but people don't travel night and day into such a country as
Wales, where there are no railroads, merely for the purpose of
standing in a ride and knocking over a certain quantity of half-tame
fowls. No, no; I ought to have seen it long ago. I had lost him now,
and _now_ I knew his value when it was too late. Too late!--the knell
that tolls over half the hopes and half the visions of life.

Too late!--the one bitter drop that poisons the whole cup of success.
Too late! The golden fruit has long hung temptingly just above your
grasp; you have laboured and striven and persevered, and you seize it
at last and press it to your thirsty lips. Dust and ashes are your
reward. The fruit is still the same, but it is too late: your desire
for it is gone, or your power of enjoying it has failed you at the
very moment of fruition; all that remains to you is the keen pang of
disappointment, or, worse still, the apathy of disgust. I might have
made John my slave a few weeks ago, and _now_--it was too provoking,
and for that Welsh girl too! How I hated everything Welsh! Not Ancient
Pistol, eating his enforced leek with its accompanying sauce, could
have entertained a greater aversion for the Principality than I did at
that moment.

Presently we were joined by Lady Scapegrace. She too had got something
pleasant to say to me.

"I told you so, Kate," she observed, taking my arm, and leading me
down one of those secluded walks--"I told you so all along. Your
friend Captain Lovell proposed to Miss Molasses yesterday. Don't blame
him too much, Kate; if he's not married within three weeks, he'll be
in the Bench. Never mind how I know, but I _do_ know. I think he has
behaved infamously to you, I confess; but take comfort, my dear--you
are not the first by a good many."

I put it to my impartial reader whether such a remark, though made
with the kindest intentions, was not enough to drive any woman mad
with spite. I broke away from Lady Scapegrace, and rushed back into
the house. We were to leave Scamperley that day by the afternoon
train. Gertrude was already packing my things; but I was obliged to go
to the drawing-room for some work I had left there, and in the
drawing-room I found a whole bevy of ladies assembled over their
different occupations.

Women never spare each other; and I had to go through the ordeal,
administered ruthlessly, and with a refinement of cruelty known only
to ourselves. Even Mrs. Lumley, my own familiar friend, had no mercy.

"We ought to congratulate you, I conclude, Miss Coventry," said one.

"He's a relation of yours, is he not?" inquired another.

"Only a very great _friend_," laughed Mrs. Lumley, shaking her curls.

"It's a great marriage for _him_," some one else went on to say--"far
better than he deserves. Poor thing! he'll lead her a sad life; he's a
shocking flirt!"

Now, if there is one thing to my mind more contemptible than another,
it is that male impostor whom ladies so charitably designate by the
mild term "a flirt." It is all fair for _us_ to have our little
harmless vanities and weaknesses. We are shamefully debarred from the
nobler pursuits and avocations of life; so we may be excused for
passing the time in such trivial manoeuvres as we can invent to excite
the envy of our own and triumph over the pride of the opposite sex.
But that a man should lower himself to act the part of a slave, "tied
to an apron-string," and voluntarily be a fool, without being an
honest one--it is too degrading!

Such a despicable being does us an infinity of harm: he encourages us
to display all the worst points of the female character; he cheats us
of our due amount of homage from many a noble heart, and perhaps robs
us of our own dignity and self-respect. Yet such is the creature we
encourage in our blind vanity, and whilst we vote him "so pleasant and
agreeable," temper our commendation with the mild remonstrance,
"though I am afraid he's rather a flirt!"

I saw the drawing-room on that morning was no place for me; so I
folded my work, and curbing my tongue, which I own had a strong
inclination to take its part in the war of words, I sought my own
room, and found there, in addition to the litter and discomfort
inseparable from the process of packing, a letter just arrived by the
post. It was in Cousin Amelia's hand, and bore the Dangerfield
postmark. "What now?" I thought, dreading to open it lest it might
contain some fresh object of annoyance, some further inquiries or
remarks calculated to irritate my already overdriven temper out of due
bounds.

"Cousin Amelia never writes to me unless she has something unpleasant
to say," was my mental observation, "and a very little more would fill
the cup to overflowing. Whatever happens, I am determined not to cry;
rather than face all those ladies with red eyes when I go to wish Lady
Scapegrace good-bye, I would forego the pleasure of ever receiving a
letter or hearing a bit of news again!"

So I popped Cousin Amelia's epistle into my pocket without breaking
the seal, and put on my bonnet at once, that I might be ready to
start, and not keep Cousin John waiting.

The leavetaking was got over more easily than I expected. People
generally hustle one off in as great a hurry as the common decencies
of society would admit of, in order to shorten as much as possible the
unavoidable gêne of parting. Sir Guy, staunch to his colours, was to
drive me back on the detested drag; but his great face fell several
inches when I expressed my determination to perform the journey _this_
time _inside_.

"I've bitted the team on purpose for you, Miss Kate," he exclaimed,
with one of his usual oaths, "and now you throw me over at the last
moment. Too bad; by all that's disappointing, it's too bad! Come now,
think better of it; put on my box-coat, and catch hold of 'em, there's
a good girl."

