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Title: General Bounce - or The Lady and the Locusts
Author: Whyte-Melville, G. J. (George John), 1821-1878
Language: English
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GENERAL BOUNCE


[Illustration: “‘Where have you been all day? You promised to
 drive me out--you know you did!’”

 _Page 77_]


GENERAL BOUNCE

or

The Lady and the Locusts

by

G. J. WHYTE-MELVILLE

Author of “Katerfelto,” “The Interpreter,” “Market Harborough,” etc.

Illustrated by Frances E. Ewan



London
Ward, Lock & Co., Limited
New York and Melbourne



PREFACE


Where the rose blushes in the garden, there will the bee and the
butterfly be found, humming and fluttering around. So is it in the
world; the fair girl, whose sweetness is enhanced by the fictitious
advantages of wealth and position, will ever have lovers and admirers
enough and to spare.

Burns was no bad judge of human nature; and he has a stanza on this
subject, combining the reflection of the philosopher with the _canny_
discrimination of the Scot.

    “Away with your follies of beauty’s alarms,
    The _slender_ bit beauty you clasp in your arms;
    But gi’e me the lass that has acres of charms,
    Oh, gi’e me the lass with the _weel-plenished_ farms.”

Should the following pages afford such attractive young ladies matter
for a few moments’ reflection, the author will not have written in
vain.

May he hope they will choose well and wisely; and that the withered
rose, when she has lost her fragrance, may be fondly prized and gently
tended by the hand that plucked her in her dewy morning prime.



    CONTENTS


      CHAP.                                 PAGE

         I. My Cousin                          9

        II. The Abigail                       26

       III. The Handsome Governess            41

        IV. “Libitina”                        58

         V. Uncle Baldwin                     72

        VI. The Blind Boy                     85

       VII. Boot and Saddle                  101

      VIII. The Ball                         116

        IX. Want                             130

         X. Superfluity                      146

        XI. Campaigning Abroad               161

       XII. Campaigning at Home              177

      XIII. The World                        194

       XIV. To Persons about to Marry        204

        XV. Penelope and her Suitors         212

       XVI. Forgery                          225

      XVII. Club Law                         236

     XVIII. The Strictest Confidence         247

       XIX. Dispatches                       259

        XX. Dawn in the East                 276

       XXI. Hospital                         292

      XXII. The Widow                        303

     XXIII. “Stop her”                       309

      XXIV. King Crack                       323

       XXV. “Dulce Domum”                    333

      XXVI. “Eudæmon”                        347

     XXVII. Flood and Field                  360

    XXVIII. “The Sad Sea Wave”               374



GENERAL BOUNCE

_OR, THE LADY AND THE LOCUSTS_



CHAPTER I

MY COUSIN

     AN ENGLISHMAN’S HOLIDAY--ST. SWITHIN’S IN A CALM--THE
     MERCHANT’S AMBITION--“MON BEAU COUSIN”--CASTLES IN THE AIR--A
     LIVELY CRAFT--“HAIRBLOWER” AND HIS COLD BATH


Much as we think of ourselves, and with all our boasted civilisation,
we Anglo-Saxons are but a half-barbarian race after all. Nomadic,
decidedly nomadic in our tastes, feelings, and pursuits, it is but the
moisture of our climate that keeps us in our own houses at all, and
like our Scandinavian ancestors (for in turf parlance we have several
crosses of the old Norse blood in our veins), we delight
periodically--that is, whenever we have a fortnight’s dry weather--to
migrate from our dwellings, and peopling the whole of our own
sea-board, push our invading hordes over the greater part of Europe,
nor refrain from thrusting our outposts even into the heart of Asia,
till the astonished Mussulman, aghast at our vagaries, strokes his
placid beard, and with a blessing on his Prophet that he is not as we
are, soothes his disgust with a sentiment, so often repeated that in
the East it has become a proverb--viz. that “There is one devil, and
there are many devils; but there is _no_ devil like a Frank in a round
hat!”

It was but last autumn that, stepping painfully into our tailor’s
shop--for, alas! a course of London dinners cannot be persisted in,
season after season, without producing a decided tendency to gout in
the extremities--hobbling, then, into our tailor’s warehouse, as he
calls it, we were measured by an unfledged jackanapes, whose voice we
had previously heard warning his brother fractions that “an old gent
was a waitin’ inside,” instead of that spruce foreman who, for more
years than it is necessary to specify, has known our girth to an inch,
and our weight to a pound. Fearful that in place of the grave habit of
broadcloth which we affect as most suitable to our age and manner, we
might find ourselves equipped in one of the many grotesque disguises
in which young gentlemen now-a-days deem it becoming to hide
themselves, and described by the jackanapes, aforesaid, who stepped
round us in ill-concealed admiration of our corpulence, as “a walking
coat, a riding coat, a smoking coat, or a coat _to go to the stable
in_!” we ventured to inquire for “the person we usually saw,” and were
informed that “the gent as waited on us last year had gone for a few
months’ holiday to the Heast.” Heavens and earth, Mr. Bobstitch was
even then in Syria! What a Scandinavian! rather degenerate to be sure
in size and ferocity--though Bobstitch, being a little man, is
probably very terrible when roused--but yet no slight contrast to one
of those gaunt, grim, russet-bearded giants that made the despot of
the Lower Empire quake upon his throne. And yet Bobstitch was but
obeying the instinct which he inherits from the sea-kings his
ancestors, an instinct which in less adventurous souls than a tailor’s
fills our watering-places to overflowing, and pours the wealth, while
it introduces the manners, of the capital into every bight and bay
that indents the shores of Britain.

Doubtless the citizens are right. Let us, while we are in Scandinavian
vein, make use of an old Norse metaphor, and pressing into our service
the two Ravens of Odin, named Mind and Will, with these annihilate
time and space, so as to be, like the Irish orator’s bird, “in two
places at once.” Let us first of all take a retrospective glance at
Mrs. Kettering’s house in Grosvenor Square, one of the best houses, by
the way, to be had in London for love or money. We recollect it well,
not so many years ago, lit up for one of those great solemnities which
novelists call “a rout,” but which people in real life, equally
martially as well as metaphorically, designate “a drum.” To us
creeping home along the pavement outside the _fête_, it seemed the
realisation of fairyland. Row upon row, glaring carriage-lamps, like
the fabulous monsters keeping watch, illuminated the square and
adjoining streets, even to the public-house round the corner, that
night driving a highly remunerative trade; whilst on a nearer
inspection magnificent horses (horses, like ladies, look most
beautiful by candle-light), gorgeous carriages--none of your Broughams
and Clarences, but large, roomy, well-hung family coaches, with
cartoons of heraldry on the panels--gigantic footmen, and fat
coachmen, struck the beholder with admiration not totally unmixed with
awe. Then the awning that was to admit the privileged to the inner
realms of this earthly paradise, of which the uninitiated might know
but the exterior; what a gauzy, gaudy transparency it was, no
unfitting portal to that upper storey, from which the golden light was
hardly veiled by jalousies and window-blinds. Ever and anon, much
lashing of bay, brown, or chestnut sufferers, and the interference of
a tall policeman, with a hat made on purpose to be assaulted by
bludgeons, betokened the arrival of a fresh party, and angelic beings
in white robes, with glossy hair, tripped daintily up the steps over a
cloth, not of gold exactly, but of horse-hair, amongst a phalanx of
unwashed faces, gazing half enviously at such loveliness in full
dress. How beautiful we used to think these apparitions as we plodded
home to our quiet chambers! but young Bareface, our connecting link
with the great world, who goes to all the _best_ places, through the
influence of his aunt, Lady Champfront, assures us they don’t look
half so beautiful inside, and that he sees quite as pretty faces, and
hair quite as nicely done, at the little gatherings in Russell Square
and Bloomsbury, to which even we might go if we liked. A radical dog!
we don’t believe a word of it. Never mind, let us look at that house
in the dead time of year. Without and within, from attics to basement,
from the balcony facing the square to the empty bird-cage overlooking
a precipice of offices at the back, Repose and Ennui reign supreme.
Were it not for the knocking of the workmen next door, we might as
well be in the Great Desert. There _is_, we presume, a woman in
possession, but she has gone to “get the beer,” and if you have ever
sighed for a town-house, now is the time to be satisfied with your
rustic lot, and to hug yourself that you are not paying ground-rent
and taxes, church-rate, poor’s-rate, and water-rate, drainage,
lighting, and paving, for that ghastly palace of soot and cobwebs,
dust, dreariness, and decay. There is a scaffolding up in every third
house in the square; and workmen in paper caps, with foot-rules
sticking out of their fustian trousers, and complexions ingrained with
lime-dust, and guiltless of fresh water, seem to be the only
inhabitants of this deserted region, and even they are “between earth
and heaven.” Brown and parched are the unfortunate shrubs in those
gardens of which discontented householders “round the corner” covet so
to possess a key; and the very birds, sparrows, every feather of ’em,
hop about in dirty suits of plumage that can only be described as of
that colour unknown to naturalists, which other people call “grimy.”
Who would be in London in the autumn? Not Mrs. Kettering, certainly,
if she might be elsewhere; and although she had possessed this
excellent and commodious family mansion, with all its boudoirs,
retreats, and appurtenances, so well described in the advertisement,
but a short time, and was not the giver of that “reunion of
fashionables” we have depicted above (indeed, the hostess of that
evening has since been economising up two pair of stairs at Antwerp);
yet Mrs. Kettering having plenty of money, and being able to do what
she liked, had wisely moved herself, her fancies, her imperials, and
her family to the coast, where, obeying the instinct for freedom that
has driven Bobstitch to the desert, she was idly inhaling the salt
breezes of the Channel, and dazzling her eyes with the sun-glint that
sparkled over its dancing waves.

Some few years have elapsed since the events took place which we shall
endeavour to describe; but the white cliffs of our island change
little with the lapse of time, though the sea does make its
encroachments ever and anon when the wind has been blowing pretty
steady from the south-west for a fortnight or so, and the same scene
may be witnessed any fine day towards the middle of August as that
which we are about to contrast with the dulness, closeness, and
confinement of the great town-house in Grosvenor Square.

First, we must imagine a real summer’s day, such a day as in our
island we seldom enjoy till summer has well-nigh given place to
autumn, but which, when it does come, is worth waiting for. Talk of
climate! a real fine day in England, like a really handsome
Englishwoman, beats creation. Well, we must imagine one of these
bright, hot, hay-making days, almost too warm and dusty ashore, but
enjoyable beyond conception on the calm and oily waves, unruffled by
the breeze, and literally as smooth as glass. A sea-bird occasionally
dips her wing on the surface, and then flaps lazily away, as if she
too was as much inclined to go to sleep as yonder moveless fleet of
lugger, brig, bark, and schooner, with their empty sails, and their
heads all round the compass. There is a warm haze towards the land,
and the white houses of St. Swithin’s seem to glow and sparkle in the
heat, whilst to seaward a modified sort of mirage would make one fancy
one could plainly distinguish the distant coast of France.

Ashore, in those great houses, people are panting, and gasping, and
creating thorough draughts that fill their rooms with a small white
dust of a destructive tendency to all personal property. The children
up-stairs are running about in linen under-garments, somewhat more
troublesome than usual, with a settled flush on their little
peach-like cheeks, and the shining streets are deserted, save by the
perspiring pot-boy, and the fly-men drinking beer in their shirt
sleeves. Only afloat is there a chance of being cool; and
sailing-boat, gig, dinghy, and cobble, all are in requisition for the
throng of amateur mariners, rushing like ducklings to the refreshing
element.

It was on just such a day as this that Mrs. Kettering found it
extremely difficult to “trim the boat.” A mile or so from the shore,
that boat was slowly progressing, impelled by the unequal strength of
her nephew Charles, commonly called “Cousin Charlie,” and its worthy
proprietor, a fine specimen of the genus “seaman,” who certainly had
a Christian name, and probably a patronymic, but had sunk both
distinctions under the sobriquet of “Hairblower,” by which appellation
alone he was acknowledged by gentle and simple, bold and timid,
delicate ladies and bluff fishermen, along many a mile of sea-board,
up and down from St. Swithin’s.

“The least thing further, Master Charles,” said Hairblower, ever and
anon pulling the stripling’s efforts round with one hand. “Don’t ye
disturb, madam--don’t ye move, Miss Blanche; it’s not _your_ weight
that makes her roll.” And again he moistened the large, strong hand,
and turned to look out ahead.

In vain Mrs. Kettering shut up her parasol, and shifted her seat; in
vain she disposed her ample figure, first in one uncomfortable
position, then in another; she could _not_ “trim the boat,” and the
reason was simple enough. Mrs. Kettering’s weight was that of a lady
who had all her life been “a fine woman,” and was now somewhat past
maturity; whilst her daughter and only child, “Blanche,” the occupant
of the same bench, had but just arrived at that period when the girl
begins to lengthen out into the woman, and the slight, lanky figure,
not without a grace peculiar to itself, is nevertheless as delicate as
a gossamer, and as thin as its own gauzy French bonnet.

Mother and daughter were but little alike, save in their sweet and
rather languid tone of voice--no trifling charm in that sex which is
somewhat prone, especially under excitement, to pitch its organ in too
high a key. Mrs. Kettering was dark and brown of complexion, with
sparkling black eyes, and a rich colour, much heightened by the heat.
Not very tall in stature, but large and square of frame, well-filled
out besides by a good appetite, a good digestion, and, though nervous
and excitable, a good temper. Blanche, on the contrary, with her long
violet eyes, her curving dark eyelashes, and golden-brown hair, was so
slight of frame and delicate of tint as to warrant her mother’s
constant alarm for her health; not that there was any real cause for
anxiety, but mamma loved to fidget, if not about “dear Blanche,” about
something belonging to her; and failing these, had a constant fund of
worry in the exploits and escapades of graceless “Cousin Charlie.”

“Now, Charlie, my own dear boy” (Mrs. K. was very fond of Charlie), “I
know you must be over-heating yourself--nothing so bad for growing
lads. Mr. Hairblower, _pray_ don’t let him row so hard.”

“Gammon, aunt,” was Charlie’s irreverent reply. “Wait till we get her
head round with the flood; we’ll make her speak to it, won’t we,
Hairblower?”

“Well, Master Charles,” said the jolly tar, “I think as you and me
could pull her head under, pretty nigh,--howsoever, we be fairish off
for time, and the day’s young yet.”

“Blanche, Blanche!” suddenly exclaimed Mrs. Kettering, “look at the
weed just beyond that buoy--the alga, what’s its name, we were reading
about yesterday. Charlie, of course _you_ have forgotten. I shall soon
be obliged to get a finishing governess for you, Blanche.”

“Oh no, dearest mamma,” said the young girl, in her soft, sweet voice,
which always drew Hairblower’s eyes, in speechless admiration, to her
gentle countenance. “I could never learn with any one but you; and
then she might be cross, mamma, and I should hate her so after you!”
And Blanche took her mother’s plump, tightly-gloved hand between her
own, and looked up in her face with such a fond, bewitching
expression, that it was no wonder mamma doted on her, and Hairblower
and “Cousin Charlie” too.

Mrs. Kettering was one of those people whose superabundant energy must
have a certain number of objects whereon to expend itself. Though a
pleasant, cheerful woman, she was decidedly _blue_--that is to say,
besides being a good musician, linguist, draughtswoman, and worsted
worker, she had a few ideas, not very correct, upon ancient history, a
superficial knowledge of modern literature, thought Shakespeare
_vulgar_ and Milton _dry_, with a smattering of the ’ologies, and
certain theories concerning chemistry, which, if reduced to practice,
would have made her a most unsafe occupant for a ground-floor. With
these advantages, and her sunny, pleasant temper, she taught Blanche
_everything_ herself; and if the young lady was not quite so learned
as some of her associates, she had at least the advantage of a
mother’s companionship and tuition, and was as far removed as possible
from that most amusing specimen of affectation, an English girl who
has formed her manner on that of a French governess.

Mrs. Kettering had gone through her share of troubles in her youth,
and being of a disposition by no means despondent, was rather happy
under difficulties than otherwise. We do not suppose she married her
first love: we doubt if women often do, except in novels; and the late
Mr. K. was a gentleman of an exterior certainly more respectable than
romantic. His manners were abrupt and commercial, but his name at the
back of a bill was undeniable. The lady whom he wooed and won was old
enough to know her own mind; nor have we reason to suppose but that in
pleasing him she pleased herself. Many a long year they toiled and
amassed, and old Kettering attended closely to business, though he
never showed his books to his wife; and Mrs. Kettering exercised her
diplomacy in migrating once every five years further and further
towards “the West End.” Their last house but one was in Tyburnia, and
then old Kettering put a finishing stroke to his business, made a shot
at indigo which landed him more thousands than our modest ideas can
take in, and enabling him to occupy that mansion in Grosvenor Square
which looked so dull in the autumn, placed Mrs. Kettering at once on
the pedestal she had all her life been sighing to attain;--perhaps she
was disappointed when she got there. However that may be, the
enterprising merchant himself obtained little by his new residence,
save a commodious vault belonging to it in a neighbouring church, in
which his remains were soon after deposited, and a tablet, pure and
unblemished as his own commercial fame, erected to his memory by his
disconsolate widow. How disconsolate she was, poor woman! for a time,
with her affectionate nature: but then her greatest treasure, Blanche,
was left; and her late husband, as the most appropriate mark of his
confidence and esteem, bequeathed the whole of his property, personal
and otherwise, to his well-beloved wife, so the blow was to a certain
degree softened, and Mrs. Kettering looked uncommonly radiant and
prosperous even in her weeds.

Now, it is very pleasant and convenient to have a large property left
you at your own disposal, more especially when you are blessed with a
child on whom you dote, to succeed you when you have no further
occasion for earthly treasure; and, in the eyes of the world, this was
Mrs. Kettering’s agreeable lot. The eyes of the world, as usual, could
not look into the cupboard where the skeleton was; but our poor widow,
or rather our rich widow, was much hampered by the shape which no one
else knew to exist.

The fact is, old Mr. Kettering had a crotchet. Being a rich man, he
had a right to a dozen; but he was a sensible, quiet old fellow, and
he contented himself with one. Now, this crotchet was the invincible
belief that he, John Kettering, was the lineal male representative of
one of the oldest families in England. How he came to have lost the
old Norman features and appearance, or how it happened that such a
lofty descent should have merged in his own person as junior clerk to
a large City counting-house, he never troubled himself to inquire; he
was satisfied that the oldest blood in Europe coursed through his
veins, and with the pedigree he supposed himself to possess (though
its traces were unfortunately extinct), he might marry whom he
pleased. As we have seen, he did marry a very personable lady; but,
alas! she gave him no male heir. Under a female succession, all his
toil, all his astuteness, all his money, would not raise the family
name to the proud position he believed its due. He could not bear the
idea of it; and he never really loved poor Blanche half so much as
that engaging child deserved. When all chance of a son was hopeless,
he resolved to bring up and educate his only brother’s orphan child, a
handsome little boy, whose open brow and aristocratic lineaments won
the old man’s favour from the first.

“Cousin Charlie,” in consequence, became an inmate of the Kettering
family, and was usually supposed by strangers to be the elder brother
of pretty little Blanche.

These intentions, however, were kept a dead secret; and the children
knew as little as children generally do of their future prospects, or
the path chalked out for them through life. With all his fancied
importance, old Kettering was a good, right-feeling man; and although
it is our belief that he revoked and destroyed several testamentary
documents, he ended by leaving everything to his wife, in her own
power, as he worded it, “in testimony of his esteem for her character,
and confidence in her affection,”--previously exacting from her a
solemn promise that she would eventually bequeath the bulk of her
wealth to his nephew, should the lad continue to behave well, and
_like a gentleman_--making a provision for Blanche at her own
discretion, but not exceeding one-eighth of the whole available
property.

The testator did not long survive his final arrangements. And though
her promise cost his widow many a sleepless night, she never dreamed
of breaking it, nor of enriching her darling child at the expense of
her nephew.

Mrs. Kettering was a woman all over, and we will not say the idea of
uniting the two cousins had not entered her mind; on the contrary,
brought up together as they were, she constantly anticipated this
consummation as a delightful release from her conflicts between duty
and inclination. She was, besides, very fond of “Cousin Charlie,” and
looked eagerly forward to the day when she might see this “charming
couple,” as she called them, fairly married and settled. With all
these distractions, it is no wonder that Mrs. Kettering, who, though a
bustling, was an undecided woman, could never quite make up her mind
to complete her will. It was a matter of the greatest importance; so
first she made it, and then tore it up, and then constructed a fresh
one, which she omitted to sign until things were more certain, and
eventually mislaid; while, in the meantime, Blanche and “Cousin
Charlie” were growing up to that age at which young people, more
especially in matters of love-making, are pretty resolutely determined
to have a will of their own.

The bridegroom presumptive, however, was one of those young gentlemen
in whose heads or hearts the idea of marriage is only contemplated as
a remote possibility, and a dreaded termination to a life of
enjoyment--in much the same light as that in which the pickpocket
views transportation beyond the seas. He believes it to be the common
lot of mankind, but that it may be indefinitely postponed with a
little circumspection, and in some cases of rare good fortune even
eluded altogether.

It is curious to observe at what an early age the different instincts
of the sexes develop themselves in children. Little Miss can scarcely
waddle before she shoulders a doll, which she calls her baby, and on
which she lavishes much maternal care, not without certain wholesome
correction. From her earliest youth, the abstract idea of wife and
motherhood is familiar to her mind; and to be married, though she
knows not what it is, as natural and inevitable a destiny as to learn
music and have a governess. Young Master, on the contrary, has no idea
of being a “pater familias.” His notion of being grown up is totally
unconnected with housekeeping. When “he is a man, he means to be a
soldier, or a sailor, or a pastry-cook--he will have a gun and
hunters, and go all day to the stable, and eat as much as he chooses,
and drink port wine like papa;” but to bring up children of his own,
and live in one place, is the very last thing he dreams of. “Cousin
Charlie” entertained the usual notions of his kind. Although an
orphan, he had never known the want of a parent--uncle and aunt
Kettering supplying him with as kind and indulgent a father and mother
as a spoilt little boy could desire. And although he had his childish
sorrows, such as parting from Blanche, going to school, being whipped
according to his deserts when there, and thus smuggled through that
amusing work, the Latin Grammar; yet, altogether, his life was as
happy as any other child’s of his own age, on whom health, and love,
and plenty had shone from the day of its birth.

Of course, old John Kettering sent him to Eton, that most aristocratic
of schools, where Charlie learnt to swim--no mean accomplishment;
arrived at much perfection in his “wicket-keeping” and “hitting to the
leg,” as, indeed, he deserved, for the powers of application he
evinced in the study of cricket; was taught to “feather an oar” in a
method which the London watermen pronounced extremely inefficient; and
acquired a knack of construing Horace into moderately bad English,
with a total disregard for the ideas, habits, prejudices, and
intentions of that courtly bard. Of course, too, he was destined for
the army. With _his_ prospects, in what other profession could he get
through his allowance, and acquire gentlemanlike habits of
extravagance in what is termed good society? Old Kettering wanted to
make his nephew a gentleman--that was it. When asked how Charlie was
getting on at Eton, and what he learnt there, the uncle invariably
replied, “Learn, sir! why, he’ll learn to be a gentleman.”

It is a matter for conjecture whether the worthy merchant was capable
of forming an opinion as to the boy’s progress in this particular
study, or whether he was himself a very good judge of the variety he
so much admired. Our own idea is, that neither birth, nor riches, nor
education, nor manner, suffice to constitute a gentleman; and that
specimens are to be found at the plough, the loom, and the
forge, in the ranks, and before the mast, as well as in the
officers’ mess-room, the learned professions, and the Upper House
itself. To our fancy, a gentleman is courteous, kindly, brave, and
high-principled--considerate towards the weak, and self-possessed
amongst the strong. High-minded and unselfish, “he does to others as
he would they should do unto him,” and shrinks from the meanness of
taking advantage of his neighbour, man or woman, friend or foe, as he
would from the contamination of cowardice, duplicity, tyranny, or any
other blackguardism. “_Sans peur et sans reproche_”--he has a “lion’s
courage with a woman’s heart”; and such a one, be he in a peer’s robes
or a ploughman’s smock--backing before his sovereign or delving for
his bread--we deem a very Bayard for chivalry--a very Chesterfield for
good breeding and good sense. We are old-fashioned though in our
ideas, and doubtless our sentiments may be dubbed slow by the young,
and vulgar by the great. Still, even these dissentients would, we
think, have been satisfied with “Cousin Charlie’s” claims to be
considered a “gentleman.”

Nature had been beforehand with old Kettering, and had made him one of
her own mould. Not all the schools in Europe could have spoiled or
improved him in that particular. And his private tutor’s lady
discovered this quality, with all a woman’s intuitive tact, the very
first evening he spent at the vicarage of that reverend Crichton, who
prepared young gentlemen of fifteen years and upwards for _both_ the
universities and _all_ the professions.

“What do you think of the new pupil, my dear?” said Mr. Nobottle to
his wife--a dean’s daughter, no less!--as he drew up the connubial
counterpane to meet the edge of his night-cap. “He was a wild lad, I
hear, at Eton. I am afraid we shall have some trouble with him.”

“Not a bit of it,” was the reply; “he is a gentleman every inch of
him. I saw it at once by the way he helped Tim in with his
portmanteau. Binks, of course, was out of the way,--and that reminds
me, Mr. Nobottle, you never _will_ speak to that man,--what’s the use
of having a butler? And then, he’s such a remarkably good-looking
boy--but I daresay you’re half asleep already.”

And, sure enough, patient Joseph Nobottle was executing a prolonged
and marital snore.

Mrs. Nobottle found no occasion to recant her predictions; and Charlie
was now spending his summer vacation with Mrs. Kettering at St.
Swithin’s.

We have left the party so long in their boat, that they have had ample
time to “trim” or sink her. Neither of these events, however, took
place; and after pulling round a Swedish brig, an enormous tub, very
_wholesome_-looking, as Hairblower said, and holding a polyglot
conversation with an individual in a red night-cap, who grinned at the
ladies, and offered them “schnapps,” they turned the little craft’s
head towards the shore, and taking “the flood,” as Charlie had
previously threatened, bent themselves to their work, and laid out
upon their oars in a style that satisfied even the seaman, and
enraptured the lad.

“What a dear boy it is!” thought Mrs. Kettering, as she looked at
Charlie’s open countenance, and his fair golden curls, blowing about
his face, browned by the weather to a rich manly hue, and lit up with
the excitement and exercise of his work. Many qualms of conscience
crossed Mrs. Kettering’s mind, in the transit of that mile and a half
of blue water which sparkled between “the Swede” and the shore. Much
she regretted her want of decision and habits of delay in not
completing the important document that should at once make that
handsome boy the head of his family; and firmly she resolved that not
another week should pass without a proper consultation of the
universal refuge, “her family man-of-business,” and a further legal
drawing-up of her last will and testament. Then she remembered she had
left one unfinished, that would make an excellent rough draft for the
future document; then she wondered where she had put it; and then she
thought what a husband the handsome cousin would make for her own
beautiful girl; and rapidly her ideas followed each other, till, in
her mind’s eye, she saw the wedding--the bridesmaids--the
procession--the breakfast--and, though last, not least, the very
bonnet, not too sombre, which she herself should wear on the occasion.

Not one word did Mrs. Kettering hear of a long-winded story with which
Hairblower was delighting Blanche and Charlie; and which, as it seemed
to create immense interest and sympathy in his young listeners, and
is, besides, a further example of the general superstition of sailors
as to commencing any undertaking on a Friday, we may as well give, as
nearly as possible, in his own words.

“Blown, Master Charles?” said the good-humoured seaman, in answer to a
question from hard-working Charlie. “Blown? Not a bit of it; nor yet
tired; nor you neither. I _was_ a bit bamboozled though once somewhere
hereaway. It’s a good many years past now; but I don’t think as _I_
shall ever forget it. If you’d like to hear it, Miss Blanche, I’ll
tell it you, as well as I can. You see, it was rather a ‘circumstance’
from beginning to end. Well, the fact is, I had built a smartish craft
very soon after I was out of my time, and me and a man we used to call
‘Downright’ went partners in her, and although maybe she was a trifle
crank, and noways useful for stowage, we had pretty good times with
her when the mackerel was early, and the prices pretty stiffish. But
there never was no real luck about her, and I’ll tell ye how it was.
My uncle, he promised to help me with the money for her of a Friday.
She was put upon the stocks of a Friday--finished off of a
Friday--sailed her first trip of a Friday--and went down of a Friday;
so, as I say, Friday’s the worst day, to my mind, in the whole week.
Well, the _Spanking Sally_--that’s what we called her, Miss--always
carried a weather helm. And one day--it was a Friday, too--me and my
mate was coming in with a fairish cargo--Downright he said all along
she was over-deep in the water--with a light breeze from the
nor’-nor’-west, and the tide about half-flood, as it might be now. I
had just gone forward to look to the tackle, when the wind suddenly
shifted right on the other tack, and looking out down Channel, I saw
what was coming. Black, was it, Master Charlie? Not a bit; it was a
white one; and I knew then we should get it _hot and heavy_. It takes
something pretty cross to frighten _me_, but I own I didn’t like the
looks of it. Well, afore I could douse foresail the squall took her.
She capsized, and down she went; and though me and Downright stood by
for a start to windward, we never knew exactly how it was till we
found ourselves grinning at each other over a spare oar that happened
to be on board when she misbehaved, for all the world like two boys
playing at see-saw with their mouths full of salt water. Downright he
was an older man, and not so strong as me; so when I saw two was no
company for one oar, I left it; and thinks I, if I can get off my
fisherman’s boots and some of my clothes, I may have a swim for it
yet.

“The squall was too soon over to get up anything like a sea, and
Downright he held on to his oar and struck out like a man. Well, what
between floating and treading water, I got most of things clear. I was
as strong as a bull then, and though it was a long swim for a man I
had before me, I never lost heart noway. Downright, too, kept on close
in my wake; we didn’t say much, you may be sure, but I know _I_
thought of his missus and four children. At last I hear him whisper
quite hoarse-like, ‘Hairblower, it’s no use, I be goin’ down now!’ And
when I turned on my back to look at him he was quite confused, and had
let the oar cast off altogether. I couldn’t see it nowhere. I tried to
get alongside of him, but he was gone. I saw _the bubbles_ though,
and dived for him, but it was no use, and after that I held on alone.
The sun was getting down too, and queer fancies began to come into my
head about Downright. Sometimes I thought he was in heaven _then_, and
once I’ll swear I heard something whisper to me, but I couldn’t tell
what it said. The gulls, too, they began to stoop at me, and scream in
my ears; one long-winged ’un flapped me on the cheek, and for a bit I
scarcely knew whether I was dead or alive myself. At last, as I came
over the tops of the rollers, I saw the spars in the harbor, and the
chimneys at St. Swithin’s, and for awhile I thought I should get home
after all, so I turned on my side to get my breath a bit. I ought to
have made a buoy, as I calculated, about this time, but seek where I
would, I couldn’t see it nowhere, only looking down Channel to get my
bearings a little, I saw by the craft at anchor in the bay that the
tide was on the turn. My heart leapt into my mouth then. I had pulled
a boat often enough against the ebb hereabouts, and I knew how strong
it ran, and what my chance was, swimming, and nearly done too. First I
thought I’d go quietly down at once, like my mate did, and I said a
bit of a prayer, just inside like, and then I felt stronger, so I
thought what was best to be done; and says I, ‘’bout ship’ now is our
only chance, and maybe we shall get picked up by some fishing craft,
or such like, afore we drift clean out to sea again. Well, the Lord’s
above all, and though I thought once or twice I was pretty nigh out of
my mind, I _was_ picked up at last by a Frenchman. _He’d_ no call to
be where he was; I think he was there special, but I knew very little
about anything else, for I was in the hospital nine weeks afore I
could remember as much as I’ve told you. Howsoever, Friday’s an
unlucky day, Miss Blanche, you may take your Bible oath of it.”

Hairblower did _not_ tell them that half his earnings as soon as he
got well went to the support of his mate’s widow and her four
children; perhaps it was as well he did not, for Blanche’s eyes were
already full of tears, and Charlie felt more than half inclined to
embrace the honest seaman, but a bump against the shingle disturbed
all their comments, at the same time that it broke through Mrs.
Kettering’s day-dreams, and Blanche had hardly got as far as “Here we
are, mamma, and here’s----” when she was interrupted by Cousin
Charlie’s vociferous “Look alive, aunt. Hurrah! three cheers--who’d
have thought it? There’s Frank Hardingstone!”



CHAPTER II

THE ABIGAIL

     BLANCHE’S BOUDOIR--A LADY’S LADY’S-MAID--MRS. KETTERING AT
     LUNCHEON--AN HOUR’S PRACTICE--THE “MAN OF ACTION”--FOOD FOR THE
     MIND--A FRIEND IN NEED--A VISIT TO DAVID JONES


Whilst Mr. Hardingstone offers an arm--and a good strong arm it is--to
each of the ladies, and assists them slowly up the toilsome shingle,
let us take advantage of Blanche’s absence to peep into her pretty
room, where, as it is occupied only by Gingham, the maid, we need not
fear the fate of Actæon as a punishment for our curiosity.

It is indeed a sweet little retreat, with its chintz hangings and
muslin curtains, its open windows looking upon the shining Channel,
and all its etceteras of girlish luxury and refinement, that to us
poor old bachelors seem the very essence of ladylike comfort. In one
corner stands the book-case, by which we may discover the pretty
proprietor’s taste, at least in literature. Divers stiffish volumes on
the sciences repose comfortably enough, as if they had not often been
disturbed, and although scrupulously dusted, were but seldom opened;
but on the sofa, near that full-length glass, a new novel lies upon
its face, with a paper-cutter inserted at that critical page where the
heroine refuses her lover (in blank verse), on the high-minded
principle that he is not sufficiently poor to test her sincerity, or
sufficiently sensible to know his own mind, or some equally valid and
uncomplimentary reason--a consideration for the male sex, we may
remark _en passant_, that is more common in works of fiction than in
real life--while on the table a drawing-room scrap-book opens of
itself at some thrilling lines addressed “To a Débutante,” and
commencing, “Fair girl, the priceless gems upon thy brow,” by an
anonymous nobleman, who betrays in the composition a wide range of
fancy and a novel application of several English words. Flowers are
disposed in one or two common glass vases, with a womanly taste that
makes the apartment in that hired house like a home; and loose music,
of the double-action pianoforte school, scatters itself about every
time the door opens, in a system of fluttering disorder, which
provokes Gingham to express audibly her abhorrence of a place that is
“all of a litter.” “She can’t a-bear it--can you, Bully?” smirks the
Abigail; and Blanche’s pet bullfinch, the darling of her very heart,
makes an enormous chest, and whistles his reply in the opening notes
of “Haste to the wedding!” breaking off abruptly in the middle of the
second bar. Gingham is very busy, for she is putting Blanche’s “things
to rights,” which means that she is looking over the young lady’s
wardrobe with a view to discovering those colours and garments most
becoming to her own rather bilious complexion, and losing no
opportunity of acquainting herself with Blanche’s likes, dislikes,
feelings, and disposition, by reading her books, opening her letters,
and peeping into her album.

Now, Gingham had been with Mrs. Kettering for many years, and was a
most trustworthy person; so her mistress affirmed and thought.
Certainly, with all her weaknesses and faults, she was devotedly
attached to Miss Blanche; and it is our firm belief that she loved her
young lady, in her heart of hearts, better than her perquisites, her
tea, or even a certain Tom Blacke, whose dashing appearance and
assured vulgarity had made no slight impression on her too susceptible
feelings. “Every Jack has his Gill,” if he and she can only find each
other out at the propitious moment; and although the Gill in question
_owned_ to two-and-thirty, was by no means transparent in complexion,
and had projecting teeth, and a saffron-coloured front, yet she was no
exception to the beautiful law of nature, which provides for every
variety of our species a mate of fitting degree.

When a lady confines herself studiously to the house, avoids active
exercise, and partakes heartily of five meals a day, not to mention
strong tea and hot buttered toast at odd times, the presumption is,
that her health will suffer from the effects of such combined
hardships. With patients of Gingham’s class, the attack generally
flies to the nerves, and the system becomes wrought up to such a pitch
that nothing appears to afford the sufferer relief, except piercing
screams and violent demonstrations of alarm upon slight and often
imaginary occasions. Gingham would shriek as loudly to encounter a
live mouse as Mrs. Kettering would have done to face a raging lion;
and an unexpected meeting with any individual, even residing in the
same house, was apt to produce a flutter of spirits and prostration of
intellect, truly surprising to those who are unacquainted with the
delicate organisation of a real lady’s-maid _not_ on board wages. In
this critical condition, Mrs. Gingham, on the first evening of her
arrival at St. Swithin’s, “got a start,” as she expressed it, which
influenced the whole destiny of her after life. Coming down from
dressing her lady, she wended her way, as usual, to “the room,” that
sanctum in which the etiquette of society is far more rigidly enforced
than up-stairs, and to which “plush and powder” would find it far more
difficult to obtain the entrée than into master’s study or “missus’s”
boudoir. Expecting to see nothing more formidable than the butler,
Gingham’s alarm can be more easily imagined than described, when on
entering this privileged apartment, she found its only occupant a
goodish-looking, flashily-dressed young man, “taking a glass of sherry
and a biscuit,” and making himself very much at home.

A suppressed scream and sudden accession of faintness made it
imperative on the new arrival to exert himself, and by the time they
had got to “Goodness! how you frightened me, sir,” and “Dear _Miss_, I
beg a thousand pardings!” they became very good friends, and the timid
fair one was prevailed on to sit down and partake of the refreshments
hospitably provided by the butler at his mistress’s expense.

Tom Blacke very soon informed the lady that “he was assistant to a
professional gentleman” (in plain English an attorney’s clerk), and
had merely looked in to see if the house was let, to inform his
employer. “I am very unhappy, miss, to have been the cause of alarming
of you so, and I trust you will look over it, and may feel no ill
effects from the haccident.” To which Gingham, who was a lady of
elaborate politeness, as became her station, and, moreover, much
mollified by the constant use of the juvenile title “Miss,”
courteously replied that, “Indeed, it had given her _quite a turn_,
but she could not regret a meeting that had introduced her to such a
polite acquaintance.” So they parted with many “good evenings,” and an
openly expressed hope that they should meet again.

Tom Blacke was a scamp of the first water, but not deficient in
shrewdness, to which his professional pursuits added a certain amount
of acquired cunning. He naturally reflected that the sensitive,
middle-aged dame whom he had thus alarmed and soothed was probably an
old and esteemed servant of the family at No. 9. The whole
arrangements looked like being “well-to-do.” The butler poured out
sherry as if it was small beer, and probably in such an establishment
the confidential maid might have saved a pretty bit of money, to
which, even encumbered with the lady in question, Tom Blacke would
have had no earthly objection. He was, as he said himself, “open to a
match,” and being a rosy, dark-whiskered fellow, with good teeth and
consummate assurance, though he never looked at _you_ till you had
done looking at _him_, he resolved to lay siege forthwith to the heart
of Mrs. Gingham. A nervous temperament is usually susceptible; and
though her fingers are occupied in folding Blanche’s handkerchiefs,
and “putting away” her gloves, shoes, and etceteras, the Abigail’s
thoughts are even now far away round the corner, up two pair of
stairs, in the office with Tom Blacke.

“Goodness gracious! Missus’s bell!” exclaims Gingham, with a start, as
if she had _not_ expected that summons at its usual time--viz. when
Mrs. Kettering came in to shake her feathers before luncheon--and she
runs down, palpitating as if the house were on fire. Though we must
not stay to see Blanche take her bonnet off and smooth those sunny
ringlets, we may go and wait for her in the luncheon-room, to which
she is soon heard tripping merrily down, with even brighter eyes than
usual, perhaps from the excitement of meeting Cousin Charles’s friend,
Mr. Hardingstone, whom sly Blanche knows but very little, and with
whom she is consequently extremely diffident, notwithstanding the
deference of his manner, and the respectful, almost admiring tone in
which he always addresses the young girl.

“Blanche, have you fed Bully? and practised your music? and read your
history? Women should never neglect history. And looked for the name
of that weed, whilst we think of it? and shall I give you some
chicken?” said Mrs. Kettering, without waiting for an answer, as she
sat down to a very comfortable repast about three o’clock in the
afternoon, which she called luncheon, but which was by no means a bad
imitation of a good dinner.

“No, dear mamma,” said Blanche; “besides, it’s too hot for lessons;
but tell me, mamma, what did Mr. Hardingstone mean about a mermaid,
when he whispered to ‘Cousin Charlie,’ and Charlie laughed?”

“A mermaid, Blanche? pooh! nonsense; there’s no such animal. But that
reminds me--don’t forget to look over that beautiful thing of
Tennyson’s; girls should always be ‘up’ in modern literature. Do you
know, Blanche, I don’t quite like Mr. Hardingstone.”

“O mamma,” said Blanche, “such a friend of Charlie’s--I’m sure we
ought to like him; and I’m sure he likes _us_; what a way he came down
through that horrid shingle to help you out of the boat; and did you
see, mamma, what nice thin boots he had on? I think I should like him
very much if we knew him better. Not so much as ‘Cousin Charlie,’”
added the young girl, reflectively, “or dear darling Hairblower. How
shocking it was when his partner went down, mamma. Did you hear that
story? But I am sure Mr. Hardingstone is very good-natured.”

“That reminds me, my dear,” said Mrs. Kettering, who was getting
rather flushed towards the end of the chicken; “I do hope that boy has
not gone to bathe: I am always afraid about water. Blanche, hand me
the sherry; and, my dear, I must order some bottled porter for
_you_--you are very pale in this hot weather; but I am always fidgety
about Charlie when he is bathing.”

From the conversation recorded above, we may gather that Mrs.
Kettering, who, as we have said, was inclined to be nervous, was
rapidly becoming so upon one or two important points. In the first
place, with all a mother’s pride in her daughter’s beauty, she could
not be blind to the general admiration excited thereby, nor could she
divest herself of certain misgivings that Blanche would not long
remain to be the solace of her widowhood, but that, to use her own
expression, she was “sure to be _snapped up_ before she was old enough
to know her own mind.” The consequence was, that Mrs. Kettering
much mistrusted all her male acquaintance under the age of
old-fellow-hood--a period of life which, in these days of “wonderfully
young-looking men,” seems indefinitely postponed; and regarded every
well-dressed, well-whiskered biped as a possible subverter of her
schemes, and a probable rival to “Cousin Charlie”; she kept him at
bay, accordingly, with a coldness and reserve quite foreign to her own
cordial and demonstrative nature. Frank Hardingstone she could not
dislike, do what she would. And we are bound to confess that she was
less guarded in her encouragement of that gentleman than of any other
male visitor who appeared in the afternoons at No. 9, to leave a small
bit of glazed paste-board, with an inward thanksgiving for his escape
from a morning visit, or to utter incontrovertible platitudes while he
smoothed his hat on his coat-sleeve, and glanced ever and anon at the
clock on the chimney-piece, for the earliest moment at which, with
common decency, he might take his departure.

Then the safety and soundness of Blanche’s heart was scarcely more a
matter of anxiety than that of Charlie’s body; and the boy seemed to
take a ghastly delight in placing himself constantly in situations of
imminent bodily peril. Active and high-spirited, he was perpetually
climbing inaccessible places, shooting with dangerous guns, riding
wild hacks, overheating himself in matches against time, and, greatest
anxiety of all, performing aquatic feats--the principal result of his
Eton education--_out of his depth_, as his aunt observed with
emphasis, which were totally inexcusable as manifest temptations of
fate.

He was now gone off on an expedition with his friend and senior,
Hardingstone; but well did Mrs. Kettering know that yonder blue,
cool-looking sea would be an irresistible temptation, and that her
nephew would “bundle in,” as he called it, to a moral certainty, the
instant he got away from the prying gaze of the town.

“In the meantime,” thought she, “it’s a comfort to have Blanche safe
at her studies; there is nothing like occupation for the mind to keep
foolish fancies out of a young girl’s head; so bring your books down
here, my love,” she added, aloud, “and after we have read the last act
of ‘Don Carlos,’ you can practise your music, while I rest myself a
little on the sofa.”

With all its beauties, “Don Carlos” is a work of which a few pages go
a long way, when translated into their own vernacular by two ladies
who have but a slight acquaintance with the German language; and
Blanche soon tired of the princely step-son’s more than filial
affection, and the guttural warmth with which it is expressed; so she
drew mamma’s sofa to the open window, shut the door to keep her out of
the draught, and sat down to her pianoforte with an arch “Good-night,
mammy; you won’t hear any of my mistakes, so I shall play my lesson
over as fast as ever I can.”

Snore away, honest Mrs. Kettering, in the happy conviction that you
have given your daughter ample occupation of mind, to say nothing of
fingers, in the execution of those black-looking pages, so trying to
the temper and confusing to the ear. Snore away, and believe that her
thoughts and affections are as much under your control as her little
body used to be, when you put her to bed with your own hands, and she
said her innocent prayers on your knee. So you all think of your
children; so you all deceive yourselves, and are actually surprised
when symptoms of wilfulness or insubordination appear in your own
families, though you have long warned your neighbours that “boys will
be boys,” or “girls are always thoughtless,” when they have complained
to you of their parental disappointments and disgusts. You think you
know your children--you, who can scarce be said to know _yourself_.
The bright boy at your side, who calls you by the endearing
appellation of “the governor,” you fondly imagine he is drinking in
those words of wisdom in which you are laying down rules for his
future life of frugality, usefulness, and content. Not a bit of it. He
is thinking of his pony and his tick at the pie-shop, which will make
a sad hole in the sovereign you will probably present to him on his
return to Mr. Birch’s.

You describe in well-chosen language the miseries of a
“bread-and-cheese” marriage to your eldest daughter, a graceful girl,
whose fair, open brow you think would well become a coronet, and she
seems to listen with all attention to your maxims, and to agree
cordially with “dear papa,” in worldly prudence, and an abhorrence of
what you call “bad style of men.” When her mother, with flushed
countenance and angry tones, despatches you to look for her to-night
between the quadrilles, ten to one but you find her in the tea-room
with Captain Clank, “that odious man without a sixpence,” as your
energetic spouse charitably denominates him. And yet, as child after
child spreads its late-fledged wings, and forsakes the shelter of the
parental nest, you go on hoping that the next, and still the next,
will make amends to you for all the shortcomings of its seniors, till
the youngest--the Benjamin--the darling of your old age--the treasure
that was, indeed, to be your “second self”--takes flight after the
rest, and you feel a dreary void at your heart, and a solemn, sad
conviction that the best and holiest affections of an earthly nature
are insufficient for its happiness--that there must be something
better to come when everything here turns to heart-ache and
disappointment.

But Blanche will not think so for many a long day yet. Though the
minims and crotchets and flats and sharps were mixed up in sadly
puzzling confusion, not a frown of impatience crossed that pure, open
brow. Blanche’s own thoughts were a panacea for all the provocations
that the stiffest piece of musico-mechanism, or mechanical music,
could inflict. It is a task beyond our powers to detail the vague
ideas and shadowy dreams that chased each other through that glossy
little head; nor have we any business to try. A young girl’s brain is
a page of poetry, without rhyme certainly, probably without much
reason, but poetry notwithstanding. Before the world has lost its
gloss of novelty, that gloss which is like the charm that dazzled the
eyes of their mortal visitors, and made the fairies’ straws and
withered leaves and cobwebs look like purple hangings, and tapestry,
and ivory, and gold--before life has borne away much to regret, and
sin brought much to repent of--before the fruit has been plucked which
still hangs from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, there is a
positive pleasure in the mere act of thinking; and that intellectual
luxury Blanche enjoyed to the utmost, whilst her fingers were tripping
over the pianoforte keys, and Mrs. Kettering was snoring comfortably
on the sofa.

Now, Frank Hardingstone was prime favourite and _beau idéal_ with
“Cousin Charlie,” who, like all boys, had selected an idol a few years
older than himself, and clothed him with those imaginary attributes
which youth considers essential to constitute a hero. Frank was a
country gentleman, in possession of his property at the early age of
five-and-twenty, and, truth to tell, somewhat bored with his position.
If we were to describe him, we should say he was “a man of action”
rather than “a man of feeling,” or “a man of business,” or “a man of
refinement,” or “a man of pleasure,” or a man of anything else. He
looked energetic too, and vigorous, with his brown healthy complexion,
his open forehead, clear penetrating eye, and short clustering hair
and whiskers. Had he been the least thing of a coxcomb in dress or
manner, the ladies would have voted him very handsome; but he was
plain to simplicity in his attire, and rather abrupt in his address,
so they abused him amongst themselves, but were very civil to him
notwithstanding. The men, particularly the sporting ones, who are
always ready with their judgments and opinions, pronounced that he
“looked a good one all over,” alluding, as we understand the phrase,
not so much to his virtue as his corporeal powers, and capability of
resisting fatigue. We are not so far removed from a state of barbarism
in the present day as we are prone to flatter ourselves. When young
King James called the grim old Douglas “his Graysteil,” that royal
heart was attached to Earl Angus for his magnificent frame, skill in
feats of arms and efforts of strength, not for the giant’s wisdom,
which was doubtful, or his honesty, which was entirely negative; and
so amongst any assemblage of young gentlemen now in the nineteenth
century, the quality which excites most admiration seems to be a
certain combination of activity and recklessness, which they call
_hardness_. “Was Rakes in time for parade?”--“Oh yes, he drank four
bottles of claret, and never went to bed--he’s a deuced _hard_ fellow,
Rakes” (applause). “Was Captain Cropper hurt when he tumbled over
that gate and broke his horse’s neck?”--“Hurt? not he; you won’t often
see _him_ hurt--there are not many fellows so _hard_ as Cropper”
(great applause); and thus it seems that the brain is chiefly honoured
according to its capacity, not of reasoning, but of cellarage--and the
head only becomes the noblest portion of the human frame when it may
be fallen on with impunity. Tell these “physical force” gentlemen of a
“clever horse,” and every ear is erect in motionless attention--talk
to them of a clever man, their shoulders are elevated in pity--of a
clever woman, their mouths are drawn down in disgust. But Frank
Hardingstone was, to use their favourite word, “a great card” amongst
all the associates of his age and standing. Square and muscular, with
temper, courage, and address, he could walk, run, leap, ride, fence,
play cricket, box, and swim with the best of them, and they never
suspected that this powerful frame contained a mind capable and
energetic as the casket in which it was concealed.

Frank was a well-informed, well-judging man--loved mathematics, logic,
and such strong intellectual food--enjoyed working out a sum or
problem, or otherwise exercising his powerful mind, and would go to an
iron foundry, or to see a ship built, or even to the Polytechnic, for
sheer amusement. Had he been born to work for his livelihood, he would
have made a capital engineer; as it was, he ought to have been in the
navy, or the artillery, or anything but an idle man, living at his own
place in the country. He had no relations, consequently nothing to
keep him at home; people said that when alone he had no established
dinner-hour--a grievous sin in our gastronomic age: he was too
energetic to care very much for farming, although he did _occupy_
certain acres of his own land; and too practical to be enthusiastic
about field-sports, though he was a good shot, and rode right well to
hounds. Altogether, Frank was out of his place in the world; and, not
having arrived at that age when, if a man don’t fit his destiny, he
makes his destiny fit _him_, was in danger of becoming bored and
careless, and a useless member of society. Luckily, Cousin Charlie’s
private tutor, Mr. Nobottle, held his cure close to Hardingstone
Hall, and leave to course over certain grounds thereunto belonging
being applied for and granted, an introduction took place between the
squire and the clergyman’s volatile pupil, which struck up an
immediate alliance of obliger and obliged.

No two people could well be more different in disposition and
appearance than were Frank and Charlie. The man--strong, sedate,
practical, acute, and penetrating; the boy--light, active, hot-headed,
and romantic, jumping to conclusions, averse to reasoning and
reflection, acting on the impulse of the moment, and continually
getting into scrapes, which his friend as continually had to get him
out of. Yet after they had known each other a few months they became
inseparable. Charlie went regularly, after his studies at the rectory,
to pass the rest of the day at the hall; and Frank found a renewed
pleasure in boating, cricket, hunting, shooting, and even fishing,
from the keen enjoyment with which the “young one” entered upon these
diversions. As for the “young one” himself, he thought there was
nothing in the world equal to Hardingstone--so strong, so plucky, so
well-read, so sagacious, with such faultless coats, and such a good
seat upon a horse, he was the boy’s hero (we have all had such in our
day), and he worshipped him accordingly. So ill could he bear to lose
sight of his Mentor, even during the sunshiny hours of the vacation,
that he had begged Hardingstone to come over to St. Swithin’s, no very
great distance from his own place, and had promised to introduce him
to the “Aunt Kettering,” and “Blanche,” of whom he had heard so much
in the intervals of their amusements “by thicket and by stream.” The
promise was made and kept--and Frank was living at the Royal Hotel,
disgusting the landlord by the simplicity of his habits, and the
waiter by his carelessness as regarded dinner, whilst he was growing
day by day in the good graces even of Mrs. Kettering, and finding, as
he himself thought with great penetration, a vast deal of sound merit
in the fresh, inexperienced mind of Blanche. “Your cousin looks all
the better for sea-bathing, Charlie,” said Hardingstone to his young
companion, as they toiled slowly along the broiling parade, where
every sunbeam was refracted with tenfold power from glaring houses
and a scorching pavement. “It braces the system just as good head-work
braces the intellect. People don’t train half enough, I think--even
women ought to have sound minds in sound bodies; and look what
indolent, unmeaning, insipid wretches half of them are--not like your
aunt. Now that’s what I call a vigorous woman, Charlie; she’d do in
the colonies or anywhere--she’s fit to be a queen, my boy, because
she’s got some energy about her. As for you, young gentleman, you work
hard enough out-of-doors, but you neglect your brains altogether--I
don’t believe now that you have opened a book since you left
Nobottle’s.”

“Wrong again, Frank, as usual,” replied Charlie; “I read for an hour
this very morning, whilst I was dressing; I am very fond of reading
when it’s not _dry_.”

“And may I ask what your early studies were, my industrious young
philosopher?”

“‘Parisina’ and ‘The Bride of Abydos’--by Jove, old fellow, it’s
beautiful.”

Frank made a face as if he had swallowed a pill. “‘Parisina’ and ‘The
Bride of Abydos,’” he repeated, with intense disgust; “a boy of
sixteen--I beg your pardon--a young _man_ of your age reading Byron;
why, you’ll arrive at a state of mental delirium tremens before you
are twenty, particularly if you smoke much at the same time. I daresay
you are ‘up’ in ‘Don Juan’ as well--not that I think _he_ is half so
bad for you; but no man should read sentiment in such an alluring garb
as Byron dressed it, till his heart is hardened and his whiskers
grown. All poetry, to my mind, has a tendency to make you more or less
imbecile. You should read Bacon, my boy, and Locke, and good sound
reasoning Butler; but if you must have works of imagination, take to
Milton.”

“Hate blank verse,” remarked Charlie, who opined--in which prejudice
we cannot help coinciding a little--that poetry is nothing without
jingle; “I can’t read three pages of ‘Paradise Lost.’”

“Because your brain is softening for want of proper training,”
interrupted Hardingstone; “if you go on like this you’ll very soon be
fit for Jean Jacques Rousseau, and I shall give you up altogether. No,
when you go back to Nobottle’s, I shall give him a hint to put you
into a stiffish course of mathematics, with a few logarithms for
plums, and when you are man enough to grapple with a real intellectual
difficulty you will read Milton for pleasure, and like him more and
more every day, for you will find----”

“Oh! bother Milton,” interrupted Charlie; “Frank, I’ll bet you
half-a-crown you don’t jump that gate without touching;” and he
pointed to a high white gate leading off the dusty road into the fresh
green meadows, for they were now clear of the town.

Frank was over it like a bird, ere the words were out of his admiring
disciple’s mouth, and their conversation, as they walked on, turned
upon feats of strength and agility, and those actions of enterprise
and adventure which are ever most captivating to the fancy of the
young.

Charles Kettering, we need scarcely say, entertained an extraordinary
fondness for all bodily exercises. Intended for the army, and “waiting
for his commission,” as he expressed it, he looked forward to his
future profession as a career of unalloyed happiness, in which he
should win fame and distinction without the slightest mental
exertion--an effort to which, in truth, Charlie was always rather
averse. Like most young aspirants to military honours, he had yet to
learn that study, reflection, memory, and, above all, common sense,
are as indispensable to the soldier’s success as to that of any other
professional man; and that, although physical courage and light
spirits are very useful accessories in a campaign, a good deal more is
required to constitute an officer, since, even in a subordinate grade,
the lives of his comrades and the safety of his division may depend on
his unassisted judgment alone. Charlie had good abilities, but it was
a difficult matter to get him to apply them with anything like
diligence; and his friend Hardingstone, whose appreciation of a
favourite’s good qualities never made him blind to his faults, saw
this defect, and did all in his power to remedy it, both by precept
and example.

Mrs. Kettering’s misgivings as regarded her nephew’s duck-like
propensities were founded on a thorough knowledge of his taste and
habits. Another mile of walking brought the pair once more to the
beach, where it curved away completely out of sight of St Swithin’s.
The heat was intense; Charlie took his coat off, sat down upon a
stone, and gazed wistfully at the sea.

“Don’t it look cool?” said he; “and don’t I wish, on a day like this,
that I was a ‘merman bold’? I say, Frank, I must have a dip--I shall
bundle in.”

“In with you,” was the reply; “I haven’t had a swim since I breasted
the Mediterranean last year; only we won’t stay in too long, for I
promised your cousin to bring her some of that seaweed she spoke
about;” and in another minute, in place of two well-dressed gentlemen
standing on the beach, a couple of hats and a heap of clothes occupied
the shore, whilst two white forms might be seen, ever and anon,
gleaming through the blue waves as their owners dived, floated, turned
upon their sides, kicked up their feet, and performed all those antics
with which masterly swimmers signalise their enjoyment of their
favourite element. We often hear people wishing they could fly. Now,
we always think it must be exactly the same sensation as swimming; you
are borne up with scarcely an effort--you seem to glide with the
rapidity of a bird--you feel a consciousness of daring, and a proud
superiority over nature, in thus mastering the instinctive fear man
doubtless entertains of water, and bidding ocean bear you like a steed
that knows its rider. The horizon appears so near that your ideas of
distance become entirely confused, and the “few yards of uneven” water
seem to your exulting senses like as many leagues. You dash your head
beneath the green transparent wave, and shaking the salt drops from
your brow, gallantly breast roller after roller as they come surging
in, and with a wild, glad sense of freedom and adventure, you strike
boldly out to sea. All this our two gentlemen bathers felt and
enjoyed, but Frank, who had not followed this favourite diversion for
a length of time, was even more delighted than his young companion
with his aquatic amusements; and when the breeze freshened and the
dark blue waters began to show a curl of white, he dashed away with
long, vigorous strokes to such a distance from the shore as even
Charlie, albeit of anything but nervous mood, thought over-venturous
and enterprising. The latter was emerging from the water, when, on
looking for his companion, it struck him that Frank, in the offing,
was making signals of distress. Once he saw a tremendous splash, and
he almost thought he heard a cry through the roar of the tide against
the shingle. “By all that’s fearful, he’s in grief,” was Charlie’s
mental exclamation; and whilst he thought it the gallant boy was
striking out for life and death to reach his friend. What a distance
it seemed! and how his knees and thighs ached with the long,
convulsive springs that shot him forward! Charlie never knew before
what hard work swimming might be; and now he has reached the spot he
aimed at--he raises himself in the water--what is this? Merciful
Heaven! Hardingstone is down! but there is a swirling circle of green
and white not ten yards before him, and the lad dives deep below the
surface and comes up holding his friend’s motionless body by the hair;
and now they are both down again, for Charlie is blown, and has not
before practised the difficult feat of rescuing a man from drowning.
But he comes up once more, and shakes his head, and coughs and
clutches tightly to the twining hair, that even in the water has a
death-like clamminess in his fingers. He is frightfully blown now, and
a wave takes him sideways and turns him over--he is under
Hardingstone, and this time he only comes up for an instant to go
under again, with a suffocating feeling at his chest, and a painful
pressure on his ears. Now he gulps at the salt water that appears to
fill body, and lungs, and head; and now he seems to be whirling round
and round; everything is green and giddy--there is something crooked
before his face--and a feeling of pleasing languor forbids him to
grasp it. The Great Uncertainty is very near--a glare of white light
dazzles his eyes, and the waters settle over him, as he holds on to
Hardingstone’s hair with the clutch of a drowning man.



CHAPTER III

THE HANDSOME GOVERNESS

     BLIND-MAN’S BUFF--AN UNCEREMONIOUS INTRODUCTION--THE
     MUSIC-MISTRESS--A CATHEDRAL TOWN--THE YOUNG LADIES’
     SEMINARY--MARY DELAVAL AND HER ADMIRER--AN ATTACK REPULSED--THE
     MILITARY ROUTED--A PRECARIOUS LIVELIHOOD


Little, indeed, do one half the world know how the other half live.
Fortunate is it for us all, that we have neither the invisible cap,
nor the shoes of swiftness, that did their owner such good service in
the fairy tale. We might be astonished, not to say disgusted, could we
follow our nearest and dearest for one short half-hour after they have
left our sight; could we see them, when they think no mortal eye is
upon their actions, we might smile or we might weep, according as our
temperament bordered upon the sentimental or the cynical. Yet is there
One that always watches. How comes it that when we hide ourselves from
man, we think no shame to expose our follies to man’s Creator? Will a
day come when everything shall be made known? when there will be no
more hypocrisy--no more respectability--no more difference between
vice on the house-top and vice in the corner? There will be some
strange shifting of places when that day does come--much shrinking and
wincing from the general Show-up--much scarlet shame, and livid
remorse, when the brow can no more be covered, nor the past undone.
’Tis a pity we should think so little of payment till the bill comes
due;--in the meantime we go blindly on, deceiving and deceived--we
know but little of our neighbour, and we trust in heaven our neighbour
knows nothing whatever about us; so we grope about in the dark, and
call it Life.

Mrs. Kettering, on the sofa, knew nothing of what Blanche was thinking
about, not six feet from her--knew nothing about Charlie, struggling
convulsively for life half-a-mile out at sea--knew nothing about the
woman she had left to take charge of her town-house--a pattern of
respectability, sobriety, and trustworthiness, then reeling out of
“The Feathers,” as drunk as Chloë, to use an old Eton expression,
highly derogatory to the character of Horace’s young and tender love,
she who bounded from the bard’s classical advances like a frightened
kid. Our Chloë, meanwhile, was grasping a door-key, and calling for
gin, regardless that she had left a tallow-candle flaring close to a
heap of shavings in the back scullery, that “the airy-gate,” as she
called it, was “on the latch,” and there was nobody to answer the
front door. This last piece of carelessness was the means of
inflicting an additional disappointment on one who had already in her
short life known troubles and disappointments more than enough. Mary
Delaval had walked up to the grim lion-headed knocker with a weary
step and heavy heart; but when her summons was again and again
unheeded, and the chance of finding out even Mrs. Kettering’s address
became hopeless, she moved away with the heavy, listless air of one
who has shot the last arrow from the quiver without attaining the
mark, and begins to doubt if courage and energy are indeed qualities
of the slightest advantage to our welfare, and whether blind fortune
is not the controller of all here below.

The sun beat fiercely upon the pavement, and there was not a breath of
air to refresh those arid gardens in the parched and dusty square--yet
Mary put her thick, suffocating veil down before her face and
quickened her pace as she went home from her hopeless errand; for to
these inconveniences she was obliged to submit, because in the freest
country in the world, and the most civilised capital in Europe, she
was walking on foot, without a companion or a man-servant.

“Gad, that’s a good-looking woman!” said Captain Lacquers to his
friend, Sir Ascot Uppercrust; “fine-ish goer, too, but tires over the
pavement. If it was not so cursedly hot, ‘Uppy,’ we might cross over
and get a look at her.”

“Women rather bore me,” replied Sir Ascot, who, being very young and a
Body-guardsman, was of course _blasé_; “but I don’t mind, to oblige
you,--only promise you won’t let her speak to me.” So, as Captain
Lacquers turned up his moustaches, Sir Ascot went through the same
pantomime, for practice against the time when his own should grow; and
the couple sauntered carelessly on, and, by a dexterous manœuvre,
came “right across the bows” of Mary Delaval.

We may be asked what two such undeniable dandies as good-looking
Lacquers, of the Lancers, and Sir Ascot Uppercrust, of the Body-guard,
should be doing in London at this time of the year. We cannot tell;
for love or money probably--a redundancy of the one and a deficiency
of the other being the two causes that generally drive young gentlemen
to the metropolis, when their confiding companions are all “faded and
gone.” Be it how it may, there they were, and Mary Delaval wished them
anywhere else, as, following in her wake, they made sundry
complimentary remarks upon her figure, ankles, and general appearance,
which might have been gratifying if overheard casually, but which,
under the circumstances, were doubtless extremely impertinent and
reprehensible.

“I think I’ll get forward, and ask her if she’s going home,” said
Lacquers; and, curling his great black moustaches, he quickened his
pace to add this crowning insult to an unprotected woman.

Mary’s blood boiled in her veins--she was a soldier’s daughter, and
her father’s spirit swelled her heart till it felt as if it would
choke her--she clenched her long slender hand, and thought, almost
aloud: “Oh, if I were but a man to strike the coward to the
earth!--oh, if I were but a man to shoot him as he stands!” In such a
mood women have shed blood ere now, but the excitement cannot
last--the reaction too surely arrives; and, alas for woman’s pride and
woman’s weakness! Mary returned the bold insolent stare with the
defiant glance and the lofty carriage of a queen, and then--she burst
into tears. It was too much; fatigue, anxiety, and disappointment had
overcome her nerves, and she could have killed herself for the
weakness, but she sobbed like a child.

Lacquers was a good-natured man, and a good fellow, as it is called,
at heart--he was pained and thoroughly ashamed of himself. He took his
hat off as if she had been a duchess, and with a readiness that argued
this was not a first offence, and did more credit to his ingenuity
than his candour, he begged her pardon, and assured her he thought she
was “his cousin”--“Quite a mistake, ma’am, I assure you--pray forgive
me--good-morning;” and so bowed himself off arm-in-arm with his
companion, who had preserved an immovable stoicism, almost
preternatural in one so young, during the whole interview.

As Mary Delaval walked on, and gradually recovered her composure, she
reflected somewhat bitterly on her lot, and looked back upon her life
with a feeling of discontent, that for a moment seemed almost to
upbraid Providence that she had not had a fair chance. It was but for
a moment--Mary had been schooled in adversity, and had profited by its
lessons. In some situations of life such a temperament as hers might
have been prone to grow fastidious and uncharitable. Her ideal of good
would have been very high, and she would have looked down with
contempt upon the grovelling spirits that constituted the mass of her
fellow-creatures. But poverty and dependence had taught her many a
lesson, hard to learn, but harder to forget. What had she to do with
pride?--a question to be asked, if you contemplated her tall, graceful
figure, with its majestic sweep and lofty gestures--her goddess-like
head, set on as if the Greek had carved its proportions with his
unerring chisel--her dark, deep-set grey eye, with its long lashes,
veiling a world of penetration, reflection, ay, and sentiment, for the
happy man who could bid it kindle into love--her faultless profile and
firm determined mouth, her father’s legacy, with the courage it
betokened--her low, lovable brow, with its masses of thick, dark brown
hair plainly braided on each side of that pale, haunting face,
beautiful in the deep expression which arrives only with the maturity
of womanhood; with all this she might have been a queen, yet what had
she to do with pride?--a question not to be asked of a friendless,
desolate woman, trudging along the streets in the dreary isolation of
loneliness in London, wasting her beauty in the strife for bread,
wearing her talents threadbare in the drudgery of a daily
music-mistress. What a lot if there were nothing beyond! To rise early
in that dingy atmosphere--to breakfast hurriedly on such a spare meal
as the lady’s-maid next door would deem insufficient for her
mistress’s poodle--to leave the dreary lodging for the scarce less
dreary street; day after day to make the same round, waiting upon
vulgar parents and stupid children--day after day to bend rebellious
fingers over the soul-breathing chords--to dissect the harmony of
heaven into “one--two--three--four,” “one--two--three--four,”--and
day after day to return, wearied out in body and mind, to the solitary
room which cannot be called a home, and the rent of which, dear on
account of _the situation_, swallows up the hard-earned coins that
should decorate and supply its vacuity; with nothing to cheer, nothing
to amuse, nothing to console, not even the consciousness of that
beauty which is only a cause of annoyance and remark; and, above all,
with nothing to love--what a lot would this be, were there not a
something to look forward to--a humble hope that this is but a state
of trial and probation--a humble confidence that the reward is sure to
come at last!

And who was Mary Delaval? One of the many instances of a child
suffering for the sins of its parents. We have said her father was a
soldier, but, alas! her mother never was, properly speaking, Mrs.
Delaval. Poor woman, she committed her one fault, and dearly she
atoned for it. She shut the door upon herself, and her sex took good
care that it should never again show a chink open to let her in. Trust
them for that! she was not a proper person to be visited, and she
remained outside. Captain Delaval would have married her, had he
thought such a sacrifice on his part would have improved her position,
for he loved her dearly; but he knew it could be of no use, in a
worldly point of view, the only one in which he considered the
subject, so he put it off and put it off, till too late. She never
complained of the injustice done her, but it broke her heart. Rich in
beauty and accomplishments, she had run away with the handsome, young
artillery officer rather than be forced into a match which she
detested, by a step-mother she despised. She had but one child, and on
that child, it is needless to say, she doted foolishly. Delaval was a
curious fellow, easy-tempered to a fault, careless of the world’s
opinion, and of everything but his own comfort and indulgences; a
gallant soldier, notwithstanding, as brave as a lion, and a perfect
authority in the code of honour adopted by his profession. Yet, for
all this, he allowed the mother of his child to go upon the stage,
under a feigned name, that he might live in luxury upon her earnings.
Fortunately, it may be, for all parties, the artillery officer caught
cold out duck-shooting, and was honoured with a military funeral some
ten days afterwards. He left all he had, a small pittance, to the
woman he had so deeply injured, and she retired with her daughter into
a humble cottage in the West of England, where, for a time, they lived
as happy as the day is long. Her whole energies were devoted to the
education of her child. She taught her all she had herself learned--no
mean list of acquirements--and young Mary Delaval (for, by the
deceased officer’s wish, they always bore his name) was skilled far
beyond other girls of her age in the graceful accomplishments of
womanhood, as well as in those deeper studies which strengthen the
mind and form the character of youth. But Mary’s girlhood had an
advantage, in which her mother’s was deficient. That mother, with the
earnestness of one into whose soul the iron had deeply entered,
impressed upon her daughter the lesson she had herself so painfully
learned: “Put not your trust in man,” was the substance of many a
tearful entreaty, many a sage homily, from the repentant sinner to her
innocent child; and, though the girl’s faith was sadly shaken in the
integrity of the creature, it was anchored all the more firmly in
reliance on his Creator. The mother’s health was but precarious. Often
she thought, “What will become of Mary when I must leave her alone in
the world?” and, having little else to bestow, she bequeathed to her
darling that best legacy of all, the heritage of an immortal soul.
Poor thing! her own constitution had been sadly broken by anxiety and
disappointment, and the heart-wearing conviction that she had given up
home, comfort, friends, good fame, everything, to fasten her young
pure love on an unworthy object. Oh! the sickening misery of that
moment, when first the idol’s shrine is found to be a blank! when
first the dreary misgiving dawns upon us, that the being for whom we
have sacrificed our earthly all, and offered it with a smile--whom we
have endued with all the attributes for which our own heart
yearns--whom we have clothed with the gorgeous colouring of fancy, and
decked in the false glitter of our own imagination--whom we have
raised upon a pedestal, to place our neck beneath its feet, is but a
stock or a stone, after all! Poor idolaters! are we not rightly
punished? Have we not exalted man to be our God? and shall we worship
the thing of clay with impunity? No; the very crime is made to bear
its own atonement. Better that we should bow down to the dust, with
crushed and empty hearts, than live on in the vain mockery of a false
worship, in the degradation of a soul’s homage to a mortal deity.

Poor Mrs. Delaval (for as such was the penitent lady known) bore her
punishment without a murmur; but it was a sad task to leave Mary among
strangers, when failing strength and wasting limbs warned her that she
must soon depart. The girl was in the first lovely bloom of womanhood,
bright and beautiful as if she had never known sorrow or self-denial;
and must she leave her now, when most she wants a mother’s care? God’s
will be done! There is a humble grave, in the corner of a retired
churchyard, far away in the West, marked by a plain grey stone, and
the initial letters of a name--nothing more; and there the spring
daisies are growing over the head of one who loved not wisely--who
erred, and was forgiven, but not here.

Mary Delaval was left to fight single-handed against the world. A hard
battle it is for those who are not furnished with the sinews of war.

The small sum bequeathed to her by her mother’s care was invested in a
savings bank, _which failed_. By the way, the failure was casually
mentioned in the morning papers, and trustees of savings banks, as
they sipped their coffee, remarked, “Ah! another of these concerns
broke: gross rascality somewhere, no doubt.” We hope it proved a
warning to them, to look a little carefully into affairs which they
had pledged themselves to superintend, and not to grudge
half-an-hour’s labour, when such a trifling effort might ward off the
direst calamities from their humble neighbours. What was Mary to do?
Besides her beauty and the mourning on her back, she had literally
nothing. And yet the girl’s heart never sank for a moment; she was
possessed of that invincible Anglo-Saxon resolution, for which there
is no better name than the colloquial one of “pluck.” Had she been a
man, she would have distinguished herself; as it was, perhaps the
humble part she had to play required more courage, self-command, and
self-reliance than the career of many a hero. One advantage she had
over many others equally indigent--her talents were brilliant, her
education had been excellent, and the natural conclusion at which she
arrived was, that she must be a governess or teacher in a school. The
former situation there was much difficulty in attaining, qualities
which are prized in a lady being considered great drawbacks to a
governess; but youth and good looks are not so much out of place in
the latter; and Mary, after considerable difficulty, and a voluminous
correspondence, found herself installed as second assistant in one of
those strongholds of innocence and propriety, termed a young ladies’
seminary.

How different the life on which the orphan now embarked from all her
previous experience of the world! She had been a merry little girl, in
barracks, petted by officers from every regiment in the service
(soldiers are all fond of children), and spoilt by papa, who thought
nothing in the world equal to his little pet. She had grown into
womanhood in the closest retirement of a small out-of-the-way village,
associating only with her refined and cultivated mother, and preparing
for a life of difficulty by study and reflection; and now she found
herself the inmate of a house in which there were thirty pupils, and
where she had not even a room of her own, to escape from the gossiping
chatter of the girls, or the solemn platitudes of Miss Primrose, the
venerable Calypso who presided over these isolated nymphs. There never
was such a place for ladies’ schools as the cathedral town of
Bishops’-Baffler; but, as we believe all these repositories of beauty
and education are conducted upon the same principles, it is needless
to describe them. Health and morals are studiously attended to, and
the use of the back-board inflexibly insisted on, the male sex, of
course, strictly prohibited, and the arts and sciences, giving the
former the preference, impartially administered. Young ladies are
likewise taught to lie perfectly flat on their backs for several
hours, we may say, literally, on a stretch, though of the object and
intention of this feat, whether it is viewed in the light of a dreary
penance, an innocent recreation, or a time-honoured institution, it
does not become us, in our ignorance, to give an opinion.

But Bishops’-Baffler, with all its advantages of salubrious air,
constant bell-ringing, and redundancy of ecclesiastics, has one
considerable drawback to those who take upon themselves the
responsible charge of young ladies in the vicinity of a cavalry
barracks. The morals of a cathedral town are not very easily
deteriorated; but an order from the Horse Guards, determining that a
certain number of jaunty forage-caps, jingling spurs, and dyed
moustaches, should be continually swaggering up and down the principal
thoroughfares of any city, though it adds to the liveliness, is not
supposed to conduce much to the general respectability of the place;
and with all our terrors of invasion, and our admiration, as
civilians, of the military character--particularly the mounted arm--we
confess to a partiality for it chiefly when removed beyond flirting
distance from our dwelling-house, and acknowledge with grief and shame
that its vicinity, in our own experience, has invariably over-roasted
our mutton, multiplied our cobwebs, and placed our female
establishment generally at sixes and sevens. But if we, an independent
bachelor, are thus fain to be removed from the insidious sounds of
“stable-call” and “watch-setting,” from the fascinating sights of
“watering-order” and “guard-mounting,” what must have been good Miss
Primrose’s care and anxiety to preserve her tender fledgelings from
the roving glances of those dashing serjeant-majors, far more
brilliant warriors than the very lieutenants and captains of the sober
foot regiment that preceded them; or the dangerous proximity of those
good-looking officers in their braided frock-coats and their
well-cultivated moustaches, which serve equally as an amusement to
themselves and a terror to their foes--a defence in war and an
occupation in peace? Miss Primrose was a large woman; but she ought to
have been a giantess to cover her brood as she would have wished,
when, walking two-and-two along the pavement, they were continually
encountering “the Loyal Hussars,” mounted and dismounted, or
entangling in the very sheep-fold of their innocence some wolf in
undress uniform, who would persist in taking the wrong side of the
“trottoir,” and then jingling his spurs together in feigned apologies;
merely, Miss Primrose well knew, as a pretext for peeping under their
parasols and “uglies” at the pretty faces, blushing not in anger
beneath those defences.

But what made the principal of the establishment, as she called
herself, more wrathful than anything else, was to perceive that the
figure on whom these warlike glances rested with the greatest marks of
approval and admiration was not one of the young ladies upon whom she
“lavished a mother’s care, and conferred a gentlewoman’s education”
(see advertisement)--not one of the lady pupils for whom she felt, as
she expressed it, “she was responsible, body and soul,” but the
majestic person, and the sweet, sad face, of the junior assistant,
Mary Delaval! “Had it been myself, for instance,” thought Miss
Primrose, drawing up her ample frame with a proud consciousness that,
twenty years ago, she, too, had a lover, “or even Miss Meagrim” (the
senior assistant, a gaunt and forbidding damsel), “who certainly has a
‘genteel’ figure, or little Miss Dashwood, or rosy Miss Wright, I
could have understood it; but the idea of that dowdy thing, with her
pale face and her shabby mourning! it only shows the extraordinary
tastes men have, and the unaccountable creatures they are from
beginning to end.”

And so poor Miss Primrose fell to ruminating on certain passages of
her own early career, and a blight which nipped her young affections
in the bud through the inconstancy of man.

“Have you served?” says a Frenchman to his acquaintance. “Have you
suffered?” might women as well ask of each other; and there are few
amongst them, we fancy, but at one time of their lives have gone
through the freemasonry of sorrow.

Miss Primrose did not look like a heroine; yet she, too, had had her
romance. Well, it had softened her character, for naturally she was a
strong-minded woman; and the pretty gipsies over whom she presided
little thought how much that austere lady sympathised with all the
innocent “_espiègleries_” and girlish follies she thought it right to
rebuke so severely.

Now, even Miss Primrose could not help remarking that, notwithstanding
the open admiration Mary Delaval everywhere excited, no London beauty
of half-a-dozen seasons could have accepted the homage due to her
charms with greater coldness and carelessness than did the junior
assistant. The girl seemed to live in a separate world of her own,
apart from the common pleasures and foibles of her sex. She was kind
and courteous to all, but she made no confidences, and had no female
friend. She continued to wear her mourning-dress for years after the
usual term that filial affection imposes, and with that mourning she
seemed to bear about with her the continual memory, almost the
companionship, of her dead mother. Even Miss Meagrim, whom she nursed
through the jaundice, and who, with returning health, and a fresh
accession of hideousness, confessed she owed her life to Miss
Delaval’s care, owned that she could not make her out; and truth to
tell, both that inquisitive lady and the formidable Miss Primrose
herself, were a little afraid of their stately assistant, with her
classical beauty and her calm, sad face.

Years rolled on, and Mary Delaval, now in the mature bloom of
womanhood, was still junior assistant at Miss Primrose’s, and might
have remained there till her glorious figure was bent, and her glossy
braids were grey, had it not been for that order from the Horse
Guards, mentioned above, which moved the head-quarters of the “Loyal
Hussars” from Waterbridge to Bishops’-Baffler. Much commotion was
there in the town when this regiment of “_Cupidons_” in pelisses
marched in with all the honours of war; nor were the chaste retreats
of our academical sanctuary entirely free from the excitement that
pervaded the neighbourhood. Miss Primrose had her “front” freshly
oiled, curled, and submitted to a process which, we believe, is termed
“baking”; Miss Meagrim appeared with new ribbons in her cap, of a hue
strangely unbecoming to her complexion; whilst a general feeling
amongst the pupils in favour of “a walk,” whenever the weather
afforded an opportunity, argued that the attraction, whatever it might
be, was decidedly out-of-doors. Mary Delaval alone seemed supremely
indifferent to the movements of the military, and yet her destiny it
was that the arrival of these gaudy warriors influenced in a manner
she of all people could least have foreseen.

We have said that of the usual pleasures of her kind she was utterly
careless; but there was one enjoyment of which Mary never wearied, and
in which she lost no opportunity of indulging when she could do so
without attracting observation. This was, listening to a military
band. It reminded her of her childhood--it reminded her of her
mother--and she could stand entranced by its sounds for hours. In the
gardens where the band played there used to be a porter’s lodge kept
by an old fruit-woman, much patronised by the Primrose establishment,
and with this ancient Pomona Mary made interest to occupy her little
secluded parlour, and listen to the music, whenever her school duties
permitted the indulgence. Now it happened that one sunny afternoon,
when Mary, in her usual sombre attire, was snugly enjoying from her
hiding-place the harmonious efforts of “the Loyals,” a certain wealthy
manufacturer’s lady was seized with a _physical_ giddiness as she
promenaded in the gardens, and Captain D’Orville, _the_ great card of
the regiment, came clanking into the porter’s lodge to get a glass of
water for the dame, upon whom he was in close attendance. Mary was
eager to assist in a case of distress, and the Captain, an avowed
admirer of beauty, was completely staggered by the apparition he
encountered in place of the grimy old woman he had expected to find
within. D’Orville was a gentleman of experience, and, as became a man
of war, fertile in resources. He spilt half the tumbler of water over
Mary’s black gown, which _coup-de-main_ gave him an opportunity of
excusing himself at length for his awkwardness, and prolonging his
interview with the beautiful woman he had so unexpectedly fallen in
with. The next day came a magnificent dress, and a note full of
apologies, couched in the most respectful language, and addressed
_Mrs._ Delaval. “I wonder how he found me out,” thought Mary, “and why
he did not put _Miss_.” There was no signature to the note, and it was
impossible to send the dress back, so she folded it in her drawer, and
wondered what she ought to do, and what her mother would have advised.
After this, wherever Mary went, there was Captain D’Orville; at
church, in her school walks, when she went out with Miss Primrose--he
seemed to have an intuitive knowledge of her movements, and never to
lose an opportunity of gazing at her. Mary was a woman, after all; she
thought it was “very disagreeable,” yet was the excitement not
altogether unpleasing. Gaston D’Orville was strikingly handsome; in
fact, generally considered “the best-looking fellow in the Loyals,”
with a peculiar charm of manner, and a thorough knowledge of the whole
art, method, and practice of war as carried on against the weaker sex.
What chance had the friendless teacher’s heart against such a
conqueror? This--there was no treachery in the citadel--there was no
gratified vanity to be the enemy’s best auxiliary, no trifling pique
nor unworthy jealousy to make a conquest valuable merely as a
conquest. Mary was one of the few women who can see things as they
are, and not through the glasses of their own imagination or
prejudice; and when she came to know him better, she perceived the
hollow selfishness of the hardened man of the world, with a
perspicuity of which he would have supposed “the handsome governess”
totally incapable. That she _should_ know him better he took good
care, but his advances were so well timed, so respectful, and in such
thoroughly good taste, that it was impossible to take umbrage at them,
and Mary found herself, she scarce knew how, meeting Captain D’Orville
_by accident_, walking with him as far as the end of the street,
amused by his conversation, and interested in his character, before
she had time to think where or how she had made his acquaintance, and
in what manner such an acquaintance was likely to end. And D’Orville
himself was really in love, in his own way, with “the handsome
governess.”

“There is no fool like an old one,” he confided to his friend
Lacquers, of the Lancers, in an epistle addressed to that philosopher
at Brussels. “If I were a ‘marrying man,’ which you well know I am
_not_, I should spend the rest of my life, unjust as would be the
monopoly, with this glorious Mrs. Delaval. I always call her by that
matronly title; it is so much more respectful, and must make her feel
so much more independent. She is only a teacher, my dear fellow, a
teacher in a girls’ school; and yet, for dignity and grace, and real
‘high-bred’ manner, she might be a duchess. Such a foot and hand! I
can take my oath she has good blood in her veins. Altogether, she
reminds me of your old mare, Sultana--as beautiful as a star--and
looks as if she would die rather than give in. I never in my life saw
a woman I admired half so much; you know I am generally pretty
hard-hearted, but upon my word I begin to fear I have a soft place in
me somewhere. And then, my dear Lacquers, what makes the thing so
exciting is this--I do not believe she cares one toss of a halfpenny
for me after all, and that if I were fool enough to offer to marry her
to-morrow, she would quietly balance the advantages and disadvantages
of the plan, and accept, or very likely _refuse_ me, with her calm,
condescending dignity, extremely unflattering as it is, and without
moving a muscle of her beautiful, placid countenance. Don’t she wish
she may have the chance? and yet, absurd as it sounds, I am horribly
in love with her. You will laugh at me ‘consumedly,’ and sometimes I
feel half inclined to laugh at myself, dodging about the stupidest of
places, as deeply smitten as if I were a cornet, regretting I ever
came here, and yet not man enough to leave and go on detachment, which
I have the option of doing. I shall see her again this evening, and
come to a decision one way or the other, for this can’t go on. In the
meantime, don’t show me up to a soul, and believe me,” etc.

That very evening, a tall, good-looking man, in undress uniform,
might have been seen, as indeed he was seen, by Miss Primrose’s
housemaid, walking a magnificent grey charger, with its bridle over
his arm, close to the foot-pavement in Crozier Street, deep in what
seemed an interesting conversation with a beautiful woman in black.

“So you don’t believe we unfortunates ever _are_ disinterested, Mrs.
Delaval? I am afraid you have a very bad opinion of the whole sex,”
said the gentleman, with a slight tremor in his voice, extremely
unusual to him, and contrasting strangely with the steady, measured
tones of his companion. “I cannot give an opinion where I have so
little knowledge, Captain D’Orville,” was the reply; she began to know
him well now, and liked to talk _out_ with him, as a woman never does
with a man for whom she cares; “I can only judge by what I see. It
appears to me that you all live wholly and entirely for yourselves.
If you are clever, you pervert your talents to get the better of
your friends in every allowable species of dishonesty; if you are
brave, your courage is but made subservient to your vanity and
self-aggrandisement; if you are rich, your money is devoted to your
own indulgence and your own purposes. I never hear, now-a-days, of
anything noble, anything disinterested, such as I have read of. But I
am talking great nonsense,” said Mary, checking herself, and smiling
at her own enthusiasm, unconscious of the burning admiration with
which the hussar’s eyes were riveted on her face. Like all _fast_
reckless men, there was a spice of romance about D’Orville, and he
liked to bring out the latent powers of a mind somewhat akin to his
own daring intellect, more particularly when that mind belonged to
such a person as his companion.

“I could prove that men _may_ be disinterested, even in the nineteenth
century,” said he, and again his voice trembled as it sank almost to a
whisper--“that there _are_ men who would give up station, profession,
ambition, everything,--the present they enjoy, and the future they
look forward to,--for the sake of one whom they esteemed--admired--in
short, whom they _loved_.” She would not understand him, and the calm
brow was as calm as ever while she answered, “I cannot think so. I have
seen quite enough as a child, for you know I am half a soldier
myself, to give me no inclination to prosecute my studies in human
nature. And yet I have my ideal of a hero too, but in these days there
is no such character as a Leonidas, a Curtius (you know, we
governesses must not forget our history), a William Tell, or a
Montrose.”

“I’ll wear thy colours in my cap, thy picture next my heart,” muttered
D’Orville; and then, carried away by the impulse of the moment, and
forgetful of all his worldly prudence and good resolutions, he hurried
impetuously on--“Listen to me, Mrs. Delaval; I may be presumptuous to
speak thus to you on such short acquaintance, but you must have seen
my regard--my attention--my devotion; I cannot bear to see you wasted
here, thrown away in such a place as this--you who are meant for
society and brilliancy, and everything that is worth having in life.
Will you rely upon _me_? will you suffer me to rescue you from this
obscure lot? will you consider?” Mary stopped dead short, drew herself
up, and looked her admirer full in the face: “I am so unused to this
sort of language, Captain D’Orville,” she observed, without a vestige
of emotion, “that I do not clearly understand you. If what you have to
say is fit for me to hear, pray explain yourself; if not, I wish you a
good evening;” and pausing for an instant while she kept him, as it
were, “chained in her eye,” she turned round, and walked calmly and
deliberately straight home to Miss Primrose’s.

The hussar was completely taken aback by the simplicity with which his
attack had been repulsed. There he stood, opposite the grey horse,
utterly confounded, and not knowing whether to advance or retreat.
Should he laugh the thing off, and descend to the meanness of
pretending he had been in jest? He could not--no, he _dared_ not meet
that calm, contemptuous eye. What an eye it was, and how he felt its
influence even now! Should he hurry after her, and make a _bonâ fide_
proposal of marriage, such as no woman could receive but as a
compliment? Psha! what! marry a governess? What would the mess say,
and Lacquers, and his brother profligates? No, the good grey horse was
galloped back to barracks, and D’Orville was the life and soul of the
supper-party, which he returned just in time to join. What a
contrast it was, with its brilliant lights, flushed countenances,
noise, excitement, and revelry, to the still summer evening, and the
pure, sweet face of Mary Delaval.

[Illustration: “She turned round and walked calmly and deliberately
home.”

_Page 56_]

The wealthy manufacturer’s lady thought Captain D’Orville very absent
and _distrait_ next day in the gardens; but from that time till he
went on leave he devoted himself exclusively to her service, and she
never dreamed that there was such a being in the world as the handsome
governess at Miss Primrose’s, or the loss that establishment had
sustained in its junior assistant’s departure.

And now Mary had been long dragging on her weary existence as a
music-mistress in London. Miss Primrose’s severe comments on the
impropriety of evening walks with cavalry officers led to a dignified
rejoinder from her teacher, and the conversation terminated in a small
arrear of salary being paid up, and Mary’s wardrobe (with the
exception of a certain very handsome dress, afterwards sold cheap as
“returned”) being packed for travelling. In London she obtained
sufficient employment to keep her from starving, and that was about
all. A situation as “Governess in a private family” was advertised
for, and again and again she was disappointed in obtaining one, till
at length hearing accidentally that Mrs. Kettering was in want of a
“finishing governess” for Blanche, Mary Delaval proceeded to the
town-house to make inquiries, and failing to obtain even the
wished-for address, was returning in hopeless despondency, when she
encountered the impertinences we have already detailed, and which were
alone wanting to fill the bitter cup of dependency to overflowing.
Poor Mary! hers was “a black cloud” through which it was indeed
difficult to see “the silver lining.”



CHAPTER IV

“LIBITINA”

     THE DROWNING MAN CATCHES AT A BOAT-HOOK--A BRITISH
     FISHERMAN--THE MOTHER STRUCK DOWN--THE SICK-ROOM--WATCH AND
     WARD--THE VISITOR THAT WILL NOT BE DENIED--A PRESSING
     SUITOR--THE CHIEF MOURNER


To keep a gentleman waiting any length of time, either in hot water or
cold, is decidedly a breach of the laws of politeness, to repair which
we must return as speedily as possible to “Cousin Charlie” and his
friend, lying somewhat limp and blue at the bottom of “Hairblower’s”
dinghy; this worthy, under Providence, having been the means of saving
the rash swimmer and the gallant boy who strove to rescue him from an
untimely death, which a very few seconds more of submersion would have
made a certainty. That Hairblower’s boat-hook should have been ready
at the nick of time was one of those “circumstances,” as he called
them, which he designated “special,” and turned upon the fact of his
having started a party of amateurs in the morning on a sort of marine
picnic, from which they had returned prematurely, the gala proving a
failure, with no greater loss than that of a spare oar and one or two
small casks belonging to the seaman. It was on the hopeless chance of
picking up these “waifs and strays” as they drifted down with the
tide, that “Hairblower” was paddling about in a shallow skiff,
denominated “a dinghy,” when his attention was arrested by an
adventurous swimmer striking boldly out at a long distance from the
beach. As he said himself, “There’s no depending on these gentlemen,
so I thought it very likely I might be wanted, and stood ‘off and on’
till I saw Mr. Hardingstone making signals of distress. It’s no joke
that cramp isn’t, half-a-mile out at sea; and I might have been too
late with the boat-hook if it hadn’t been for Master Charles--dear,
dear, there’s stuff in that lad you might cut an admiral out of, and
they’re going to make ‘a soger’ of him!”

He had contrived to pull the two exhausted swimmers into his little
craft; and although Charlie very soon recovered himself, his friend,
who was farther gone in his salt-water potations, gave them both some
uneasiness before he came thoroughly to his senses.

Whilst our hardy seaman is putting them upon their legs, and
administering hot brandy-and-water in a fisherman’s house near the
beach, we may spare a few lines to give some account of “Hairblower,”
and the qualities by which he earned that peculiar designation. Born
and bred a fisherman, one of that daring race with which our sea-board
swarms, and from which Her Majesty’s navy and the British merchant
service recruit their best men, he was brought up from his very
childhood to make the boat his cradle, and the wave his home. Wet or
dry, calm or stormy, blow high, blow low, with a plank beneath his
foot, and a few threads of canvas over his head, he was in his
element; and long ere he reached the full strength of manhood he was
known for the most reckless of all, even amongst those daring spirits
who seem to think life by far the least valuable of their earthly
possessions. Twice, as a boy, had he _volunteered_ to make up the crew
of a lifeboat when the oldest hands were eyeing with doubtful glances
that white, seething surf through which they would have to make their
way to the angry, leaden sea beyond; and the men of Deal themselves,
those heroes of the deep, acknowledged, with the abrupt freemasonry of
the brave, that “the lad was as tough as pin-wire, _heart_ to the
backbone.” His carelessness of weather soon became proverbial, and his
friends often expostulated with him on his rashness in remaining out
at sea with a craft by no means qualified to encounter the sudden
squalls of the Channel, or the heavy seas which come surging up from
the Atlantic in a real Sou’-Wester. His uncle at length promised to
assist him in building a lugger of somewhat heavier tonnage than the
yawl he was accustomed to risk, and the _Spanking Sally_, of ill-fated
memory, was the result. On the first occasion that the young skipper
exultingly stamped his foot on a deck he could really call his own, he
earned the nickname by which he was afterwards distinguished. His
uncle expressed a hope that the owner would now be a trifle more
careful in his ventures, and suggested that when it blew hard, and
there was a heavy cargo on board, it was good seamanship to run for
the nearest port. “Blow,” repeated the gallant lad, while he passed
his fingers through thick glossy curls that the breeze was even then
lifting from his forehead--“Blow, uncle! you’ll never catch me putting
_my_ helm down for weather, till it comes on stiff enough to blow
every one of these hairs clean out of my figure-head!” From that hour,
and ever afterwards, he was known by the _sobriquet_ of Hairblower,
and as such we verily believe he had almost forgotten his own original
name.