"_Inside_, or not at all, Sir Guy," was my answer; and I can be pretty
determined, too, when I choose.

"Then perhaps your maid would like to come on the box," urged the
Baronet, who seemed to have set his heart on the enjoyment of _some_
female society.

"Gertrude goes with me," I replied stoutly; for I thought Cousin John
looked pleased, and Sir Guy was at a nonplus.

"Awfully high temper," he muttered, as he took his reins and placed
his foot on the roller-bolt. "I like 'em saucy, I own, but this girl's
a regular vixen!"

Sir Guy was very much put out, and vented his annoyance on his
off-wheeler, "double-thonging" that unfortunate animal most
unmercifully the whole way to the station. He bade me farewell with a
coldness, and almost sulkiness, quite foreign to his usual demeanour,
and infinitely pleasanter to my feelings. Besides, I saw plainly that
the more I fell in the Baronet's good opinion, the higher I rose in
that of my _chaperone_; and by the time John and I were fairly settled
in a _coupé_, my cousin had got back to his old, frank, cordial
manner, and I took courage to break the seal of Cousin Amelia's
letter, and peruse that interesting document, regardless of all the
sarcasms and innuendoes it might probably contain.

What a jumble of incongruities it was! Long stories about the weather,
and the garden, and the farm, and all sorts of things which no one
knew better than I did had no interest for my correspondent whatever.
I remarked, however, throughout the whole composition, that "mamma's"
sentiments and regulations were treated with an unusual degree of
contempt, and the writer's own opinions asserted with a boldness and
freedom I had never before observed in my strait-laced, hypocritical
cousin. Mr. Haycock's name, too, was very frequently brought on the
_tapis_: he seemed to have breakfasted with them, lunched with them,
walked, driven, played billiards with them, and, in short, to have
taken up his residence almost entirely at Dangerfield. The postscript
explained it all, and the postscript I give verbatim as I read it
aloud to Cousin John whilst we were whizzing along at the rate of
forty miles an hour.

"_P.S._--I am sure my dear Kate will give me joy. You cannot have
forgotten a _certain_ person calling this autumn at Dangerfield for a
_certain_ purpose, in which he did not seem clearly to know his own
mind. Everything is now explained. My dear Herod (is it not a pretty
Christian name!)--my dear Herod is all that I can wish, and assures me
that all along _it_ was intended for me. The _happy day_ is not yet
fixed; but my dearest Kate may rest assured that I will not fail to
give her the _earliest intelligence_ on the _first opportunity_. Tell
Mr. Jones I shall be married before him, after all."

The last sentence escaped my lips without my meaning it. Had I not
come upon it unexpectedly, I think I should have kept it to myself.
John blushed, and looked hurt. For a few minutes there was a
disagreeable silence, which we both felt awkward. He was the first to
break it.

"Kate," said he, "do you think I shall be married before Miss
Horsingham?"

"How can I tell?" I replied, looking steadfastly out of the window,
whilst my colour rose and my heart beat rapidly.

"Do you believe that Welsh story, Kate?" proceeded my cousin.

I knew by his voice it _couldn't_ be true; I _felt_ it was a slander;
and I whispered, "No."

"One more question, Kate," urged Cousin John, in a thick, low voice.
"Why did you refuse Frank Lovell?"

"He never proposed to me," I answered; "I never gave him an
opportunity."

"Why not?" said my cousin.

"Because I liked some one else better," was my reply; and I think
those few words settled the whole business.

       *     *     *     *     *

I shall soon be five-and-twenty now, and on my birthday I am to be
married. Aunt Deborah has got better ever since it has all been
settled. Everybody seems pleased, and I am sure no one can be better
pleased than I am. Only Lady Horsingham says, "Kate will _never_
settle." I think I know better. I think I shall make none the worse a
wife because I can walk, and ride, and get up early, and stand all
weathers, and love the simple, wholesome, natural pleasures of the
country. John thinks so too, and that is all I need care about.

I have such a charming trousseau, though I am ashamed to say I take
very little pleasure in looking at it. But kind, thoughtful Cousin
John has presented Brilliant with an entirely new set of clothing; and
I think my horse seems almost more delighted with his finery than his
mistress is with hers. My Cousin and I ride together every day. Dear
me, how delightful it is to think that I shall always be as happy as I
am now!


THE END.



NELSON'S CLASSICS

A Library of Masterpieces, well printed, well bound in cloth, and
unabridged.



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_In Preparation._

    Silas Marner. GEORGE ELIOT.

    Notre Dame.   VICTOR HUGO.



       *     *     *     *     *



TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE:

The following misprints in the original have been corrected:

    men think they are begining to grow old!  (beginning)
    the very personification of that danydism  (dandyism)
    in London that would destory (destroy)
    "_Traitre!_" shouted the marquis; (Traître)
    The Frenchmen _sacreéd_, and fumed  (sacréed)





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