Hardingstone was soon sufficiently recovered to walk back to his
hotel, and with his strong frame and constitution scouted the idea of
any ill effects arising from what he called “a mere ducking.” Once,
however, on their way home, he pressed Charlie’s hand, and with a tear
in his eye--strange emotion for him to betray--whispered, “Charlie,
you’ve the pluck of the devil; you’ve saved my life, and I shall never
forget it.” We are an undemonstrative people: on the stage, or in a
book, here would have been an opportunity for a perfect oration about
gratitude, generosity, and eternal friendship; but not so in real
life; we cannot spare more than a sentence to acknowledge our rescue
from ruin or destruction, and we are so afraid of being thought
“humbugs,” that we make even that sentence as cold as possible.

Mrs. Kettering, though, was a lady of a different disposition. She was
in a terrible taking when her nephew returned, and she observed the
feverish remains of past excitement, which the boy was unable to
conceal. Bit by bit she drew from him the whole history of his gallant
efforts to save Hardingstone, and the narrow escape they both had of
drowning; and as Charlie finished his recital, and Blanche’s eyes
sparkled through her tears in admiration of his heroism, Mrs.
Kettering rang the bell twice for Gingham, and went off into strong
hysterics.

“Dear me, miss, how providential!” said the Abigail, an hour or so
afterwards, popping her head into the drawing-room, where Blanche and
Charlie were awaiting news of his aunt, having left her to “keep
quiet”--“Dr. Globus is down here for a holiday, and Missus bid me send
for him if she wasn’t any better, and now she _isn’t_ any better. What
shall I do?”

“Send for him, I should think,” said Charlie, and forthwith despatched
a messenger in quest of the doctor, whilst Blanche ran up-stairs to
mamma’s room with a beating heart and an aching presentiment, such as
often foretells too truly the worst we have to apprehend.

The curtains were drawn round Mrs. Kettering’s bed, and Blanche,
hoping it might only be one of the nervous attacks to which her mother
was subject, put them gently aside to see if she was sleeping. Even
that young, inexperienced girl was alarmed at the dark flush on the
patient’s face, and the heavy snorting respirations she seemed to draw
with such difficulty.

“O mamma, mamma!” said she, laying her head on the pillow by her
mother’s side, “what is it? I beseech you to tell me! Dear mamma, what
can we do to help you?”

Mrs. Kettering turned her eyes upon her daughter, but the pupils were
distorted as though from some pressure on the brain, and she strove to
articulate in vain. Blanche, in an agony of fear, rushed to the
bell-rope, and brought Gingham and Charlie running up hardly less
alarmed than herself. What could the lad do in a case like this? With
the impetuosity of his character, he took his hat and hastened to Dr.
Globus’s house with such speed as to overtake the messenger he had
previously despatched; Gingham was sent down to hunt up a prescription
of that skilful physician, which had once before been beneficial; and
Blanche sat her down in her mother’s room, to watch, and tremble, and
pray for the beloved form, stretched senseless within those white
curtains.

She could scarce believe it. In that very room, not six hours ago, she
had pinned her mother’s shawl, and smoothed her own ringlets. Yet it
seemed as if this had occurred to some one else--not to herself. With
the unaccountable propensity great excitement ever has for trifling,
she arranged the disordered toilet-table; she even counted the
curl-papers that lay in their little triangular box; then she went
down on her knees, and prayed, as those pray who feel it is the last
resource. When she rose, a passion of weeping somewhat relieved her
feelings, but with composure came the consciousness of the awful
possibility--the separation that might be--to-night, even; and the
dim, blank future, desolate, without a mother. But the familiar noises
in the street brought her back to the present, and it seemed
impossible that this should be the same world in which till now she
had scarcely known any anxiety or affliction. Then a soothing hope
stole over her that these dreadful misgivings might be groundless;
that the doctor would come, and mamma would soon be better; and she
would nurse her, and love her more and more, and never be wilful
again; but in the midst, with a pang that almost stopped her heart,
flashed across her the recollection of her father’s death--the
suspense, the confusion, the sickening certainty, the dreary funeral,
and how, in her little black frock, she had clasped mamma’s neck, and
thought she had saved all, since she had not lost her. And now, must
this come again? And would there be no mother to clasp when it was
over? Blanche groaned aloud. But hark! the door-bell rings, there is a
steady footstep on the stair, and she feels a deep sensation of
relief, as though the doctor held the scales of life and death in his
hands.

Gingham, in the meantime, whose composure was not proof against
anything in the shape of serious illness or danger, had been wandering
over the house with her mistress’s keys in her hand, seeking for that
prescription which she had herself put by, not three days before, but
of which she had totally forgotten the hiding-place. Music,
work-boxes, blotting-books were turned over and tumbled about in vain,
till at length she bethought her of her mistress’s writing-desk, and
on opening that “sanctum,” out fell a paper in her lady’s hand, which
ignorant Gingham herself at once perceived was meant for no such eyes
as hers. She caught a glimpse, too, of her own name between its folds,
and even in the hurry and emergency of the moment we are not prepared
to say that female curiosity could have resisted the temptation of
“just one peep,” but at that instant “Cousin Charlie” and the doctor
were heard at the door, and as Gingham thrust the mysterious document
into her bosom, the former entered the room, and rated her soundly for
prying about amongst Aunt Kettering’s papers when she ought to have
been up-stairs attending to herself.

Dr. Globus felt Mrs. Kettering’s pulse, and turned to Blanche (who was
watching his countenance as the culprit does that of the juryman who
declares his fate) with a face from which it was impossible to gather
hope or fear.

“Your mamma must be kept _very_ quiet, Miss Blanche,” said the doctor,
with whom his young friend was a prime favourite. “I must turn you all
out but Mrs. Gingham. I should like to remain here for a while to
watch the effect of some medicine I shall give her; but we cannot have
too few people in the room.” And to enhance this significant hint he
pointed to the door, at which Charlie was lingering with a white,
anxious face.

“But tell me, _dear_ doctor,” implored Blanche, in an agony of
suspense, “_pray_ tell me, is there any danger? Will _nothing_ do her
any good?”

Poor girl, did you ever know a doctor that would reply to such a
question?

“We must keep her quiet, my dear,” was all the answer she got; and
Blanche was forced to go down-stairs, much against her will, and wait
in blank dismay, with her hand clasping Cousin Charlie’s, and her eyes
turned to the clock, on which the minutes seemed to lengthen into
hours, whilst ever and anon a footstep overhead seemed to indicate
there would be some news of the patient; yet no door opened, no step
was heard upon the stairs. Not a word did the cousins exchange, though
the boy moved at intervals restlessly in his chair. The calm,
beautiful evening deepened into the purple haze of night over the
Channel, the lamps began to twinkle in the street, and still the
cousins sat and waited, and still nobody came.

When the door was shut, and Globus was left alone with his patient, a
solemn, sagacious expression stole over the worthy doctor’s face. He
had long been the personal friend of Mrs. Kettering, as well as “her
own medical man”; and although he would probably have felt it more had
he not been called in professionally, yet it was with a heavy heart
and a desponding brow that he confessed to himself there was little or
no hope. He had put in practice all that skill and experience
suggested--he had sent for a brother physician of high local repute,
and now there was nothing more to be done save to wait for the result;
so the kind-hearted man sat himself down in the chair Blanche had so
lately occupied, and pondered over the many changing years, now like a
dream, during which he had known that life which in yonder bed was
dribbling out its few remaining sands. He remembered her the merry,
black-eyed girl (once he thought her eyes brighter than those of Mrs.
Globus); he saw her again the sparkling bride, the good-humoured
matron, the doting mother, the not inconsolable widow. It was only
yesterday he bowed to her on the parade, and thought how young she
looked with her grown-up daughter; he was to have dined with them
to-morrow; and the uncertainty of life looked him startlingly in the
face. But the pride of science soon came to the rescue, and the
practised healer forgot his private feelings in his professional
reflections. And thus Dr. Globus passed his holiday--one afternoon of
the precious fourteen, in which he had promised himself the fresh
breezes and the out-of-doors liberty of St. Swithin’s. Mrs. Globus and
the children were picking up shells on the beach; his brother, whom he
had not seen for ten years, was coming to dinner; but the doctor’s
time is the property of the suffering and the doomed, and still Globus
sat and watched and calculated, and saw clearly that Mrs. Kettering
must die.

The hours stole on, candles were brought into the drawing-room, and
the cousins tried in vain with parched lips and choking throats to
have some tea. A ring at the door-bell heralded the arrival of the
other doctor, a stout man in a brown greatcoat, smelling of the
night-dew. Blanche ran out to meet him--it was a relief to do
something--and beckoned him silently up-stairs. She even stole into
the sick-room, and caught a glimpse of her mother’s figure, recumbent
and covered up; but the curtains were half closed, and she could not
see the dear face. Globus kindly drew her away, and shut her out, but
not before the frightened girl had glanced at a dark-stained
handkerchief on the floor, and sickened with the conviction that it
was clotted with blood. Outside, the little housemaid was sitting on
the stairs, crying as if her heart would break. Poor Blanche sat down
by her in the darkness, and mingled her tears with those of the
affectionate servant. She began to get hopeless now. After a while she
went down again to Cousin Charlie, and was surprised to find it so
late; the clock pointed to five minutes past ten; and with trembling
hands she closed the windows, listening for an instant to the dash of
the waves outside, with a strange, wild feeling that they never
sounded so before. Then she covered up “Bully,” who had been whistling
ever since the lights were brought; but she had not the heart to
exchange a syllable with Cousin Charlie; and that poor lad, affecting
a composure that his face belied, was pretending to spell over the
evening paper, of which he was vacantly staring at the advertisement
sheet. Again there is a movement above, and the two doctors adjourn to
another room to discuss the patient’s case. Great is the deference
paid by the local Esculapius to the famous London physician. What Dr.
Globus recommended--what Dr. Globus said--what Dr. Globus
thought--were quoted by the former ever afterwards; yet could one have
witnessed the consultation of these two scientific men, it might have
been instructive to observe how professional etiquette never once gave
way to the urgency of the moment--how the science of curing, like that
of killing, has its forms, its subordination, its ranks, its
dignities, and its “customs of war in like cases.” Gingham was left
with the patient, and the weeping housemaid stood ready to assist, the
latter showing an abundance of nerve and decision, when called upon to
act, which her behaviour on the staircase would scarcely have
promised. Even Gingham was less flustered than usual, now there was
really something to be frightened at. Woman is never seen to such
advantage as when tending the sick; the eye that quails to see a
finger pricked, the hand that trembles if there is but a mouse in the
room, will gaze unflinchingly on the lancet or the cupping-glass, will
apply the leeches without a shudder, or pour the soothing medicament,
drop by drop, into the measured wine-glass, with the steadiness and
accuracy of a chemical professor. Where man with all his boasted nerve
turns sick and pale, and shows himself worse than useless, woman
vindicates the courage of her sex, that unselfish heroism, that
passive devotion, which is ever ready to bear and be still. They seem
to have a positive pleasure in alleviating the pangs of the sufferer,
and taking care of the helpless. Look at a bustling matron, blessed
with a large family of children, and whatever may be the opinion of
the “paterfamilias,” however much he may grunt and grumble (so like a
_man_!) at having the quiver as full as it will hold, she, in her
heart of hearts, welcomes every fresh arrival with the hospitable
sentiment of “the more the merrier”; and much as she loves them all,
lavishes her warmest affections on the last little uninteresting
morsel of underdone humanity, which, on its first appearance, is the
most helpless, as it is the least attractive, of Nature’s germinating
efforts; unless, indeed, she should own a dwarf, a cripple, or an
idiot amongst her thriving progeny--then will that poor creature be
the mother’s chiefest treasure, then will woman’s love and woman’s
tenderness hover with beautiful instinct round the head which Nature
itself seems to have scouted, and the mother will press to her heart
of hearts the wretched being that all else are prone to ridicule and
despise. So in the sick-room, when “pain and anguish wring the brow,”
woman wipes the foaming lip and props the sinking head. Woman’s care
speeds the long doubtful recovery, and woman’s prayers soothe the
dying hour, when hope has spread her wings and fled away. In works
like these she vindicates her angel-nature, in scenes like these she
perfects that humble piety of which it appears to us she has a greater
share than the stronger sex. The proud Moslem boasts there will be no
women in his material paradise; let us look to ourselves, that the
exclusion for us be not all the other way.

Blanche sits vacantly in the drawing-room, and thinks the doctors’
consultation is to be endless, and that it is cruel to keep her so
long from her mamma. Charlie puts down the paper, and drawing kindly
towards his cousin, finds courage to whisper some few words of
consolation, which neither of them feel to be of the slightest avail.
He has been thinking that Uncle Baldwin ought to be sent for, but he
dares not excite more alarm in his companion’s mind by such a
suggestion, and he meditates a note to his friend Hardingstone to
manage it for him. Uncle Baldwin, better known in the world as
Major-General Bounce, is Mrs. Kettering’s brother, and lives in the
midland counties--“he should be sent for immediately,” thinks Charlie,
“if he is to see my aunt alive.” Blanche is getting very restless, and
thinks she might soon go up-stairs and see----Hush! the bedroom door
opens--a rapid footstep is heard on the stairs--it is Gingham running
down for the doctors--Blanche rushes to the door and intercepts her on
the landing-place--the woman’s face is ashy pale, and her eyes stand
strangely out in the dubious light--her voice comes thick and husky.
The young girl is quite composed for the instant, and every syllable
thrusts straight to her heart as the maid stammers out, “O Miss
Blanche! Miss Blanche! your mamma----”

       *       *       *       *       *

The sun rose, and the waters of the Channel glittered in the morning
light, but the shutters were closed at No. 9--and honest Hairblower
drew his rough hand across his eyes, as he sought to get some news of
“poor Miss Blanche.” He met Hardingstone coming from the house,
whither the “man of action” had repaired on the first intelligence of
their calamity, and had made himself as useful as he could to the
afflicted family. “Do she take on, poor dear?” said Hairblower,
scarcely restraining the drops that coursed down his weather-beaten
cheeks. “Such a young thing as that, Mr. Hardingstone, to go loose
without a mother--and the poor lady, too, gone down like in a calm.
They will not be leaving, sir, just yet, will ’em? I couldn’t bear to
think of Miss Blanche cruising about among strangers, till she begins
to hold up a bit--she should come out and get the sea-air, as soon as
she is able for it, and I’ll have the boat covered in and ready day
and night----O Mr. Hardingstone, what _can_ I do, sir, for the poor
young lady in her distress?” Frank shook the honest fellow’s hand, and
could scarcely command his own feelings enough to reply. He had done
everything that was necessary in the house of death, had sent off an
express for the General, sealed up Mrs. Kettering’s jewel-boxes,
writing-cases, etc., and performed all those offices of which the two
children, for so we might almost call them, were incapable, and which,
even in the presence of the Destroyer, are still hard, cold matters of
business, and _must_ be attended to, like the ordering dinner, and the
arrangement for the funeral, though the survivors’ hearts may ache,
and their wounds burst out afresh, till they too wish their bodies
were laid at rest beneath the sod, and their spirits were away, free
and unmourning, with the loved one in those realms with which, sooner
or later, we are all to be acquainted.

On the child’s misery it would not become us to dwell. There are
feelings over which a veil is drawn too sacred to be disturbed by
mortal hand. Well might Margaret Douglas exclaim, in the old ballad--

    “True lovers I may have many a one,
    But a father once slain, I shall never see mair.”

And when a young, affectionate girl is wailing for a parent, the voice
of sorrow cannot be hushed, nor the tears dried, till grief has had
its course, and time has cured the wounds now so excruciating, which
ere long shall be healed over and forgotten. “Cousin Charlie,”
boy-like, was more easily consoled; and although at intervals his kind
aunt’s voice would seem to sound in his ears, and the sight of her
work, her writing, or any other familiar object associated with
herself would bring on a fresh accession of grief, yet in the society
of Frank Hardingstone, and the anticipation of Uncle Baldwin’s
arrival, he found objects to divert his thoughts, and direct them to
that brilliant inheritance of the young, the golden future, which
never _shall_ arrive. He was, besides, a lad of a sanguine,
imaginative disposition, and these are the spirits over which sorrow
has least power. The more elastic the spring, the more easily it
regains its position; and a sensitive organisation, after the first
recoil, will rise uninjured from a shock that prostrates more material
souls to the very dust.

Over the rest of the household came the reaction that invariably
follows the first sensations of awe inspired by sudden death. There
was an excitement not altogether unpleasing in the total derangement
of plans, the uncertainty as to the future created amongst the
domestics by the departure of their mistress. The butler knew he
should have to account for his plate, and was busied with his spoons
and his inventory; the footman speculated on the next place he should
get, with “a family that spent nine months of the year in London”; the
very “boy in buttons” thought more of his promotion than of the kind
mistress who had housed, clothed, and fed him when a parish orphan.
Gingham herself, that tender damsel, was occupied and excited about
Miss Blanche’s mourning, and her own “breadths” of black and “depths”
of crape usurped the place of unavailing regrets in a mind not
calculated to contain many ideas at a time. Besides, the pleasure of
“shopping,” inexplicable as it may appear to man’s perverted taste, is
one which ravishes the female mind with an intense delight; and what
with tradesmen’s condolences, the interminable fund of gossip created
thereby, the comparing of patterns, the injunctions on all sides “not
to give way,” and the visits to linen-drapers’ shops, we cannot but
confess that Gingham’s spirits were surprisingly buoyant, considering
the circumstance under which she swept those costly wares from their
tempting counters. Tom Blacke, too, lost no time in assuring her of
his sympathy.

“O, Miss Gingham,” said wily Tom, as he insisted on carrying a huge
brown-paper parcel home for her, and led the way by a circuitous route
along the beach, “O, Miss Gingham, what a shock for your affectionate
natur’ and kindly ’eart! Yet sorrow becomes some people,” added Tom,
reflectively, and glancing his dark eyes into Gingham’s muddy-looking
face, as he offered her an arm.

“Go along with you, Mr. Blacke,” replied the sorrowing damsel,
forgetful of her despondency for the moment, which emboldened him to
proceed.

“You ought to have a home, Miss Gingham--you ought to have some one
to attach yourself to--you that attaches everybody” (he ventured a
squeeze, and the maiden did not withdraw the brown thread glove which
rested on his arm; so Tom mixed it a little stronger)--“a ’onest man
to depend on, and a family and such like.”

Tom flourished his arm along a line of imaginary olive branches, and
Gingham represented that “she couldn’t think of such a thing.”

“Service isn’t for the likes of you, miss,” proceeded the tempter;
“hindependence is fittest for beauty” (Tom peeped under the bonnet,
and “found it,” as he expressed himself, “all serene”); “a cottage and
content, and a ’eart that is ’umble may ’ope for it ’ere;” with which
concluding words Mr. Blacke, who was an admirer of poetry, and
believed with Moore _that_ would be given to song “which gold could
never buy,” imprinted a vigorous kiss on those not very tempting lips,
and felt that the day was his own.

Ladies of mature charms are less easily taken aback by such advances
than their inexperienced juniors. The position, even if new in
practice, is by no means so in theory, and having often anticipated
the attack, they are the more prepared to receive it when it arrives.
Ere our lovers reached No. 9 he had called her by her Christian name,
and “Rachel” had promised to think of it. As she closed the
“area-gate” Gingham had given her heart away to a scamp. True, she was
oldish, uglyish, wore brown thread gloves, and had a yellow skin; yet
for all this she had a woman’s heart, and, like a very woman, gave it
away to Tom Blacke without a return.

In good time General Bounce arrived, and took the command from Frank
Hardingstone, with many gracious acknowledgments of his kindness. The
General was a man of far too great importance to be introduced at the
conclusion of a chapter. It is sufficient to say, that with military
promptitude and decision (which generally means a disagreeable and
abrupt method of doing a simple thing) he set the household in order,
arranged the sad ceremony, over which he presided with proper gravity,
packed Cousin Charlie off to his private tutor’s, paid the servants
their wages, and settled the departure of himself and niece for his
own residence.

Do we think ourselves of account in this our world?--do we think we
shall be so missed and so regretted? Drop a stone into a pool, there
is a momentary splash, a bubble on the surface, and circle after
circle spreads, and widens and weakens, till all is still and smooth
as though the water had never been disturbed; so it is with death.
There is a funeral and crape and weeping, and “callings to inquire,”
then the intelligence gets abroad amongst mere acquaintances and utter
strangers, a line in the _Times_ proclaims our decease to the world.
Ere it has reached the colonies we are well-nigh forgotten at home.

Mrs. Kettering was at rest in her grave; the General was full of his
arrangements and his responsibilities; Charlie was back amongst his
mathematics and his cricket and his Greek and Latin; the servants were
looking out for fresh places; and the life that had disappeared from
the surface was forgotten by all. By all save one; for still Blanche
was gazing on the waters and mourning for her mother.



CHAPTER V

UNCLE BALDWIN

     NEWTON-HOLLOWS AND ITS GROUNDS--BACHELORS’ BILLETS--THE HEIRESS
     AND HER COMPANION--GENERAL BOUNCE--A GENTLEMAN FARMER--THE
     LADIES’ CLUB--A WOMAN’S IDEAL


In an unpretending corner of the “Guyville Guide and Midland Counties’
Directory” a few lines are devoted to inform the tourist that
“Newton-Hollows, post-town Guyville, in the Hundred of Cow-capers, is
the seat of Major-General Bounce, etc., etc., etc. The lover of the
picturesque obtains, from the neighbourhood of this mansion, a
magnificent view, comprising no less than seventeen churches, a vast
expanse of wood and meadow-land, the distant spires of Bubbleton, and
the imposing outline of the famous Castle Guy.” Doubtless all these
beauties might have been conspicuous had the adventurous tourist
chosen to climb one of the lofty elms with which the house was
surrounded; but from the altitude of his own stature he was obliged to
content himself with a far less extensive landscape, seeing that the
country was closely wooded, and as flat as his hand. But
Newton-Hollows was one of those sweet little places, self-contained
and compact, that require no distant views, no shaggy scenery, no
“rough heath and rugged wood,” to enhance their charm. Magnificent old
timber, “the oak and the ash, and the bonny ivy tree,” to say nothing
of elms and chestnuts, dotted the meadows and pastures in which the
mansion was snugly ensconced. People driving up, or rather along, the
level approach, were at a loss to make out where the farms ended and
the park began. Well-kept lawns, that looked as if they were fresh
mown every morning, swept up to the drawing-room windows, opening to
the ground; not a leaf was strewn on sward or gravel; not a weed, nor
even a daisy, permitted to show its modest head above the surface; and
as for a rake, roller, or a gardener’s hat being left in a place where
such instruments have no business, why, the General would have
made the unfortunate delinquent eat it--rake, roller, or
“wide-a-awake”--and discharged him besides on the spot. No wonder the
flower-garden adjoining the conservatory, which again opened into the
drawing-room, looked so trim and well-kept: “Master’s” hobby was a
garden, and, though utterly ignorant of the names, natures, and
treatment of plants, he liked to see every variety in his possession,
and spared no expense on their cultivation; and so a head gardener and
five subalterns carried off all the prizes at the Bubbleton and
Guyville horticulturals; and the General complained that he could
never get a nosegay for his table, nor a bit of fruit for his dessert
fit to eat. Yet were there worse “billets” in this working world than
Newton-Hollows. The Bubbleton “swells” and county dignitaries found it
often “suit their hunting arrangements” to go, over-night, and dine
with “old Bounce.” He would always “put up a hack for you,” than which
no effort of hospitality makes a man more deservedly popular in a
hunting country; and his dinners, his Indian dishes, his hot pickles,
his dry champagne, his wonderful claret (“not a headache in a
hogshead, sir,” the General would say, with a frown of defiance), were
all in keeping with the snug, comfortable appearance of his dwelling,
and the luxurious style which men who have served long in the army,
and often been obliged to “rough it,” know so well how to enjoy. Then
there was no pretension about the thing whatever. The house, though it
ranged over a considerable extent of ground, particularly towards the
offices, was only two storeys high--“a mere cottage,” its owner called
it; but a cottage in which the apartments were all roomy and
well-proportioned, in which enough “married couples could be put up”
to furnish a very good-sized dinner-table, and the bachelors (we like
to put in a word for our fellow-sufferers) were as comfortably
accommodated as their more fortunate associates, who travelled with
wives, imperials, cap-boxes, and ladies’-maids.

It is a bad plan to accustom unmarried gentlemen to think they can do
without their comforts; it makes them hardy and independent, and
altogether averse to the coddling and care and confinement with which
they expect to find matrimony abound. As we go through the world, in
our desolate celibacy, we see the net spread in sight of many a bird,
and we generally remark, that the meshes which most surely entangle
the game are those of self-indulgence and self-applause. You _must_
gild the wires, and pop a lump of sugar between them too, if you would
have the captive flutter willingly into the cage. When young Coelebs
comes home from hunting or shooting, and has to divest himself of his
clammy leathers or dirt-encumbered gaiters in a room without a fire
and with a cracked pane in the window, he takes no pleasure in his
adornment, but hurries over his toilet, or perhaps begins to smoke.
This should be avoided: we have known a quiet cigar do away with the
whole effect of a bran-new pink bonnet. But if, on the contrary, he
finds a warm, luxurious room, plenty of hot water, wax candles on the
dressing-table, and a becoming looking-glass, the quarry lingers over
the tie of its neckcloth with a pleasing conviction that that is not
half a bad-looking fellow grinning opposite, and moreover that there
is a “deuced _lovable_ girl” down-stairs, who seems to be of the same
opinion. So the thing works: vows are exchanged, _trousseaux_ got
ready, settlements drawn out, the lawyers thrive, and fools are
multiplied. Had Newton-Hollows belonged to a designing matron, instead
of an unmarried general officer, it might have become a perfect mart
for the exchanges of beauty and valour. Hunting men are pretty usually
a marrying race; whether it be from daily habits of recklessness, a
bold disregard of the adage which advises “to look before you leap,”
or a general thick-headedness and want of circumspection, the
red-coated Nimrod falls an easy prey to any fair enslaver who may
think him worth the trouble of subjection; and for one alliance that
has been negotiated in the stifling atmosphere of a London ball-room,
twenty owe their existence to the fresh breezes, the haphazard
events, and surrounding excitement of the hunting-field.

General Bounce’s guests, as was natural in the country where he
resided, were mostly men like mad Tom,

          “Whose chiefest care
    Was horse to ride and weapon wear;”

nor, like him, would they have objected to place gloves in their caps
or carry any other favours which might demonstrate their own powers of
fascination, and their rank in the good graces of the heiress. Yes,
there was an heiress now at Newton-Hollows. Popular as had always been
the General’s hospitality, he was now besieged with hints, and
advances, and innuendoes, having for their object an invitation to his
house. What a choice of scamps might he have had, all ready and
willing to marry his niece--all anxious, if possible, to obtain even a
peep “of that little Miss Kettering, not yet out of the school-room,
who is to have ever so many hundred thousand pounds, and over whom old
Bounce keeps watch and ward like a fiery dragon.”

But the passing years have little altered Blanche’s sweet and simple
character, though they have rounded her figure and added to her
beauty. She is to “come out” next spring, and already the world is
talking of her charms and her expectations. A pretty picture is so
much prettier in a gilt frame, and she will probably begin life with
the ball at her foot; yet is there the same soft, artless expression
in her countenance that it wore at St. Swithin’s ere her mother’s
death--the same _essence_ of beauty, independent of colouring and
features, which may be traced in really charming people from the
cradle to the grave, which made Blanche a willing child, is now
enhancing the loveliness of her womanhood, and will probably leave her
a very pleasant-looking old lady.

“And Charlie comes home to-morrow,” says Blanche, tripping along the
gravel walk that winds through those well-kept shrubberies. “I wonder
if he’s at all the sort of person you fancy, and whether you will
think him as perfect as I do?”

“Probably not, my dear,” replied her companion, whose stately gait
contrasted amusingly with Blanche’s light and playful gestures.
“People seldom come up to one’s ideas of them; and I am sure it is not
your fault if I do not expect to meet a perfect hero of romance in
your cousin.” We ought to know those low thrilling tones; we ought to
recognise the majestic figure--the dark sweeping dress--the braided
hair and classical features of that pale, serious face. Mary Delaval
is still the handsome governess; and Blanche would rather part with
her beauty or her bullfinch, or any of her most prized earthly
possessions, than that dear duenna, who, having finished her
education, is now residing with her in the dubious capacity of part
chaperon, part teacher, and part friend.

“Well, dear, he _is_ a hero,” replied Blanche, who always warmed on
_that_ subject. “Let me see which of my heroes he’s most like: Prince
Rupert--only he’s younger and better-looking” (Blanche, though a
staunch little cavalier, could not help associating mature age and
gravity with the flowing wigs in which most of her favourites of that
period were depicted); “Claverhouse, only not so cruel,--he _is_ like
Claverhouse in the face, I think, Mrs. Delaval; or ‘bonnie Prince
Charlie’; or Ivanhoe,--yes, Ivanhoe, that’s the one; he’s as brave and
as gentle; and Mr. Hardingstone, whose life he saved, you know, says
he rides most beautifully, and will make a capital officer.”

“And which of the heroes is Mr. Hardingstone, Blanche?” said her
friend, in her usual measured tones. Blanche blushed.

“Oh, I can’t understand Mr. Hardingstone,” said she; “I think he’s
odd-_ish_, and quite unlike other people; then he looks through one
so. Mrs. Delaval, I think it’s quite rude to stare at people as if you
thought they were not telling the truth. But he’s good-looking, too,”
added the young lady, reflectively; “only not to be compared with
Charlie.”

“Of course not,” rejoined her friend; “but it is fortunate that
we are to enjoy the society of this Paladin till he joins his
regiment--Lancers, are they not? Well, we must hope, Blanche, to use
the language of your favourites of the middle ages, that he may prove
a lamb among ladies, as he is doubtless a lion among lancers.”

“Dear Charlie! how he will enjoy his winter. He is so fond of hunting;
and he is to have Hyacinth, and Haphazard, and Mayfly to ride for his
own--so kind of Uncle Baldwin; but I must be off to put some flowers
in his room,” quoth Blanche, skipping along the walk as young ladies
will, when unobserved by masculine eyes; “he may arrive at any moment,
he’s such an uncertain boy.”

“Zounds! you’ve broke it, you fiddle-headed brute!” exclaimed a
choleric voice from the further side of a thick laurel hedge,
startling the ladies most unceremoniously, and preparing them for the
spectacle of a sturdy black cob trotting rebelliously down the farm
road, with a fragment of his bridle dangling from his head, the
remaining portion being firmly secured to a gate-post, at which the
self-willed animal had been tied up in vain. Another instant brought
the owner of the voice and late master of the cob into the presence of
Mrs. Delaval and his niece. It was no less a person than General
Bounce.

“Uncle Baldwin, Uncle Baldwin,” exclaimed Blanche, who turned him
round her finger as she did the rest of the establishment, “where have
you been all day? You promised to drive me out--you know you did, you
wicked, hard-hearted man.”

“Been, my dear?” replied the General, in a tone of softness
contrasting strangely with the flushed and vehement bearing of his
outward man; “at that--(no, I will _not_ swear)--at that doubly
accursed farm. Would you believe the infernal stupidity of the
people--(excuse me, Mrs. Delaval)--men with heads on their shoulders,
and hair, and front teeth like other people--and they’ve sent the
black bull to Bubbleton without winkers--without winkers, as I live by
bread; but I won’t be answerable for the consequences,--no, I won’t
make good any damages originating in such carelessness; no, not if
there’s law in England or justice under heaven! But, my sweet
Blanche,” added the General, in a tone of amiable piano, the more
remarkable for the forte of his previous observations, “I’ll go and
get ready this instant, my darling; you shan’t be disappointed; I’ll
order the pony-carriage forthwith. Holloa! you, sir; only let me catch
you--only let me catch you, that’s all; I’ll trounce you as sure as my
name’s Bounce!” and the General, without waiting for any further
explanation, darted off in pursuit of an idle village boy, whom he
espied in the very act, _flagrante delicto_, of trespassing on a
pathway which the lord of the manor had been several years vainly
endeavouring to shut up.

General Bounce was such a medley as can only be produced by the action
of a tropical sun on a vigorous, sanguine Anglo-Saxon temperament.
Specimens are becoming scarcer every day. They are seldom to be met
with in our conventional and well-behaved country, though here and
there, flitting about a certain club celebrated for its curries, they
may be discovered even in the heart of the metropolis. On board
transports, men-of-war, mail-steamers, and such-like government
conveyances, they are more at home; in former days they were
occasionally visible inside our long coaches, where they invariably
made a difficulty about the window; but in the colonies they are to be
seen in their highest state of cultivation; as a general rule, the
hotter the climate, the more perfect the specimen.

Our friend the General was a very phoenix of his kind. In person he
was short, stout, square, and active, with black twinkling eyes and a
round, clean-shaved face--small-featured and good-humoured-looking,
but choleric withal. His naturally florid complexion had been baked
into a deep red-brown by his Indian campaigns. If Pythagoras was right
in his doctrine concerning the transmigration of souls, the General’s
must have previously inhabited the person of a sturdy, snappish
black-and-tan terrier. In manner he was alternately marvellously
winning and startlingly abrupt, the transition being instantaneous;
whilst in character he was decided, energetic, and impracticable,
though both rash and obstinate, with an irritable temper and an
affectionate heart. He had seen service in India, and by his own
account had not only experienced sundry hair-breadth ’scapes bordering
on the romantic, but likewise witnessed such strange sights and
vagaries as fall to the lot of few, save those whose bodily vision is
assisted by that imaginative faculty denominated “the mind’s eye.”

The General was a great disciplinarian, and piqued himself much upon
the order in which he kept the females of his establishment, Blanche
especially, whose lightest word, by the way, was his law. Indeed, like
many old bachelors, he entertained a reverence almost superstitious
for the opposite sex, and a few tears shed at the right moment would
always bear the delinquent harmless, whatever the misdemeanour for
which she was taken to task. The men, indeed, found him more
troublesome to deal with, and the newly-arrived were somewhat alarmed
at his violent language and impetuous demeanour; but the older
servants always “took the bull by the horns” fearlessly and at once,
nor in the end did they ever fail to get their own way with a master
who, to use their peculiar language, “was easily upset, though he soon
came round again.” What made the General an infinitely less
disagreeable man in society than he otherwise would have been, was the
fact of his having a farm, which farm served him as a safety-valve to
carry off all the irritation that could not but accumulate in an easy,
uneventful life, destitute of real grievances as of the stirring,
active scenes to which he had been accustomed in his earlier days. If
a gentleman finds it indispensable to his health that he should be
continually in hot water--that he should always have something to
grumble at, something to disappoint him, let him take to farming--his
own land or another’s, it is immaterial which; but let him “occupy,”
as it is called, a certain number of acres--and we will warrant him as
much “worry” and “annoyance” as the most “tonic”-craving disposition
can desire. Let us accompany our retired warrior to his farm-yard,
whither, after an ineffectual chase, he at length followed his black
pony, forgetful of Blanche and the drive, on which, in the now
shortening daylight, it was already too late to embark.

In the first place, the bull was come back--he had been to Bubbleton
_minus_ his winkers, but no one in that salubrious town caring to
purchase a bull, he had returned to his indigenous pastures and his
disgusted owner--therefore must the bailiff hazard an excuse and a
consolation, in which the words “poor,” and “stock,” and the “fair on
the fifteenth,” are but oil to the flame.

“Fair! he’ll be as thin as a whipping-post in a week--if anybody bids
five shillings for him at the fair, I’ll eat him, horns and all! What
weight are those sheep?” adds the General, abruptly turning to another
subject, and somewhat confusing his deliberate overseer by the
suddenness of the inquiry. “Now those turnips are not fit for sheep! I
tell you they ought to be three times the size. Zounds, man, _will_
you grow larger turnips? And have I not countermanded those infernal
iron hurdles a hundred times? a thousand times!! a hundred thousand
times!!! Give _me_ the pail, you lop-eared buffoon--do you call _that_
the way to feed a pig?” and the General, seizing the bucket from an
astonished chaw-bacon, who stood aghast, as if he thought his master
was mad, managed to spill the greater part of the contents over his
own person and gaiters, rendering a return home absolutely
indispensable. He stumped off accordingly, giving a parting direction
to some of his myrmidons to catch the black cob, in as mild a tone and
with as good-humoured a countenance as if he had been in this heavenly
frame of mind the whole afternoon.

Now the General, when he first began to live alone, and to miss the
constant interchange of ideas which a military life encourages, had
acquired a habit of discoursing to himself on such subjects as were
most interesting to him at the time; so as he toddled merrily along,
much relieved by the bucolic blow-up, and admired his sturdy legs and
swung his short arms, all the way up the long gravel-walk towards the
house, his thoughts framed themselves into a string of disjointed
sentences, now muttered scarcely above a whisper, now spoken boldly
out in an audible tone, which would have led a stranger to suppose he
was carrying on a conversation with some one on the other side of the
screening Portugal laurels. “Thick-headed fellows, these
bumpkins,” soliloquised the General, “not like my old friends at
Fool-a-pore--could make them skip about to some purpose: there’s
nothing like a big stick for a nigger--never mind. I’m young enough to
begin again--man of iron--what an arm! what a leg! might have married
a dozen peeresses, and beauties by hundreds--didn’t though. Now,
there’s Blanche; I shall have fifty fellows all after her before
Christmas--sharp dogs if they think they can weather old
Bounce--Rummagee Bang couldn’t. By the by, I haven’t told Mrs. Delaval
that story yet--clever woman, and good judgment--admires my character,
I’ll bet a million--an officer’s daughter, too, and what a magnificent
figure she has--Bounce, you’re an old fool! As for Charlie, he shall
stay here all the winter; there’s mettle in that lad, and if I can’t
lick him into shape I’m a Dutchman. He’ll show ’em the way with the
hounds, and I’ll put him up to a thing or two, the young scamp.
Snaffles! Snaffles!!” roared the General, as he concluded his
monologue, and passed the stables on his way to the house, “don’t take
any of the horses out to-morrow till you get your orders. Do you
_hear_ me? man alive!” And by this time, having reached home, he
stumped off to dress for dinner, keeping up a running fire along the
passages, as he discovered here a hearth-broom, and there a
coal-scuttle, ready for him to break his shins over, and observed the
usual plate and tea-cup standing sentry at each of the ladies’ doors.

We may be sure that not the least comfortable of the rooms at
Newton-Hollows was especially appropriated as Blanche’s own, and that
young lady was now sitting opposite a glass that reflected a smiling
face, enduring with patience and resignation the ceremony of having
“her hair done.” A French maid, named “Rosine,” a very pretty
substitute for bilious-looking Gingham, was working away at the
ivory-handled brushes, and occasionally letting fall a thick glossy
ringlet athwart the snow-white cape in which the process of adornment
was submitted to, whilst Mary Delaval, buried in an arm-chair drawn
close to the blazing fire, and enveloped in a dressing-gown, with an
open book in her hand, was quietly listening to Blanche’s remarks on
things in general, and her own self and prospects in particular.

That hour before dinner is the period chosen by women for their most
confidential intercourse, and the enjoyment of what they call “a cozy
chat.” When Damon, in the small hours, smokes a cigar with Pythias,
more especially if such an indulgence be treason against the rules of
the house, he opens his heart to his fellow-trespasser, in a manner of
which, next morning, he has but a faint recollection. He confides to
him his differences with “the governor,” his financial embarrassments,
the unsoundness of his horses and his heart, the latter possession
much damaged by certain blue eyes in the neighbourhood; he details to
him the general scandal with which he is conversant, and binding him
by promises of eternal secrecy, proceeds deliberately to demolish the
fair fame of maid and matron who enjoy the advantage of his
acquaintance; finally, he throws his cigar-end beneath the grate and
betakes him “to perch,” as he calls it, with an infatuated persuasion
that the confidences which he has broken, will be respected by his
listener, and that his debts, his difficulties, his peccadilloes, and
the lameness of his bay mare, will not form the subject of
conversation to-morrow night, when he, Damon, has gone back to London,
and Pythias takes out his case to smoke a cigar with Dionysius. But
the ladies by this time are fast asleep, dreaming, bless them, as it
shall please Queen Mab--they must not wither their roses by sitting up
too late, and though tolerant of smoking sometimes, they do not
practise that abomination themselves, so tea-time is _their_ hour of
gossip, and heartily they enjoy the refreshment, both of mind and
body, ere they come down demure and charming, in low evening dresses,
with little or no appetite for dinner.

“Never mind Rosine,” said Blanche, as that attendant concluded an
elaborate plait by the insertion of an enormous hair-pin; “she can’t
speak a word of English. I agree with you that it is very charming to
be an heiress, and I shall enjoy ‘coming out,’ and doing what I like;
but I wish, too, sometimes, that I were a man; I feel so restrained,
so useless, so incapable of doing any good. Mrs. Delaval, I think
women are shamefully kept back; why shouldn’t we have professions and
employments? not that I should like to be a soldier or a sailor,
because I am not brave, but I do feel as if I was fit for something
greater than tying up flowers or puzzling through worsted work.”

“There was a time when I, too, thought the same,” replied Mary, “but
depend upon it, my dear, that you may do an infinity of good in the
station which is assigned you. I used to fancy it would be so noble to
be a man, and to do something grand, and heroic, and disinterested;
but look at half the men we see, Blanche, and tell me if you would
like to change places with one of them. Caring only for their dress,
their horses, and their dinners, they will tell you themselves, and
think they are philosophers for saying so, ‘that they are easy,
good-tempered fellows, and if they can only get enough to eat, and
lots of good hunting and good claret, they are perfectly satisfied.’
Indeed, my dear, I think we have the best of it; we are more resigned,
more patient, more contented; we have more to bear, and we bear it
better--more to detach us from this world, and to wean us from being
entirely devoted to ourselves. No, I had rather be a woman, with all
her imperfections, than one of those lords of the creation, such as we
generally find them.”

“But still there are great men, Mrs. Delaval, even in these days. Do
you think they are all selfish and egotistical, and care only for
indulgences?”

“Heaven forbid, my dear; I only argue from the generality. My idea of
man,” said Mary, kindling as she went on in her description, “is that
he should be brave, generous, and unselfish; stored with learning,
which he uses not for display, but for a purpose; careless of vanity
and frivolous distinction; reliant on himself and his own high
motives; deep and penetrating in his mental powers, with a lofty view
of the objects of existence, and the purposes for which we are here.
What does it signify whether such a one is good-looking in person or
taking in manner? But as I am describing a hero, I will say his frame
should be robust and his habits simple, to harmonise with the vigour
of his intellect and the singleness of his character.”

“You have described Mr. Hardingstone exactly,” exclaimed Blanche, with
rising colour, and a feeling not quite of pleasure at her heart. Yet
what signified it to her that Mary Delaval’s Quixotic idea of a
pattern man should typify so precisely her old friend Frank? Mary had
never seen him; and even if she had, what was that to Blanche? Yet
somehow she had taught herself from childhood to consider him her own
property; probably because he was such a friend of Charlie; and she
was a thorough woman--though she fancied she ought to have been born a
hero--and consequently very jealous of her rights, real or imaginary.
Silly Blanche! there was a sort of excitement, too, in talking about
him, so she went on--“He is all that you have said, and people call
him very good-looking besides, though I don’t think him so;” and
Blanche coloured as she spoke, and told Rosine not to pull her hair so
hard.

“Well, my dear,” said Mary, “then I should like to know him. But never
mind the gentlemen, Blanche; there will be half-a-dozen here to dinner
to-day. To return to yourself--you have a bright career before you,
but never think it is traced out only for your own enjoyment. As a
girl, you may in your position be an example to your equals, and a
blessing to your dependents--think what a deal of good you can do even
about a place like this; and then, should you marry, your influence
may be the means of leading your husband and family into the right
way. I have had a good deal of trouble, as you know, but I have always
tried to remember, that to bear it patiently, and to do the best I
could in my own path without repining, was to fulfil my destiny as
nobly as if I had been a dethroned queen, or a world-famous heroine.
No, my dear, this world is not a place only for dancing, and driving,
and flirting, and dressing.--Good gracious! there’s the dinner-bell!
and my hair not ‘done’ yet.” And away Mary rushed in the midst of her
lecture, to complete those arrangements which brought her out, some
ten minutes afterwards, the handsomest woman within fifty miles of
Guyville.

Notwithstanding the lofty aspirations of these ladies, their contempt
for the approbation of the other sex, and the short time they allowed
themselves for adornment, two more tasteful and perfectly-finished
toilettes have been seldom accomplished than those which at the
well-lighted dinner-table enhanced the attractions of the pretty
heiress and her handsome governess.



CHAPTER VI

THE BLIND BOY

     THE GRUB BECOMES A BUTTERFLY--FAREWELL AND HOW D’YE DO--NOT
     WHAT WAS EXPECTED--THE GENERAL’S HOBBY--BLANCHE’S
     BIRTHDAY--FAMILY ARRANGEMENTS--“GIVE YOU JOY”--A COUNTRY
     DINNER-PARTY--TURNING THE TABLES--“THE COQUETTE”


Meanwhile the eventful Friday has arrived which has promoted “Cousin
Charlie” to the rank of manhood. The _Gazette_ of that day has
announced the appointment of “Charles Kettering, Gentleman, to be
Cornet in the 20th Lancers, vice Slack, who retires,” and the young
one, who has been cultivating the down on his upper lip for months, in
anticipation of this triumph, turns up those ends, of which there is
scarcely enough to take hold, and revels in the consciousness that he
is a boy no longer, but an officer, a cavalry officer, and a
gentleman. Old Nobottle, whom the pupil has attached to himself as an
imaginative boy often does a sober old gentleman, is of the same mind,
and has confided to Mr. Hardingstone his opinion of Charlie, and the
bright deeds he expects from him. “The lad has all the makings of a
soldier, sir,” said the clergyman; “the cheerful spirits, the gallant
bearing, the love of action, and the chivalrous vanity--half
courageous, half coxcombical--which form the military character; and
if he has a chance, he will distinguish himself. _If_ he has a chance,
do I say? he’ll make himself a chance, sir; the boy is cut out for a
recruit, and he’ll learn his drill and know his men, and keep his
troop-accounts smarter than any of ’em.” Nobottle was waxing
enthusiastic, as the old recollections stole over him, and he saw, in
fancy, a certain young artillery officer, gay amongst the gayest, and
brave amongst the bravest, consulted by his seniors for his science
and professional knowledge, and thanked in general orders for “his
distinguished gallantry” in more than one decisive action. How
different from the slouching, slovenly old man, in yesterday’s white
neckcloth, who may now be seen budding his roses, poking about his
parish, and stuffing stupid young gentlemen with as much learning as
shall enable them to pass their dreaded examinations. Poor old
Nobottle, you _would_ marry for love, you _would_ sacrifice your
profession and your commission, your prospects and your all, for the
red-nosed lady, then, to do her justice, a very pretty girl, who now
occupies the top of your table. Like Antony, you were “all for love
and the world well lost,” and, after a time, you found that the
exchange was against you: what you took for gold turned out to be
dross,--that which was honey in the mouth became bitter as gall in the
digestion; in short, you discovered Mrs. N. was a failure, and that
you did not care two pins for each other. Then came poverty and
recrimination and the gnawing remorse of chances thrown away, that
could not possibly recur again. Fortunately for you, a classical
education and Church interest enabled you to take orders and get a
living, so you work on, contentedly enough, now that your sensations
are deadened and yourself half torpid; and although, when your better
feelings obtain the mastery, you cannot but acknowledge the
superiority of the present warfare in which you are engaged over that
in which you spent your gaudy youth, yet, ever and anon, that foolish
old heart still pines for the marshalling of men and the tramp of
steeds, “the plumed troop and the big wars, that make ambition
virtue.”

Hardingstone breakfasted at the rectory on the morning of Charlie’s
departure; he was to drive him to the station, and our young friend
must indubitably have been late for the train, had he not been
rescued, by a man of decision, from the prolonged farewells of the
inconsolables he left behind. Binks, the butler, was overwhelmed by
sorrow and strong beer; Tim, the tea-boy, who had never before seen a
half-sovereign, sobbed aloud; the maids, on whom Charlie’s good looks
had made an impression proportionable to the softness of each
damsel’s heart, laughed and wept by turns; whilst Mrs. Nobottle,
generally a lady of austere and inflexible disposition, weakened the
very tea which she was pouring out for breakfast with her tears, and,
finally, embraced Charlie with hysterical affection, and a nose redder
than ever. The good rector took him aside into his study, and blessed
him as a father blesses a son. “You have never given me a moment’s
uneasiness, my dear boy, since you came here,” said the old man, with
a trembling voice; “you have been a credit to me as a pupil, and a
comfort as a friend; and now, perhaps, I shall never see you again.
But you won’t forget your old pedagogue, and if ever you are in
difficulties, if ever you are in distress, remember there is a home
here to which you may always apply for advice and assistance. God be
with you, my boy, in the temptations of a barrack, as, if it should be
your lot, in the perilous excitement of a battle. Do your duty
wherever you are, and think, sometimes, of old Nobottle.”

Why was it Charlie’s cigar would _not_ light, as he was borne away on
the wheels of Frank Hardingstone’s dog-cart? The tinder was quite
wet, though there was not a drop of rain in the sky, and he turned
away his head from his companion, and bent sedulously over the
refractory tobacco. Could it be that Charlie was crying? ’Tis not
improbable. Despite his recently-acquired manhood, he had a soft,
affectionate heart, and if it now gave way, and came unbidden to his
eyes, Frank liked him all the better for it.

And as he was whirled along on the London and North-Western, how the
young soldier’s thoughts ran riot in the future. Would he have changed
places with any dignitary in the world, monarch, prince, or peer, or
even with the heretofore much-admired Frank Hardingstone? Not he. None
of these held a commission in the 20th Lancers; and were to be pitied,
if not despised, accordingly. What a lot was his! Two months’ leave at
least, and at his time of life two months is an age, to be spent in
the gaieties of Newton-Hollows, and the attenuation of Haphazard,
Hyacinth, and Mayfly, the mettle of which very excellent steeds Master
Charlie had fully resolved to prove. All the delights of Bubbleton
and the county gaieties, with the companionship of Blanche, that more
than sister, without whom, from his earliest boyhood, no enjoyment
could be half enjoyed. And then the flattering pride she would feel in
her officer-cousin (Charlie felt for his moustaches so perseveringly,
that a short-sighted fellow-traveller thought he had a sore lip), and
the request he should be in amongst the young ladies of the
neighbourhood, with a romantic conviction that love was not for him,
that “the sword was the soldier’s bride,” etc. Then the dreamer looked
forward into the vistas of the future; the parade, the bivouac, and
the charge; night-watches in a savage country--for the 20th were even
then in Kaffirland--the trumpet alarum, the pawing troop-horses, the
death-shock and the glittering blade; a certain cornet hurraing in the
van, the admiration of brother officers, and the veteran colonel’s
applause; a _Gazette_ promotion and honourable mention in dispatches;
Uncle Baldwin’s uproarious glee at home; and Blanche’s quiet smile.
Who would not be a boy again? Yet not with the stipulation we hear so
often urged, of knowing as much as we do now. That knowledge would
destroy it all. No, let us have boyhood once more, with its vigorous
credulity and its impossible romance, with that glorious ignorance
which turns everything to gold, that sanguine temperament which sheds
its rosy hues even over the bleak landscape of future old age. “Poor
lad! how green he is,” says worldly experience, with a sneer of
affected pity at those raptures it would give its very existence to
feel again. “Happy fellow; he’s a boy still!” says good-natured
philosophy with a smile, half saddened at the thoughts of the coming
clouds, which shall too surely darken that sunny horizon. But each has
been through the crucible, each recognises that sparkle of the virgin
gold which shall never again appear on the dead surface of the metal,
beaten and stamped and fabricated into a mere conventional coin. The
train whizzes on, the early evening sets in, tired post-horses grope
their way up the dark avenue, wheels are heard grinding round the
gravel sweep before the house, and the expected guest arrives at
Newton-Hallows.

“Goodness! Charlie, how you _have_ been smoking,” exclaims Blanche,
after their first affectionate greeting, while she shrinks a little
from the cousinly embrace somewhat redolent of tobacco; “and how
you’re grown, dear--I suppose you don’t like to be told you are grown
now--and moustaches, I declare,” she adds, bursting out laughing, as
she catches Charlie’s budding honours _en profil_; “’pon my word
they’re a great improvement.” Charlie winced a little. There is always
a degree of awkwardness even amongst the nearest and dearest, when
people meet after a long absence, and the less artificial the
character, the more it betrays itself; but Blanche was in great
spirits and rattled on, till the General made his appearance, bustling
in perfectly radiant with hospitality.

“Glad to see ye, my lad--glad to see ye; have been expecting ye this
half-hour--trains always late--and always _will_ be till they hang a
director--I’ve hanged many a man for less, myself, ‘up the country.’
Fact, Blanche, I assure you. You’ll have lots of time to dress,” he
observed, glancing at the clock’s white face shining in the
fire-light--and adding, with a playful dig of his fingers into
Charlie’s lean ribs, “We dine in half-an-hour, _temps militaire_, you
dog! We must teach you that punctuality and good commissariat are the
two first essentials for a soldier.” So the General rang a peal for
hand candles that might have brought a house down.

And Charlie was well acquainted with all the inmates of Newton-Hollows
save Mrs. Delaval. Of her he had often heard Blanche speak as the most
delightful of companions, and indulgent of governesses, but he had
never set eyes on her in person; so as he effected his tie before the
glass, and drew his fingers over those precious moustaches to discover
if change of air had already influenced their growth, he began to
speculate on the character and appearance of the lady who was to
complete their family party. “A middle-aged woman,” thought
Charlie--for Blanche, on whom some ten years of seniority made a great
impression, had always described her as such--“forty, or
thereabouts--stout, jolly-looking and good-humoured, I’ll be bound--I
know I shall like her--wears a cap, I’ve no doubt, and a front, too,
most probably--sits very upright, and talks like a book, till one
knows her well--spectacles, I shouldn’t wonder (it’s no use making
much of a tie for _her_)--pats Blanche on the shoulder when she gives
her precedence, and keeps her hands in black lace mittens, I’ll bet a
hundred!” With which mental wager Master Charlie blew his candles out,
and swaggered down-stairs, feeling in his light evening costume, as
indeed he looked, well-made, well-dressed, and extremely like a
gentleman.

Mischievous Blanche was enchanted at the obvious start of astonishment
with which her introduction was received by her cousin--“Mr.
Kettering, Mrs. Delaval.” Charlie looked positively dismayed. Was this
the comfortable, round-about, good-humoured body he had expected to
see?--was that tall, stately figure, dressed in the most perfect
taste, with an air of more than high-breeding, almost of command, such
as duchesses may be much admired without possessing--was that the
dowdy middle-aged governess?--were those long, deep-set eyes, the orbs
that should have glared at him through spectacles, and would black
lace mittens have been an improvement on those white taper hands,
beautiful in their perfect symmetry without a single ornament? Charlie
bowed low to conceal the blush that overspread his countenance. The
boy was completely taken aback, and, when he led her in to dinner, and
heard those thrilling tones murmuring in his ear, the spell, we may be
sure, lost none of its power. “She is beautiful,” thought Charlie,
“and nearly as tall as I am;” and he was pleased to recollect that
Blanche had thought him grown. Ladies, we opine, are not so
impressionable as men--at least they do not allow themselves to appear
so. Either they are more cautious in their judgments, which we have
heard denied by those who plume themselves on knowledge of the sex, or
their hypocrisy is more perfect; certainly a young lady’s education is
based upon principles of the most frigid reserve, and her decorous
bearing, we believe, is never laid aside, even in tea-rooms,
conservatories, shaded walks, and other such resorts, fatal to the
equanimity of masculine understanding; therefore Mary Delaval did by
no means lose her presence of mind on being introduced to the young
gentleman, of whose deeds and sentiments she had heard so much. Woman
as she was, she could not but be gratified at the evident admiration
her appearance created in this new acquaintance, and truth to speak,
“Cousin Charlie” was a youth whose allegiance few female hearts would
have entirely scorned to possess; yet there was no occasion to tell
the young gentleman as much to his face.

A very good-looking face it was too, with its wide, intellectual brow,
round which the brown silky hair waved in such becoming clusters--its
perfect oval and delicate high-bred features, if they had a fault, too
girlish in their soft, winning expression--in fact, he was as like
Blanche as possible; and had his moustaches been shaved, could he
indeed have submitted to the sacrifice, his stature lowered, and a
bonnet and shawl put on, he might well have passed for his pretty
cousin. There was nothing effeminate though about Charlie, save his
countenance and his smile. That slender, graceful figure was lithe and
wiry as the panther’s--those symmetrical limbs could toil, those
little feet could walk and run, after a Hercules would have been blown
and overpowered; and when standing up to his wicket, rousing a horse,
or putting him at a fence, there was a game sparkle in his eye that,
to use Frank Hardingstone’s expression, “meant mischief.” Some of
these good-looking young gentlemen are “ugly customers” enough when
their blood is up, and Cousin Charlie, like the rest, had quite as
much “devil” in his composition as was good for him. The “pretty page”
only wanted a few years over his head, a little more beard upon his
lip, to be a perfect Paladin.

But the spell went on working the whole of dinner-time; in vain the
General told his most wondrous anecdotes, scolded his servants at
intervals, and pressed his good cheer on the little party--Charlie
_could_ not get over his astonishment. Mrs. Delaval sat by him,
looking like a queen, and talked in her own peculiarly winning voice
and impressive manner, just enough to make him wish for more. She was
one of those women who, speaking but little, seem always to mean more
than they say, and on whom conscious mental superiority, and the calm
subdued air worn by those who have known affliction, confer a certain
mysterious charm, which makes fearful havoc in a young gentleman’s
heart. There is nothing enslaves a boy so completely as a spice of
romance. An elderly Strephon will go on his knees to a romping
schoolgirl, and the more hoydenish and unsophisticated the object, the
more will the old reprobate adore her; but beardless youth loves to
own superiority where it worships, loves to invest its idol with the
fabulous attributes that compose its own ideal; and of all the
_liaisons_, honourable and otherwise, that have bound their votaries
in silken fetters, those have been the most fatal, and the most
invincible, which have dated their existence from an earnest boyish
heart’s first devotion to a woman some years his senior, of whom the
good-natured world says, “To be sure she _is_ handsome, but Lor’!
she’s old enough to be his mother!”

Not that Charlie was as far gone as this: on the contrary, his was an
imaginative poetical disposition, easily scorched enough, but almost
incapable of being thoroughly _done brown_. Of such men, ladies, we
would warn you to beware; the very temperament that clothes you in all
the winning attributes of its own ideal can the most easily transfer
those fancied attractions to a rival, inasmuch as the charm is not so
much yours as his, exists not in your sweet face, but in his heated
and inconstant brain. No, the real prize, depend upon it, is a
sensible, phlegmatic, matter-of-fact gentleman, anything but “wax to
receive,” yet if you can succeed in making an impression, most
assuredly “marble to retain.” Such a captive clings to his affections
as to his prejudices, and is properly subjected into a tame and
willing Benedict in half the time it takes to guess at the intentions
of the faithless rover, offering on a dozen shrines an adoration that,
however brilliant, is

    “Like light straw on fire,
    A fierce but fading flame.”

Again was Charlie struck, as he swaggered off to open the door for the
ladies, by the graceful movements of Mary’s majestic figure. Again the
half-bow with which, as she passed out, she acknowledged his courtesy,
made a pleasing impression on the boy’s fancy; and as he lingered for
a moment, ere he shut out the rustle of their dresses and the pleasant
tones of the women’s voices, and returned to the arm-chair and the
claret decanter, he could not help hoping “Uncle Baldwin” would be a
little less profuse than usual in his hospitality, and a little less
prolix in his narrative.

“The young ones drink no wine at all now-a-days,” remarked the
General, as Charlie a second time passed the bottle untouched, and his
host filled his glass to the brim. “Fault on the right side, my lad;
we used to drink too hard formerly--why, bless you, when I encountered
Tortoise, of the Queen’s, at the mess of the Kedjeree Irregulars, we
sat for seven hours and a half to see one another out, and the two
black fellows fainted who were ‘told off’ to bring in claret and pale
ale as they were wanted. Tortoise recovered himself wonderfully about
the eighth bottle; and if he hadn’t been obliged to be careful on
account of a wound in his head, we should have been there now. Drunk!
how d’ye mean? Not the least--fact, I assure you.”

Charlie got up and fidgeted about, with his back to the fire, but the
General would not let him off so easily.

“Show you the farm to-morrow, my boy, you’ll be delighted with my
pigs--Neapolitans every hair of ’em. What? no man alive shall presume
to tell me they’re not the best breed! And I’ll tell you what,
Charlie, I’ve secured the handsomest short-horned bull in this
country. Two hundred, you dog!--dirt cheap--and if you’re fond of
stock you’ll be charmed with him. Poultry too---real Cochin
Chinese--got three prizes at the last show; average height two feet
seven inches--rare beauties. Hens and chickens in knee-breeches, and a
cock in trunk-hose!” With which conclusion the chuckling old warrior
permitted Charlie to wheedle him off into the drawing-room, whither
they entered to find the ladies, as usual, absorbed in worsted work
and sunk in solemn silence.

Pleasantly the evenings always passed at Newton-Hollows even with a
small party like the present. Music, cards, cockamaroo, and the
eternal racing game, of course, which gives gentle woman an insight
into the two fiercest pleasures of the other sex--horse-racing and
gambling--and introduces into the drawing-room the slang and confusion
of the betting-ring and the hazard-table, served to while away the
time. And though the General was even more diffuse than was his wont
in personal recollections and autobiography, Blanche scarcely
listened, so absorbed was she in her delight at having got Cousin
Charlie back again, whilst that young gentleman and Mary Delaval were
progressing rapidly in each other’s good opinion, and exclaiming, in
their respective minds, “What an agreeable person! and so _different
from what I expected_!”

Blanche’s birthday was always kept as a period of great rejoicing at
Newton-Hollows, and a very short time after Charlie’s arrival that
auspicious anniversary was ushered in, as usual, by the General’s
appearance at the breakfast-table bearing a cotton-stuffed white and
green card-box, highly suggestive of Storr and Mortimer. This was
quietly placed by the side of Blanche’s plate, and when the young lady
made her appearance, and exclaimed, “Dear, kind Uncle Baldwin, what a
love of a bracelet!” though we might have envied, we could not have
grudged the General the grateful kiss bestowed on him by his
affectionate niece. Uncle Baldwin’s mind, however, was intent upon
weightier matters than jewels and “happy returns.” He was to celebrate
the festival with a dinner-party; and whilst he had invited several of
the _élite_ of Bubbleton to celebrate his niece’s birthday, he was
anxious so to dispose and welcome his guests as that none should have
reason to consider himself especially favoured or encouraged in the
advances which all were too eager to make towards the good graces of
the heiress; therefore the General held a solemn conclave, as was his
wont, consisting of himself and Mrs. Delaval, who on such occasions
was requested, with great pomp, to accompany him to his study, an
apartment adorned with every description of weapon used in civilised
or savage warfare, and to take her seat in his own huge arm-chair,
while he walked up and down the room, and held forth in his usual
abrupt and discursive manner.

“I have such confidence in your sound sense, Mrs. Delaval,” said he,
looking very insinuating, and pausing for an instant in his short,
quick strides, “that I always consult you in my difficulties.” This
was said piano, but the forte addition immediately succeeded.
“Reserving to myself the option of acting, for dictation I cannot
submit to, even from you, my dear Mrs. Delaval. You are aware, I
believe, of my intentions regarding Blanche. _Are_ you aware of my
intentions?” he interrupted himself to demand in a voice of thunder.

Mary, who was used to his manner, answered calmly, “that she was not;”
and the General proceeded, in a gentle and confidential tone--

“The fact is, my dear madam, I have set my heart on a family
arrangement, which I mention to you as a personal friend, and a lady
for whom I entertain the greatest regard.”

Mary bowed again, and could hardly suppress a smile at the manner in
which the old gentleman assured her of his consideration.

“Well, though an unmarried man _as yet_, I am keenly alive to the
advantages of the married state. I never told you, I think, Mrs.
Delaval, of an adventure that befell me at Cheltenham--never mind
now--but, believe me, I am no stranger to those tender feelings, Mrs.
Delaval, to which we men of the sword--ah, ah--are _infernally_
addicted. What? Well, ma’am, there’s my niece now, they all want to
marry her. Every scoundrel within fifty miles wants to lead Blanche to
the altar. Zounds, I’ll weather ’em, the villains--excuse me, Mrs.
Delaval, but to proceed--I am extremely anxious to confide my
intentions to you, as I hope I may calculate on your assistance. My
nephew, Charlie, to be explicit, is the----Holloa! you woman, come
back--come back, I say; you’re carrying off the wrong coop. The dolt
has mistaken my orders about the Cochin Chinas. In the afternoon, if
you please, Mrs. Delaval, we’ll discuss the point more at leisure.”

And the General bolted through the study window, and was presently
heard in violent altercation with the lady who presided over his
poultry yard.

Though not very explicit, Mary had gathered enough from the General’s
confidences to conclude he was anxious to arrange a marriage
eventually between the two cousins. Well! what was that to her? He
certainly was a very taking boy, handsome, gentle, and high-spirited;
nothing could be nicer for Blanche. And she was so fond of him; what a
charming couple they would make. “I am so glad,” thought Mary,
wondering when she might congratulate the bride-elect; “so _very_
glad; dear, how glad I am.” Why should Mary have taken such pains to
assure herself how glad she was? Why did she watch the _charming
couple_ with an interest she had never felt before, as she joined them
on their return from their morning walk? A walk, the object of which
(tell it not in Bubbleton) had been to pursue the sport of rat-hunting
in a certain barn, with a favourite terrier of Charlie’s, a sport that
Blanche was persuaded to patronise, notwithstanding her horror both of
the game and the mode of its destruction, by her affection for
Charlie, and her childish habit of joining him in all his pastimes and
amusements. How alike they were, with their delicate skin, their deep
blue eyes sparkling with exercise and excitement, and their waving
brown hair clustering round each flushed and smiling face. How alike
they were, and what a nice couple they certainly did make. And Mary
sighed, as again she thought how _very_ glad she was!

No further interview took place that day with the General, whose many
avocations scarcely permitted him time for the elaborate toilette
which, partly out of respect for Blanche’s birthday, partly in
consideration of his dinner-party, he thought it advisable to perform.
He certainly did take more pains with himself than usual; and as he
fixed an order or two in an unassuming place under the breast-lap of
his coat, a ray of satisfaction shot through his heart that beat
beneath those clasps and medals, while the old gentleman thought aloud
as usual, “Not such a bad arrangement after all! She certainly did
look very queer when I talked of Blanche’s marrying. No doubt she’s
smitten--just like the one at Cheltenham. Bounce! Bounce! you’ve a
deal to answer for. If ever I _do_, it’s time I thought of it; don’t
improve by keeping. ’Pon my life, I might go farther and fare worse.
Zounds! there’s the door-bell.”

“Lady Mount Helicon!” “Captain Lacquers!” “Sir Ascot Uppercrust!” and
a whole host of second-rate grandees were successively announced and
ushered into the brilliantly-lighted drawing-room, to be received by
the General with the _empressement_ of a bachelor, who is host and
hostess all in one. Blanche was too young and shy to take much part in
the proceedings. Charlie, of course, was late; but Bounce was in his
glory, bowing to the ladies, joking with the gentlemen, and telling
anecdotes to all, till the announcement of “dinner” started him across
the hall, convoying stately Lady Mount Helicon, and well-nigh lost
amidst the lappets and flounces of that magnificent dame, who would
not have been here at all unless she had owned an unmarried son, and a
jointure entirely out of proportion to the present lord’s finances.
The rest of the party paired off after their illustrious leaders. Sir
Ascot Uppercrust took Blanche, who was already lost in surprise at his
taciturnity. Miss Deeper skilfully contrived to entangle young
Cashley. Kate Carmine felt her heart beat happily against the arm of
Captain Laurel, of the Bays. Mr. Gotobed made a dash at Mary Delaval,
but “Cousin Charlie,” who that instant entered the room, quietly
interposed and led her off to the dining-room, leaving a heterogeneous
mass of unappropriated gentlemen to scramble in as they best might.
Mary was grateful for the rescue; she was glad to be near somebody she
knew. With a flush of shame and anger she had recognised Captain
Lacquers, though that worthy dipped his moustaches into his soup in
happy unconsciousness that the well-dressed aristocratic woman
opposite him was the same indignant damsel who would once have knocked
him down if she could. With all her self-possession, Mary was not
blind to the fact that her position was anomalous and ill-defined. She
had found that out already by the condescending manner in which Lady
Mount Helicon had bowed to her in the drawing-room. With the men she
was “that handsome lady-like Mrs. Delaval”; but with the women (your
true aristocrats after all) she was _only the governess_.

Dinner progressed in the weary protracted manner that the meal does
when it is one of state and ceremony. The guests did not know each
other well, and were dreadfully afraid (as is too often the case in
good society) of being over civil or attentive to those whose position
they had not exactly ascertained. It argues ill for one’s stock of
politeness when one cannot afford to part with ever so small a
portion, save in expectation of a return. So Lady Mount Helicon was
patronising and affable, and looked at everything, including the
company, through her eye-glass, but was very distant notwithstanding;
and the gentlemen hemmed and hawed, and voted the weather
detestable--aw! and the sport with the hounds--aw--very moderate--aw
(it was d----d bad after the ladies went away); and their fair
companions lisped and simpered, and ate very little, and drank as much
champagne as appearances would allow; and everybody felt it an
unspeakable relief when Blanche, drawing on her gloves, and blushing
crimson at the responsibility, made “the move” to Lady Mount Helicon;
and the muslins all sailed away, with their gloves and fans and
pocket-handkerchiefs rescued from under the table by their red-faced
cavaliers.

When they met again over tea and coffee, things had thawed
considerably. The most solemn high-breeding is not proof against an
abundance of claret, and the General’s hospitality was worthy of his
cellar. The men had found each other out to be “deuced good sort of
fellows,” and had moreover discovered mutual tastes and mutual
acquaintances, which much cemented their friendships. To be sure,
there was at first a partial reaction consequent upon the difficulty
of breaking through a formal circle of ladies; but this feat
accomplished, and the gentlemen grouped about cup-in-hand in becoming
attitudes, and disposed to look favourably on the world in general,
even Sir Ascot Uppercrust laid aside his usual reserve, and asked
Blanche whether she had seen anything of a round game called “turning
the tables,” which the juvenile philosopher further confided to her he
opined to be “infernal humbug.” In an instant every tongue was
unloosed. Drop a subject like this amongst a well-dressed crowd and it
is like a cracker--here and there it bounces, and fizzes, and
explodes, amongst serious exclamations and hearty laughter. Lady
Mount Helicon thought it wicked--Kate Carmine thought it “fun”--Miss
Deeper voted it charming--Lacquers considered it “aw--deuced
scientific--aw”--and the General in high glee exclaimed, “I vote we
try.” No sooner said than done; a round mahogany table was deprived of
its covering--a circle formed--hands joined with more energy than was
absolutely indispensable--white arms laid in juxtaposition to dark
coat sleeves--long ringlets bent over the polished mirror-like
surface; and amidst laughing entreaties to be grave, and voluble
injunctions to be silent, the incantation progressed, we are bound in
truth to state, with no definite result. Perhaps the spell was broken
by the bursts of laughter that greeted the pompous butler’s face of
consternation, as, entering the room to remove cups, etc., he found
the smartly-dressed party so strangely employed. Well-bred servants
never betray the slightest marks of emotion or astonishment, though we
fancy their self-command is sometimes severely put to the test. But
“turning the tables” was too much for the major-domo, and he was
obliged to make his exit in a paroxysm of unseemly mirth. Then came a
round game of forfeits--then music--then dancing, the ladies playing
by turns--then somebody found out the night was pouring with rain, and
the General declared it would be sure to clear in an hour or so, and
nobody must go away till after supper. So supper appeared and more
champagne; and even Lady Mount Helicon was ready to do anything to
oblige, so, being a fine musician, she volunteered to play “The
Coquette.” A chair was placed in the middle of the room, and everybody
danced, the General and all. Blanche laughed till she cried; and there
was but one feeling of regret when the announcement of her ladyship’s
carriage broke up the party, just at the moment when, in accordance
with the rules of the dance, Charlie sank upon one knee before the
Coquette’s chair, occupied by stately Mrs. Delaval. He looked like a
young knight prostrate before the Queen of Beauty.

When Blanche laid her head upon her pillow, she thought over all her
uncle’s guests in succession, and decided not one was to be compared
to Cousin Charlie; and none was half so agreeable as Mr. Hardingstone.
Mary Delaval, on the contrary, scarcely gave a thought to Captain
Lacquers, Sir Ascot Uppercrust, Captain Laurel, or even Mr. Gotobed,
who had paid her great attention. No, even as she closed her eyes she
was haunted by a young upturned face, with fair open brow and a
slight moustache--do what she would, she saw it still. She was,
besides, a little distracted about the loss of one of her gloves--a
white one, with velvet round the wrist--what could have become of it?



CHAPTER VII

BOOT AND SADDLE

     “THE GRAND MILITARY”--SPORT, BUT NOT PLEASURE--WARLIKE
     ADVANCES--SOME OF ALL SORTS--AN EQUESTRIAN FEAT--THEY’RE
     OFF--RIDING TO WIN--FOLLOW-MY-LEADER--WELL OVER AND WELL
     IN--HOME IN A HURRY--A CLOSE RACE--THE HEIRESS WITH MANY
     FRIENDS--A DAY’S AMUSEMENT


“Card of the running ’orses--_cor_-rect card! Major, dear, you always
take a card of me!” pleads a weather-worn, good-looking,
smart-ribboned card-woman, standing up to her ankles in mud on
Guyville race-course. Poor thing! hers is a strange, hard, vagabond
sort of life. This very morning she has heard mass (being an
Irish-woman) seventeen miles off, and she will be on her legs the
whole of the livelong day, and have a good supper and a hard bed, and
be up at dawn to-morrow, ready and willing for a forty-mile tramp
wherever money is to be made; so, in the meantime, she hands up
half-a-dozen damp cards to Gaston D’Orville, now Major in “The
Loyals,” and this day principal acting-steward of “The Grand Military
Steeple-Chase.”

The Major is but slightly altered since we saw him last at
Bishops’-Baffler. His tall figure may, perhaps, be a trifle fuller,
and the lines of dissipation round his eyes and mouth a little deeper,
while here and there his large whiskers and clustering hair are just
sprinkled with grey; but for all this, he is still about the
finest-looking man on the course, and of this fact, as of every other
advantage of his position, no one is better aware than himself. Yet is
he not a vain man; cool and calculating, he looks upon such “pulls in
his favour,” as he calls them, much as he would on “a point in the
odds,”--mere chances in the game of life, to be made the most of when
opportunity offers. He has just got upon a remarkably handsome white
horse, to show the military equestrians “the line” over which they are
to have an opportunity of breaking their necks, and is surrounded by a
posse of great-coated, shawl-handkerchiefed, and goloshed individuals,
mostly striplings, who are nervously ready to scan the obstacles they
are destined to encounter.

There are nine starters for the great event, and professional
speculators at “The Kingmakers’ Arms” are even now wagering that not
above three ever reach “home,” so low an opinion do they entertain of
“the soldiers’ riding,” or so ghastly do they deem the fences flagged
out to prove the warriors’ metal. Four miles over a stiff country,
with a large brook, and a finish in front of the grand-stand, will
furnish work for the horses and excitement for the ladies, whilst the
adventurous jocks are even now glancing at one another aghast at the
unexpected strength and height of these impediments, which, to a man
on foot, look positively awful.

“I object to this fence decidedly,” observes a weak, thin voice,
which, under his multiplicity of wraps, we have some difficulty in
identifying as the property of Sir Ascot Uppercrust. “I object in the
name of all the riders--it is positively dangerous--don’t you agree
with me?” he adds, pointing to a formidable “double post and rail,”
with but little room between, and appealing to his fellow-sufferers,
who all coincide with him but one.

“Nothing for a hunter,” says the dissentient, who, seeing that the
exploit has to be performed in full view of the ladies in the stand,
would have it worse if he could. “Nothing for any horse that is
properly ridden;--what do you say, major?”

“I agree with Kettering,” replies the Major; for our friend “Charlie”
it is, who is now surveying the country on foot, in a huge white
great-coat, with a silver-mounted whip under his arm, and _no gloves_.
He is quite the “gentleman-rider,” and has fully made up his mind to
win the steeple-chase. For this has poor Haphazard been deprived of
his usual sport in the field, and trained with such severity as Mr.
Snaffles has thought advisable; for this has his young master been
shortening his stirrups and riding daily gallops, and running miles
up-hill to keep him in wind, till there is little left of his original
self save his moustaches, which have grown visibly during the winter;
and for this have the ladies of the family been stitching for days at
the smartest silk jacket that ever was made (orange and blue, with
gold tags), only pausing in their labours to visit Haphazard in the
stable, and bring him such numerous offerings in the shape of bread,
apples, and lump-sugar, that had Mr. Snaffles not laid an embargo on
all “tit-bits,” the horse would ere this have been scarcely fit to run
for a saddle!

Mrs. Delaval having been as severely bitten with the sporting mania as
Blanche, they are even now sitting in the grand-stand perusing the
list of the starters as if their lives depended on it--and each lady
wears a blue and orange ribbon in her bonnet, the General, who escorts
them, appearing in an alarming neckcloth of the same hues.

The stand is already nearly full, and Blanche, herself not the least
attraction to many of the throng, has manœuvred into a capital
place with Mary by her side, and is in a state of nervous delight,
partly at the gaiety of the scene, partly at the coming contest in
which “Cousin Charlie” is to engage, and partly at the anticipation of
the Guyville ball, her first appearance in public, to take place this
very night. Row upon row the benches have been gradually filling, till
the assemblage looks like a variegated parterre of flowers to those in
the arena below. In that enclosed space are gathered, besides the
pride of the British army, swells and dandies of every different
description and calibre. Do-nothing gentlemen from London, glad to get
a little fresh air and excitement so cheap. Nimrods from “the shires”
come to criticise the performances, and suggest, by implication, how
much better they could ride themselves. Horse-dealers, and
professional “legs,” of course, whose business it is to make the most
of everything, and whose courteous demeanour is only equalled by the
unblushing effrontery with which they offer “five points” less than
the odds; nor, though last not least, must we omit to mention the
_élite_ of Bubbleton, who have one and all cast up from “the Spout,”
as that salubrious town is sometimes denominated, as they always
do cast up within reach of their favourite resort. Some of all
sorts there are amongst _them_. Gentlemen of family, without
incumbrances--gentlemen with incumbrances and no family; some with
money and no brains--some with brains and no money; some that live on
the fat of the land--others that live upon their wits, and pick up a
subsistence therewith, bare as might be expected from the dearth of
capital on which they trade. In the midst of them we recognise Frank
Hardingstone, sufficiently conspicuous in his simple manly attire,
amongst the chained and velveted and bedizened tigers by whom he is
surrounded. He is talking to a remarkably good-looking and
particularly well-dressed man, known to nearly every one on the course
as Mr. Jason, the famous steeple-chase rider, who has come partly to
sell Mr. Hardingstone a horse, partly to patronise the “soldiers’
performances,” and partly to enjoy the gay scene which he is even now
criticising. He is good enough to express his approval of the ladies
in the stand, taking them _en masse_, though his fastidious taste
cannot but admit that there are “some weedy-looking ones among ’em.”
All this, however, is lost upon Frank Hardingstone, who has ears only
for a conversation going on at his elbow, in which he hears Blanche’s
name mentioned, our friend Lacquers being the principal speaker.

“Three hundred thousand--I give you my honour, every penny of it!”
says that calculating worthy to a speculative dandy with enormous red
whiskers, “and a _nice_ girl too--devilish well read, you know, and
all that.”

“I suppose old Bounce keeps a bright look-out though, don’t he?”
rejoins his friend, who has all the appearance of a man that can make
up his mind in a minute.

“Yeees,” drawls Lacquers; “but it might be done by a fellow with some
energy, you know; she _is_ engaged to young Kettering, her
cousin--‘family pot,’ you know--and she’s very spooney on him; still,
I’ve half a mind to try.”

“Why, the cousin will probably break his neck in the course of the
day; you can introduce me to-night at the ball. By the way, what are
they betting about this young Kettering? Can he ride any?”

“Not a yard,” replies Lacquers, as he turns away to light a cigar,
whilst Lord Mount Helicon--for the red-bearded dandy is no less a
person than that literary peer--dives into the ring to turn an honest
“_pony_,” as he calls it, on its fluctuations.

“Look here, Mr. Hardingstone,” exclaims the observant Jason, forcibly
attracting Frank’s notice to a feat which, as he keeps his eyes fixed
on the stand, is going on behind him. “That’s the way to put ’em at
it, Major! well ridden, by the Lord Harry!” and Frank turns round in
time to witness, with the shouting multitude and the half-frightened
ladies, the gallant manner in which D’Orville’s white horse clears the
double post and rails to which Sir Ascot had objected.

The Major, it is needless to say, is a dauntless horseman, and, on
being remonstrated with by Sir A. and his party on the impracticable
nature of the leap which he had selected for them, and the young
Mohair of the Heavies suggesting that the stewards should always be
compelled to ride over the ground themselves, made no more ado, but
turned the white horse at the unwelcome barrier, and by dint of a fine
hand and a perfectly-broken animal, went “in and out” without
touching, to the uproarious delight of the mob, and the less loudly
expressed admiration of the ladies.

“That’s what I call _in-and-out-clever_,” observes Mr. Jason, as the
shouting subsides, thinking he could not have done it better himself;
and he too elbows his way into the mass of noise, hustling, and
confusion that constitutes the betting-ring.

“We ought to throw our ‘bouquets’ at the white horse!” says Mrs.
Delaval’s next neighbour, a bold-looking lady of a certain age; and
Mary recognises, with mingled feelings, her military adorer and his
well-known grey charger, now showing the lapse of time only by his
change of colour to pure white. “I’m afraid its all very dangerous,”
thinks Blanche, to whom it occurs for the first time that “Cousin
Charlie” may possibly break his neck; but the General at this instant
touches her elbow to introduce “Major D’Orville,” who, having
performed his official duties, has dismounted, and works his way into
the stand to make the agreeable to the ladies, and “have a look at
this Miss Kettering--the very thing, by Jove, if she is tolerably
lady-like.”

How different is the Major’s manner to that of Lacquers, Uppercrust,
and half the other unmeaning dandies whom Blanche is accustomed to see
fluttering round her. He _has_ the least thing of a military swagger,
which most women certainly like, more particularly when in their own
case that lordly demeanour is laid aside for a soft deferential air,
highly captivating to the weaker sex; and nobody understands this
better than D’Orville. The little he says to Blanche is quiet,
amusing, and to the purpose. The heiress is agreeably surprised. The
implied homage of such a man is, to say the least of it, flattering;
and our cavalier has the good sense to take his leave as soon as he
sees he has made a favourable impression, quite satisfied with the way
in which he has “opened the trenches.” At the moment he did so, on
turning round he encountered Mary Delaval. She looked unmoved as
usual, and put out her hand to him, as if they had been in the habit
of meeting every day. With a few incoherent words he bent over those
long well-shaped fingers; and an observant bystander might have had
the good luck to witness a somewhat unusual sight--a Major of Hussars
blushing to the very tips of his moustaches. Yes; the hardened man of
the world, the experienced _roué_, the dashing _militaire_, had a
heart, if you could only get at it, like the veriest clown then
‘squiring his red-faced Dolly to “the races”--the natural for the
moment overcame the artificial--and as Gaston edged his way down
through nodding comrades and smiling ladies, the feeling uppermost in
his heart was, “Heavens! how I love this woman still! and what a fool
I am!” But sentiment must not be indulged to the exclusion of
business, and the Major too forces his way into the betting-ring.

There they are, hard at it--_Nobblers_ and noblemen--grooms and
gentlemen--betting-house keepers and cavalry officers--all talking at
once, all intent on having the best of it, and apparently all layers
and no takers. “Eight to one agin Lady Lavender,” says a stout
capitalist, who looks like a grazier in his best clothes. “Take ten,”
lisps the owner, a young gentleman, apparently about sixteen. “I’ll
back Sober John.” “I’ll take nine to two about the Fox.” “I’ll lay
against the field _bar three_.” “I’ll lay five ponies to two _agin_
Haphazard!” vociferates the capitalist. “Done!” cries Charlie, who is
investing on his horse as if he owned the Bank of England. At this
moment Frank Hardingstone pierces into the ring, and drawing Charlie
towards the outskirts, begins to lecture him on the coming struggle,
and to give him useful hints on the art of riding a steeple-chase; for
Frank with his usual decision has resolved not to go into the stand to
talk to Blanche till he has done all in his power to insure the
success of her cousin. “Come and see the horse saddled, you conceited
young jackanapes; don’t fool away any more money; how do you know
you’ll win?” says Frank, taking the excited jockey by the arm and
leading him away to where Haphazard, pawing and snorting, and very
uneasy, is being stripped of his clothing, the centre of an admiring
throng. “I know he can beat Lady Lavender,” replies Charlie, whose
conversation for the last week had been strictly “Newmarket”; “and
he’s five pounds better than the Fox; and Mohair is sure to make a
mess of it with Bendigo--he owns he can’t ride him; and there’s
nothing else has a chance except Sober John, a great half-bred brute!”

“Do you see that quiet-looking man talking to Jason there?” says
Frank; “that’s the man who is to ride Sober John--about the best
_gentleman_ in England, and he’s getting a hint from the best
_professional_. Do you think _you_ can ride like Captain Rocket? Now,
take my advice, Charlie, Haphazard is a nice-tempered horse, you
_wait_ on Sober John--keep close behind him--ride over him if he
falls--but whatever you see Captain Rocket do, _you do the
same_--don’t _come_ till you’re safe over the last fence--and if
you’re not first, you’ll be second!” Charlie promised faithfully to
obey his friend’s directions, though in his own mind he did not think
it possible an _Infantry_ horse could win the great event--Sober John,
if he belonged to any one in particular, being the property of
Lieutenant Sharpes of the Old Hundredth, who stood to win a very
comfortable sum upon the veteran steeple-chaser.

“They look nervous, Tim, most on ’em,” observes Captain Rocket, while
with his own hands he adjusts “the tackle,” as he calls it, on his
horse; and his friend “Tim” giving him a “leg up,” he canters Sober
John past the stand, none of the ladies thinking that docile animal
has the remotest chance of winning. “He seems much too quiet,” says
Blanche, “and he’s dreadfully ugly.” “Beauty is not absolutely
essential in _horses_, Miss Kettering,” replies a deep, quiet voice at
her elbow. Major D’Orville has resumed his place by her side. Though
he thinks he is paying attention to Blanche, he cannot, in reality,
forbear hovering about Mrs. Delaval. That lady, meanwhile, with
clasped hands, is hoping with all her heart that Captain Rocket may
_not win_. If “wishes were horses,” we think this young gentleman now
tearing down the course upon Haphazard, throwing the dirt round him
like a patent turnip-cutter, would have a good many of hers to bear
him on his victorious career. By the way, Mary has never found her
glove; we wonder whether that foolish boy knows anything about it. And
talking of gloves, look at that dazzling pair of white kids on a level
with his chin, in which “Mohair, of the Heavies,” is endeavouring to
control Bendigo. He has had two large glasses of sherry, yet does he
still look very pale--another, and yet another, comes striding past
like a whirlwind--Sir Ascot rides Lady Lavender, and Cornet Capon is
to pilot the Fox. It is very difficult to know which is which amongst
the variegated throng, and the ladies puzzle sadly over their cards,
in which, as is usually the case at steeple-chases, the colours are
all set down wrong. Each damsel, however, has one favourite at least
whom she could recognise in any disguise, and we may be sure that
“blue-and-orange” is not without his well-wishers in the grand-stand.

Major D’Orville is an admirable cicerone, inasmuch as besides being
steward, he has a heavy book on the race, and knows the capabilities
of each horse to a pound, whatever may be his uncertainty as regards
the riders. “Your cousin has a very fair chance, Miss Kettering--he
seems to ride uncommonly well for _such a boy_; Sir Ascot wants
nerve, and Mohair can’t manage his horse.” “See, they’ve got ’em in
line,” exclaims the General, who is in a state of frantic excitement
altogether. “Silence, pray! he’s going to--ah, the blundering
blockhead, it’s a false start!” Major D’Orville takes out his
double-glasses, and proceeds quietly without noticing the
interruption, “Then the Fox has been lame, and Capon is a sad
performer; nevertheless, you shall have your choice, Miss Kettering,
and I’ll bet you a pair of gloves on the----By Jove, they’re off,” and
the Major puts his glasses up in scarcely veiled anxiety, whilst Mary
Delaval’s heart beats thick and fast, as she strains her eyes towards
the fleeting tulip-coloured throng, drawing gradually out from the
dark mass of spectators that have gone to witness the start.

How easy it looks to go cantering along over a nice grass country,
properly flagged out so as to insure the performers from making any
mistakes; and how trifling the obstacles appear over which they are
following each other like a string of wild geese, more particularly
when you, the spectator, are quietly ensconced in a comfortable seat,
sheltered from the wind, and viewing the sports at a respectful
distance. Perhaps you might not think it quite such child’s play were
you assisting in the pageant on the back of a headstrong, powerful
horse, rendered irritable and violent by severe training (of which
discipline this unfortunate class of animal gets more than enough),
rasping your knuckles against his withers, and pulling your arms out
of their sockets, because he, the machine, is all anxiety to get to
the end, whilst you the controlling, or who ought to be the
controlling power, have received strict injunctions “to wait.” If your
whole energies were not directed to the one object of “doing your
duty” and winning your race, you might possibly have leisure to
reflect on your somewhat hazardous position. “Neck-or-nothing” has
just disappeared, doubling up himself and Mr. Fearless in a
complicated kind of fall, at the very place over which you must
necessarily follow; and should your horse, who is shaking his head
furiously, as you vainly endeavour to steady him, make the slightest
mistake, you shudder to think of “Frantic” running away with her rider
close behind you. Nevertheless, it is impossible to decline “eternal
misery on this side and certain death on the other,” but _go you
must_, and when safe into the next field there is nothing of any
importance till you come to the brook. To be sure, the animal you are
riding never would _face water_, still, your spurs are sharp, and you
have a vague sort of trust that you may get over _somehow_. You really
deserve to win, yet will we, albeit unused to computation of the odds,
willingly bet you five to four that you are neither first nor second.

In the meantime, our friends in the stand make their running
commentaries on the race. “How slow they are going,” says Blanche,
who, like all ladies, has a most liberal idea of “pace.” “_He’s
over!_” mutters Mary Delaval, as “blue-and-orange” skims lightly over
the first fence, undistinguished, save by _her_, amidst the rest. “One
down!” says a voice, and there is a slight scream from amongst the
prettiest of the bonnets. “Red-and-white cap--who is it?” and what
with the distraction of watching the others, and the confusion on the
cards, Bendigo has been caught and remounted ere the hapless
Lieutenant Mohair can be identified. Meanwhile the string is
lengthening out. “Uppy is making frightful running,” says Major
D’Orville, thinking how right he was to stand heavily against
Lady Lavender; “however, the Fox is close upon him; and
that’s Haphazard, Miss Kettering, just behind Sober John.”
“Two--four--six--seven--nine--what a pretty sight!” says Blanche, but
she turns away her head with a shudder as a party-coloured jacket goes
down at the next fence, neither horse nor rider rising again. One
always fancies the worst, and Mary turns pale as death, and clasps her
hands tighter than ever. And now they arrive at the double post and
rails, which have been erected purposely for the gratification of the
ladies in the stand. The first three bound over it in their stride
like so many deer. Captain Rocket pulls his horse into a trot, and
Sober John goes in-and-out quite as clever as did the Major’s white
charger. Mr. Jason is good enough to express his approval. Charlie
follows the example of his leader, and though he hits it very hard,
Haphazard’s fine shape saves him from a fall. Blanche thinks him the
noblest hero in England, and nobody but D’Orville remarks how very
pale Mrs. Delaval is getting. Mohair essays to follow the example
thus set him, and succeeds in doing the first half of his task
admirably, but no power on earth will induce Bendigo to jump _out_
after jumping _in_, and eventually he is obliged to be ignominiously
extricated by a couple of carpenters and a handsaw. His companions
diverge, like a flight of wild-fowl, towards the brook. The Fox, who
is now leading, refuses; and the charitable Nimrods, and dandies, and
swells, and professionals, all vote that Capon’s heart failed him, and
“he didn’t put in half enough powder.” The Major knows better. The
horse was once his property, and he has not laid against it without
reason. The brook creates much confusion; but Sober John singles
himself out from the ruck, and flies it without an effort, closely
followed by Haphazard and Lady Lavender. The rest splash and struggle,
and get over as they best can, with but little chance now of coming up
with the first three. They all turn towards home, and the pace is
visibly increasing. Captain Rocket is leading, but Charlie’s horse is
obviously full of running, and the boy is gradually drawing away from
Lady Lavender, and nearer and nearer to the front. Already people
begin to shout “Haphazard wins”; and the General is hoarse with
excitement. “Charlie wins!” he exclaims, his lace purple, and the ends
of his blue-and-orange handkerchief floating on the breeze. “Charlie
wins! I tell you. Look how he’s coming up. Zounds! don’t contradict
_me_, sir!” he roars out to the intense dismay of his next neighbour,
a meek old gentleman, who has only come to the steeple-chase in order
that he may write an account of it for a magazine, and who shrinks
from the General as from a raving madman. “Now, Captain Rocket,”
shouts the multitude, as if that unmoved man would attend to anything
but the business in hand. They reach the last fence neck-and-neck,
Haphazard landing slightly in advance. “Kettering wins!” “_Blast_
him!” hisses D’Orville between his teeth, turning white as a sheet He
stands to lose eighteen hundred by Haphazard alone, and we question
whether, on reliable security, the Major could raise eighteen-pence.
Nevertheless, he turns the next instant to Blanche, with a quiet,
unmoved smile, to congratulate her on her cousin’s probable success.
“If he can only ‘finish,’ Miss Kettering, he can’t lose,” says the
speculator; but he still trusts that “if” may save him the price of
his commission.

What a moment for Charlie! Hot, breathless, and nearly exhausted, his
brain reeling with the shouts of the populace, and the wild excitement
of the struggle, one idea is uppermost in his mind--if man and horse
can do it, _win he will_. Steadily has he ridden four long miles,
taking the greatest pains with his horse, and restraining his own
eagerness to be in front, as well as that of the gallant animal. He
has kept his eye fixed on Captain Rocket, and regulated his every
movement by that celebrated performer. And now he is drawing slightly
in advance of him, and one hundred yards more will complete his
triumph. Yet, inexperienced as he is, he cannot but feel that
Haphazard is no longer the elastic, eager goer whom he has been
regulating so carefully, and the truth shoots across him that his
horse is beat. Well, he ought to last another hundred yards. See, the
double flags are waving before him, and the shouts of his own name
fall dully upon his ear. He hears Captain Rocket’s whip at work, and
is not aware how that judicious artist is merely plying it against his
own boot to flurry the young one. Charlie begins to flog. “Sit
_still_!” shouts Frank Hardingstone from the stand. Charlie works arms
and legs like a windmill, upsets his horse, who would win if he were
but let alone--Sober John shows his great ugly head alongside.
Haphazard changes his leg--Major D’Orville draws a long breath of
relief--Captain Rocket, with a grim smile, and one fierce stab with
his spurs, glides slightly in advance--and Haphazard is beaten on the
post by half a length, Lady Lavender a bad third, and the rest
nowhere!

       *       *       *       *       *

Blanche is dreadfully disappointed. The General thinks “the lad
deserves great credit for being second in such good company;” but the
tears stand in Mary Delaval’s eyes--tears, we believe, of gratitude at
his not being brought home on a hurdle, instead of riding into the
weighing enclosure with the drooping self-satisfied air, and the
arms hanging powerless down his side, which distinguish the
gentleman-jockey after his exertions. The boy is scarcely
disappointed. To have been so near winning, and to have run second for
such an event as the “Grand Military,” is a feather in his cap, of
which he is in no slight degree proud; and he walks into the stand the
hero of the day, for Captain Rocket is no lady’s man, and is engaged
to risk his neck again to-morrow a hundred miles from here. So he has
put on a long great-coat and disappeared. The General accounts for
Charlie’s defeat on a theory peculiarly his own. “_Virtually_” says
he, “my nephew won the race. How d’ye mean _beat_? It was twenty yards
over the four miles. Twenty yards from home he was a length in front.
If the stewards had been worth their salt, we should have won. Don’t
tell _me_!”

There is more racing, but the great event has come off, and our
friends in the stand occupy themselves only with luncheon. Frank
Hardingstone comes up to speak to Blanche, but she is so surrounded
and hemmed in, that beyond shaking hands with her he might as well be
back at his own place on the south coast, for any enjoyment he can
have in her society. Major D’Orville is rapidly gaining ground in the
good graces of all the Newton-Hollows party. He has won a great stake,
and is in brilliant spirits. Even Mary thinks “what an agreeable man
he is,” and glances the while at a fair glowing face, eating,
drinking, and laughing by turns, and discussing with Sir Ascot the
different events of their exciting gallop. Lacquers, with his mouth
full, is making the agreeable in his own way to the whole party.
“Deuced good pie--aw--ruin me--aw--in gloves, Miss Kettering--aw--lose
everything to you--aw;” and the dandy has a vague sort of notion that
he might say something sweet here, but it will not shape itself into
words very conveniently, so he has a large glass of sherry instead.
Our friend Captain Lacquers is not so much “a man of parts,” as “a man
of figure.” Charlie, somewhat excited, flourishes his knife and fork,
and describes how he lost his race to the public in general. Gaston
D’Orville, with his most deferential air, is winning golden opinions
from Blanche, and thinking in his innermost soul what a traitor he is
to his own heart the while; Mrs. Delaval looks very pale and subdued,
and Bounce thinks she must be tired, but breaks off to something else
before he has made the inquiry--still everybody seems outwardly to be
enjoying him or herself to the utmost, and it is with a forced smile
and an air of assumed gaiety that Frank Hardingstone takes his leave,
and supposes “we shall all meet at the ball!”

Fancy Frank deliberately proposing to go to a ball! How bitterly he
smiles as he walks away from the course faster and faster, as thought
after thought goads him to personal exertion! Now he despises himself
thoroughly for his weakness in allowing the smile of a silly girl thus
to sink into a strong man’s heart--now he analyses his own feelings as
he would probe a corporeal wound, with a stern scientific pleasure in
the examination--and anon he speculates vaguely on the arrangements of
Nature, which provide us with sentimental follies for a _sauce
piquante_ wherewith to flavour our daily bread. Nevertheless, our man
of action is by no means satisfied with himself. He takes a fierce
walk over the most unfrequented fields, and returns to his solitary
lodgings, to read stiff chapters of old dogmatic writers, and to work
out a tough equation or two, till he can “get this nonsense out of his
head.” In vain, a fairy figure with long violet eyes and floating hair
dances between him and his quarto, and the “unknown quantity” _plus_
Blanche continually eludes his mental grasp.

We do not think Frank has enjoyed his day’s pleasure, any more than
Mary Delaval. How few people do, could we but peep into their heart of
hearts! Here are two at least of that gay throng in whom the shaft is
rankling, and all this discomfort and anxiety exists because,
forsooth, people never understand each other in time. We think it is
in one of Rousseau’s novels that the catastrophe is continually being
postponed because the heroine invariably becomes _vivement émue_, and
unable to articulate, just at the critical moment when two words more
would explain everything, and make her happy with her adorer. Were it
not for this provoking weakness, she would be married and settled long
before the end of the first volume: but then, to be sure, what would
become of all the remaining pages of French sentimentality? If there
were no uncertainty, there would be no romance--if we knew each other
better, perhaps we should love each other less. Hopes and fears make
up the game of life. Better be the germinating flower, blooming in the
sunshine and cowering in the blast, than the withered branch, defiant
indeed of winter’s cold and summer’s heat, but drinking in no dew of
morning, putting forth no buds of spring, and in its dreary, barren
isolation, unsusceptible of pleasure as of pain.



CHAPTER VIII

THE BALL

     THE COUNTRY BALL--A POETICAL PEER--BLANCHE’S PARTNERS--SMILES
     AND SCOWLS--MAMMA’S ADVICE--THE GENERAL’S POLITICS--THE MAJOR’S
     STRATEGY--“HOME”--THE DREAMER--THE SLEEPER--AND THE WATCHER


Bustle and confusion reign paramount at “The Kingmakers’
Arms”--principal hotel and posting-house in the town of Guyville. Once
a year is there a great lifting of carpets and shifting of furniture
in all the rooms of that enterprising establishment. Chambermaids
hurry to and fro in smart caps brought out for the occasion, and
pale-faced waiters brandish their glass-cloths in despair at the
variety of their duties. All the resources of the plate-basket are
brought into use, and knives, forks, tumblers, wine-glasses, German
silver and Britannia metal, are collected and borrowed, and furbished
up, to grace the evening’s entertainment with a magnificence becoming
the occasion. Dust pervades the passages, and there is a hot smell of
cooking and closed windows, by which the frequenters of the house are
made aware that to-night is the anniversary of the Guyville Ball, a
solemnity to be spoken of with reverence by the very ostler’s
assistant in the yard, who will tell you “_We_ are very busy, sir,
just now, sir, on account of _the ball_.” Tea-rooms, card-rooms,
supper-rooms, dancing-rooms, and cloak-rooms, leave but few apartments
to be devoted to the purposes of rest; and an unwary bagman, snoring
quietly in No. 5, might chance to be smothered ere morning by the heap
of cloaks, shawls, polka-jackets, and other lady-like wraps,
ruthlessly heaped upon the unconscious victim in his dormitory. The
combined attractions of steeple-chasing and dancing bring numerous
young gentlemen and their valets to increase the confusion; and, were
it not that the six o’clock train takes back the Londoners and
“professionals” to the metropolis, it would be out of the power of
mortal functionaries to attend to so many wants, and wait upon so many
customers.

That tall, pale, interesting-looking man in chains and ringlets has
already created much commotion below with his insatiable demands for
foot-baths and hot water. As he waits carelessly in the passage at
that closed door, receiving and returning the admiring glances of
passing chambermaids, you would hardly suppose, from his unassuming
demeanour, that he is no less a person than Lord Mount Helicon’s
_gentleman_. To be sure, he is now what he calls “comparatively
incog.” It is only at his club in Piccadilly, or “the room” at
Wassailworth, where he and the Duke’s “own man” lay down the law upon
racing, politics, wine, and women, that he is to be seen in his full
glory. To give him his due, he is an admirable servant, as far as his
own duties are concerned, and a clever fellow to boot, or he would not
have picked up seven-and-thirty pounds to-day on the steeple-chase
whilst he was looking alter the luncheon and the carriage. We
question, however, whether he could complete his toilet as
expeditiously as his master, who is now stamping about his room
reciting, in an audible voice, a thundering ode on which he has been
some considerable time engaged, and elaborating the folds of his white
neckcloth (old fifth-form tie) between the stanzas.

Lord Mount Helicon is a literary nobleman; not one of

    “Your authors who’s all author, fellows
    In foolscap uniforms turned up with ink;”

but a sportsman as well as a scholar, a man of the world as well as a
man of letters; given overmuch to betting, horse-racing, and
dissipation in general, but with as keen a zest for the elegances of
literature as for those beauties of the drama to which he pays fully
more attention, and one who can compute you the odds as readily as he
can turn a lyric or round a flowing period. Had his lordship
possessed a little more common sense and a slight modicum of prudence,
forethought, reflection, and such plebeian qualities, he need not have
failed in any one thing he undertook. As it was, his best friends
regretted he should waste his talents so unsparingly on versification;
whilst his enemies (the bitter dogs) averred “Mount Helicon’s rhyme
was, if possible, worse than his reason.” Being member for Guyville
(our readers will probably call to mind how the columns of their daily
paper were filled with the Guyville Election Committee’s Report, and
the wonderful appetite for “treating” displayed by the “free and
independent” of that town during their “three glorious days”)--being
member, then, of course it is incumbent on him to attend the ball; so
after a hurried dinner with Lacquers, Sir Ascot, Major D’Orville, and
sundry other gentlemen who _live_ every day of their lives, behold him
curling his red whiskers and attiring his tall, gaunt form in a suit
of decorous black.

“Deuced bad dinner they give one here,” said his lordship to himself,
still hammering away at the ode. “Wish I hadn’t drunk that second
bottle of claret, and smoked so much.

    When the thunders of a people smite the quailing despot’s ear,
    And the earthquake of rebellion heaves--

No, I can’t get it right. How those cursed fiddlers are scraping! and
either that glass maligns me, or I look a little drunk! This life
don’t suit my style of beauty--something must be done. Shall I marry
and pull up? Marry--will I! Bow my cultivated intellect before some
savage maiden, and fatten like a tethered calf on the flat swamps of
domestic respectability. Straps! go down and find out if many of the
people are come.”

“Several of the townspeople have arrived, my lord; but few of the
county families as yet,” replies Straps, whose knowledge of a member
of parliament’s duties would have qualified him to represent Guyville
as well as his master. Lord Mount Helicon accordingly completes his
toilet and proceeds to the ball-room, still mentally harping on “the
thunders of a people,” and “the quailing despot’s ear.”

The townspeople have indeed arrived in very sufficient numbers, yet is
there a strong line of demarcation between their plebeian ranks and
those of “the county families” huddled together at the upper end of
the room. Britannia! Britannia! when will you cease to bring your
coat-of-arms into society, and to smother your warm heart and sociable
nature under pedigrees, and rent-rolls, and dreary conventionalities?
When you do, you will enjoy yourself all the more, and be respected
none the less. You will be equally efficient as a chaperon, though the
trident be not always pointed on the defensive; and the lion may be an
excellent watch-dog, without being trained to growl at every
fellow-creature who does not happen to keep a carriage. His lordship’s
business, however, lies chiefly with those, so to speak, below the
salt. Voters are they, or, more important still, voters’ wives and
daughters, and, as such, must be propitiated; for Mount Helicon, we
need scarcely inform our readers, is not an English peerage, and my
lord may probably require to sit again for the same incorruptible
borough.

So he bows to _this_ lady, and flirts with _that_, and submits to be
patted on the shoulder and twaddled to by a fat little man, primed
with port, but who, when not thus bemused, is an influential member of
his committee, and a staunch supporter on the hustings. Nay more, with
an effort that he deserves infinite credit for concealing with such
good grace, he offers his arm to the red-haired daughter of his
literally _warm_ supporter, and leads the well-pleased damsel,
blushing much, and mindful “to keep her head up,” right away to the
county families’ quadrille at the top of the room, where she dances
_vis-à-vis_--actually _vis-à-vis_--to Miss Kettering and Captain
Lacquers.

That gentleman is considerably brightened up by his dinner and his
potations. He has besides got his favourite boots on, and feels equal
to almost any social emergency, so he is making the agreeable to the
heiress with that degree of originality so peculiarly his own, and
getting on, as he thinks, “like a house on fire.”

“Very _wawm_, Miss Kettering,” observes the dandy, holding steadily by
his starboard moustache. “Guyville people always make it so hot.
Charming _bouquet_!”

“Your _vis-à-vis_ is dancing alone,” says Blanche, cutting short her
partner’s interesting remarks, and sending him sprawling and
swaggering across the room, only to hasten back again and proceed with
his conversation.

“You know the man opposite--man with red whiskers? That’s Mount
Helicon. Good fellow--aw--if he could but dye his whiskers. Asked to
be introduced to _you_ to-day on the course. Told him--aw--I couldn’t
take such a liberty.” Lacquers wishes to say he would like to keep her
society all to himself, but, as usual, he cannot express clearly what
he means, so he twirls his moustaches instead, and is presently lost
in the intricacies of “La Poule.” We need hardly observe that
manœuvring is not our friend’s forte. Blanche’s eyes meanwhile are
turned steadily towards the lower end of the room, and her partner’s
following their direction, he discovers, as he thinks, a fresh topic
of conversation. “Ah! there’s Hardingstone just come in--aw. Why don’t
he bring his wife with him, I wonder!”

“His wife!” repeated Blanche, with a start that sent the blood from
her heart; “why, he’s not married, is he?” she added, with more
animation than she had hitherto exhibited.

“Don’t know, I’m sure,” replied the dandy, glancing down at his own
faultless _chaussure_; “thought he was--aw--looks like a married
man--aw.”

“Why should you think so?” inquired Blanche, half amused in spite of
herself.

“Why--aw,” replied the observant reasoner, “got the married _look_,
you know. Wears wide family boots--aw. Do to ride the children on, you
know.”

Blanche could not repress a laugh; and the quadrille being concluded,
off she went with Cousin Charlie, to stagger through a breathless
polka, just at the moment the “family boots” bore their owner to the
upper end of the room in search of her.

Frank was out of his element, and thoroughly uncomfortable. Generally
speaking, he could adapt himself to any society into which he happened
to be thrown, but to-night he was restless and out of spirits;
dissatisfied with Blanche, with himself for being so, and with the
world in general. “What a parcel of fools these people are,” thought
he, as with folded arms he leant against the wall and gazed vacantly
on the shifting throng; “jigging away to bad music in a hot room, and
calling it pleasure. What a waste of time, and energy, and everything.
Now, there’s little Blanche Kettering. I _did_ think that girl was
superior to the common run of women. I fancied she had a heart, and a
mind, and ‘brains,’ and was above all the petty vanities of flirting,
and fiddling, and dressing, which a posse of idiots dignify with the
name of society. But no; they are all alike, giddy, vain, and
frivolous. There she is, dancing away with as light a heart as if
‘Cousin Charlie’ were not under orders for the Cape, and to start
to-morrow morning. She don’t care--not she! I wonder if she _will_
marry him, should he ever come back. I have never liked to ask him,
but everybody seems to say it’s a settled thing. How changed she must
be since we used to go out in the boat at St. Swithin’s; and yet how
little altered she is in features from the child I was so fond of.
It’s disappointing!” And Frank ground his teeth with subdued ferocity.
“It’s disgusting! She’s not half good enough for Charlie. I’ll never
believe in one of them again!”

Well, if not “half good enough for Charlie,” we mistake much whether,
even at the very moment of condemnation, our philosopher did not
consider her quite “good enough for Frank”; and could he but have
known the young girl’s thoughts while he judged her so harshly, he
would have been much more in charity with the world in general, and
looked upon the rational amusement of dancing in a light more becoming
a sensible man--which, to do him justice, he generally was.

Blanche, even as she wound and threaded through the mazes of a crowded
polka, skilfully steered by Cousin Charlie, who was a beautiful
dancer, and one of whose little feet would scarcely have served to
“ride a fairy,” was wondering in her own mind why Mr. Hardingstone had
not asked her to dance, and why he had been so distant at the
steeple-chase, and speculating whether it was possible he could be
married. How she hoped Mrs. Hardingstone, if there should be one, was
_a nice person_, and how fond she would be of her, and yet few people
were worthy of _him_. How noble and manly he looked to-night amongst
all the dandies. She would rather see Mr. Hardingstone frown than any
one else smile--there was nobody like him, except, perhaps, Major
D’Orville; he had the same quiet voice, the same self-reliant manner;
but then the Major was much older. Oh no--there was nothing equal to
Frank--and how she _liked_ him, he was _such_ a friend of Charlie; and
just as Blanche arrived at this conclusion, the skirt of her dress got
entangled in Cornet Capon’s spur, and Charlie laughed so (the
provoking boy!) that he could not set her free, and the Cornet’s
apologies were so absurd, and everybody stared so, it was quite
disagreeable! But a tall, manly figure interposed between her and the
crowd, and Major D’Orville released her in an instant; and that deep,
winning voice engaged her for the next dance, and she could not but
comply, though she had rather it had been some one else. Frank saw it
all, still with his arms folded, and misjudged her again, as men do
those of whom they are fondest. “How well she does it, the little
coquette,” he thought; “it’s a good piece of acting all through--now
she’ll flirt with D’Orville because he happens to be a great man here,
and then she’ll throw him over for some one else; and so they ‘keep
the game alive.’” Frank! Frank! you ought to be ashamed of yourself!

       *       *       *       *       *

In the meantime, Lord Mount Helicon must not neglect a very important
part of the business which has brought him to Guyville. In the pocket
of his lordship’s morning coat is a letter which Straps, who has taken
that garment down to brush, in the natural course of things, is even
now perusing. As its contents may somewhat enlighten us as well as the
valet, we will take the liberty of peeping over that trusty domestic’s
shoulder, and joining him in his pursuit of knowledge, premising that
the epistle is dated Brook Street, and is a fair specimen of maternal
advice to a son. After the usual gossip regarding Mrs. Bolter’s
elopement, and Lady Susan Stiffneck’s marriage, with the indispensable
conjectures about “ministers,” a body in whose precarious position
ladies of a certain age take an unaccountable interest, the letter
goes on to demonstrate that

     “it is needless to point out, my dear Mount, the advantages you
     would obtain under your peculiar circumstances by settling
     early in life. When I was at Bubbleton last autumn (and Globus
     says I have never been so well since he attended me when you
     were born--in fact, the spasms left me altogether), I made the
     acquaintance of a General Bounce, an odious, vulgar man, who
     had been all his life somewhere in India, but who had a niece,
     a quiet, amiable girl, by name Kettering, with whom I was much
     pleased. They have a nice place, though damp, somewhere in the
     neighbourhood of your borough, and I dined there once or twice
     before I left Bubbleton. Everything looked like _maison
     montée_; and from information I can rely on, I understand the
     girl is a great heiress. Between ourselves, Lady Champfront
     told me she would have from three to four hundred thousand
     pounds. Now, although I should be the last person to hint at
     your selling yourself for money, particularly with your talents
     and your position, yet if you should happen to see this young
     lady, and take a fancy to her, it would be a very nice thing,
     and would make you quite independent. She is prettyish in the
     ‘Jeannette and Jeannot’ style, and although her manner is not
     the least formed, she has no _prononcé_ vulgarity, and would
     soon acquire our ‘ways’ when she came to live amongst us. Of
     course we should drop the General immediately; and, my dear
     boy, I trust you would give up that horrid racing--young
     Cubbington, who has hardly left school, is already nearly
     ruined by it, and Lady Looby is in despair--such a mother too
     as she has been to him! By the by, there is a cousin in our
     way, but he is young enough to be in love only with himself,
     and appeared to me to be rather making up to the governess!
     Think of this, my dear Mount, and believe me,

      “Your most affectionate mother,

      “M. MT. HELICON.

      “P.S.--Your book is much admired. Trifles _raves_ about it,
      and your old friend Mrs. Blacklamb assures me that _it made
      her quite ill_.”

Primed with such sage counsel, his lordship determined to lose no time
in “opening the trenches.” After enacting sundry duty-dances, by which
he had gained at least one prospective “plumper,” he accordingly
“completed the first parallel” by obtaining an introduction to General
Bounce, which ceremony Captain Lacquers performed in his usual easy
off-hand style--the introducer shouting into each man’s ear his
listener’s _own_ name, and suppressing altogether that of his new
acquaintance, an ingenious method of presenting people to each other
without furthering their intimacy to any great extent. The General,
however, and the member had known each other previously by sight as
well as by name, the former having voted and spoken against the latter
at the past election, with his peculiar abruptness and energy; but
Mount Helicon was the last man in the world to owe an antagonist a
grudge, and being keenly alive to the ridiculous, was prepared to be
delighted with his political opponent, in whom he saw a fund of
absurdity, out of which he promised himself much amusement.

“Glad to make your acquaintance, my Lud,” said the General, standing
well behind his orders and decorations, which showed to great
advantage on a coat tightly buttoned across his somewhat corpulent
frame--“Don’t like your politics--what? never did--progress and all
that, sir, not worth a row of gingerbread--don’t tell _me_--why, what
did Lord Hindostan say to me at Government House, when they threatened
to report me at home for exceeding my orders? ‘Bounce,’ says his
Excellency--‘Bounce, _I’ll see you through it_’--what? _nothing like a
big stick for a nigger_. _Stick!_ how d’ye mean?”--and the speaker,
who was beginning to foam at the mouth, suddenly changed his tone to
one of the sweetest politeness, as he introduced ‘My niece, Miss
Kettering; Lord Mount Helicon.’ A second time was Frank Hardingstone
forestalled; he had just made up his mind that he would dance with
Blanche only _once_, sun himself yet _once_ again in her sweet smile,
and then think of her no more--a sensible resolution, but not very
easy to carry out. Of course he laid the blame on her. “First she
makes a fool of D’Orville,” thought he, “a man old enough to be her
father--and now she whisks away with this red-bearded radical--to
make a fool of him too, unless she means to throw over Charlie; and
who is the greatest fool of the three? Why, you, Frank Hardingstone,
who ought to know better. I shall go home, smoke a cigar, and go to
bed; the dream is over; I had no idea it would be so unpleasant to
wake from it.” So Frank selected his hat, pulled out his cigar-case,
and trudged off, by no means in a philosophical or even a charitable
frame of mind.

There was a light twinkling in the window of his lodgings over the
Saddlers, some three hours afterwards, when a carriage drove rapidly
by, bearing a freight of pleasure-seekers home from the ball. Inside
were the General and Blanche, the former fast asleep, wrapped in the
dreamless slumbers which those enjoy who have reached that time of
life when the soundness of the stomach is far more attended to than
that of the heart--when sentiment is of small account, but digestion
of paramount importance. Age, as it widens the circle of our
affections, weakens their intensity, and although proverbially “there
is no fool like an old one,” we question if in the present day there
are many Anacreons who--

    “When they behold the festive train
    Of dancing youth, are young again;”

or who, however little they might object to celebrating her charms “in
the bowl,” would, for “soft Bathylla’s sake,” wreathe vine-leaves
round their grizzled heads. No: Age is loth to make itself ridiculous
in _that_ way; and the General snored and grunted, heartwhole and
comfortable, by the side of his pretty niece. How pretty she looked--a
little pale from over-excitement and fatigue, but her violet eyes all
the deeper and darker from the contrast, whilst none but her maid
would have thought the long golden brown hair spoiled by hanging down
in those rich, uncurling clusters. She was like the pale blush rose in
her bouquet--more winning as it droops in half-faded loveliness than
when first it bloomed, bright and crisp, in its native conservatory.
The flower yields its fragrance all the sweeter from being shaken by
the breeze. Who but a cousin or a brother would have gone on the box
to smoke with such a girl as Blanche inside? Yet so it was. Master
Charlie, who danced, as he did everything else, with his whole heart
and soul, could not forego the luxury of a cigar in the cool night
air, after the noise and heat and revelry of the ball. As he puffed
volumes of smoke into the air, and watched the bright stars twinkling
down through the clear, pure night, his thoughts wandered far--far
into the future; and he, too, felt that the majesty of a sad, sweet
face had impressed itself on his being--that she had been watching him
to-day through his boyish exploits--and that her eye would kindle, her
cheek would glow, when military honours and distinction were heaped
upon him, as heaped he was resolved they should be, if ever an
opportunity offered. To-morrow his career would begin! To-morrow, ay,
even to-day (for it was already past midnight) he was to embark for
the Cape; and scarce a thought of the bitterness of parting, perhaps
for ever, shaded that bright, young imagination, as it sketched out
for itself its impossible romance, worth all the material
possibilities that have ever been accomplished. So Charlie smoked and
pondered, and dreamed of beauty and valour. We do not think he was in
very imminent danger of marrying his cousin.

Perhaps, were he inside, his flow of spirits would only disturb the
quiet occupants. Blanche is not asleep, but she is dreaming
nevertheless. With her large eyes fixed vacantly on the hedge-row
trees and fences, that seem to be wheeling past her in the carriage
lamp-light, she is living the last few hours of her life again, and
seeing their past events more clearly, as she disentangles them from
the excitement and confusion amongst which they actually occurred. Now
she is dancing with Lacquers or Sir Ascot, and wondering, as she
recalls their commonplace chatter and trite remarks, how men so
insipid can belong to the same creation as “Cousin Charlie,” or
another gentleman, a friend of his, of whom, for the first time in her
life, she feels a little afraid. Now she laughs to herself as she
recollects Cornet Capon’s agony of shyness, and the burning blushes
with which that diffident young officer apologised for tearing her
dress. Anon she sees Major D’Orville’s commanding figure and
handsome, manly face, while the low musical voice is still ringing in
her ear, and the quiet deferential manner, softened by a protective
air of kindness, has lost none of its charm. Blanche is not the first
young lady, by a good many, who has gone home from a ball with a
flattered consciousness that a certain gallant officer thinks her a
“very superior person,” and that the good opinion of such a man is
indeed worth having. The Major was “a dangerous man”; he betrayed no
coxcombry to mar the effect of his warlike beauty and chivalrous
bearing. He never “sank” the profession, but always spoke of himself
as a “mere soldier,” whilst his manner was that of a “finished
gentleman.” He had distinguished himself, too, on more than one
occasion; and the men all had a great opinion of him. Woman is an
imitative animal; and a high reputation, especially for courage,
amongst the gentlemen, goes a long way in the good graces of the
ladies. Add to these the crowning advantage, that the Major, except in
one instance of which we know the facts, came into the unequal contest
with a heart perfectly invulnerable and case-hardened by intercourse
with the world, and a selfishness less the result of nature than
education. When a man, himself untouched, makes up his mind that a
woman _shall_ love him, the odds are fearfully in his favour. Blanche
_liked_ him already; but if “in the multitude of counsellors there is
safety,” no less is there security in the multitude of admirers; and
ere the Major’s image had time to make more than a transient
impression, that of Lord Mount Helicon chased it away in the mental
magic-lantern of our fair young dreamer. He had taken her in to
supper; and how pleasant he was! so odd, but so agreeable--such a
command of language, and such a quaint, absurd way of saying
commonplace things. Not so bad-looking either, in spite of his red
whiskers; and such a beautiful title! How well it would sound! and
Blanche smiled at herself as the idea came across her. But a handsome,
manly fellow leaning against the wall was looking at her with a stern,
forbidding expression she had never seen before on that open brow, and
Blanche’s heart ached at the vision. Mr. Hardingstone was surely very
much changed; he who used to be so frank, and kind, and
good-humoured, and to lose no opportunity of petting and praising the
girl he had known from a child; and to-night he had never so much as
asked her to dance, and scarcely spoken to her. “What right had he to
look so cross at me?” thought the girl, with the subdued irritation of
wounded feelings; “what had I done to offend him, or why should I care
whether I offend him or not? Poor fellow, perhaps he is in low spirits
about Cousin Charlie’s going away so soon.” And Blanche’s eyes filled
with tears--tears that she persuaded herself were but due to her
cousin’s early departure.

Like the rising generation in general, Charlie was a great smoker. His
ideas of “campaigning” were considerably mixed up with tobacco, and he
lost no opportunity of qualifying for the bivouac by a sedulous
consumption of cigars. He dashed the last bit of “burning comfort”
from his lips as the carriage drove into the avenue at Newton-Hollows.
Protracted yawns prevented much conversation during the serving-out of
hand-candlesticks. Good-nights were exchanged; “We shall all see you
to-morrow before you go, dear,” said Blanche, as she disappeared into
her room; and soon the sighing of the night wind was the only sound to
disturb the silence of that long range of buildings, where all were
sunk in slumber and repose--all save one.

At an open window, looking steadfastly forth into the darkness, sat
Mary Delaval. She had not stirred for hours, and she might have been
asleep, so moveless was her attitude, had it not been for the fixed,
earnest expression of her dark grey eye. One round white arm rested on
the window-ledge, and her long black hair fell in loose masses over
the snowy garments, which, constituting a lady’s _déshabillé_, reveal
her beauties far less liberally than the costume she more inaptly
terms “full dress.” Mary is reasoning with herself--generally an
unsatisfactory process, and one that seldom leads to any definite
conclusion; sadly, soberly, and painfully, she is recalling her past
life, her selfish father, her injured mother, the hardships and trials
of her youth, and the ray of sunshine that has tinged the last few
weeks with its golden light. She never thought to entertain folly,
madness, such as this; yet would she not have had it otherwise for
worlds. Bitter are the dregs, but verily the poison is more than
sweet. And now he is going away, and she will never, never see him
again; that fair young face will never more greet her with its
thrilling smile, those kindly joyous tones never more make music for
her ear. To-morrow he will be gone. Perhaps he may fall in action--the
beautiful brow gashed--the too well-known features cold and fixed in
death: not if prayers can avert such a fate. Perhaps he will return
distinguished and triumphant; but in either case what more will the
poor governess have to do with the young hero, save to love him still?
Yes, she may love him _now_--love him with all her heart and soul,
without restraint, without self-reproach, for she will _never_ see him
again. On that she is determined; their paths lie in different
directions, like two ships that meet upon the waters and rejoice in
each other’s companionship, and part, and know each other no more. It
was foolish to sit up for him to-night; but it is the last, _last_
time, and she could not resist the temptation to wait and watch even
for the very wheels that bore him home; and now it is over--all
over--he will never know it; but she will always think of him and pray
for him, and watch over Blanche for _his_ sake, and love him, adore
him dotingly--madly--to the last; and cold, haughty, passionless Mary
Delaval leant her head upon her two white arms, and sobbed like a
broken-hearted child.

We wonder if any man that walks the earth is worthy of the whole
idolatrous devotion of a woman’s heart. Charlie was snoring sound
asleep, whilst she who loved him wept and prayed and suffered. Go to
sleep too, foolish Mary, and pleasant dreams to you: “Sorrow has your
young days shaded;” it is but fair that your nights should glow in the
rosy, fancy-brightened hues of joy.



CHAPTER IX

WANT

     LODGINGS IN LONDON--A CONVIVIAL HUSBAND--THE WIFE GIVES HER
     OPINION--FAMILY PLEASURES--FAMILY CARES--DRESSING TO GO
     OUT--THE DRUNKARD’S VISITORS--CHEAP ENJOYMENT--WHO IS THE
     OWNER?--LONDON FOR THE POOR


As you walk jauntily along any of the great thoroughfares of London,
you arrive, ever and anon, at one of those narrow offshoots of which
you would scarcely discover the existence, were it not for the paved
crossing over which you daintily pick your way on the points of your
jetty boots. All the attention you can spare from passing events is
devoted to the preservation of your _chaussure_, and you do not
probably think it worth while to bestow even a casual peep down that
close, winding alley, in which love and hate, and hopes and fears, and
human joys and miseries and sympathies, are all packed together, just
as they are in your own house in Belgravia, Tyburnia, or Mayfair, only
considerably more cramped for room, and a good deal worse off for
fresh air. That noble animal, the horse, generally occupies the
ground-floor of such tenements as compose these narrow streets, whilst
the dirty children of those bipeds who look after his well-being,
embryo coachmen, and helpers, and stablemen, play and fight and
vociferate in the gutter, with considerable energy and no little
noise, munching their dinners _al fresco_ the while, with an appetite
that makes dry bread a very palatable sustenance. A strong “smell of
stables” pervades the atmosphere, attributable perhaps to the
accumulation of that agricultural wealth which, in its _right_ place,
produces golden harvests; and the ring of harness and stamp of
steeds, varied by an occasional snort, nearly drown the plaintive
street organ, grinding away, fainter and fainter, round the corner.
Shirts, stockings, and garments of which we neither know the names nor
natures, hang, like Macbeth’s banners, “on the outward walls.” Washing
appears to be the staple commerce, while porter seems the principal
support, of these busy regions; and as the snowy water-lily rises from
the stagnant marsh, so does the dazzling shirt-front, in which you
will to-day appear at dinner, owe its purity to that stream of soapy
starch-stained liquid now pouring its filthy volume down the gutter.
Dirty, drowsy-looking men clatter about with pails and other apparatus
for the cleansing of carriages, whilst here and there an urchin is
pounced upon and carried off by some maternal hawk, with bare arms and
disordered tresses, either to return with a smeared mouth and a
festive slice of bread and treacle, or to admonish its companions, by
piercing cries, that it is undergoing summary punishment not
undeserved. The shrill organ of female volubility, we need hardly say,
is in the ascendant; and we may add that the faces generally met with,
all dirty and careworn though they be, are gilded by an honest
expression of contentment peculiar to those who fulfil their destiny
by working for their daily bread.

In one of the worst lodgings in such a mews as we have faintly
endeavoured to describe, in a dirty, comfortless room, bare of
furniture, and to which laborious access is obtained by a dilapidated
wooden staircase, sits our old acquaintance Gingham, now Mrs. Blacke,
but who will never be known to “the families in which she lived” by
any other than her maiden patronymic. Though in her best days a lady
of no fascinating exterior, she is decidedly altered for the worse
since we saw her at St. Swithin’s, and is now, without question, a
hard-featured and repulsive-looking woman. She has lost the
“well-to-do” air, which sits more easily on those who live at
“housekeeping” than on those “who find themselves,” and everything
about her betrays a degree of poverty, if not of actual want, sadly
repugnant to the habits of an orderly upper-servant in a
well-regulated establishment.

Of all those who sink to hardships after having “seen better days,”
none bear privation so ill as this particular rank. They have neither
the determination and energy of “the gentle,” nor the happy
carelessness and bodily vigour of the labouring class. It is
lamentable to watch the gradual sinking of a once respectable man, who
has been tempted, by the very natural desire of becoming independent,
to leave “service” and set up on his own account. From his boyhood he
has been fed, housed, and clothed, without a thought or care of his
own, till he has spread into the portly, grave, ponderous official,
whom not even his master’s guests would think of addressing save by
the respectful title of “Mister.” He has saved a “pretty bit o’
money”; and on giving warning, announces his long-concealed marriage
to the housekeeper, who has perhaps saved a little more. Between them
they muster a _very_ few hundred pounds; and on this inexhaustible
capital they determine to set up for themselves. If he takes a
public-house, it is needless to dwell on the almost inevitable
catastrophe. But whatever the trade or speculation on which he
embarks, he has everything to learn; education cannot be had without
paying for it; business connections cannot be made--they must _grow_.
Those are positive hardships to _him_, which could scarcely be felt as
wants by others of his own sphere, who had not always lived, as he
has, on the fat of the land. Discontent and recrimination creep into
the household. The wife makes home uncomfortable, and “the husband
goes to the beer-shop.” The money dwindles--the business
fails--fortunate if the family do not increase. “Trade _never_ was so
bad,” and it soon becomes a question of assignees and ten shillings in
the pound. The man himself is honest, and it cuts him to the heart.
Only great speculators can rise, like the Phoenix, in gaudier
plumage after every fresh insolvency; and hunger begins to stare our
once portly acquaintance in the face. At last he is completely “sold
up,” and if too old to go again into service, he will probably think
himself well off to finish in the workhouse. And this is the career of
two-thirds of those who leave comfortable homes for the vague future
of a shadowy independence, and embark upon speculations of which they
neither understand the nature nor count the cost.

But we must return to Gingham, bending her thin, worn figure over some
dirty needlework, and rocking with her foot a wooden cradle, in which,
covered by a scanty rug not over-clean, sleeps a little pinched-up
atom of a child, contrasting sadly with those vigorous, brawling
urchins out of doors. There is a scanty morsel of fire in the grate,
though the day is hot and sultry, for a “bit of dinner” has to be kept
warm for “father”; and very meagre fare it is, between its two delf
plates. A thin-bladed knife and two-pronged fork lie ready for him on
the rough deal table, guiltless of a cloth; and Gingham wonders what
is keeping him, for he promised faithfully to come back to dinner, and
the poor woman sighs as she stitches and rocks the child, and counts
the quarters told out by the neighbouring clock, and ponders sadly on
old times, than which there is no surer sign of a heart ill at ease.
Well-to-do, thriving people are continually looking forward, and
scheming and living in the Future; it is only your worn, dejected,
hopeless sufferer that recalls the long-faded sunshine of the Past.

Gingham’s marriage took place at St. Swithin’s as soon after Mrs.
Kettering’s death as appearances would allow, and was conducted with
the usual solemnities observed on such occasions in her rank of life.
There was a new shawl, and a gorgeous bonnet, and a cake, with a large
consumption of tea, not to mention excisable commodities. Tom Blacke
looked very smart in a white hat and trousers to match, whilst
Hairblower signalised the event by the performance of an intricate and
unparalleled hornpipe, such as is never seen now-a-days off the stage.
Blanche made the bride a handsome present, which was acknowledged with
many blessings and a shower of tears. Gingham’s great difficulty was,
how ever she should part with Miss Blanche! and “all went merry as a
marriage bell.” But they had not long been man and wife ere Tom began
to show the cloven foot. First he would take his blushing bride to
tea-gardens and such places of convivial resort, where, whilst she
partook of the “cup that cheers but not inebriates,” he would sip
consolatory measures of that which does both. After a time he
preferred such expeditions as she could not well accompany him on, and
would come home with glazed eyes, a pale face, and the tie of his
neckcloth under his ear. The truth will out. Tom was a drunken dog.
There was no question about it. Then came dismissal from his employer,
the attorney. Still, as long as Gingham’s money lasted, all went on
comparatively well. But a lady’s-maid’s savings are not inexhaustible,
and people who live on their capital are apt to get through it
wonderfully fast. So they came down from three well-furnished rooms to
a kitchen and parlour, and from that to one miserable apartment,
serving all purposes at once. Then they moved to London to look for
employment; and Tom Blacke, a handy fellow enough when sober, obtained
a series of situations, all of which he lost owing to his convivial
failing. Now they paid two shillings a week for the wretched room in
which we find them, and a hard matter it often was to raise money for
the rent, and their own living, and Tom’s score at “The Feathers,”
just round the corner. But Gingham worked for the whole family, as a
woman will when put to it, and seemed to love her husband the better
the worse he used her, as is constantly the case with that
long-suffering sex. “Poor fellow,” she would say, when Tom reeled home
to swear at her in drunken ferocity, or kiss her in maudlin kindness,
“it’s trouble that’s drove him to it; but there’s good in Tom
yet--look how fond he is of baby.” And with all his faults, there is
no doubt little Miss Blacke possessed a considerable share of her
father’s heart, such as it was.

But even gentle woman’s temper is not proof against being kept
waiting, that most irritating of all trials; and Gingham, who in her
more prosperous days had been a lady of considerable asperity, could
“pluck up a spirit,” as she called it, even now, when she was
“_raised_,”--so, surmounting the coffee-coloured front with a dingy
bonnet, and folding her bare arms in a faded shawl, she locked baby
in, trusting devoutly the child might not wake during her absence, and
marched stoutly off to “The Feathers,” where she was sure to find her
good-for-nothing husband.

There he was, sure enough, just as she expected, his old black coat
glazed and torn, his pinched-up hat pressed down over his pale, sunken
features, his whole appearance dirty and emaciated. None but his wife
could have recognised the dapper Tom Blacke, of St. Swithin’s, in
that shaky, scowling, dissipated sot. Alas! she knew him in his
present character too well. There he was, playing skittles with a
ponderous ruffian, in a linen jacket and high-lows, who looked like a
showman of a travelling menagerie, only not so respectable; and a
little Jew pedlar, with a hawk eye and an expression of countenance
that defied Mephistopheles himself to overreach him. There was her
husband, betting pots of beer and “goes” of gin, though the cupboard
was bare at home and the child crying for food--marking his game with
a trembling hand, cheating when he won, and blaspheming when he lost,
like the very blackguard to which he was rapidly descending.

Gingham shook a little as she advanced, twirling the door-key
nervously round her finger; but she determined to try the _suaviter in
modo_ first, so she began, “Tom! Tom Blacke! dinner’s ready, ain’t you
coming home?”

“Home! Home be ----! and you, too, Mrs. Blacke; we won’t go home till
mornin’--shall us, Mr. Fibbes?” Mr. Fibbes, although appearances were
much against him, in his linen jacket and high-lows, was a man of
politeness where the fair were concerned, so he took a straw out of
his mouth, and replied, “Not to cross the missus, when sich is by no
means necessary; finish the game first, and then we’ll hargue the
pint--that’s what _I_ say.”

“O Tom, _pray_ come away,” said poor Gingham, who had caught sight of
the chalked-up score, and knew, by sad experience, what havoc it would
make with the weekly earnings. “I durstn’t leave the child not a
minute longer; I’ve kept your bit of dinner all hot for you--come
away, there’s a dear!”

“Not I,” said Tom, poising his wooden bowl for a fresh effort, and,
irritated by his failure, bursting forth upon his wife. “How _can_ I
leave these gentlemen in their game to attend to you? Come, let’s have
no nonsense; be off! _be off!_” he repeated, clenching his fist, and
raising his voice to a pitch that called forth from the large man the
admonitory remark that “_easy does it_,” whilst the little Jew’s eyes
glittered at the prospect of winning his game.

But Gingham was roused, and she went at him fiercely and at once:
“Shame--shame on ye!” she exclaimed, in a low, hoarse voice,
gradually rising, as she got more excited, and her pale features
worked with passion, “with the child cryin’ at home, and me obliged to
come and look for you in such a place as this; me that slaves and
toils, and works my fingers to the bone,” holding up her
needle-scarred hands to the by-standers, who were already collecting,
as they always do when there is a prospect of _a row_. “Call yourself
a man!--_a man_, indeed!--and let your wife and child starve whilst
you are taking your diversion, and enjoying of yourself here? And you
too,” she added, attacking the large man and the Jew with a suddenness
which much startled the former, “_you_ ought to be ashamed of
yourselves, you ought; keeping of him here, and making of him as bad
as yourselves--though perhaps _you’re_ not husbands and fathers, and
don’t know no better. Ay, do, you coward! strike a woman if you dare!
Was it for this I left my place and my missus? Oh dear, oh dear,
whatever shall I do?” and Gingham, throwing her apron over her head,
sank upon a bench in a passion of weeping, supported by a phalanx of
matrons who had already collected, and who took part in the
altercation, as being to all intents and purposes a Government
question.

Tom Blacke was furious, of course. Had it not been for the large man,
he would have struck his wife to the ground--alas! not the first time,
we fear, that she had felt the weight of a coward’s arm; but that
ponderous champion interposed his massive person, and recommended his
friend strongly “not to cross the missus.” Truth to tell, Mr. Fibbes
had a little shrew of a black-eyed wife at home, who ruled the roast,
and kept her great husband in entire subjection; besides which, like
most square, powerful men, he was a good-natured fellow, though not
very respectable; and having won as much beer as he wanted from Tom,
willingly lent his good offices to solder up the quarrel, which ended,
as such disturbances generally do, in a sort of half-sulky
reconciliation, and the wife marching off in triumph with her captured
husband. The women, as usual, had formed the majority of the crowd,
and of course sided with the injured lady; so Tom Blacke, after a few
ineffectual threats, and an oath or two, left the ground with his
still sobbing wife, promising himself an ample revenge if she should
dare to cross him at home, when there was no one by to take her part.

When they arrived at the desolate room which served them for home,
“baby” was awake, and crying piteously to find its little self alone.
On what trifles do the moods and tempers of the human mind depend! The
child set up a crow of delight to see its father, instead of the
hideous howl in which it had been indulging, and stretched out its
little arms with a welcome that went straight to the drunkard’s heart.
In another moment he was dancing the little thing up and down in
perfect good humour; and poor Gingham, thoroughly overcome, was
leaning her head against his shoulder in a paroxysm of reconciled
affection, and going through that process of relief known to ladies by
the expressive term of “having a good cry.”

How many a matrimonial bicker has been interrupted and ended by the
innocent smile of “one of these little ones”! How many an ill-assorted
couple have been kept from separation by the homely consideration of
“what should be done with the children”! How many an evil desire, how
many an unkind thought, has been quenched at its very birth by the
pure, open gaze of a guileless child! The stern, severe man, disgusted
with the world, and disappointed in his best affections, has a corner
in his heart for those whom he prizes as his own flesh and blood; the
passionate, impetuous woman, yearning for the love she seeks in vain
at home, her mind filled with an image of which it is sin even to
think, and beset by the hundred temptations to which those are exposed
who pass their lives in wedded misery, pauses on the very threshold,
and is saved from guilt when she thinks of her darlings. Sunshine and
music do they make in a house, with their bright, happy faces, the
patter of their little feet, and the ringing echoes of their merry
laugh. Grudge not to have the quiver full of them. Love and prize them
whilst you may; for the hour will come at last, and your life will be
weary and your hearth desolate when they take wing and fly away.

So Tom Blacke and his wife are reconciled for the time, and would be
comparatively happy, were it not for the grinding anxiety ever
present to their minds of how to “make both ends meet”--that
consideration which poisons the comfort of many a homely dwelling, and
which in their case is doubtless their own fault, or at least the
fault of the “pater familias,” but none the less bitter on that
account.

“There is the baker to pay, and the rent,” sighed Gingham, enumerating
them on her fingers; “and the butcher called this morning with his
account; to be sure it is but little, and little there is to meet it
with. I shall be paid to-day for the plain-work, and I got a bit of
washing yesterday, that brought me in sevenpence-halfpenny,” she
proceeded, immersed in calculation; “and then we shall be
three-and-eightpence short--three-and-eight-pence! and where to get it
I don’t know, if I was to drop down dead this minute!”

“I _must_ have a little money to-day, too, missus,” said Tom, in a
hoarse, dogged voice; “can’t ye put the screw on a little tighter? A
man may as well be starved to death as worried to death; and I can’t
face ‘The Feathers’ again without wiping off a bit of the score, ye
know.” Gingham’s eye glanced at the Sunday gown, hanging on a nail
behind the door--a black silk one, of voluminous folds and formidable
rustle, the last remnant of respectability left--and she thought
_that_, too, must follow the rest to the pawnbroker’s, to that
receptacle of usury with which, alas! she was too familiar, and from
which even now she possessed sundry mocking duplicates, representing
many a once-prized article of clothing and furniture.

Tom saw and interpreted the hopeless glance. “No, no,” said he,
relenting, “not quite so bad as that, neither; I wouldn’t strip the
gown off your back, Rachel, not if it was ever so; I couldn’t bear to
see you, that was once so respectable, going about all in rags. We
_might_ get on, too,” added he, brightening up, with an expression of
desperate cunning in his bad eye--“we might get money--ay, plenty of
it--if you were only like the rest: you’re too mealy-mouthed, Mrs.
Blacke, that’s where it is.”

“O Tom, what would you have me do?” exclaimed his wife, bursting
afresh into tears; “we’ve been honest as yet through it all, and I’ve
borne and borne because we _were_ honest. I’d work upon my bare knees
for you and the child--I’d starve and never complain _myself_, if I
hadn’t a morsel in the cupboard; but I’d keep my honesty, Tom, I’d
keep my honesty, for when _that’s_ gone, all’s gone together.”

“Will your honesty put decent clothes on your back, missus?” rejoined
Tom, who did not see that the article in question was by any means so
indispensable; “will your honesty put a joint down before the fire,
such as we used to sit down to every day, when we was first man and
wife, and lived respectable? Will your honesty furnish a bellyful for
this poor little beggar, that’s whining now on my knee for a bit to
eat?” Gingham began to relent at this consideration, and Tom pursued
his advantage: “Besides, it’s not as if it was to do anybody any harm;
there’s Miss Blanche got more than she knows what to do with, and the
young gentleman--he’s away at the wars. _Honesty_, indeed! if
honesty’s the game, you’ve a right to your share, what Mrs. Kettering
intended you should have. I think I ought to know the law; and the
law’s on our side, and the justice too. Ah! Rachel, you used not to be
so difficult to come round once,” concluded Tom, trying the _tender_
tack, when he had exhausted all his other arguments; and recalling to
his wife’s mind, as he intended it should do, their early days of
courtship, and the carriage of a certain brown-paper parcel by the
sea-shore.

But Gingham felt she had right on her side; and when we can indulge
the spirit of contradiction never dormant in our natures, and fight
under the banner of truth at the same time, it is too great a luxury
for mortal man, or especially mortal woman, to forego, so Gingham was
game to the last. “No, Tom, _no_!” she said, steadily and with
emphasis, “I _won’t_ do it, so don’t ask me, and there’s an end of
it!”

Her husband put the child down in disgust, banged his hat upon his
head, as if to go back to “The Feathers,” and was leaving the room,
when a fresh idea struck him. If he could but break down his wife’s
self-respect he might afterwards mould her more easily to his purpose,
and the course he proposed to adopt might, at any rate, furnish him
in the meantime with a little money for his dissipation; so he turned
round coaxingly to poor Gingham, and asked for his bit of dinner, and
put the infant once more upon his knee, ere he began to sound her on
the propriety of applying for a little assistance to her darling Miss
Blanche. “You ought to go and see your young lady, Rachel,” said he,
quite good-humouredly, and with the old keeping-company-days’ smile;
“it’s only proper respect, now she’s grown to be a great lady, and
come to London. I’ll mind the child at home; it likes to be left with
its daddy--a deary--and you brush yourself up a bit, and put on your
Sunday gown there, and take a bit of a holiday; you needn’t hurry
back, you know, if they ask you to stay tea in the room, and I’ll be
here till you come home; or if I’m not, I’ll get one of the neighbours
to look in. So now go, there’s a good wench.”

Mrs. Blacke had not heard such endearing language since the sea-side
walks at St. Swithin’s--she felt almost happy again, and nearly forgot
the “three-and-eightpence” wanting for the week’s account. Sundry
feminine misgivings had she, as to her personal appearance being
sufficiently fine to face the new servants, in the exalted character
of Miss Blanche’s late lady’s-maid; but women, even ugly ones, have a
wonderful knack of adorning themselves on very insufficient materials,
and Tom assured her the black silk looked as good as new, and that
bonnet always _did_ become her, and always _would_--so she gave the
child a parting kiss, and her husband many injunctions to take care of
the treasure, and started in wonderfully good spirits; Tom’s last
injunction to her as she departed being to this effect--“If Miss
Blanche should ask you how we’re getting on, Rachel, you put your
pride in your pocket--mind that--put your pride in your pocket, do you
understand?” So the drunkard was left alone with his child.

We have already said Tom was fond of the little thing--in fact, it was
the only being on earth that had found its way to his heart. Man must
love _something_, and Tom Blacke, the attorney’s clerk, who had
married for money as if he had been a ruined peer of the realm, cared
just as little for his wife as any impoverished nobleman might for the
peeress with whom his income was necessarily encumbered; but the more
indifferent he was to the mother, the fonder he was of the child; and
with all his liking for skittles and vulgar dissipation (the whist and
claret of higher circles), he thought it no hardship to spend the rest
of the afternoon with an infant that was just beginning to talk. He
fully intended, as he had promised, to remain at home till his wife
returned, but a drunkard can have no will of his own. When a man gives
himself up to strong drink he chooses a mistress who will take no
denial, for whom appetite grows too fiercely by what it feeds on,
whose beck and call he must be ever ready to obey, for she will punish
his neglect by the infliction of such horrors as we may fancy pictured
in the imagination of the doomed--till he fly for relief back to the
enchantress that has maddened him; and whilst the poison begets thirst
as the thirst craves for the poison, the liquid fire poured upon the
smouldering flame eats, and saps, and scorches, till it expires in
drivelling idiocy, or blazes out in raving, riotous madness. Mr.
Blacke was tolerably cheerful up to a certain point, when he arrived
at that state which we once heard graphically described by the
sergeant of a barrack-guard, on whom the duty had devolved of placing
an inebriated warrior in solitary confinement--“Was he drunk,
sergeant?” said the orderly officer. “No, sir.” “Was he sober, then?”
“No, sir.” “How? neither drunk nor sober! what d’ye mean?” “Well, sir,
the man had been drinking, no doubt, _but the liquor was just dying
out in him_.”

So with Tom Blacke--after an hour or so the liquor began to _die out
in him_, and then came the ghastly reaction. First he thought the room
was gloomy and solitary, and he got nearer the child’s cradle for
company--the little thing was again asleep, and he adjusted its
coverlet more comfortably--ah! that slimy, crawling creature! what is
it? so near the infant’s head--he brushed it away with his hand, but
swarms of the same loathsome insects came climbing over the cradle,
chairs, and furniture. Now they settled on his legs and clothes, and
he beat them down and flung them from him by hundreds, shuddering with
horror the while; then he looked into the corners of the room, and put
his hands before his eyes after each startled glance, for hideous
faces grinned and gibbered at him, starting out from the very walls,
and mopping and mowing, shifted their forms and places, so that it was
impossible to identify them. He could have borne these, but worse
still, there was a Shape in the room with him, of whose presence he
was fearfully conscious, though whenever he manned himself to look
steadily at it, it was gone. He could not bear to have this visitant
_behind_ him, so he backed his chair hard against the wall. In
vain--still on the side from which he turned his head the grim Shape
sat and cowered and blinked at him. He knew it--he felt it--mortal
nerves could bear it no longer. He grew desperate, as a man does in a
dream. Should he take the child and run for it? No! he would meet It
on the narrow stairs, and he could not get by there. Ha! the window!
bounding into the air, child and all, he might escape. He was mad
now--he was capable of anything. Come along, little one!--they are
blocking up the room--they cover the room in myriads--the Shape is
waving them on--light and freedom without, the devil and all his
legions within--Hurrah!

Fortunate was it for the hope of the Blacke family that Mrs. Crimp was
at this instant returning to her lodgings above, accompanied by
several promising young Crimps, with whom, as she toiled up the common
staircase, she kept up a running fire of objurgation and entreaty. The
homely sounds, the familiar voices, brought Tom Blacke to himself. The
vicinity of such a material dame as Mrs. Crimp was sufficient to
destroy the ideal in the most brandy-sodden brain, and the horrors
left their victim for the time. But he dared not remain to encounter a
second attack. He could not answer for the consequences of another
hour in that room alone with the child; so he asked his neighbour, a
kind, motherly woman, and as fond of a baby as if she had not nursed a
dozen of her own, to keep an eye upon his little one, and betook
himself straight to “The Feathers,” to raise the accursed remedy to
his lips with a trembling hand, and borrow half-an-hour’s callousness
at a frightful sacrifice. Tom thought he knew what was good for his
complaint, and “clung to the hand that smote him” with the confirmed
infatuation of a sot. So we leave him at the bar, with a glazed eye, a
haggard smile, and the worm that never dies eating into his very
vitals.

In the meantime, Gingham, with the dingy bonnet somewhat cocked up
behind, and her bony fingers peeping through the worn thread gloves,
is making her way along the sunny pavement in the direction of
Grosvenor Square. The old black silk gown looks worse than she
expected in that searching light, and she feels nervous and shy at
revisiting her former haunts; nor does she like leaving home for many
hours at a time. But as she walks on, the exercise does her good. The
moving objects on all sides, and the gaudy bustle of London in the
height of the season, have an exhilarating effect on her spirits. It
is so seldom she has _an outing_; moped up for days together in that
mews, the very change is enjoyment; and the shops, with their cheap
dresses and seductive ribbons, are perfect palaces of delight. She
cannot tear herself from one window, where an excellent silk for her
own wear, and a frock “fit to dress an angel,” as she thinks, for
baby, are to be sold, in tempting juxtaposition, respectively for a
mere nothing. If she was sure the colour of the silk would _stand_,
she would try and scrape the money together to buy it; but a pang
shoots through her as she recalls the fatal “three-and-eightpence,” so
she walks on with a heavy sigh, and though she knows she never can
possess it, yet she feels all the better for having seen such a dress
as _that_.

And these, and such as these, are the pleasures of the poor in our
great metropolis. Continual self-denial, continual self-restraint,
continual self-abasement--like Tantalus, to be whelmed in the waters
of enjoyment which must never touch the lip. In the country the poor
man can at least revel in its freshest and purest delights. We have
been told that “the meek shall inherit the earth”; and the
day-labourer, mending “my lord’s” park fence, has often far more
enjoyment in that wilderness of beauty than its high-born proprietor.
While the latter is in bed, the former breathes the sweet morning air
and the scent of a thousand wild flowers, whose fragrance will be
scorched up ere noon. The glad song of birds makes music to his
ear--the whole landscape, smiling in the sunlight, is spread out for
the delight of his eye. Not only the park, and the waving woods, and
the placid lake, are his property for the time, but the cheerful
homesteads, and the scattered herds, and the hazy distance stretching
away as far as those blue hills that melt into the sky. He can admire
the shadow of each giant elm without disturbing himself as to which of
them must be marked for the axe; he can watch the bounding deer
without caring which is the fattest to furnish a haunch for solemn
dinners and political entertainments, where people eat because they
are weary, and drink because they are dull. The distant view he looks
upon is to him a breathing, sparkling world, full of light and life
and hope--not a mere county, subdivided into votes and freeholds, and
support and interest. His frame is attempered by toil to the enjoyment
of natural pleasures and natural beauties. The wild breeze fans his
brow--the daisies spring beneath his feet--the glorious summer sky is
spread above--and the presence of his Maker pervades the atmosphere
about him. For the time the man is happy--happier, perhaps, than he is
himself aware of. To be sure he is mortal, and in the midst of all he
sighs for beer; yet is his lot one not unmixed with many pure and
thrilling pleasures; and if he can only get plenty of work, there are
many states of existence far worse than that of an English
field-labourer.

Not so with the sons of toil in town--there, all enjoyment is
artificial, all pleasure must be paid for--the air they breathe will
support life, but its odours are far different from those of the wild
flower. If their eyes are ever gladdened by beauty, it is but the pomp
and splendour of their fellow-creatures, on which they gaze with
sneering admiration--half envy, half contempt. If their ears are ever
ravished by music, there is a tempting demon wafting sin into their
hearts upon the sounds--there is a mocking voice of ribaldry and
vulgar revelry accompanying the very concord of heaven. What pleasure
_can_ they have but those of the senses? Where have they to go for
relaxation but to the gin-shop? What inducement have they to raise
themselves above the level of “the beasts which perish”?

Honour to those who are working to provide intellectual amusements for
the masses, and that education of the soul which places man _above_
the circumstances by which he is surrounded! Much has been done, and
much is still left to do. Those waves must be taught to leap ever
upwards, to fling their separate crests towards the sky; for if the
tempest should arise, and they should come surging on in one gigantic
volume, they will make a clear breach wherever the embankment happens
to be weakest; and who shall withstand their force?

Can we wonder to find the lower classes sometimes discontented, when
we think of their privations and their toils? Shall a man starve with
but half-an-inch of plate-glass betwixt his dry white lips and the
reeking abundance of luxurious gluttony? and shall he turn away
without a murmur, die, and make no sign? Shall a fellow-creature drag
on an existence of perpetual labour, with no pleasures, no
relaxations, almost no repose; and shall we expect this dreary,
blighted being to be always contented, always cheerful, always
respectful to his superiors? Is it to be all one way here below? shall
it be all joy, and mirth, and comfort, and superfluity with the one;
and all want, and misery, and grim despair with the other? Forbid it,
Heaven! Let us, every man, put his shoulder to the wheel--let each, in
his own circle, be it small or great, do all in his power for those
beneath him--beneath him but in the accident of station, brothers in
all besides--live and let live--stretch a helping hand to all who need
it--treat every man as one who has an immortal soul--and though “they
shall never cease out of the land,” yet will their wants be known and
their hardships alleviated, and the fairest spirit of heaven--angelic
Charity--shall spread her wings widest and warmest in London for the
poor.



CHAPTER X

SUPERFLUITY

     LONDON FOR THE RICH--A GOLDEN IMAGE--THE LADY OF FASHION--LIFE
     WELL SPENT--BOOK-WRITING AND BOOK-MAKING--THE DAY OF THE
     DRAWING-ROOM--GOING TO MY CLUB--THE AWFUL MOMENT--GOD SAVE THE
     QUEEN


London for the rich, though, is a different thing altogether. “Money
cannot purchase happiness,” said the philosopher. “No,” replied a
celebrated wit, himself well skilled in circulating the much-esteemed
dross, “but it can purchase a very good imitation of it;”
and none can gainsay the truth of his distinction. What can it do
for us in the great Babylon? It can buy us airy houses--cool
rooms--fragrant flowers--the best of everything to eat and
drink--carriages--horses--excitement--music--friends--everything but a
good appetite and content. London for the rich man is indeed a palace
of delights. See him at the window of his club, in faultless attire,
surrounded by worshippers who perform their part of the mutual
contract most religiously, by finding conversation and company, both
of the pleasantest, for him who provides drag and dinner, equally of
the best. Though they bow before a calf, is it not a golden one?
though they “eat dirt,” is it not dressed by a French cook? See him
cantering in the Park--an animal so well broke as that would make John
Gilpin himself appear a fine horseman. What envious glances follow him
from the humble pedestrian--what sunny smiles shine on him from lips
and eyes surmounting the most graceful shapes, the most becoming
neck-ribbons! No, admiring stranger! You are not in the Bazaar at
Constantinople--you are amidst England’s high-born beauties in the
most moral country on earth; yet even here, with sorrow be it said,
there is many a fair girl ready to barter love, and hope,
and self-respect, for a box at the opera and an _adequate_
settlement--only it must be large enough. Within fifty yards of this
spot may Tattersall’s voice be heard any Monday or Thursday
proclaiming, hammer in hand, his mercenary ultimatum, “The best blood
in England, and she is to be sold.” Brain-sick moralists would read a
lesson from the animal’s fate. Our men of the world are satisfied to
take things as they are. Meanwhile the calf has shown himself long
enough to his idolaters; he dines _early_ to-day--a quarter past
eight--therefore he canters home to dress. Man has no right to insult
such a cook as his by being hungry, so he trifles over a repast that
Apicius would have envied, and borrows half-an-hour’s fictitious
spirits from a golden vintage that has well-nigh cost its weight in
gold. What an evening is before him! All that can enchant the eye, all
that can ravish the ear--beauties of earth and sounds of heaven--the
very revelry of the intellect, and “the best box in the house” from
which to see, hear, and enjoy. The calf is indeed pasturing in the
Elysian fields, and we need follow him no longer. Can he be otherwise
than happy? Can there be lips on which such fruits as these turn to
ashes? Are beauty, and luxury, and society, and song, nothing after
all but “a bore”? Nature is a more impartial mother than we are prone
to believe, and the rich man need not always be such an object of envy
only because he _is_ rich.

But pretty Blanche Kettering enjoyed the glitter and the excitement,
and the pleasures of her London life, even as the opening flower
enjoys the sunshine and the breeze. It requires a season or two to
take the edge off a fresh, healthy appetite, and _ennui_ scowls in
vain upon the _very_ young. Gingham thought her young lady had never
looked so well as she did to-day, of all days in the year the one in
which Blanche was to _be presented_. Yes--it was the day of the
Drawing-room, and our former Abigail forgot the supercilious manners
of the new porter, and the high and mighty ways of the General’s
gentleman, and even her own faded black silk, in a paroxysm of
motherly affection and professional enthusiasm, brought on by the
beauty of her darling, and the surpassing magnificence of her costume.
Blanche was nearly dressed when she arrived, standing like a little
princess amongst her many attendants--this one smoothing a fold, that
one adjusting a curl, and a third holding the pincushion aloft, having
transferred the greater portion of its contents to her own mouth.

Would that we had power to describe the young lady’s dress; would that
we could delight bright eyes, should bright eyes condescend to glance
upon our page, with a critical and correct account of the materials
and the fashion that were capable of constituting so attractive a
_tout ensemble_--how the gown was brocade, and the train was silk, and
the trimmings were gossamer, to the best of our belief!--how pearls
were braided in that soft brown hair, and feathers nodded over that
graceful little head, though to our mind it would have been even
better without these accessories--and how the dear girl looked
altogether like a fairy queen, smiling through a wreath of mist, and
glittering with the dewdrops of the morning.

“Lor’, miss, you do look splendid!” said Gingham, lost in admiration,
partly at the richness of the materials, partly at the improvement in
her old charge. Blanche was a very pretty girl, certainly, even in a
court dress, trying as is that costume to all save the dark, tall
beauties, who do indeed look magnificent in trains and feathers; but
then the Anglo-Saxon _blonde_ has her revenge next morning in her
simple _déshabillé_ at breakfast--a period at which the black-eyed
sultana is apt to betray a slight yellowness of skin, and a drowsy,
listless air, not above half awake. Well, they are all very charming
in all dresses--it’s lucky they are so unconscious of their own
attractions.

Blanche was anything but a vain girl; but of course it takes a long
time to dress for a Drawing-room, and when mirrors are properly
arranged for self-inspection, it requires a good many glances to
satisfy ladies as to the correct disposition of “front, flanks, and
rear”; so several minutes elapse ere Gingham can be favoured with a
private interview, and she passes that period in admiring her young
lady, and scanning, with a criticism that borders on disapprobation,
the ministering efforts of Rosine, the French maid.

A few weeks of London dissipation have not yet taken the first fresh
bloom off Blanche’s young brow; there is not a single line to herald
the “battered look” that will, too surely, follow a very few years of
late hours, and nightly excitement, and disappointments. The girl is
all _girl_ still--bright, and simple, and lovely. With all our
prejudices in her favour, and our awe-struck admiration of her dress,
we cannot help thinking she would look yet lovelier in a plain morning
gown, with no ornament but a rose or two; and that Mary Delaval’s
stately beauty and commanding figure would be more in character with
those splendid robes of state. But Mary is only a governess, and
Blanche is an heiress; so the one remains up-stairs, and the other
goes to Court. What else would you have?

It is difficult for an inferior at any time to obtain an interview
with a superior, and nowhere more so than in London. Gingham was
secure of Blanche’s sympathy as of her assistance; but although the
latter was forthcoming the very instant there was the slightest
hesitation perceived in her answer to the natural question, “How are
you getting on?” Gingham was deprived of her share of the former by a
thundering double-knock, that shook even the massive house in
Grosvenor Square to its foundation, and the announcement that Lady
Mount Helicon had arrived, and was even then waiting in the carriage
for Miss Kettering.

“Good-bye, good-bye, Gingham,” said Blanche, hurrying off in a state
of nervous trepidation, she scarcely knew why; “I mustn’t keep Lady
Mount Helicon waiting, and of course she won’t get out in her
train--come again soon--good-bye;” and in another moment the steps
were up, the door closed with a bang, and Blanche, spread well out so
as not to get “creased,” by the side of stately Lady Mount Helicon, in
a magnificent family coach, rich in state-liveried coachman and
Patagonian footmen, to which Cinderella’s equipage in the fairy tale
was a mere costermonger’s cart.

As the stout official on the box hammer-cloth, whose driving,
concealed as he is behind an enormous nosegay, is the admiration of
all beholders, will take some little time to reach the “string,” and
when placed in that lingering procession, will move at a snail’s pace
the whole way to St. James’s, we may as well fill up the interval by
introducing to the reader a lady with whom Blanche is rapidly becoming
intimate, and who takes a warm--shall we say a _maternal_?--interest
in the movements of our young heiress.

Lady Mount Helicon, then, is one of those characters which the
metropolis of this great and happy country can alone bring to
perfection. That she was once a merry, single-hearted child, is more
than probable, but so many years have elapsed since that innocent
period--so many “seasons,” with their ever-recurring duties of
card-leaving, dinner-receiving, ball-haunting, and keeping up her
acquaintance, have been softening her brain and hardening her heart,
that there is little left of the child in her world-worn nature, and
not a great deal of the woman, save her attachment to her son. She is
as fond of him as it is possible for her to be of anything. She is
proud of his talents, his appearance, his acquirements, and in her
heart of hearts of his wildness. Altogether, she thinks him a great
improvement on the old lord, and would sacrifice anything for him in
the world, save her position in society. That position, such as it is,
she has all her life been struggling to retain. She would improve it
if she could, but she will never get any farther. She belongs to the
mass of good society, and receives cards for all the “best places” and
most magnificent entertainments; but is as far removed as a curate’s
wife in Cornwall from the inner circle of those “bright particular
stars” with whom she would give her coronet to associate.

Lady Long-Acre _bows_ to her, but she never _nods_. Lady Dinadam
invites her to the great ball, which that exemplary peeress annually
endures with the constancy of a martyr; but as for the little dinners,
for which her gastronomic lord is so justly renowned, it is needless
to think of them. She might just as well expect to be asked to
Wassailworth. And although the Duke is hand-and-glove with her son,
she well knows she has as much chance of visiting the Emperor of
Morocco. Even tiny Mrs. Dreadnought alternately snubs and patronises
her. Why that artificial woman, who has no rank and very little
character, should be one of “the great people” is totally
inexplicable; however, there she _is_, and Lady Mount Helicon looks up
to her accordingly. Well, there are gradations in all ranks, even to
the very steps before the throne. In her ladyship’s immediate circle
are the Ormolus, and the Veneers, and the Blacklambs, with whom she is
on terms of the most perfect equality; while below her again are the
Duffles, and the Marchpanes, and the Featherheads, and a whole host of
inferiors. If Lady Long-Acre is distant with _her_, can she not be
condescending in her turn to Lady Tadpole? If Dinadam, who uses
somewhat coarse language for a nobleman, says he “can’t stand that
_something_ vulgar woman,” cannot Lady Mount Helicon cut young
Deadlock unblushingly in the street, and turn the very coldest part of
her broad shoulder on Sir Timothy and Lady Turnstile? “City people, my
dear,” as she explains for the edification of Blanche, who is somewhat
aghast at the uncourteous manœuvre. Has she not a grand object to
pursue for eighteen hours out of every twenty-four? Must she not keep
alive the recollections of her existence in the memories of some two
or three hundred people, who would not care a straw if she were dead
and buried before to-morrow morning? Is it not a noble ambition to
arrive at terms of apparent intimacy with this shaky grandee, or that
superannuated duchess, because they _are_ duchesses and grandees? Can
horses and carriages be better employed than in carrying cards about
for judicious distribution? Is not that a delightful night of which
two-thirds are spent blocked up in the “string,” and the remainder
suffocated on the staircase? In short, can money be better lavished,
or time and energy better applied, than in “keeping up one’s
acquaintance”?

This is the noble aim of “all the world.” This it is which brings
country families to London when their strawberries are ripe, and their
roses in full bloom. The Hall looks beautiful when its old trees are
in foliage, and its sunny meadows rippled with the fresh-mown hay.
But, dear! who would be out of London in June? except, of course,
during Ascot week. No, the gardener and the steward are left to enjoy
one of the sweetest places in England, and the family hug themselves
in the exchange of their roomy chambers, and old oak wainscoting, and
fresh country air, for a small, close, ill-constructed house, redolent
of those mysterious perfumes which are attributed to drains, and grimy
with many a year’s accumulation of soot and other impurities, but
happy, thrice happy in its _situation_--not a quarter of a mile from
St. James’s Street, and within a stone’s throw of Berkeley Square!
Year after year the exodus goes on. Year after year has the squire
sworn stoutly that he will enjoy _this_ summer at home, and perjured
himself, as a man invariably does when he attests by oath an opinion
in defiance of his wife. While there are daughters to marry off, and
sons to get commissions for, we can account in a measure for the
migratory movement, though based, we conceive, on fallacious
principles. But when John has got his appointment, through the
_county_ member after all, and Lucy has married the young rector of
the adjoining parish, who fell in love with her at the _county_
archery meeting, why the two poor old folks should make their annual
struggle, and endure discomfort, is only to be explained by the
tenacity with which English people cling to their national
superstitions and their national absurdities.

Even little Blanche, living in one of the best houses in Grosvenor
Square, and going to Court under a peeress’s “wing,” sighed while she
thought of Newton-Hollows and its shrubberies, and her garden just
blooming into summer luxuriance. As they toiled slowly down St.
James’s Street, envying the privileged grandees with the _entrée_
through St. James’s Park, our pretty heiress would fain have been back
in her garden-bonnet, tying up her roses, and watching her carnations,
and idling about in the deep shades of her leafy paradise. Not so the
chaperon. She was full of the important occasion. It was her pleasure
to _present_ Miss Kettering, and her business to arrange how that
maidenly patronymic should be merged in the title of Mount Helicon:
for this she was herself prepared to lapse into a _dowager_. Who but a
mother would be capable of such a sacrifice? Yet it must be; none knew
better than her ladyship--excepting, perhaps, the late lord’s man of
business, and certain citizens of the Hebrew persuasion, collectors of
noblemen’s and gentlemen’s autographs--how impossible it was for
“Mount” to go on much longer. His book on the Derby was a far deeper
affair than his “Broadsides from the Baltic”--where the publisher lost
shillings on the latter, the author paid away hundreds on the
former--and the literary sportsman confessed, with his usual
devil-may-care candour, that “between black-legs and blue-stockings he
was pretty nearly told-out!”--therefore must an heiress be
supplied from _the canaille_ to prop the noble house of Mount
Helicon--therefore have the Mount Helicon arms, and the Mount Helicon
liveries, and the Mount Helicon carriage, been seen day after day
waiting in Grosvenor Square--therefore does their diplomatic
proprietress speak in all societies of “_her_ charming Miss
Kettering,” and “_her_ sweet Blanche,” and therefore are they even now
arriving in company at St. James’s, followed by the General in his
brougham, who has come to pay his respects to his sovereign in _the
tightest_ uniform that ever threatened an apoplectic warrior with
convulsions. “My dear, you look exquisite,” says the chaperon, “only
mind how you get out, and don’t dirty your train, and recollect your
feathers; when you curtsey to the Queen, whatever you do, don’t let
them bob in her Majesty’s face.” Blanche, albeit somewhat frightened,
could not help laughing, and looked so fresh and radiant as she
alighted, that the very mob, assembled for purposes of criticism,
scarcely forbore from telling her as much to her face. “Don’t be
nervous, my dear,” and “_Pray_ don’t let us get separated,” said the
two ladies simultaneously, as they entered the palace; and Blanche
felt her knees tremble and her heart beat as she followed her
conductress up the stately, well-lined staircase, between rows of
magnificent-looking gentlemen-officials, all in full dress. The
kettle-drums of the Life Guards booming from without did not serve to
reassure her half so much as the jolly faces of the beef-eaters, every
one of whom seems to be cut out to exactly the same pattern, and,
inexplicable as it may appear, is a living impersonation of Henry
VIII.; but she took courage after a time, seeing that nobody was the
least frightened except herself, and that young Brosier of the Guards,
one of her dancing-partners, and to-day on duty at St. James’s, was
swaggering about as much at home as if he had been brought up in the
palace instead of his father’s humble-looking parsonage. Blanche would
have liked it better, though, had the staircase and corridor been a
little more crowded; as it was, she felt too conspicuous, and fancied
people looked at her as if they knew she was clutching those two
tickets, with her name and her chaperon’s legibly inscribed thereon,
for the information of an exalted office-bearer, because this was her
first appearance at Court, and she was going _to be presented_.
Innocent Blanche! The gentlemen in uniform are busy with their collars
(the collar of a uniform is positive strangulation for everything but
a _bonâ fide_ soldier), whilst those in civil vestures are absorbed in
the contemplation of their own legs, which, in the unusual attire of
silk stockings and “shorts,” look worse to the owner than to any one
else, and that is saying a good deal. The General is close behind his
niece, and struts with an ardour which yesterday’s levee in that same
tight coat has been unable to cool. The plot thickens, and they add
their tickets to a table already covered by cards inscribed with the
names of England’s noblest and fairest, for the information of the
grand vizier, and--shall we confess it?--the gentlemen of the press!
Lady Mount Helicon bows right and left with stately courtesy: Blanche
seizes a moment to arrange her train and a stray curl unobserved; and
the General, between gold lace and excitement, breaks out into an
obvious perspiration. Blanche’s partners gather round her as they
would at a ball, though she scarcely recognises some in their military
disguises. And those who have not been introduced whisper to each
other, “_That’s_ Miss Kettering,” and depreciate her, and call her
“very pretty _for an heiress_.” Captain Lacquers is magnificent; he
has exchanged into the “Loyal Hussars,” chiefly on account of the
uniform, and thinks that in “hessians” and a “pelisse” he ought not to
_be bought_ under half-a-million. He breakfasted with “Uppy” this
morning, and rallied that suitor playfully on his advantage in
attending the Drawing-room, whereas Sir Ascot was to be on duty, and
is even now lost in jack-boots and a helmet, on a pawing black
charger, outside. D’Orville is there too, with his stately figure and
grave, handsome face. His hussar uniform sits none the worse for those
two medals on his breast; and his beauty is none the less commanding
for a tinge of brown caught from an Indian sun. He is listening to the
General, and bending his winning eyes on Blanche. The girl thinks he
is certainly the _nicest_ person _here_. By a singular association of
ideas, the whole thing reminds the General of the cavalry action at
Gorewallah, and his energetic reminiscences of that brilliant affair
are by no means lost on the bystanders.

“Blanche, my dear, there’s Sir Roger Rearsby--most distinguished
officer. What?--I was his brigade-major at Chutney, and we--D’Orville,
_you_ know that man--how d’ye mean?--why, it’s Colonel Chuffins. I
pulled him from under his horse in the famous charge of the Kedjerees,
and stood across him for two hours--_two hours_, by the god of
war!--till I’d rallied the Kedjerees, and we swept everything before
us. I suppose you’ll allow Gorewallah was the best thing of the war.
Zounds! I don’t believe the Sepoys have done talking of it yet! Look
ye here: Marsh Mofussil occupied the heights, and Bahawdar Bang was
detached to make a demonstration in our rear. Well, sir----”

At this critical juncture, and ere the General had time to explain the
strategy by which Bahawdar Bang’s manœuvre was defeated, he and his
party had been swept onward with the tide to where a doorway stemmed
the crowd into a mass of struggling confusion. Lappets and feathers
waved to and fro like a grove of poplars in a breeze; fans were
broken, and soft cheeks scratched against epaulettes and such
accoutrements of war; here and there a pair of moustaches towered
above the surface, like the yards of some tall bark in a storm; whilst
ever and anon a heavy dowager, like some plunging seventy-four that
answers not her helm, came surging through the mass with the sheer
force of that specific gravity which is not to be denied. As the
state-rooms are reached, the crowd becomes more dense and the heat
insufferable. A red cord, stretched tightly the whole length of the
room, offers an insuperable barrier to the impetuous, and compels the
panting company to defile in due order of precedence--“first come
first served” being here, as elsewhere, the prevailing maxim. And now,
people being obliged to stand still, make the best of it, and begin to
talk, their remarks being as original and interesting as those of a
well-dressed crowd usually are. “Wawt a crush--aw”--says Captain
Lacquers, skilfully warding off from Blanche the whole person of a
stout naval officer, and sighing to think of the tarnish his beloved
hessians have sustained by being trodden on--“there’s Lady Crane and
the Miss Cranes--that’s Rebecca, the youngest, she’s going to
be presented, poor girl!--aw--she’s painfully ugly, Miss
Kettering--aw--makes me ill to look at her.” Poor Rebecca! she’s not
pretty, at least in a court dress, and is dreadfully frightened
besides. She knows the rich Miss Kettering by sight, and admires her
honestly, and envies her too, and would give anything to change places
with her now, for she has a slight _tendresse_ for good-looking,
unmeaning Lacquers. Take comfort, Rebecca, you will hardly condescend
to speak to him, when you go through the same dread ordeal next year,
in this very place, as Marchioness Ermindale. The Marquis is looking
out for a young wife, and has seen you already, walking early, in
shabby gloves, with your governess, and has made up his mind, and will
marry you out of hand before the end of the season. So you will be the
richest peeress in England, and have a good-looking, good-humoured,
honest-hearted husband, very little over forty; and you will do pretty
much what you like, and never go with your back to the horses any
more; only you don’t know it, nor has it anything to do with our
story, except to prove that the lottery is not, invariably, “all
blanks and no prizes”--that a quiet, unassuming, lady-like girl has
fully as good a chance of winning the game as any of your fashionable
beauties--your dashing young ladies, with their pictures in
print-books, and their names in the clubs, and their engagements a
dozen deep, and their heart-broken lovers in scores--men who can well
afford to be _lovers_, seeing that their resources will not admit of
their becoming husbands. Such a suitor is Captain Lacquers to the
generality of his lady-loves, though he means honestly enough as
regards Blanche, and would like to marry her and her Three per Cents,
to-morrow. Misguided dandy! what chance has he against such a rival as
D’Orville? Even if there were no Frank Hardingstone, and Cousin
Charlie were never to come back, he is but on a par with Sir Ascot,
Lord Mount Helicon, and a hundred others--there is not a toss of a
halfpenny for choice between them. Nevertheless, he has great
confidence in his own fascinations, and not being troubled with
diffidence, is only waiting for an opportunity to lay himself, his
uniform, and his debts at the heiress’s feet.

The Major, meanwhile, whom Lady Mount Helicon thinks “charming,” and
of whom she is persuaded _she_ has made a conquest, pioneers a way for
Blanche and her chaperon through the glittering throng. “It _is_ very
formidable, Miss Kettering,” says he, pitying the obvious nervousness
of the young girl, “but it’s soon over, like a visit to the dentist.
You know what to do, and the Queen is so kind and so gracious, it’s
not half so alarming when you are really before her; now, go on;
that’s the grand vizier; keep close to Lady Mount Helicon; and mind,
don’t turn your back to any of the royalties. I shall be in the
gallery to get your carriage after it’s over. I shall be so anxious to
know how you get through it.”

“Thank you, Major D’Orville,” replied poor Blanche, with an upward
glance of gratitude that made her violet eyes look deeper and lovelier
than ever; and she sailed on, with a very respectable assumption of
fortitude, but inwardly wishing that she could sink into the earth,
or, at least, remain with kind, protecting Major D’Orville and Uncle
Baldwin, and those gentlemen whose duty did not bring them into the
immediate presence of their sovereign.

These worthies, having nothing better to do, began to beguile the time
by admiring each other’s uniforms, criticising the appearance of the
company, and such vague impertinences as go by the name of general
conversation. Lacquers, who had just caught the turn of his hessians
at a favourable point of view, was more than usually communicative.
“Heard of Bolter?” says he, addressing the public in general, and
amongst others a first cousin of that injured man. “Taken his wife
back again--aw--soft, I should say--fact is, she and Fopples couldn’t
get on; Frank kicked at the poodle directly he got to the railway
station; he swore he would only take the parrot, and they quarrelled
there. I don’t believe they went abroad at all, at least not together.
Seen the poodle? Nice dog; they’ve got him in Green Street; very like
Frank; believe he was jealous of him!” A general laugh greeted the
hussar’s witticism, and the cousin being, as usual, not on the best of
terms with his relation, enjoyed the joke more than any one else.
Major D’Orville alone has neither listened to the story nor caught the
point. Blanche’s pleading, grateful eyes haunt him still. He feels
that the more he likes her, the less he would wish to marry her. “She
is worthy of a better fate,” he thinks, “than to be linked to a
broken-down _roué_.” And as is often the case, the charm of beauty in
another brings forcibly to his mind the only face he ever really
loved; and the Major sighs as he wishes he could begin life again, on
totally different principles from those he has all along adopted.
Well, it is too late now. The game must be played out, and he proceeds
to cement his alliance with the General by asking him to lunch with
him at his club “after this thing’s over.”

“We’ll all go together,” exclaimed Lacquers, who had been meditating
the very same move against his prospective uncle-in-law, only he
couldn’t hit the right pronunciation of a _déjeuner à la fourchette_,
the term in which he was anxious to couch his invitation.

“Not a member, sir,” says the General, with a well-pleased smile at
the invitation; “cross-questioned by the waiter, kicked out by the
committee--what?--only belong to ‘The Chelsea and Noodles’--don’t
approve of clubs in the abstract--all very well whilst one’s
a bachelor--eh? D----d selfish and all that--wife moping in a
two-storied house at Bayswater--husband swaggering in a Louis Quatorze
drawing-room in Pall Mall. Can’t dine at home to-day, my love; where’s
the latch-key? Promised to have a mutton-chop at the club with an old
brother-officer. Wife dines on chicken broth with her children, and
has a poached egg at her tea. Husband begins with oysters and ends
with a pint of claret, by himself too--we all know who the old
brother-officer is--lives in the Edgeware Road!--how d’ye mean?”
Lacquers goes off with a horse-laugh; he enjoys the joke amazingly; it
is just suited to his comprehension. “Then we’ll meet in an hour from
now,” says he, as the crowd, surging in, breaks up their little
conclave; “should like to show you our pictures--aw--fond of high art,
you know--and our staircase, Arabian, you know, with the ornaments
quite Mosaic. _A-diavolo!_” And pleased with what he believes to be
his real Spanish farewell, our dandy-linguist elbows his way up to
Lady Ormolu, and gladdens that panting peeress with the pearls and
rubies of his intellectual conversation.

All this time Blanche is nearing the ordeal. If she thought the crowd
too dense before, what would she not give now to bury herself in its
sheltering ranks? An ample duchess is before her with a red-haired
daughter, but everywhere around her there is room to breathe, and
walk, and _to be seen_. Through an open door she catches a glimpse of
the Presence and the stately circle before whom she must pass.
Good-natured royalties, of both sexes, stand smiling and bowing, and
striving to put frightened subjects at their ease, and carrying their
kind hearts on their handsome open countenances; but they are all
whirling round and round to Blanche, and she cannot tell uniforms from
satin gowns, epaulettes from ostrich plumes, old from young. It
strikes her that there is something ridiculous in the way that a
central figure performs its backward movement, and the horrid
conviction comes upon her that she will have to go through the same
ceremony before all those royal eyes, and think of her train, her
feathers, her curtsey, and her escape, all at one and the same
agonising moment. A foreign diplomatist makes a complimentary remark
in French, addressed to his neighbour, a tall, soldier-like German
with nankeen moustaches. The German unbends for an instant that frigid
air of military reserve which has of late years usurped the place of
what we used to consider foreign volubility and politeness--he stoops
to reply in a whisper, but soon recovers himself, stiffer and
straighter than before.

Neither the compliment nor its reception serves to reassure Blanche.
In vain she endeavours to peep past the duchess’s ample figure, and
see how the red-haired daughter pulls through. The duchess rejoices in
substantial materials, both of dress and fabric, so Blanche can see
nothing. Another moment, and she hears her own name and Lady Mount
Helicon’s pronounced in a whisper, every syllable of which thrills
upon her nerves like a musket-shot. She reaches the door--she catches
a glimpse of a tall, handsome young man with a blue ribbon, and a
formidable-looking phalanx of princes, princesses, foreign
ambassadors, and English courtiers, in a receding circle, of which she
feels she is about to become the centre. Blanche would like to cry,
but she is in the Presence now, and we follow her no farther. It would
not become us to enlarge upon the majesty which commands reverence for
the queen, or the beauty which wins homage for the woman; to speak of
her as do her servants, her household, her nobility, or all who are
personally known to her, would entail such language of devoted
affection as in our case might be termed flattery and adulation. To
hurrah and throw our hats up for her, with the fervent loyalty of an
English mob--to cheer with the whole impulse of every stout English
heart, and the energy of good English lungs, is more in accordance
with our position and our habits, and so “Hip, hip, hip--God save the
Queen.”

“Oh, dear! if I’d only known,” said Blanche, some two hours
afterwards, as Rosine was brushing her hair, and taking out the costly
ostrich plumes and the string of pearls, “I needn’t have been so
frightened after all! So good, so kind, so considerate, I shouldn’t
the least mind being presented every day!”



CHAPTER XI

CAMPAIGNING ABROAD

     SHIFTING THE SCENE--UNDER CANVAS--A VETERAN AND A YOUNG
     SOLDIER--THE CHARMS OF A BIVOUAC--ORDERS FOR THE MORROW--A
     SOLDIER’S DREAM--AN EARLY START--THE MARCH--THE
     ENGAGEMENT--FORTUNE OF WAR--CHARLIE’S COMMAND--THE BLUE ONE
     DOWN!


In the “good old times” when railways were not, and the _nec plus
ultra_ of speed was, after all, but ten miles an hour, he who would
take in hand to construct a tale, a poem, or a drama, was much
hampered by certain material conditions of time and place, termed by
critics the unities, and the observance of which effectually prevented
all glaring vagaries of plot, and many a _deus ex machinâ_ whose
unaccountable presence would have saved an infinity of trouble to
author as well as reader. But we have changed all this now-a-days.
When Puck undertook to girdle the earth in “forty minutes,” it was no
doubt esteemed a “sporting offer,” not that Oberon seems to have been
man enough to “book it”; but we, who back Electra, should vote such a
forty minutes “dead slow”--“no pace at all!” Ours are the
screw-propeller and the flying-express--ours the thrilling wire that
rings a bell at Paris, even while we touch the handle in London--ours
the greatest possible hurry on the least possible provocation--we ride
at speed, we drive at speed--eat, drink, sleep, smoke, talk, and
deliberate, still at full speed--make fortunes, and spend them--fall
in love, and out of it--are married, divorced, robbed, ruined, and
enriched, all _ventre à terre_! nay, time seems to be grudged even for
the last journey to our long home. ’Twas but the other day we saw a
hearse clattering along at an honest twelve miles an hour! Well,
forward! is the word--like the French grenadier’s account of the
strategy by which his emperor invariably out-manœuvred the enemy.
There were but two words of command, said he, ever heard in the grand
army--the one was “_En avant! sacr-r-ré ventre-bleu!_” the other,
“_Sacr-r-ré ventre-bleu! en avant!_” So forward be it! and we will not
apologise for shifting the scene some thousands of miles, and taking a
peep at our friend Cousin Charlie, fulfilling his destiny in that
heaven-forsaken country called Kaffirland. When it rains in South
Africa it rains to some purpose, pelting down even sheets of water, to
which a thunderstorm at home is but as the trickling of a gutter to
the Falls of Niagara--Nature endues her whole person in that same
leaden-coloured garment, and the world assumes a desolate appearance
of the most torpid misery. The greasy savage, almost naked, crouching
and coiling like a snake wherever covert is to be obtained, bears his
ducking philosophically enough; he can but be wet to the skin at the
worst, and is dry again almost before the leaves are; but the British
soldier, with his clothing and accoutrements, his pouches, haversacks,
biscuits, and ammunition--not to mention Brown Bess, his mainstay and
dependence--nothing punishes him so much as wet. Tropical heat he
bears without a murmur, and a vertical sun but elicits sundry jocose
allusions to beer. Canadian cold is met with a jest biting as its own
frost, and a hearty laugh that rings through the clear atmosphere with
a twang of home; but he hates water--drench him thoroughly and you put
him to the proof; albeit he never fails, yet, like Mark Tapley,
he _does_ deserve credit for being _jolly_ under such adverse
circumstances.

Look at that encampment--a detached position, in which two companies
of a British regiment, with a handful of Hottentots, are stationed to
hold in check some thousands of savages: the old story--outnumbered a
hundred to one, and wresting laurels even from such fearful odds. Look
at one of the heroes--the only one visible indeed--as he paces to and
fro to keep himself warm. A short beat truly, for he is within shot of
yonder hill, and the Kaffirs have muskets as well as “assagais.” No
shelter or sentry-box is there here, and our warrior at twelvepence a
day has “reversed arms” to keep his firelock dry, and covers his
person as well as he can with a much-patched weather-worn grey
great-coat, once spruce and smart, of the regimental pattern, but now
scarcely distinguishable as a uniform. To and fro he walks--wet,
weary, hungry, and liable to be shot at a moment’s notice. He has not
slept in a bed for months, and has almost forgotten the taste of pure
water, not to mention beer; yet is there a charm in soldiering, and
through it all the man is contented and cheerful--even happy. A slight
movement in his rear makes him turn half-round; between him and his
comrades stands a tent somewhat less uncomfortable-looking than the
rest, and from beneath its folds comes out a hand, followed by a
young, bronzed face, which we recognise as Cousin Charlie’s ere the
whole figure emerges from its shelter and gives itself a hearty shake
and stretch. It is indeed Charlie, “growed out of knowledge,” as Mrs.
Gamp says, and with his moustaches visibly and tangibly increased to a
very warlike volume. The weather is clearing, as in that country it
often does towards sundown; and Charlie, like an old campaigner, is
easing the tent-ropes, already strained with wet. “I wish I knew the
orders,” says the young lancer to some one inside, “or how I’m to get
back to head-quarters--not but what you fellows have treated me like
an alderman.” “You should have been here yesterday, my boy,” said a
voice from within, apparently between the puffs of a short, wheezing
pipe. “We only finished the biscuit this morning, and I could have
given you a mouthful of brandy from the bottom of my flask--it is dry
enough now, at all events. The baccy ’ll soon be done too, and we
shall be floored altogether if we stay here much longer.” “Why the
whole front don’t advance I can’t think,” replied Charlie, with the
ready criticism of a young soldier. “If they’d only let us get _at_
these black beggars, we’d astonish them!” “Heaven knows,” answered the
voice, evidently getting drowsy, “our fellows are all tired of
waiting----By Jove,” he added, brightening up in an instant, “here
comes ‘Old Swipes’; I’ll lay my life we shall be engaged before
daybreak, the old boy looks so jolly!”--and even as he spoke, a hale,
grey-headed man, with a rosy countenance and a merry, dark eye, was
seen returning the sentry’s salute as he advanced to the tent which
had sheltered these young officers, and passing on with a
good-humoured nod to Charlie, entered upon an eager whispered
conversation with the gentleman inside, whose drowsiness seemed to
have entirely forsaken him. “Old Swipes,” as he was irreverently
called (a nickname of which, as of most military sobriquets, the
origin had long been forgotten), was the senior captain of the
regiment, one of those gallant fellows who fight their way up without
purchase, serving in every climate under heaven, and invariably
becoming grey of head long ere they lose the greenness and freshness
of heart which in the Service alone outlive the cares and
disappointments that wait on middle age.

Now, Charlie had been sent to “Old Swipes” with dispatches from
head-quarters. One of the general’s _aides-de-camp_ was wounded,
another sick, an _extra_ already ordered on a _particular service_;
and Charlie, with the dash and gallantry which had distinguished him
from boyhood, volunteered to carry the important missives nearly a
hundred miles through a country not a yard of which he knew, and
threading whole hordes of the enemy with no arms but his sabre and
pistols, no guide but a little unintelligible Hottentot. From the Kat
River frontier to the defenceless portals of Fort Beaufort, the whole
district was covered with swarms of predatory savages; and but that
Fortune proverbially favours the brave, our young lancer might have
found himself in a very unpleasant predicament. Fifty miles finished
the lad’s charger, and he had accomplished the remainder of his
journey walking and riding turn-about with his guide on the hardy
little animal of the latter. No wonder our dismounted dragoon was
weary--no wonder the rations of tough beef and muddy water which they
gave him when he arrived elicited the compliment we have already
mentioned to the good cheer of “The Fighting Light-Bobs,” as the
regiment to which “Old Swipes” and his detachment belonged was
affectionately nicknamed in the division. The great thing, however,
was accomplished--wet, weary, and exhausted, Charlie and his guide
arrived at their destination by daybreak of the second day. The young
lancer delivered his dispatches to the officer in command, was
received like a brother into a subaltern’s tent, already containing
two inhabitants, and slept soundly through the day, till awakened at
sunset by a strong appetite for supper, and the absolute necessity for
slackening the tent-ropes recorded above.

“Kettering, you must join our council of war,” said the cheery voice
of the old captain from within; “there’s no man better entitled than
yourself to know the contents of my dispatches. Come in, my boy; I can
give you a pipe, if nothing else.”

Charlie lifted the wet sailcloth and crept in--the conclave did not
look so very uncomfortable after all. Certainly there was but little
room, but no men pack so close as soldiers. The old captain was
sitting cross-legged on a folded blanket in the centre, clad in a
russet-coloured coat that had once been scarlet, with gold lace
tarnished down to the splendour of rusty copper. A pair of regimental
trousers, plentifully patched and strapped with leather, adorned his
lower man, and on his head he wore a once-burnished shako, much gashed
and damaged by a Kaffir’s assagai. He puffed forth volumes of smoke
from a short black pipe, and appeared in the most exuberant spirits,
notwithstanding the deficiencies of his exterior; the real proprietor
of the tent, a swarthy, handsome fellow, with a lightning eye and huge
black beard and whiskers, was leaning against the centre support of
his domicile, in a blue frock-coat and buckskin trousers, looking very
handsome and very like a gentleman (indeed, he is a peer’s younger
son), though no “old clothes man” would have given him eighteenpence
for the whole of his costume. He had hospitably vacated his seat on a
battered portmanteau, “warranted solid leather,” with the maker’s
name, in the Strand--it seemed so odd to see it there--and was
likewise smoking furiously, as he listened to the orders of his
commander. A small tin basin, a canister of tobacco, nearly finished,
a silver hunting-flask--alas! quite empty--and a heap of cloaks, with
an old blanket in the corner, completed the furniture of this warlike
palace. It was very like Charlie’s own tent at head-quarters, save
that his cavalry accoutrements gave an air of finish to that dwelling,
of which he was justly proud. So he felt quite at home as he took his
seat on the portmanteau and filled his pipe. “Just the orders I
wanted,” said the old captain, between his whiffs; “we’ve been here
long enough, and to-morrow we are to advance at daybreak. I am
directed to move upon that ‘Kloof’ we have reconnoitred every day
since we came, and after forming a junction with the Rifles, we are to
get possession of the heights.”

“The river will be out after this rain,” interrupted the handsome
lieutenant; “but that’s no odds; our fellows can all swim--’gad, they
want washing!”

“Steady, my lad,” said the veteran, “we’ll have none of that; I’ve got
a Fingo at the quarter-guard here that’ll take us over dry-shod. I’ve
explained to him what I mean, and if he don’t understand it now he
will to-morrow morning. A ‘Light-Bob’ on each side, with his arms
sloped, directly the water comes in at the rent in these old boots,”
holding up at the same time a much-damaged pair of Wellingtons, “down
goes the Fingo, poor devil, and out go my skirmishers, till we reach
the cattle-ford at Vandryburgh.”

“I don’t think the beggar _will_ throw us over,” replied the
subaltern. “I suppose I’d better get them under arms before daybreak;
the nights are infernally dark, though, in this beastly country, but
my fellows all turn out smartest now when they’ve no light.”

“Before daybreak, certainly,” replied “Old Swipes”; “no whist _here_,
Kettering, to keep us up very late. Well,” he added, resuming his
directions to his subaltern, “we’ll have the detachment under arms by
four. Take Sergeant Macintosh and the best of the ‘flankers’ to form
an advanced guard. Bid him make every yard of ground good,
particularly where there’s _bush_; but on no account to fire unless
he’s attacked. We’ll advance in column of sections--_mind
that_--they’re handier that way for the ground; and Harry--where’s
Harry?” “Here, sir!” said a voice, and a pale, sickly-looking boy,
apparently about seventeen years of age, emerged from under the
cloaks and blankets in the corner, where he had been lying half
asleep, and thoroughly exhausted with the hardships of a life which it
requires the constitution of manhood to undergo. Poor Harry! with what
sickening eagerness his mother, the clergyman’s widow, grasps at the
daily paper, when the African mail is due. How she shudders to see the
great black capitals, with “Important News from the Cape!” What a hero
his sisters think Harry! and how mamma alone turns pale at the very
name of war, and prays for him night and morning on her knees till the
pale face and wasted form of her darling stand betwixt her and her
Maker. And Harry, too, thinks sometimes of his mother; but oh! how
different is the child’s divided affection from the all-engrossing
tenderness of the mother’s love! The boy is fond of “soldiering,” and
his heart swells as “Old Swipes” gives him his orders in a paternal
tone of kindness. “Harry, I shall entrust you with the rear-guard, and
you must keep up your communications with the sergeant’s guard I shall
leave here. He will probably be relieved by the Rifles, and you can
then join us in the front. If they don’t show before twelve o’clock,
fall back here; pack up the baggage, right-about-face, and join ‘the
levies,’ they’re exactly five miles in our rear; if you’re in
difficulties, ask Sergeant File what is best to be done, only don’t
club ’em, my boy, as you did at Limerick.”

“Well, sir,” said the handsome lieutenant, “we’ve all got our orders
now, except Kettering; what are we to do with him?”

“Give him some supper first,” replied the jolly commandant; “but how
to get him back I don’t know; we’ve had a fine stud of oxen for the
last ten days, but as for a horse, I have not seen one since I left
Cape Town.”

“We’re doing nothing at head-quarters, sir,” exclaimed Charlie, with
flashing eyes; “will you allow me to join the attack to-morrow, with
your people?”

The three officers looked at him approvingly, and the ensign muttered,
“By gad, he’s a trump, and no mistake!” but “Old Swipes” shook his
grey head with a half-melancholy smile as he scanned the boy’s
handsome face and shapely figure, set off by his blue lancer uniform,
muddy and travel-stained as it was. “I’ve seen many a fine fellow go
down,” thought the veteran, “and I like it less and less--this lad’s
too good for the Kaffirs; d----n me, I shall never get used to it;”
however, he did not quite know how to refuse so soldier-like a
request, so he only coughed, and said, “Well--I don’t approve of
_volunteering_--we old soldiers go where we’re ordered, but we _never
volunteer_. Still, I suppose you won’t stay here, with fighting in the
front. ’Gad, you _shall_ go--you’re a _real_ good one, and I _like_
you for it.” So the fine old fellow seized Charlie’s hand and wrung it
hard, with the tears in his eyes.

And now our three friends prepared to make themselves comfortable. The
old captain’s tent was the largest, but it was not water-tight, and
consequently stood in a swamp. His supper, therefore, was added to the
joint stock, and the four gentlemen who, at the best club in London,
would have turned up their noses at turtle because it was _thick_, or
champagne because it was sweet, sat down quite contentedly to half-raw
lumps of stringy beef and a tin mug only half filled with the muddiest
of water, glad to get even that.

How they laughed and chatted and joked about their fare! To have heard
them talk one would have supposed that they were at dinner within a
day’s march of Pall Mall, London--the opera, the turf, the ring, each
and all had their turn; and when the sergeant on duty came to report
the “lights out,” said lights consisting of two lanterns for the whole
detachment, Charlie had just proposed “fox-hunting” as a toast with
which to finish the last sip of brandy, and treated his entertainers
to a “view-holloa” _in a whisper_, that he might not alarm the camp,
which, save for the lowing of certain oxen in the rear, was ere long
hushed in the most profound repose.

Now, these oxen were a constant source of confusion and annoyance to
the “old captain” and his myrmidons, whose orderly, soldier-like
habits were continually broken through by their perverse charge. Of
all the contradictory, self-willed, hair-brained brutes on the face of
the earth, commend us to an ox in Kaffirland. He is troublesome enough
when first driven off by his black despoilers, but when recaptured by
British troops he is worse than ever, as though he brought back with
him, from his sojourn in the bush, some of the devilry of his
temporary owners, and was determined to resent upon his preservers all
the injuries he had undergone during his unwilling peregrinations.
Fortunately, those now remaining with the detachment were but a small
number, destined to become most execrable beef, large herds retaken
from the savages having already been sent to the rear; but even this
handful were perpetually running riot, breaking out of their “kraal”
on the most causeless and imaginary alarms when in the camp, and on
the march making a point of “knocking up” invariably at the most
critical moment. Imagine the difficulties of a commander when, in
addition to ground of which he knows comparatively nothing, of an
enemy outnumbering him hundreds to one, lurking besides in an
impenetrable bush, where he can neither be reached nor seen--of an
extended line of operation in a country where the roads are either
impassable or there are none at all--and, above all, of a trying
climate, with a sad deficiency of water--he has to weaken his already
small force by furnishing a cattle-guard, and to prepare himself for
the contingency of some thousands of frantic animals breaking loose
(which they assuredly will should his position be forced), and the
inevitable confusion which must be the result of such an untoward
liberation. The Kaffirs have a knack of driving these refractory
brutes in a manner which seems unattainable to a white man. It is an
interesting sight to watch a couple of tall, dark savages, almost
naked, and with long staves in their hands, manœuvring several
hundred head of cattle with apparently but little trouble. Even the
Hottentots seem to have a certain mysterious influence over the horned
troop; but for an English soldier, although goaded by his bayonet,
they appear to entertain the most profound contempt.

Charlie, however, cared little for ox or Kaffir; the lowing of the one
no more disturbed him than the proximity of the other. Was he not at
last in front of the enemy? Should he not to-morrow begin his career
of glory? The boy felt his very life-blood thrill in his veins as the
fighting propensity--the spirit of Cain, never quite dormant within
us--rose to his heart. There he lay in a corner of the dark tent,
dressed and ready for the morrow, with his sword and pistols at his
head, covered with a blanket and a large cloak, his whereabout only
discernible by the red glow from his last pipe before going to sleep;
the handsome lieutenant was already wrapped in slumber and an enormous
rough great-coat (not strictly regulation); the ensign was far away in
dreamland; and Charlie had watched the light die out from their
respective pipes with drowsy eyes, while the regular step of the
sentry outside smote less and less distinctly on his ear. He had gone
through two very severe days, and had not been in a bed for weeks.
Gradually his limbs relaxed and tingled with delightful languor of
rest after _real_ fatigue. Once or twice he woke up with a start as
Fancy played her usual tricks with the weary, then his head declined,
his jaw dropped, the pipe fell to the ground, and Charlie was fast
asleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

Far, far away on a mountain in Inverness the wild stag is _belling_ to
the distant corries, and snuffing the keen north air as he stamps ever
and anon with lightning hoof that cuts the heather tendrils asunder
and flings them on the breeze. Is he not the great master-hart of the
parcel? and shall he not be circumvented and stretched on the moor ere
the fading twilight darkens into night? Verily, he must be stalked
warily, cautiously, for the wind has shifted and the lake is already
ruffling into pointed, white-crested waves, rising as in anger, while
their spray, hurried before the tempest, drifts in long-continuous
wreaths athwart the surface. Fitful gusts, the pent-up sobs of rising
fury, that must burst or be released, chase the filmy scud across that
pale moon, which is but veiled and not obscured; while among the ferns
and alders that skirt the water’s edge the wind moans and shrieks like
an imprisoned demon wailing for his freedom. Mists are rising around
the hazy forms of the deer; cold, chilling vapours through which the
mighty stag looms like some gigantic phantom, and still he swells in
defiance, and _bells_ abroad his trumpet-note of war. Charlie’s
finger is on the trigger; Uncle Baldwin, disguised as a Highlander,
whispers in his ear the thrilling caution, “Take time!” The wind howls
hideously, and phantom shapes, floating in the moonlight, mock and
gibber and toss their long, lean arms, and wave their silver hair. No,
the rifle is _not_ cocked; that stubborn lock defies the force of
human fingers--the mist is thickening and the stag moves. Charlie
implores Uncle Baldwin to assist him, and drops upon his knees to
cover the retiring quarry with his useless weapon. The phantoms gather
round; their mist-wreaths turn to muslin dresses, and their silver
hair to glossy locks of mortal hues. The roaring tempest softens to an
old familiar strain. Mary Delaval is before him. Her pale, sweet face
is bent upon the kneeling boy with looks of unutterable love, and her
white hand passes over his brow with an almost imperceptible caress.
Her face sinks gradually to his--her breath is on his temples--his
lips cling to hers--and he starts with horror at the kiss of love,
striking cold and clammy from a grinning skull! Horror! the rifleman,
whose skeleton he shuddered to find beneath his horse’s feet not
eight-and-forty hours ago! What does he here in the drawing-room at
home? _Home_--yes, he is at home, at last. It must have been
fancy--the recollections of his African campaign! They are all gone to
bed. He hears the General’s well-known tramp dying away along the
passage; and he takes his candle to cross the spacious hall, dark and
gloomy in that flickering light. Ha! seated on the stairs as on a
throne frowns a presence that he dare not pass. A tall, dark figure,
in the shape of a man, yet with angel beauty--no angel form of
good--glorious in the grandeur of despair--magnificent in the pomp and
glare of hell--those lineaments awful in their very beauty--those
deep, unfathomable eyes, with their eternity of suffering, defiance,
remorse, all but repentance or submission! Could mortal look and not
quail? Could man front and not be blasted at the sight? On his lofty
forehead sits a diadem, and on the centre of his brow, burned in and
scorched, as it were, to the very bone, behold the seal of the
Destroyer--the single imprint of a finger.

The boy stands paralysed with affright. The Principle of Evil waves
him on and on, even to the very hem of his garment; but a prayer rises
to the sleeper’s lips; with a convulsive effort he speaks it forth
aloud, and the spell is broken. The mortal is engaged with a mortal
enemy. Those waving robes turn to a leopard-skin _kaross_, the
glorious figure to an athletic savage, and the immortal beauty to the
grinning, chattering lineaments of a hideous Kaffir. Charlie bounds at
him like a tiger--they fight--they close--and he is locked in the
desperate embrace of life or death with his ghastly foe. Charlie is
undermost! His enemy’s eyes are starting from their sockets--his white
teeth glare with cannibal-like ferocity--and his hand is on the boy’s
throat with a grip of iron. One fearful wrench to get free--one last
superhuman effort of despair, and.... Charlie wakes in the
struggle!--wakes to find it all a dream; and the cold air, the
chilling harbinger of dawn, stealing into the tent to refresh and
invigorate the half-suffocated sleepers. He felt little inclination to
resume his slumbers; his position had been a sufficiently
uncomfortable one--his head having slipped from the pistol-holsters on
which it had rested, and the clasp of his cloak-fastening at the
throat having well-nigh strangled him in his sleep. The handsome
lieutenant’s matter-of-fact yawn on waking would have dispelled more
horrid dreams than Charlie’s, and the real business of the coming day
soon chased from his mind all recollections of his imaginary struggle.
Breakfast was like the supper of the preceding night--half-raw beef,
eaten cold, and a whiff from a short pipe. Ere Charlie had finished
his ration, dark though it was, the men had fallen in; the advanced
guard had started; Ensign Harry had received his final instructions,
and “Old Swipes” gave the word of command in a low, guarded
tone--“Slope arms! By your left--Quick march!”

Day dawned on a spirit-stirring scene. With the swinging, easy step of
those accustomed to long and toilsome marches the detachment moved
rapidly forward, now lessening its front as it arrived at some narrow
defile, now “marking time” to allow of its rear coming up, without
effort, into the proper place. Bronzed, bold faces theirs, with the
bluff, good-humoured air of the English soldier, who takes warfare as
it comes, with an oath and a jest. Reckless of strategy as of
hardship, he neither knows nor cares what his enemy may be about, nor
what dispositions may be made by his own officers. If his flank be
turned he fights on with equal unconcern, “it is no business of his”;
if his ammunition be exhausted he betakes himself to the bayonet, and
swears “the beggars may take their change out of that!”

The advanced guard, led by the handsome subaltern, was several hundred
paces in front. The Hottentots brought up the rear, and the “Fighting
Light-Bobs,” commanded by their grey-headed captain, formed the
column. With them marched Charlie, conspicuous in his blue lancer
uniform, now respectfully addressing his superior officer, now jesting
good-humouredly with his temporary comrades. The sun rose on a jovial,
light-hearted company; when next his beams shall gild the same arid
plains, the same twining _mimosas_, the same glorious landscape, shut
in by the jagged peaks of the Anatola mountains, they will glance back
from many a firelock lying ownerless on the sand; they will deepen the
clammy hue of death on many a bold forehead; they will fail to warm
many a gallant heart, cold and motionless for ever. But the men go on
all the same, laughing and jesting merrily, as they “march at ease,”
and beguile the way with mirth and song.

“We’ll get a sup o’ brandy to-night, anyhow, won’t us, Bill?” says a
weather-beaten “Light-Bob” to his front-rank man, a thirsty old
soldier as was ever “confined to barracks.”

“Ay,” replies Bill, “them black beggars has got plenty of lush--more’s
the pity; and they doesn’t give none to their wives--more’s their
sense. Ax your pardon, sir,” he adds, turning to Charlie, “but we
shall advance right upon their centre, now, anyways, shan’t us?”

Ere Charlie could reply he was interrupted by Bill’s comrade, who
seemed to have rather a _penchant_ for Kaffir ladies. “Likely young
women they be, too, Bill, those niggers’ wives; why, every Kaffir has
a dozen at least, and we’ve only three to a company; wouldn’t I like
to be a Kaffir?”

“_Black!_” replied Bill, in a tone of intense disgust.

“What’s the odds?” urged the matrimonial champion, “a black wife’s a
sight better than none at all;” and straightway he began to hum a
military ditty, of which fate only permitted him to complete the first
two stanzas:--

    “They’re sounding the charge for a brush, my boys!
    And we’ll carry their camp with a rush, my boys!
      When we’ve driven them out, I make no doubt
    We’ll find they’ve got plenty of lush, my boys!
            For the beggars delight
            To sit soaking all night,
              Black although they be.

    And when we get liquor so cheap, my boys!
    We’ll do nothing but guzzle and sleep, my boys!
      And sit on the grass with a Kaffir lass,
    Though smutty the wench as a sweep, my boys!
            For the Light Brigade
            Are the lads for a maid,
              Black although she may be.”

“Come, stow that!” interrupted Bill, as the _ping_ of a ball whistled
over their heads, followed by the sharp report of a musket; “here’s
music for your singing, and dancing too, faith,” he added, as the rear
files of the advanced guard came running in; and “Old Swipes”
exclaimed, “By Jove! they’re engaged. Attention! steady, men!--close
up--close up”--and, throwing out a handful of skirmishers to clear the
bush immediately in his front and support his advanced guard, he moved
the column forward at “the double,” gained some rising ground, behind
which he halted them, and himself ran on to reconnoitre. A sharp fire
had by this time commenced on the right, and Charlie’s heart beat
painfully whilst he remained inactive, covered by a position from
which he could see nothing. It was not, however, for long. The
“Light-Bobs” were speedily ordered to advance, and as they gained the
crest of the hill a magnificent view of the conflict opened at once
upon their eyes.

The Rifles had been beforehand with them, and were already engaged;
their dark forms, hurrying to and fro as they ran from covert to
covert, were only to be distinguished from the savages by the rapidity
with which their thin white lines of smoke emerged from bush and
brake, and the regularity with which they forced position after
position, compared with the tumultuous gestures and desultory
movements of the enemy. Already the Kaffirs were forced across the
ford of which we have spoken, and, though they mustered in great
numbers on the opposite bank, swarming like bees along the rising
ground, they appeared to waver in their manœuvres, and to be
inclined to retire. A mounted officer gallops up, and says a few words
to the grey-headed captain. The “Light-Bobs” are formed into column of
sections, and plunge gallantly into the ford. Charlie’s right-hand man
falls pierced by an assagai, and as his head declines beneath the
bubbling water, and his blood mingles with the stream, our volunteer
feels “the devil” rising rapidly to his heart. Charlie’s teeth are set
tight, though he is scarce aware of his own sensations, and the boy is
dangerous, with his pale face and flashing eyes.

The “Light-Bobs” deploy into line on the opposite bank, covered by an
effective fire from the Rifles, and advance as if they were on parade.
“Old Swipes” feels his heart leap for joy. On they march like one man,
and the dark masses of the enemy fly before them. “Well done, my
lads!” says the old captain, as, from their flank, he marks the
regularity of their movement. They are his very children now, and he
is not thinking of the little blue-eyed girl far away at home. A belt
of _mimosas_ is in their front, and it must be carried with the
bayonet! The “Light-Bobs” charge with a wild hurrah; and a withering
volley, very creditable to the savages, well-nigh staggers them as
they approach. “Old Swipes” runs forward, waving them on, his shako
off, and his grey locks streaming in the breeze--down he goes! with a
musket-ball crashing through his forehead. Charlie could yell with
rage, and a fierce longing for blood. There is a calm, matronly woman
tending flowers, some thousand miles off, in a small garden in the
north of England, and a little girl sitting wistfully at her lessons
by her mother’s side. They are a widow and an orphan--but the handsome
lieutenant will get his promotion without purchase; death-vacancies
invariably go in the regiment, and even now he takes the command.

“Kettering,” says he, cool and composed, as if he were but giving
orders at a common field-day, “take a sub-division and clear that
ravine; when you are once across you can turn his flank. Forward, my
lads! and if they’ve any nonsense _give ’em the bayonet_!”

Charlie now finds himself actually in command--ay, and in something
more than a skirmish--something that begins to look uncommonly like a
general action. Waving the men on with his sword he dashes into the
ravine, and in another instant is hand-to-hand with the enemy. What a
moment of noise, smoke, and confusion it is! Crashing blows, fearful
oaths, the Kaffir war-cry, and the soldiers’ death-groan mingle in the
very discord of hell. A wounded Kaffir seizes Charlie by the legs, and
a “Light-Bob” runs the savage through the body, the ghastly weapon
flashing out between the Kaffir’s ribs.

“You’ve got it _now_, you black beggar!” says the soldier, as he
coolly wipes his dripping bayonet on a tuft of burnt-up grass. While
yet he speaks he is writhing in his death-pang, his jaws transfixed by
a quivering assagai. A Kaffir chief, of athletic frame and sinewy
proportions, distinguished by the grotesque character of his arms and
his tiger-skin _kaross_, springs at the young lancer like a wild-cat.
The boy’s sword gleams through that dusky body even in mid-air.

“Well done, blue ’un!” shout the men, and again there is a wild
hurrah! The young one never felt like this before.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hand-to-hand the savages have been beaten from their defences, and
they are in full retreat. One little band has forced the ravine, and
gained the opposite bank. With a thrilling cheer they scale its rugged
surface, Charlie waving his sword and leading them gallantly on. The
old privates swear he is a good ’un. “Forward, lads! Hurrah! for _blue
’un_!”

The boy has all but reached the brink; his hand is stretched to grasp
a bush that overhangs the steep, but his step totters, his limbs
collapse--down, down he goes, rolling over and over amongst the
brushwood, and the blue lancer uniform lies a tumbled heap at the
bottom of the ravine, whilst the cheer of the pursuing “Light-Bobs”
dies fainter and fainter on the sultry air as the chase rolls farther
and farther into the desert fastnesses of Kaffirland.



CHAPTER XII

CAMPAIGNING AT HOME

     THE SOLDIER IN PEACE--THE LION AND THE LAMB--“THE GIRLS WE
     LEAVE BEHIND US”--A PLAIN QUESTION--THE STRONG MAN’S
     STRUGGLE--FATHERLY KINDNESS--THE “PEACE AND PLENTY”--A
     LADY-KILLER’S PROJECTS--WAKING THOUGHTS


In a neat, well-appointed barouche, with clever, high-stepping brown
horses and everything complete, a party of three well-dressed persons
are gliding easily out of town, sniffing by anticipation the breezes
of the country, and greeting every morsel of verdure with a rapture
only known to those who have been for several weeks in London. Past
the barracks at Knightsbridge, where the windows are occupied by a
race of giants in moustaches and shirt-sleeves, and the officers in
front of their quarters are educating a poodle; past the gate at
Kensington, with its smartest of light-dragoon sentries, and the
gardens with their fine old trees disguised in soot; past dead walls
overtopped with waving branches; on through a continuous line of
streets that will apparently reach to Bath; past public-houses
innumerable, and grocery-shops without end; past Hammersmith, with its
multiplicity of academies, and Turnham Green, and Chiswick, and
suburban terraces with almost fabulous names, and detached houses with
the scaffolding still up; past market-gardens and rosaries, till
Brentford is reached, where the disappointed traveller, pining for the
country, almost deems himself transported back again east of Temple
Bar. But Brentford is soon left behind, and a glimpse of the “silver
Thames” rejoices eyes that have been aching for something farther
afield than the Serpentine, and prepares them for the unbounded views
and free, fresh landscape afforded by Hounslow Heath. “This is really
the country,” says Blanche, inhaling the pure air with a sigh of
positive delight, while the General exclaims, at the same instant,
with his accustomed vigour, “Zounds! the blockhead’s missed the turn
to the barracks, after all.”

The ladies are very smart; and even Mary Delaval (the third occupant
of the carriage), albeit quieter and more dignified than ever, has
dressed in gaudier plumage than is her wont, as is the practice of her
sex when they are about to attend what they are pleased to term “a
breakfast.” As for Blanche, she is too charming--such a little,
gossamer bonnet stuck at the very back of that glossy little head, so
that the beholder knows not whether to be most fascinated by the
ethereal beauty of the fabric, or wonder-struck at the dexterity with
which it is kept on. Then the dresses of the pair are like the hues of
the morning, though of their texture, as of their “trimmings,” it
becomes us not to hazard an opinion. Talk of beauty unadorned, and all
that! Take the handsomest figure that ever inspired a statuary--dress
her, or rather undress her to the costume of the Three Graces, or the
Nine Muses, or any of those _dowdies_ immortalised by ancient art, and
place her alongside of a moderately good-looking Frenchwoman, with
dark eyes and small feet, who has been permitted to dress _herself_:
why, the one is a mere corporeal mass of shapely humanity, the other a
sparkling emanation of light and smiles and “tulle” (or whatever they
call it) and coquetry and all that is most irresistible. Blanche and
Mary, with the assistance of good taste and good milliners, were
almost perfect types of their different styles of feminine beauty. The
General, too, was wondrously attired. Retaining the predilections of
his youth, he shone in a variety of under-waistcoats, each more
gorgeous than its predecessor, surmounting the whole by a blue coat of
unexampled brilliancy and peculiar construction. Like most men who are
not in the habit of “getting themselves up” every day, he was always
irritable when thus clothed in “his best,” and was now peculiarly
fidgety as to the right turn by which his carriage should reach the
barracks where the “Loyal Hussars,” under the temporary command of
Major D’Orville, were about to give a breakfast of unspeakable
splendour and hospitality.

“That way--no--the other way, you blockhead!--straight on, and short
to the right!” vociferated the General to his bewildered coachman, as
they drew up at the barrack-gate; and Blanche timidly suggested they
should ask “that officer,” alluding to a dashing, handsome individual
guarding the entrance from behind an enormous pair of dark moustaches.

“That’s only the sentry, Blanche,” remarked Mary Delaval, whose early
military experience made her more at home here than her companion.

“Dear,” replied Blanche, colouring a little at her mistake, “I thought
he was a captain, at least--_he’s very good-looking_.”

But the barouche rolls on to the mess-room door, and although the
ladies are somewhat disappointed to find their entertainers in plain
clothes (a woman’s idea of a hussar being that he should live and die
_en grande tenue_), yet the said plain clothes are so well put on, and
the moustaches and whiskers so carefully arranged, and the fair ones
themselves received with such _empressement_, as to make full amends
for any deficiency of warlike costume. Besides, the surrounding
atmosphere is so thoroughly military. A rough-rider is bringing a
young horse from the school; a trumpet is sounding in the
barrack-yard; troopers lounging about in picturesque undress are
sedulously saluting their officers; all is suggestive of the show and
glitter which makes a soldier’s life so fascinating to woman.

Major D’Orville is ready to hand them out of the carriage. Lacquers is
stationed on the door steps. Captain Clank and Cornet Capon are in
attendance to receive their cloaks. Even Sir Ascot Uppercrust, who is
here as a guest, lays aside his usual _nonchalance_, and actually
“hopes Miss Kettering didn’t catch cold yesterday getting home from
Chiswick.” Clank whispers to Capon that he thinks “Uppy is making
strong running”; and Capon strokes his nascent moustaches, and
oracularly replies, “The divil doubt him.”

No wonder ladies like a military entertainment. It certainly is the
fashion among soldiers, as among their seafaring brethren, to profess
far greater devotion and exhibit more _empressement_ in their manner
to the fair sex than is customary in this age with civilians.

The latter, more particularly that maligned class, “the young men of
the present day,” are not prone to put themselves much out of their
way for any one, and treat you, fair daughters of England, with a
mixture of patronage and carelessness which is far from complimentary.
How different you find it when you visit a barrack or are shown over a
man-of-war! Respectful deference waits on your every expression,
admiring eyes watch your charming movements, and stalwart arms are
proffered to assist your delicate steps. Handsome, sunburnt
countenances explain to you how the biscuit is served out; or
moustaches of incalculable volume wait your answer as to “what polka
you choose their band to perform.” You make conquests all around you,
and wherever you go your foot is on their necks; but do not for this
think that your image never _can_ be effaced from these warlike
hearts. A good many of them, even the best-looking ones, have got
wives and children at home; and the others, unencumbered though they
be, save by their debts, are apt to entertain highly anti-matrimonial
sentiments, and to frame their conduct on sundry aphorisms of a very
faithless tendency, purporting that “blue water is a certain cure for
heart-ache”; that judicious hussars are entitled “to love and to ride
away”; with other maxims of a like inconstant nature. Nay, in both
services there is a favourite air of inspiriting melody, the burden
and title of which, monstrous as it may appear, are these unfeeling
words, “The girls we leave behind us!” It is _always_ played on
marching out of a town.

But however ill our “captain bold” of the present day may behave to
“the girl he leaves behind him,” the lady in his front has small cause
to complain of remissness or inattention. The mess-room at Hounslow is
fitted up with an especial view to the approbation of the fair sex.
The band outside ravishes their ears with its enchanting harmony; the
officers and male guests dispose themselves in groups with those
whose society they most affect; and Blanche finds herself the centre
of attraction to sundry dashing warriors, not one of whom would
hesitate for an instant to abandon his visions of military
distinction, and link himself, his debts, and his moustaches, to the
fortunes of the pretty heiress.

Now, Sir Ascot Uppercrust has resolved this day to do or die--“to be a
man or a mouse,” as he calls it. Of this young gentleman we have as
yet said but little, inasmuch as he is one of that modern school
which, abounding in specimens through the higher ranks of society, is
best described by a series of negatives. He was _not_ good-looking--he
was _not_ clever--he was _not_ well-educated; but, on the other hand,
he was not to be intimidated--not to be excited--and _not_ to be taken
in. Coolness of mind and body were his principal characteristics; no
one ever saw “Uppy” in a hurry, or a dilemma, or what is called “taken
aback”; he would have gone into the ring and laid the odds to an
archbishop without a vestige of astonishment, and with a carelessness
of demeanour bordering upon contempt; or he would have addressed the
House of Commons, had he thought fit to honour that formidable
assemblage by his presence, with an equanimity and _insouciance_ but
little removed from impertinence. A quaint boy at Eton, _cool hand_ at
Oxford, a deep card in the regiment, man or woman never yet had the
best of “Uppy”; but to-day he felt, for once, nervous and dispirited,
and wished “the thing was over,” and settled one way or the other. He
was an only son, and not used to be contradicted. His mother had
confided to him her own opinion of his attractions, and striven hard
to persuade her darling that he had but to see and conquer;
nevertheless, the young gentleman was not at all sanguine of success.
Accustomed to view things with an impartial and by no means a
charitable eye, he formed a dispassionate idea of his own attractions,
and extended no more indulgence to himself than to his friends.
“Plain, but neat,” he soliloquised that very morning, as he thought
over his proceedings whilst dressing; “not much of a talker, but a
_devil to think_--good position--certain rank--she’ll be a _lady_,
though rather a _Brummagem_ one--house in Lowndes Street--place in
the West--family diamonds--and a fairish rent-roll (when the mortgages
are paid)--that’s what she would get. Now, what should I get? Nice
girl--’gad, she _is_ a nice girl, with her ‘sun-bright hair’ as some
fellow says--good temper--good action--_and_ three hundred thousand
pounds. The exchange is _rather_ in my favour; but then all girls want
to be married, and that squares it, perhaps. If she says ‘Yes,’ sell
out--give up hunting--drive her about in a phaeton, and buy a yacht.
If she says ‘No,’ get _second leave_--go to Melton in November--and
hang on with the regiment, which ain’t a bad sort of life, after all.
So it’s hedged both ways. Six to one and half-a-dozen to the other.
Very well; to-day we’ll settle it.”

With these sentiments it is needless to remark that Sir Ascot was none
of your sighing, despairing, fire-eating adorers, whose violence
frightens a woman into a not unwilling consent; but a cautious, quiet
lover, on whom perhaps a civil refusal might be the greatest favour
she could confer. Nevertheless, he liked Blanche, too, in his own way.

Well, the band played, and the luncheon was discussed, and the room
was cleared for an impromptu dance (meditated for a fortnight); and
some waltzed, and some flirted, and some walked about and peeped into
the troop-stables and inspected the riding-school, and Blanche found
herself, rather to her surprise, walking _tête-à-tête_ with Sir Ascot
from the latter dusty emporium, lingering a little behind the rest of
the party, and separated altogether from the General and Mary Delaval.
Sir Ascot having skilfully detached Lacquers, by informing him that he
had made a fatal impression on Miss Spanker, who was searching
everywhere for the credulous hussar; and having thus possessed himself
of Blanche’s ear, now stopped dead-short, looked the astonished girl
full in the face, and without moving a muscle of his own countenance,
carelessly remarked, “Miss Kettering, would you like to marry me?”
Blanche thought he was joking, and although it struck her as an
ill-timed piece of pleasantry, she strove to keep up the jest, and
replied, with a laugh and low curtsey, “Sir Ascot Uppercrust, you do
me too much honour.”

“No, but will you, Miss Kettering?” said Sir Ascot, getting quite
warm (for him). “Plain fellow--do what I can--make you happy--and all
that.”

[Illustration: “‘Sir Ascot Uppercrust, you do me too much honour.’”

_Page 182_]

Poor Blanche blushed crimson up to her eyes. Good heavens! then the
man was in earnest after all! What had she done--she, the pet of
“Cousin Charlie,” and the _protégée_ of Frank Hardingstone--that such
a creature as this should presume to ask her such a question? She
hesitated--felt very angry--half inclined to laugh and half inclined
to cry; and Sir Ascot went on, “Silence gives consent, Miss
Kettering--’pon my soul, I’m immensely flattered--can’t express
what I feel--no poet, and that sort of thing--but I really
am--eh!--very--eh!” It was getting too absurd; if she did not take
some decisive step, here was a dandy quite prepared to affiance her
against her will, and what to say or how to say it, poor little
Blanche, who was totally unused to this sort of thing, and tormented,
moreover, with an invincible desire to laugh, knew no more than the
man in the moon.

“You misunderstand, Sir Ascot,” at last she stammered out; “I didn’t
mean--that is--I meant, or rather I intended--to--to--to--decline--or,
I should say--in short, _I couldn’t for the world_!” With which
unequivocal declaration Blanche blushed once more up to her eyes, and
to her inexpressible relief, put her arm within Major D’Orville’s,
that officer coming up opportunely at that moment; and seeing the
girl’s obvious confusion and annoyance, extricating her, as he seemed
always to do, from her unpleasant dilemma and her matter-of-fact
swain.

And this was Blanche’s first proposal. Nothing so alarming in it,
young ladies, after all. We fear you may be disappointed at the blunt
manner in which so momentous a question can be put. Here was no
language of flowers--no giving of roses and receiving of
carnations--no hoarding of locks of hair, or secreting of bracelets,
or kidnapping of gloves--none of the petty larceny of courtship--none
of the dubious, half-expressed, sentimental flummery which _may_
signify all that mortal heart can bestow, or _may_ be the mere
coquetry of conventional gallantry. When _he_ comes to the point, let
us hope his meaning may be equally plain, whether it is couched in a
wish that he might “be _always_ helping you over stiles,” or a
request that you will “give him a _right_ to walk with you by
moonlight without being scolded by mamma,” or an inquiry as to whether
you “can live in the country, and _only_ come to London for three
months during the season,” or any other roundabout method of asking a
straightforward question. Let us hope, moreover, that the applicant
may be _the right one_, and that you may experience, to the extent of
actual impossibility, the proverbial difficulty of saying--No.

Now, it fell out that Major D’Orville arrived in the nick of time to
save Blanche from further embarrassment, in consequence of his
inability, in common with the rest of his fellow-creatures, “to know
his own mind.” The Major had got up the _fête_ entirely, as he
imagined, with the idea of prosecuting his views against the heiress,
and hardly allowed to himself that, in his innermost soul, there
lurked a hope that Mrs. Delaval might accompany her former charge, and
he might see her _just once more_. Had D’Orville been thoroughly
_bad_, he would have been a successful man; as it was, there gleamed
ever and anon upon his worldly heart a ray of that higher nature, that
nobler instinct, which spoils the villain, while it makes the hero.
Mary had pierced the coat-of-mail in which the _roué_ was encased;
probably her very indifference was her most fatal weapon. D’Orville
really loved her--yes, though he despised himself for the weakness
(since weakness it is deemed in creeds such as his), though he would
grind his teeth and stamp his foot in solitude, while he muttered,
“Fool! fool! to bow down before a woman!” yet the spell was on him,
and the chain was eating into his heart. In the watches of the night
_her image_ sank into his brain and tortured him with its calm,
indifferent smile. In his dreams _she_ bent over him, and her drooping
hair swept across his forehead, till the strong man woke, and yearned
like a child for a fellow-mortal’s love. But not for him the childlike
trust that can repose on human affection. Gaston had eaten of the tree
of knowledge, the knowledge of good and evil; much did the evil
predominate over the good, and still the galling thought goaded
him almost to madness. “Suppose I should gain this woman’s
affections--suppose I should sacrifice my every hope to that sweet
face, and find her, after all, like the rest of them! Suppose _I_,
too, should weary, as I have wearied before of faces well-nigh as
fair--hearts even far more kind--is there no green branch on earth? Am
I to wander for ever seeking rest and finding none? Am I to be cursed,
like a lost spirit, with longings for that happiness which my very
nature will not permit me to enjoy? Oh that I were wholly good, or
wholly bad! that I could loathe the false excitement and the dazzling
charms of vice, or steep my better feelings in the petrifying waters
of perdition! I _will_ conquer my weakness. What should I care for
this stone-cold governess? I _will_ be free, and this Mrs. Delaval
shall discover that _I_ too can be as careless, and as faithless, and
as hard-hearted as--_a woman_!” With which laudable and manly
resolution our dashing Major proceeded to make the agreeable to his
guests, and to lose no opportunity of exchanging glances and mixing in
conversation with the very lady he had sworn so stoutly to avoid. But
with all his tactics, all his military proficiency in manœuvring,
he found it impossible to detach Mary from her party, or to engage her
in a _tête-à-tête_ with himself. True-hearted and dignified, with her
pure affection fixed upon another, she was not a person to descend to
coquetry for the mere pleasure of a conquest, and she clung to the
General for the purpose of avoiding the Major, till old Bounce became
convinced that she was to add another name to the list of victims who
had already succumbed before his many fascinations. The idea had been
some time nascent in his mind, and as it now grew and spread, and
developed itself into a certainty, his old heart warmed with a thrill
he had not felt since the reign of the widow at Cheltenham, and he
made the agreeable in his own way by pointing out to Mary all the
peculiarities and arrangements of a barrack-yard, interspersed with
many abrupt exclamations and voluminous personal anecdotes. Major
D’Orville hovered round them the while, and perhaps the very
difficulty of addressing his former love enhanced the charm of her
presence and the fascination against which he struggled. It is amusing
to see a thorough man of the world, one accustomed to conquer and
enslave where he is himself indifferent, awkward as the veriest
schoolboy, timid and hesitating as a girl, where he is _really_
touched--though woman--

              “Born to be controlled,
    Stoop to the forward and the bold.”

She thereby gauges with a false measure the devotion for which she
pines. Would she know her real power, would she learn where she is
truly loved, let her take note of the averted eye, the haunting step,
ever hovering near, seldom daring to approach, the commonplace remark
that shrinks from the one cherished topic, and above all the quivering
voice, which, steady and commanding to the world beside, fails only
when it speaks to her. Mary Delaval might have noted this had her
heart not been in Kaffirland, or had the General allowed her leisure
to attend to anything but himself. “Look ye, my dear Mrs. Delaval, our
stables in India were ventilated quite differently. Climate? how d’ye
mean? climate makes no difference--why, I’ve had the Kedjerees
picketed in thousands round my tent. What? D’Orville, you’ve been on
the Sutlej--’gad, sir, your fellows would have been astonished if I’d
dropped among you there.”

“And justly so,” quietly remarked the Major; “if I remember right, you
were in cantonments more than three thousand miles off.”

“Well, at any rate, I taught those black fellows how to
look after their nags,” replied the General. “I left them
the best-mounted corps in the Presidency, and six weeks after my back
was turned they weren’t _worth a row of pins_. Zounds, don’t tell me!
jobbing--jobbing--nothing but jobbing! What? No _sore backs_ whilst I
commanded them--at least among _the horses_,” added our
disciplinarian, reflectively; “can’t say as much with regard to the
_men_. But there is nothing like a big stick for a nigger--so let’s go
and see the riding-school.”

“I have still got the grey charger, Mrs. Delaval,” interposed the
Major, wishing old Bounce and his Kedjerees in a hotter climate than
India; “poor fellow, he’s quite white now, but as great a favourite
still as he was in ‘the merry days,’” and the Major’s voice shook a
little. “Would you like to see him?”

Mary understood the allusion, but her calm affirmative was as
indifferent as ever, and the trio were proceeding to the Major’s
stables, that officer going on before to find his groom, when he met
Blanche, as we have already said, and divining intuitively what had
taken place by her flushed countenance and embarrassed manner, offered
his arm to conduct her back to her party, thereby earning her eternal
gratitude, no less than that of Sir Ascot, who, as he afterwards
confided to an intimate friend, “was _completely in the hole_, and
didn’t the least know what the devil to do next.”

And now D’Orville practically demonstrated the advantage in the game
of flirtation possessed by an untouched heart. With the governess he
had been diffident, hesitating, almost awkward; with the pupil he was
eloquent and winning as usual. His good taste told him it would be
absurd to ignore Blanche’s obvious trepidation, and his knowledge of
the sex taught him that the “soothing system,” with a mixture of
lover-like respect and paternal kindness, might produce important
results. So he begged Blanche to lean on his arm and compose her
nerves, and talked kindly to her in his soft, deep voice. “I can see
you have been annoyed, Miss Kettering--you know the interest I take in
you, and I trust you will not consider me presumptuous in wishing to
extricate you from further embarrassment. I am an old fellow now,” and
the Major smiled his own winning smile, “and therefore a fit chaperon
for young ladies. I have nobody to care for” (D’Orville, D’Orville!
you would shoot a man who called you a liar), “and I have watched you
as if you were a sister or a child of my own. Pray do not tell me more
than if I can be of any service to you; and if I can, my dear Miss
Kettering, command me to the utmost extent of my powers!” What could
Blanche do but thank him warmly? and who shall blame the girl for
feeling gratified by the interest of such a man, or for entertaining a
vague sort of satisfaction that after all she was neither his sister
nor his daughter. Had he been ten years older she would have thrown
her arms round his neck, and kissed him in childlike confidence; as it
was, she pressed closer to his side, and felt her heart warm to the
kind, considerate protector. The Major saw his advantage, and
proceeded--“I am alone in the world, you know, and seldom have an
opportunity of doing any one a kindness. We soldiers lead a sadly
unsatisfactory, desultory sort of life. Till you ‘came out’ this year,
I had no one to care for, no one to interest myself about; but since I
have seen you every day, and watched you enjoying yourself, and
admired and sought after, I have felt like a different man. I have a
great deal to thank you for, Miss Kettering; I was rapidly growing
into a selfish, heartless old gentleman, but you have renewed my
youthful feelings and freshened up my better nature, till I sometimes
think I am almost happy. How can I repay you but by watching over your
career, and should you ever require it, placing my whole existence at
your disposal? It would break my heart to see you thrown away--no;
believe me, Miss Kettering, you have no truer friend than myself, none
that admires or loves you better than your old chaperon;” and as the
Major spoke he looked so kindly and sincerely into the girl’s face,
that albeit his language might bear the interpretation of actual love,
and was, as Hairblower would have said, “uncommon near the wind,” it
seemed the most natural thing in the world under the circumstances,
and Blanche leaned on his arm, and talked and laughed, and told him to
get the carriage, and otherwise ordered him about with a
strangely-mixed feeling of childlike confidence and gratified vanity.
The party broke up at an early hour, many of them having
dinner-engagements in London; and as D’Orville handed Blanche into her
carriage, he felt that he had to-day made a prodigious stride towards
the great object in view. He had gained the girl’s confidence, no
injudicious movement towards gaining her heart _and_ her fortune. He
pressed her hand as she wished him good-bye; and while he did so,
shuddered at the consciousness of his meanness. Too well he knew he
loved another--a word, a look from Mary Delaval, would have saved him
even now; but her farewell was cold and short as common courtesy would
admit of, and he ground his teeth as he thought those feet would spurn
him, at which he would give his very life to fall. The worst passions
of his nature were aroused. He swore, some day, to humble that proud
heart in the dust, but the first step at all events must be to win
the heiress. This morning he could have given up all for Mary, but
_now_ he was himself again, and the Major walked moodily back to
barracks, a wiser (as the world would opine), but certainly not a
better man.

Care, however, although, as Horace tells us, “she sits behind the
horseman,” is a guest whose visits are but little encouraged by the
light dragoon. Our gallant hussars were not inclined to mope down at
Hounslow after their guests had returned to town, and the last
carriage had scarcely driven off with its fair freight, ere phaeton,
buggy, riding-horse, and curricle were put in requisition, to take
their military owners back to the metropolis; that victim of
discipline, the orderly officer, being alone left to console himself
in his solitude, as he best might, with his own reflections and the
society of a water-spaniel. To-morrow morning they must be again on
the road, to reach head-quarters in time for parade; but to-morrow
morning is a long way off from gentlemen who live every hour of their
lives; so away they go, each on his own devices, but one and all
resolved to make the most of the present, and glitter, whilst they
may, in the sunshine of their too brief noon.

       *       *       *       *       *

St. George’s clock tolls one, and Blanche has been asleep for hours in
her quiet room at the back of the house in Grosvenor Square. Pure
thoughts and pleasant dreams have hovered round the young girl’s
pillow, and the last image present to her eyes has been the kind,
handsome face of Major D’Orville--the hero who, commanding to all
besides, is so gentle, so considerate, so tender with her alone.
“Perhaps,” thought she, as the midnight rain beat against her
window-panes, “he is even now going his bleak rounds at Hounslow”
(Blanche had a vague idea that the hussars spent the night in
patrolling the heath), “wrapped in his cloak, on that dear white
horse, very likely thinking of _me_. How such a man is thrown away,
with his kindly feelings, and his noble mind, and his courageous
heart. ‘Nobody to care for,’ he said; ‘alone in the world’;” and
little Blanche sighed a sigh of that pity which is akin to a softer
feeling, and experienced for an instant that startling throb with
which love knocks at the door, like some unwelcome visitor, ere habit
has emboldened him to walk up-stairs, unbidden, and make himself at
home.

Let us see how right the maiden was in her conjectures, and follow the
Major through his bleak rounds, and his night of military hardships.

As we perambulate London at our loitering leisure, and stare about us
in the desultory, wandering manner of those who have nothing to do,
now admiring an edifice, now peeping into a print-shop, we are often
brought up, “all standing,” in one of the great thoroughfares, by the
magnificent proportions, the architectural splendour, of a building
which our peaceful calling debars us from entering. Nevertheless we
may gaze and gape at the stately outside; we may admire the lofty
windows, with their florid ornaments, and marvel for what purpose are
intended the upper casements, which seem to us like the bull’s-eyes
let into the deck of a three-decker, magnified to a gigantic
uselessness; we may stare till the nape of our neck warns us to
desist, at the classic ornaments raised in high relief around the
roof, where strange mythological devices, unknown to Lemprière,
mystify alike the antiquarian and the naturalist,--centaurs,
terminating in salmon-trout, career around the cornices, more
grotesque than the mermaid, more inexplicable than the sphinx. In vain
we cudgel our brains to ask of what faith, what principle these
monsters may be the symbols. Can they represent the _insignia_ of that
corps so strangely omitted in the _Army List_--known to a grateful
country as the horse marines? Are they a glorious emanation of modern
art? or are they, as the Irish gentleman suggested of our martello
towers, only intended to puzzle posterity? Splendid, however, as may
be the outward magnificence of this military palace, it is nothing
compared with the luxury that reigns within, and the heroes of both
services enjoy a delightful contrast to the hardships of war, in the
spacious saloons and exquisite repasts provided for its members by the
“Peace and Plenty Club.”

“Waiter--two large cigars and another sherry-cobbler,” lisps a voice
which, although somewhat thicker than usual, we have no difficulty in
recognising as the property of Captain Lacquers. That officer has
dined “severely,” as he calls it, and is slightly inebriated. He is
reclining on three chairs, in a large, lofty apartment, devoid of
furniture, and surrounded by ottomans. From its airy situation,
general appearance, and pervading odour, we have no difficulty in
identifying it as the smoking-room of the establishment. At our
friend’s elbow stands a small table, with empty glasses, and opposite
him, with his heels above the level of his head, and a cigar of
“_sesquipedalian_” length in his mouth, sits Sir Ascot Uppercrust.
Gaston D’Orville is by his side, veiling his handsome face in clouds
of smoke, and they are all three talking about the heiress. Yes; these
are the Major’s _rounds_, these are the hardships innocent Blanche
sighed to think of. It is lucky that ladies can neither hear nor see
us in our masculine retreats.

“So she refused you, Uppy; refused you point blank, did she? ’Gad, I
like her for it,” said Lacquers, the romance of whose disposition was
much enhanced by his potations.

“Deuced impertinent, I call it,” replied the repulsed; “won’t have
such a chance again. After all, she’s not _half_ a nice girl.”

“Don’t say that,” vociferated Lacquers, “don’t say that. She’s
_perfect_, my dear boy; she’s enchanting--she’s got _mind_, and
that--what’s a woman without intellect?--without the what-d’ye-call-it
spark?--a--a--you recollect the quotation.”

“A pudding without plums,” said Sir Ascot, who was a bit of a wag in a
quiet way; and “A fiddle without strings,” suggested the Major at the
same moment.

“Exactly,” replied Lacquers, quite satisfied; “well, my dear fellow,
I’m a man that adores all that sort of thing. ’Gad, I can’t do without
talent, and music, and so on. Do I ever miss an opera? Didn’t I half
ruin myself for Pastorelli, because she could dance? Now, I’ll tell
you what”--and the speaker, lighting a fresh cigar, forgot what he was
going to say.

“Then _you’re_ rather smitten with Miss Kettering, too,” observed
D’Orville, who, as usual, was determined not to throw a chance away.
“I thought a man of your many successes was _blasé_ with that sort of
thing;” and the Major smiled at Sir Ascot, whilst Lacquers went off
again at score.

“To be sure, I’ve gone very deep into the thing, old fellow, as you
know; and I think I _understand_ women. You may depend upon it they
like a fellow with brains. But I ought to settle; I ‘flushed’ a grey
hair yesterday in my whiskers, and this is just the girl to suit. It’s
not her money I care for; I’ve got plenty--at least I can get plenty
at seven per cent. No, it is her intellect, and her refusing Uppy,
that I like. What did you say, my boy? how did you begin?” he added,
thinking he might as well get a hint. “Did you tip her any poetry?
Tommy Moore, and that other fellow, little What’s-his-name?” Lacquers
was beginning to speak very thick, and did not wait for an answer.
“I’ll show you how to settle these matters to-morrow after parade.
First I’ll go to----Who’s that fellow just come in? ’Gad, it’s
Clank--good fellow, Clank. I say, Clank, will you come to my wedding?
Recollect I asked you to-night; be very particular about the date. Let
me see; to-morrow’s the second Sunday after Ascot. I’ll lay any man
three to two the match comes off before Goodwood.”

D’Orville smiles calmly. He hears the woman whom he intends to make
his wife talked of thus lightly, yet no feeling of bitterness rises in
his mind against the drunken dandy. Would he not resent such mention
of another name? But his finances will not admit of such a chance as
the present wager being neglected; so he draws out his betting-book,
and turning over its well-filled leaves for a clear place, quietly
observes, “I’ll take it--three to two, what in?”

“Pounds, ponies, or hundreds,” vociferates Lacquers, now decidedly
uproarious; “thousands if you like. Fortune favours the brave. Vogue
la thingumbob! Waiter! brandy-and-water! Clank, you’re a trump: shake
hands, Clank. We won’t go home till morning. Yonder he goes:
tally-ho!” And while the Major, who is a man of conscience, satisfies
himself with betting his friend’s bet in hundreds, Lacquers vainly
endeavours to make a corresponding memorandum; and finding his fingers
refuse their office, gives himself up to his fate, and with an
abortive attempt to embrace the astonished Clank, subsides into a
sitting posture on the floor.

The rest adjourn to whist in the drawing-room; and Gaston D’Orville
concludes his rounds by losing three hundred to Sir Ascot; “Uppy”
congratulating himself on not having made such a bad day’s work after
all.

As the Major walks home to his lodgings in the first pure
flush of the summer’s morning, how he loathes that man whose
fresh unsullied boyhood he remembers so well. What is he now?
Nothing to rest on; nothing to hope for--loving one--deceiving
another. If he gain his object, what is it but a bitter perjury?
Gambler--traitor--profligate--turn which way he will, there is nothing
but ruin, misery, and sin.



CHAPTER XIII

THE WORLD

     SELLING THE COPYRIGHT--THE POLITICIAN’S
     DAY-DREAMS--TATTERSALL’S AT FLOOD--A DANDY’S DESTINY


“Can’t do it, my lord--your lordship must consider--overwritten
yourself sadly of late--your ‘Broadsides from the Baltic’ were
excellent--telling, clever, and eloquent; but you’ll excuse me--you
were incorrect in your statistics and mistaken in your facts. Then
your last novel, ‘Captain Flash; or, the Modern Grandison,’ was a dead
loss to us--lively work--well reviewed--but it _didn’t sell_. In these
days people don’t care to go behind the scenes for a peep at
aristocratic ruffians and chivalrous black-legs--no, what we want is
something original--hot and strong, my lord, and lots of nature. Now,
these translations”--and the publisher, for a publisher it was who
spoke, waved his sword of office, a huge ivory paper-cutter, towards a
bundle of manuscripts--“these translations from the ‘Medea’ are
admirably done--elegant language--profound scholarship--great
merit--but the public won’t look at them; and even with your
lordship’s name to help them off, we cannot say more than three
hundred--in point of fact, I think we are hardly justified in going as
far as that;” and the publisher crossed his legs and sat back in his
arm-chair, like a man who had made up his mind.

We have almost lost sight of Lord Mount Helicon since the Guyville
ball, but he now turns up, attending to business, as he calls it, and
is sitting in Mr. Bracketts’ back-room, driving as hard a bargain as
he can for the barter of his intellectual produce, and conducting the
sale in his usual careless, good-humoured manner, although he has a
bill coming due to-morrow, and ready money is a most important
consideration. The little back-room is perfectly lined with
newspapers, magazines, prospectuses, books, proof-sheets, and
manuscripts, whilst the aristocracy of talent frown in engravings from
the walls--faces generally not so remarkable for their beauty as for a
dishevelled, untidy expression, consequent on disordered hair pushed
back from off the temples, and producing the unbecoming effect of
having been recently exposed to a gale of wind; nevertheless, the
illegible autographs beneath symbolise names which fill the world.

Mr. Bracketts, the presiding genius of the place, is a remarkable man;
his broad, high brow and deep-set flashing eyes betray at once the man
of intellect, the champion whose weapon is the brain, whilst his
spare, bent frame is attenuated by that mental labour which produces
results precisely the converse of healthy physical exertion. Mr.
Bracketts might have been a great poet, a successful author, or a
scientific explorer; but, like the grocer’s apprentice who is clogged
with sweets till he loathes the very name of sugar, our publisher has
been surfeited with talent till he almost pines to be a boor, to
exchange the constant intellectual excitement which wears him to
shreds for placid ignorance, a good appetite, and fresh air. How can
he find time to embody his own thoughts who is continually perusing,
rejecting, perhaps licking into shape those of others? How can he but
be disgusted with the puny efforts of the scribbler’s wing, when he
himself feels capable of flights that would soar far out of the ken of
that every-day average authorship of which his soul is sick?--so
beyond an occasional slashing review, written in no forbearing spirit,
he seldom puts pen to paper, save to score and interline and correct;
yet is he, with all his conscious superiority, not above our national
prejudices in favour of what we playfully term _good_ society. We fear
he had rather go to a “crush” at Lady Dinadam’s than sup with Boz. He
is an Englishman, and his heart warms to a peer--so he lets Lord Mount
Helicon down very easy, and offers him three hundred for his
manuscript.

“Hang it, Bracketts,” said his lordship, “it’s worth more than
that--look what it cost me; if it hadn’t been for that cursed
‘Sea-breeze’ chorus I should have been at Newmarket, when
‘Bowse-and-Bit’ won ‘The Column’--and I should have landed ‘_a Thou_’
_at least_. But I was so busy at it I was late for the train. Come,
Bracketts, spring a point, and I’ll put you ‘on’ about ‘Sennacherib’
for the Goodwood Cup.”

“We should wish to be as liberal as possible, my lord,” replied Mr.
Bracketts, shaking his head with a smile, “but we have other interests
to consult--if I was the only person concerned it would be
different--but, in short, I have already rather exceeded my powers,
and I can go no farther!”

“Very well,” said Lord Mount Helicon, looking at his watch, and seeing
it was time for him to be at Tattersall’s; “only if it goes through
another edition, we’ll have a fresh arrangement. It’s time for me to
be off. Any news among the fraternity? Anything _good_ coming out
soon?”

“Nothing but a novel by a lady of rank,” returned Mr. Bracketts, with
a meaning smile; “and we all know what that is likely to be. Capital
title, though: ‘Blue-bell; or, the Double Infidelity’--the name will
sell it. Good-morning; good-morning, my lord. Pray look in again, when
you are this way.” And the publisher, having bowed out his noble
guest, returned to his never-ending labours, whilst Lord Mount Helicon
whisked into the street, with five hundred things to do, and, as
usual, a dozen appointments to keep, all at the same time.

Let us follow him down to Tattersall’s, whither, on the principle of
“business first and pleasure afterwards,” he betakes himself at once,
treading as it were upon air, his busy imagination teeming with a
thousand schemes, and his spirits rising with that self-distilled
elixir which is only known to the poetic temperament, and which,
though springing to a certain extent from constitutional recklessness,
owes its chief potency to the self-confidence of mental
superiority--the reflection that, when all externals are swept away,
when ruin and misfortune have done their wickedest, the productive
treasure, the germ of future success, is still untouched within.

“If the worst comes to the worst,” thinks his lordship, “if
‘Sennacherib’ breaks down, and Blanche Kettering fights shy, and the
sons of Judah thunder at the door of the ungodly, and ‘the pot boils
over,’ and the world says ‘it’s all up with Mount,’ have I not still
got something to fall back upon? Shall not my very difficulties point
the way to overcome them? and when I am driven into a corner, _won’t_
I come out and astonish them all? I’ve got it _in_ me--I know I have.
And the reviewers--pshaw! I defy them! Let them but lay a finger on my
‘Medea,’ and I’ll give them such a roasting as they haven’t had since
the days of the ‘Dunciad.’ Byron did it: why shouldn’t I? If I could
only settle down--and I _could_ settle down if I was regularly cleaned
out--I think I am man enough to succeed. Bring out a work that would
shake the Ministry, and scatter the moderate party--then for Progress,
Improvement, Enfranchisement, and the March with the Times (rogue’s
march though it be), and Mount Helicon, at the head of an invincible
phalanx, in the House, with unbounded popularity out of doors, an
English peerage--fewer points to the coronet--a seat in the
Cabinet--why not? But here we are at Tattersall’s;” and the future
statesman is infernally in want of a few hundreds, so now for “good
information, long odds, a safe man, and a shot at the favourite!”

As he walked down the narrow passage out of Grosvenor Place, now
bowing to a peer, now nodding to a trainer, now indulging in quaint
_badinage_, which the vulgar call “chaff,” with a dog-stealer, who
would have suspected the rattling, agreeable, off-hand Mount Helicon
of deep-laid schemes and daring ambition? Nobody saw through him but
old Barabbas, the Leg; and he once confided to a confederate on
Newmarket Heath, “There’s not one of the young ones as knows his
alphabet, ’cept the Lively Lord; and take my word for it, Plunder,
he’s a deep ’un.”

If a foreigner would have a comprehensive view of our system of
English society all at one glance, let him go into the yard at
Tattersall’s any crowded “comparing day,” before one of our great
events on the turf. There will he see, in its highest perfection, the
apparent anomaly of aristocratic opinions and democratic habits, the
social contradiction by which the peer reconciles his familiarity
with the Leg, and his _hauteur_ towards those almost his equals in
rank, who do not happen to be “of his own set.” There he may behold
Privy Councillors rubbing shoulders with convicted swindlers, noblemen
of unstained lineage, themselves the “mirror of honour,” passing their
jests for the time, on terms of the most perfect equality, with
individuals whose only merit is success; and that indescribable
immunity some persons are allowed to enjoy, by which, according to the
proverb, “one man is entitled to steal a horse, when another may not
even look at a halter.” But this apparent equality can only flourish
in the stifling atmosphere of the ring, or the free breezes of
Newmarket Heath. Directly the book is shut my lord is a very different
man, and Tom This or Dick That would find it another story altogether
were he to expect the same familiarity in the county-rooms or the
hunting-field which he has enjoyed in that vortex of speculation,
where, after all, he merely represents a “given quantity,” as a layer
of the odds, and where his money is as good as another man’s, or, at
least, is so considered. Nay, the very crossing which divides
Grosvenor Place from the Park is a line of demarcation quite
sufficient to convert the knowing, off-hand nod of our lordly
speculator into the stiff, cold bow and studiously polite greeting of
the “Grand Seigneur.” Verily, would-be gentlemen, who take to racing
as a means of “getting into society,” must often find themselves
grievously deceived. But Lord Mount Helicon is in the thick of it.
Tattersall greets him with that respectful air which his good taste
never permits him to lay aside, whether he is discussing a matter of
thousands with Sir Peter Plenipo, or arranging the sale of a
forty-pound hack for an ensign in the Guards; therefore is he himself
respected by all. “_You_ should have bought two of the yearlings, my
lord,” says he, in his quiet, pleasant voice; “Colonel Cavesson never
sent us up such a lot in his life before.”

“Ha! Mount!” exclaims Lord Middle Mile, with a hearty smack on his
friend’s shoulders, “the very man I wanted to see,” and straightway he
draws him aside, and plunges into an earnest conversation, in which,
ever and anon, the whispered words--“Carry the weight,” “Stay the
distance,” and “Stand _a cracker_ on Sennacherib,” are distinctly
audible.

“I can afford to lay your lordship seven to one,” observes an
extra-polite individual, who seems to consider the laying and taking
the odds as the normal condition of man, and whose superabundant
courtesy is only equalled by the deliberate carefulness of his every
movement, masking, as it does, the lightning perception of the hawk,
and, shall we add, the insatiable rapacity of that bird of prey? Mount
Helicon moves from one group to another, intent on the business in
hand. He invests largely against “Nesselrode” (not the diplomatist nor
the pudding, but the race-horse of that name), and backs “Sennacherib”
heavily for the Goodwood Cup. He takes the odds to a hundred pounds,
besides, from his polite friend, “who regrets he cannot offer him a
point or two more,” and, on looking over the well-filled pages of his
book, hugs himself with the self-satisfied feeling of a man who has
done a good day’s work, and effected the crowning stroke to a
flourishing speculation.

As he walks up the yard a quick step follows close upon him, a hand is
laid upon his shoulder, and a well-known voice greets him in drawling
tones, which he recognises as the property of our military Adonis, the
irresistible Captain Lacquers. “Going to the Park, Mount?” says the
hussar, with more animation than he usually betrays. “If you’ve a mind
for a turn, I’ll send my cab away;” and the peer, who cultivates
Lacquers, as he himself says, “for amusement, just as he goes to see
Keeley,” replying in the affirmative, a tiny child, in top-boots and a
cockade, is with difficulty woke, and dismissed, in company with a
gigantic chestnut horse, towards his own stables. How that urchin,
who, being deprived of his natural rest at night, constantly sleeps
whilst driving by day, is to steer through the omnibuses in
Piccadilly, is a matter of speculation for those who love “horrid
accidents”; but it is fortunate that the magnificent animal knows his
own way home, and will only stop once, at a door in Park Lane, where
he is used to being pulled up, and where, we are concerned to add, his
master has no business, although he is sufficiently welcome. “The
fact is, I want to consult you, Mount, about a deuced ticklish
affair,” proceeded the dandy, as he linked his arm in his companion’s,
and wended his way leisurely towards the Park.

“Not going to call anybody out, are you?” rejoined Mount, with a
quaint expression of countenance. “’Pon my soul, if you are, I’ll put
you up with your back to a tree, or along a furrow, or get you shot
somehow, and then no one will ever ask me to be a ‘friend’ again.”

“Worse than that,” replied Lacquers, looking very grave; “I’m in a
regular fix--_up a tree_, by Jove. Fact is, I’m thinking of
marrying--marrying, you know; devilish bad business, isn’t it?”

“Why, that depends,” said his confidant; “of course you’ll be a great
loss, and all that; break so many hearts too; but then, think--the
duty you owe your country. The breed of such men must not be allowed
to become extinct. No; I should say you ought to make the sacrifice.”

Lacquers looked immensely comforted, and went on--“Well, I’ve
made arrangements--that’s to say, I’ve ordered some of the
things--dressing-case, set of phaeton-harness, large chest of
cigars--but, of course, it’s no use getting everything till it’s all
settled. Now, _you_ know, Mount, I’m a deuced domestic fellow, likely
to make a girl happy. I’m not one of your tearing dogs that require
constant excitement; I could live in the country quite contentedly
part of the year. I’ve got resources within myself--I’m fond of
hunting and shooting and--no, I can’t stand fishing, but still, don’t
you think I’m just the man to settle?”

“Certainly; it’s all you’re fit for,” replied his friend.

“Well, now to the point. I’ve not asked the girl yet, you know, but I
don’t anticipate much difficulty there,” and the suitor smoothed his
moustaches with a self-satisfied smile; “but, of course, the relations
will make a bother about settlements, ‘love light as air,’ you know,
and ‘human flies,’ and that; still we must provide for everything.
Well, _my_ lawyer informs me that I can’t settle anything during my
brother’s lifetime, and he’s just a year older than myself--that’s
what I call ‘a stopper.’ Now, Mount, you’re a sharp fellow--man of
intellect, you know--’gad, I wouldn’t give a pin for a fellow without
brains--what do you advise me to do?”

This was rather a poser, even for a gentleman of Lord Mount Helicon’s
fertile resources; but he was never long at a loss, so as he took off
his hat to a very pretty woman in a barouche, he replied, in his
off-hand way, “Do? why, elope, my good fellow--run away with
her--carry her off like a Sabine bride, only let her take all her
clothes with her--save you a _trousseau_. Has she money?”

“Plenty, I fancy; from what I hear, I should think Miss Kettering
can’t have less than----”

“The devil!” interrupted Lord Mount Helicon, in a tone that would have
made most men start. “You don’t mean to say _you_ want to marry Miss
Kettering?”

“Well, I think _she_ wants to marry _me_,” rejoined Lacquers,
perfectly unmoved; “and you know one can’t refuse a lady; but it’s
only fair to say she hasn’t actually _asked_ me.”

Lord Mount Helicon felt for a moment intensely disgusted. Blanche’s
beauty, and her simple, pretty manner, had touched him, as far as a
man could be touched who had so many irons in the fire as his
lordship, but the impulse for _fun_, the delight he experienced in
quizzing his unsuspecting friend, soon overcame all other feelings,
and he proceeded to egg Lacquers on, and assure him of his undoubted
success, for the express purpose of amusing himself with the hussar’s
method of courtship. “Besides,” thought he, “such a flat as this
hanging about her will keep the other fellows off; and with a girl
like _her_, I shall have little difficulty in ‘cutting _him_ out.’” So
he advised his friend to take time, and “allow her to get accustomed
to his society, and gradually entangled in his fascinations; and then,
my dear fellow,” he added, “when she finds she can’t live without
you--when she has got used to your engaging ways, as she is to her
poodle’s--when she can no more bear to be parted from you than from
her bullfinch, then speak up like a man--bring all your science into
play--come with a rush--and win cleverly at the finish!”

“Ay, that’s all very well,” mused the captain, “that’s just my idea;
but in the meantime some fellow might cut me out. Now, there’s our
Major--D’Orville, you know (’gad, how hot it is! let’s lean over the
rails)--D’Orville seems to be always in Grosvenor Square. He’s an old
fellow, too, but he has a deuced taking way with women. I don’t know
what they see in him either. To be sure he _was_ good-looking; but
he’s a man of no education” (Lacquers himself could scarcely spell his
own name), “and he must be forty, if he’s a day. Look at this fellow
on the black cob. By Jove! it’s old Bounce, and talk of the
devil--there’s D’Orville riding with Miss Kettering next the rails.
This _is_ a go.”

Now, the little guileless conversation we have here related was hardly
more worthy of record than the hundred and one nothings by the
interchange of which gentlemen of the present day veil their want of
ideas from each other, save for the fact of its being overheard by
ears into which it sank like molten lead, creating an effect far out
of proportion to its own triviality. Frank Hardingstone was walking
close behind the speakers, and unwittingly heard their whole dialogue,
even to the concluding remark with which Lacquers, as he leaned his
elbows on the rails, and passed the frequenters of “the Ride” in
review before him, expressed his disapprobation of the terms on which
Major D’Orville stood with Blanche Kettering. Poor Frank! How often a
casual word, dropped perhaps in jest from a coxcomb’s lips, has power
to wring an honest, manly heart to very agony! Our man of action had
been endeavouring, ever since the Guyville ball, to drive Blanche’s
image from his thoughts, with an energy worthy of better success than
it obtained. He had busied himself at his country place with his farm
and his library and his tenants and his poor, and had found it all in
vain. The fact is, he was absurdly in love with Blanche--that was the
long and short of it--and after months of self-restraint and
self-denial and discomfort, he resolved to do what he had better have
done at first, to go to London, mingle in society, and enter the lists
for his lady-love on equal terms with his rivals. And this was the
encouragement he received on his appearance in the metropolis. He had
a great mind to go straight home again, so he resolved to call on the
morrow in Grosvenor Square, to ascertain with his own eyes the utter
hopelessness of his affection, and then--why, then make up his mind to
the worst, and bear his destiny like a man, though the world would be
a lonely world to him for evermore. Frank was still young, and would
have repelled indignantly the consolation, had such been offered him,
of brighter eyes and a happier future. No, at his age there is but one
woman in the universe. Seared, callous hearts, that have sustained
many a campaign, know better; but verily in this respect we hold that
ignorance is bliss. Frank, too, leaned against the rails when Mount
Helicon and Lacquers passed on, and gazed upon the sunshiny, gaudy
scene around him with a wistful eye and an aching heart.



CHAPTER XIV

TO PERSONS ABOUT TO MARRY

     A LOUNGE IN THE PARK--THE NOON OF FASHION--THE FAIR
     EQUESTRIAN--A LOVER ON FOOT--BOUNCE’S COMFORTERS--THE LAST ROSE
     OF SUMMER--A FRIEND’S ADVICE


It was high noon in the great world of London--that is to say, it was
about half-past five P.M.--and the children of Mammon were in full
dress. In the streets, gay, glittering, well-appointed carriages were
bowling smoothly along, with sleek horses stepping proudly together,
and turning, as coachmen say, on a sixpence, guided by skilful pilots
who could drive to an inch. Inside, shaded by parasols of the most
gorgeous hues, sat fair delicate women, dressed to the utmost
perfection of the art, with aërial bonnets at the very back of their
glossy hair and dainty heads, bent down as they reclined upon their
cushions till every upward glance shot from beneath those sweeping
eyelashes bore a tenfold shaft of conquest against the world. Anon
taper fingers in white kid gloves were kissed to a dandy on the
pavement, and the fortunate dandy bowed, and sprang erect again, a
taller man by an inch. ’Tis always judicious to _appear_ on the best
of terms with smart ladies in coroneted carriages. Bond Street was in
a state of siege--“Redmayne’s” looked like a beehive--“Hunt and
Roskell’s” resembled a flower-show--country cousins were bewildered
and overcome--quiet old gentlemen like ourselves were pining for their
strawberries and their roses--wearied servants meditated on the charms
of beer--the narrow strip of sky overhead smiled blue as the
Mediterranean, and the tide of carriages in Piccadilly was like the
roar of the ocean. In the Park, though the space was greater, yet did
the crowd appear no less--double lines of carriages blocked up the
drive by the Serpentine, and unassuming broughams with provokingly
pretty faces inside halted perforce amongst the matronage of England,
defiant in the liveries and escutcheons of their lawful lords. In the
Ride the plot was thickening still, and half a country seemed
to be gathering on “the broad road”--we speak literally, not
metaphorically--mounted on steeds worth a prince’s ransom, we ought to
say, but here our conscientious regard for verity compels us to stop
short, and to remark that although every now and then our eye may be
gladdened by that most beautiful of all spectacles, a handsome woman
on a fine horse, yet in many sorry instances the gentlemen of England,
who “sit at home at ease,” effectually prevent their wives and
daughters from enjoying a like sedentary composure, by mounting them
on the veriest “_rips_” that ever disgraced a side-saddle. “He’ll do
to carry a lady,” they say of some wretch that has neither pace nor
strength nor action for themselves, and forthwith gentle woman, blest
in her ignorance, tittups along, nothing doubting, upon this tottering
skeleton. Fortune favours her own sex, but _if_ anything happens a
woman is almost sure to be hurt. No--to carry a lady a horse ought to
be as near perfection as it is possible for that animal to
arrive--strong, fast, well-shaped, handsome, and fine-tempered, his
good qualities and his value should correspond with the treasure and
the charms which are confided to his charge. But we have said there
are exceptions, and Blanche’s bay horse, “Water King,” was a bright
particular star among his equine fellows. Humble pedestrians stopped
to gaze open-mouthed on that shapely form--the marble crest, the silky
mane, the small quivering ear, the wide proud nostril, and the game
wild eye--the round powerful frame, hard and smooth and well-defined
as sculptured marble, showing on the “off-side” its whole lengthy
proportions uninterrupted save by girth and saddle-flap, and the
little edge of cambric handkerchief peeping from the latter.
High-couraged as he was gentle, few horses could canter up the Ride
like “Water King,” and as he bent himself to his mistress’s hand,
snorting in his pride, his thin black tail swishing in the air, and
his glossy skin flecked with foam, many a smart philosopher of the
“_nil admirari_” school turned upon his saddle to approve, and drawled
to his brother idler, “’Gad, that’s a monstrous clever horse, and
_rather_ a pretty girl riding him.” Major D’Orville thought they were
a charming couple as he accompanied Miss Kettering and her steed with
the careful air of proprietorship seldom assumed save by an accepted
suitor. The Major was a delightful companion for the Park. He knew
everybody, and everybody knew him. He had the knack of making that
sort of quiet disjointed conversation which accords so well with an
equestrian _tête-à-tête_. Defend us at all times from a long story,
but especially on horse-back! The Major’s remarks, however, were
seldom too diffuse. “You see that man on the cream-coloured horse,” he
would say; “that’s Discount, the famous money-lender. He gave a dinner
yesterday to ten people that cost a hundred pounds, and he is telling
everybody to-day all the particulars of the ‘carte’ and the ‘bill.’ Do
you know that lady with the dark eyes and a netting all over her
horse?--that’s Lady Legerdemain--she keeps a legion of spirits, as she
says, and will raise the dead for you any night you like to go to her
house in Tyburnia proper.” “How shocking!” Blanche replies, with a
look of incredulity. “Fact, I assure you,” returns the Major. “Sir
Roger Rearsby asked to see an old brother-officer who was killed at
Toulouse, and they showed him his own French cook! but Lady
Legerdemain says the spirits are fallible, just like ourselves. Who is
this in uniform?--why, it’s ‘Uppy’--he don’t look very disconsolate,
does he, Miss Kettering?” and the Major smiled a meaning smile, and
Blanche looked down and blushed. “Some men would not ‘wear the willow’
so contentedly,” proceeded D’Orville, lowering his voice to
half-melancholy tone--“it’s setting too much upon a cast to ask a
question when a negative is to swamp one’s happiness for life. I
honour the man that has the courage to do it, but for my part I
confess I have _not_.” “I never knew you were deficient in that
particular,” replied Blanche, looking down again, and blushing deeper
than before. Blanche! Blanche! you little coquette, you are indeed
coming on in the atmosphere of London--you like the Major very much,
but you do not like him well enough to marry him--yet you would be
unhappy to lose him, you spoilt child!--and so you lead him on like
this, and look more bewitching than ever with those downcast eyes and
long, silky lashes. Notwithstanding their difference of years, our
pair are playing a game very common in society, called “Diamond cut
diamond.” “I am a thorough coward in some things,” returned D’Orville,
not without a flush of conscious pride, as he remembered how his
spirit used to rise with the tide of battle; “like all other cowards,
nothing would make me bold but the certainty of success.” He pressed
closer to “Water King’s” side, and sank his voice almost to a whisper
as he added--“Could I but hope for _that_, I could dare anything.
Could I but think that my devotion, my idolatry, was not entirely
thrown away, I should be----” The Major stopped short, for Blanche
turned pale as death, and her head drooped as if she must have fallen
from her horse.

What made the girl start and sicken as though an adder had stung her
to the quick? What made her lean her little hand for support on “Water
King’s” strong, firm neck? Because her brain was reeling, and
everything--joy--sunshine--existence--seemed to be passing away. Was
it for the mute reproach conveyed by that pale face amongst the
crowd--was it for the calm, broad eye, bent on her “more in sorrow
than in anger,” and seeming, as it gazed, to bid her an eternal
farewell?

Frank Hardingstone had seen it all. Unobserved himself among the
pedestrians that thronged the footway, he had marked Blanche and her
cavalier as they paced slowly down the Ride, had marked the girl’s
flush of triumph as her admirer drew closer and closer to her side,
had marked that nameless “something” between the pair which people can
never entirely conceal when they “understand each other,” and had
drawn his own conclusions from the sight. But the decencies of society
must be preserved, though the heart is breaking, and Frank drew
himself up and took his hat off with a bow that did honour to his
qualities as an actor. The old gentleman in gaiters and the tall boy
from Eton on either side of him never guessed the amount of mental
agony undergone by a fellow-creature whom they actually touched!
Civilisation has its tortures as well as barbarism. Blanche, too,
returned the courtly gesture, but her weaker nature was scarcely equal
to the effort, and had it not been that Uncle Baldwin had fidgeted up,
on the instant, in more than his usual hurry to get home, she was
conscious that her strength must have given way, and--feel for her,
beautiful and daring Amazons who frequent the Ride!--that she must
have burst into tears, and made a scene in the Park!

Now old Bounce, albeit a gentleman of extremely punctual habits, as is
often the case with those who have nothing to do, and, moreover, a man
of healthy appetite and a strong regard for the dinner-hour, had never
before betrayed such a morbid anxiety to get home and dress as on the
occasion in question. The fact is, he, too, was restless and excited,
although the sensation had its own peculiar charms for the veteran,
who entertained at sixty a spice of that romance which is often
erroneously considered peculiar to sixteen. Yes, “the boy with the
bow” no more disdained to take a shot at Bounce than at Falstaff, and
our old friend was even now balancing on the brink of that eventful
plunge which, if not made before “the grand climacteric,” it is
generally thought advisable to postpone _sine die_. Mary Delaval had
made an unconscious conquest. The feeling had been gradually but
surely developed, and the constant presence of such a woman had been
too much, even for a heart hardened by more than forty years of
soldiering, baked by an Indian sun, and further defended by triple
plies of flannel, worn for chronic rheumatism, and usually esteemed as
effective a rampart against the assaults of love as the “æs triplex”
of Horace itself. First the General thought, “This Mrs. Delaval was a
very nice creature. Zounds! it’s lucky for her I’m not a younger man!”
then he arrived at “_Beautiful_ woman, begad. _Zounds!_ it’s lucky for
_me_ she’s not half aware of her attractions!” and from that the
transition was easy and natural to “Sensible person; such manners,
such dignity; fit for any position in the world. Zounds! I’ll make her
Mrs. Bounce--do as I like--my own commanding-officer, nobody else to
consult--of course _she_ won’t throw such a chance away.” This latter
consideration, however, although he repeated it to himself twenty
times a day, had hitherto prevented the General from making any
decided attack. When a man, even an old one, _really_ cares for a
woman, he is always somewhat diffident of success, and Mary’s
sexagenarian suitor, though bold as brass in theory, was like any
other lover in practice. But the breakfast at the barracks had
wonderfully encouraged the General. He found Mrs. Delaval constantly
at his side. He knew nothing of her previous acquaintance with
D’Orville, still less could he guess at the secret which lay buried in
her heart, and which was fading her beauty and deepening her
expression day by day. How could he tell whose tears they were that
blistered the newspaper on that “African Mail” column?--so the natural
conclusion at which he arrived was, that the same charms which had
done such execution in India, and had driven the Cheltenham widow to
the verge of despair, were again at their old tricks; and that, having
succeeded in attaching the most adorable of her sex, it only remained
for him, in common humanity, to present her with all that was left of
his fascinating self. And now began in earnest the General’s qualms
and misgivings. It was a tremendous step; he had never done it before;
though often on the brink, he had always drawn back in time, and yet
many of his old friends had got through it. Mulligatawney had married
a widow--by the by, was Mrs. Delaval a widow? he never thought of
asking--perhaps her husband was alive! At any rate this state of
uncertainty was not to be borne, and after consulting one or two of
his old cronies, and getting their opinions, he would take some
decided step--that he would--ask the question, and stand the shot like
a man. The General agreed with Montrose--

    “He either fears his fate too much,
      Or his deserts are small,
    Who dares not put it to the touch,
      To win or lose it all.”

In pursuance of this doughty resolution, our veteran warrior took
advantage of his niece’s long _tête-à-tête_ with Major D’Orville to
drop behind on the black cob, and sound his two old friends,
Mulligatawney of the Civil Service, and Sir Bloomer Buttercup of no
service at all, save that of the ladies, on the important step which
he meditated taking.

“Lonely place, London,” said the General, reining in the cob, and
settling himself into what he considered a becoming attitude, “at
least for a bachelor. No solitude like that of a crowd.--What?”

“Better be alone than bothered to death by women,” growled
Mulligatawney, a thin, withered, sour-looking individual, with a long
yellow face. “I _like_ London, _en garçon_, only Mrs. Mulligatawney
always _will_ come up whenever I do. Egad, you bachelors don’t know
when you’re well off.”

“Poor bachelors,” simpered Sir Bloomer Buttercup, riding up with his
best air, he having dropped behind (a young rogue!) to make eyes at a
very smart lady on the _trottoir_. “Poor fellows, nobody lets us
alone, Bounce, and yet we’re perfectly harmless--innocent as doves. I
wish I was married, though, too; it fixes one, eh? keeps the butterfly
constant to the rose;” and Sir Bloomer heaved his padded chest with an
admirably got-up sigh, still shooting _oeillades_ at the nowise
disconcerted lady on the _trottoir_. You would hardly have guessed Sir
Bloomer to be sixty-five; at least, not as he appeared before the
world on that cantering grey horse. To be sure, he had his riding
costume on; riding hat, riding wig, riding coat, trousers, boots, and
padding; not to mention a belt, the loosening of which let the whole
fabric fall to pieces. They say he is lifted on his horse; we have
reason to believe he could not _walk_ five yards in that dress to save
his life. Perhaps if we saw him, as his valet does, divested of his
beautiful white teeth, his dark hair and whiskers, his florid healthy
colour, and that stalwart deep-chested figure of buckram and wadding
which encases the real man within, we might not be disposed to
question the accuracy of Burke’s “Peerage and Baronetage” in point of
dates. But as he sits now, on his high broke horse, in his
well-stuffed saddle, the very youngest of the shavelings who aspire to
dandyism call him “Buttercup” to his face, and plume themselves on
his notice, and quote him, and look up to him, not as a beacon, but an
example.

“You’re _right_, sir,” says the General, with his accustomed energy,
in a tone that makes the black cob start beneath him. “Don’t tell
me--should have married forty years ago. Never mind; better late than
never. Now, I’ll tell you, I’ve thought of it. We’re not to live
entirely for ourselves. How d’ye mean? I’ve thought of it, I tell
you!”

“_Thought_ of it, have you?” rejoined Mulligatawney, with a grim
smile; “then at _your_ time of life, Bounce, I should recommend you to
confine yourself to _thinking_ of it.”

“Not at all, my dear fellow,” lisps Sir Bloomer. “Bounce, I
congratulate you. Introduce me, _pray_. Is she charming? young?
beautiful? graceful? Happy Bounce--lucky dog--irresistible warrior!”
The General feels three inches taller, and resolves to settle the
matter the instant he gets home. But Mulligatawney interposes with his
sardonic grin. “No fool like an old one. You’ll excuse me, but if you
ask my advice, I’ll give it you in three words, ‘Do and Repent’;
you’ll never regret it but once--_experto crede_.” The General turns
from one to the other, like the Wild Huntsman between his ghostly
advisers, the Radiant Spirit on his white charger, and the Mocking
Demon on his steed from hell--he feels quite incapable of making up
his mind.

“Delightful state,” says Sir Bloomer;--“Always in hot water,” growls
Mulligatawney. “Lovely woman; affectionate nurse; take care of you
when you’re ill,” pleads the one;--“Cross as two sticks; open carriage
in an east wind; give a ball when you’ve got the gout,” urges the
other. “Interchange of sentiment; linked in rosy chains; heaven upon
earth,” lisps the ancient dandy;--“Always quarrelling; Kilkenny cats;
if you _must_ go to the devil, go your own way, but not in double
harness,” grunts the world-worn cynic: and the General turns his cob’s
head and accompanies his niece home, more perplexed than ever, as is
usually the case with a man when, bethinking him that “in the
multitude of counsellors there is safety,” he has been led into the
hopeless labyrinth of “talking the matter over with a few friends.”



CHAPTER XV

PENELOPE AND HER SUITORS

     RECONNOITRING--BLANCHE’S ALBUM--“SITTING HIM
     OUT”--CROSS-PURPOSES--A SMITTEN DANDY--HAIRBLOWER IN
     LONDON--THE TRUE-BLUE KAFFIRS--WETTING A PLANT--GOOD ADVICE--A
     CURE FOR LOW SPIRITS--THE REAL GLASS SLIPPERS


“Look who it is, Rosine!” exclaimed Blanche, as her maid rushed to the
window of her dressing-room, commanding as it did a view of Grosvenor
Square, and a peep at every visitor who came to that front door, which
was even now reverberating from a knock applied by no feeble hand.

“Il n’y a pas de voiture, mademoiselle,” replied Rosine; “ce n’est
qu’un monsieur à pied--mais il n’est pas mal, lui, je trouve.” The
latter observation escaped Rosine more as a private reflection of her
own than a remark for her lady’s ear, and was indeed no more than due
to the general appearance of Frank Hardingstone, as he stood at that
well-known door, his strong heart beating like a girl’s.

“Run, and say I’ll be down directly, Rosine, if it’s any one for me,”
said Blanche, her colour rising as she thought _who_ it was likely to
be, and wondered why he had not called before, and determined to
punish him and keep him waiting, and be very cold when they _did_
meet, and so show him that she did not choose to be accountable to
_him_ indeed for her actions, and would ride in the Park with whom she
pleased, and was utterly indifferent to his good opinion, and
independent of him altogether--and thus resolving, our consistent
young lady looked at herself in the glass, and was pleased to see that
her eyes were bright and her hair smooth, and that she should
confront Frank armed with her best looks, which proves how entirely
careless she was of that gentleman’s admiration.

In the meantime the object of all this severity was kicking his heels
in the spacious drawing-room appropriated to morning visitors, whither
he had been conducted by an elaborately polite footman, who after
informing him that “the General was _hout_, and Miss Kettering at
_’ome_,” made a precipitate retreat, leaving him to his own thoughts
and the contemplation of his well-dressed figure in some half-dozen
mirrors. Frank soon tired of these resources, and found himself driven
to the table for amusement, where he found the usual litter of
handsomely-bound books, costly work-boxes, grotesque paper-cutters,
and miniatures painted in all the glowing colours of the rainbow. He
was nervous (for him)--very nervous, and though he took one up after
another, and examined them most minutely, he would have been sorely
puzzled to explain what he was looking at. Nor did a contemplation of
Blanche’s portrait in ivory serve to restore the visitor’s composure,
albeit representing that young lady smiling with all her might under a
heavy crimson curtain. He shut up the case with a savage _snap_, and
replaced it with a bitter sneer. But if the representation of Miss
Kettering’s outward semblance met with so little favour, neither did
her album, which we may presume was the index of her mind, seem to
afford greater satisfaction to this discontented young man. It opened
unfortunately at some lines by Lord Mount Helicon, “addressed to B----
on being asked whether the disfigurement of the object was not a
certain cure for any man’s love,” and was entitled--

“THE FADED FLOWER.

    “I spied a sweet Moss-rose my garden adorning,
      With a blush at her core like the pink of a shell,
    And I wrung from her petals the dewdrop of morning,
      And gathered her gently and tended her well.
    For the bee and the butterfly round her were humming,
      To whisper their flattering love-tale, and fly;
    And too surely I knew that the season was coming,
      When the flower must fade and the insect must die.

    So deep in the shade of my chamber I brought her,
      And sheltered her safe from the wind and the sun,
    And cared for her kindly and dipped her in water,
      And vowed to preserve her when summer was done.
    Though dark was my dwelling, this darling of Flora,
      Like a spirit of beauty, enlivened the gloom;
    Yet more than I loved her I seemed to adore her,
      Less fond of her fragrance than proud of her bloom.

    But long ere the brightness of summer was shaded,
      My Moss-rose was drooping and withering away;
    Her perfume had perished, her freshness had faded--
      The very condition of life is decay.
    And now more than ever I cherish and prize her,
      For love shall not falter though beauty depart;
    And far dearer to me, because others despise her,
      That Moss-rose, all withered, lies next to my heart.”

“Rubbish,” growled Frank; “that any man in his senses should write
such infernal nonsense, and then have the face to put his name to it!
_His_ moss-rose, indeed! and this is what women like. These are the
coxcombs they prefer to a plain, sensible, true-hearted gentleman--put
wisdom, talent, courage, faith, and truth in one scale, and weigh them
against a soft voice, a large pair of whiskers, and varnished boots in
the other--why, the boots have it twenty to one! and it is for this
thoughtless, ungrateful, unfeeling, volatile, ill-judging sex that we
are all prepared to go through fire and water, sacrifice friends,
country, fame, position, honour itself! Blanche! Blanche is as bad as
the rest, but _I_ at least will no longer be such a fool. I have no
idea of becoming a _pis-aller_--a substitute--a stop-gap--if this
hair-brained peer should change his mind, and that warlike _roué_ find
some one he likes better than Miss Kettering. O Blanche! Blanche! that
I had never known you, or having known you, could rate you at your
real value, and give you up without a struggle!”

“How do you do, Miss Kettering? What a beautiful day!” Only the last
sentence of the foregoing, be it observed, was spoken aloud; Frank had
just schooled himself to the point of separation for ever, when the
door opened and Blanche entered, looking so exactly as she used, with
the same graceful gestures, and the same kind smile, that her empire
was, for the moment, completely re-established; and although she,
too, had meant to be very reserved and very distant, she could not
forbear greeting her old admirer with all the cordiality of bygone
days. These young people loved one another very much; each would have
given the world to pour forth hopes, and fears, and misgivings, and
vows, and reproaches, and pardons, into the other’s ear, but the lip
_will_ tremble when the heart is full, and they got no further than
“How do you do?” and “What a beautiful day!” Blanche was the first to
regain her composure, as is generally the case with a lady, perhaps
from her being more habituated to losing it--perhaps from her whole
training being one of readier hypocrisy than that of man. Be this how
it may, the deeper water, when stirred, is longer in smoothing its
ruffled surface; and whilst the lover’s lip shook, and his heart beat,
the girl’s voice was steady and tranquil, though she dared not trust
herself, save with the commonplace topics and every-day
conversation of society. They tried Chiswick--the new singer--the
Drawing-room--Lady Ormolu’s ball--the opera--and the Park; this last
was tender ground, and Blanche coloured to the temples when Frank
hesitated and stammered out (so different from his usual manly, open
address) that he “_thought_ he had seen her yesterday, and her horse
was looking remarkably well. By the by, was she not riding with----”

“Major D’Orville,” announced the polite footman, with the utmost
stateliness; and our handsome hussar made his appearance, and paid his
respects to Miss Kettering in his usual self-possessed and dignified
manner, contrasting favourably with poor Frank’s obvious embarrassment
and annoyance, now heightened by the intrusion of so unwelcome a
visitor at such an unlucky moment. A few seconds more might have
produced an explanation, a reconciliation--possibly a scene--but that
cursed door-knocker could not be still, even for so short a space; and
Mr. Hardingstone was once more at a dead-lock.

And now began another game at cross purposes, which, though not
uncommon amongst ladies and gentlemen who are of opinion that “two
form pleasanter company than three,” is, nevertheless, a dull and
dreary recreation when persisted in for any length of time. It is
termed “sitting each other out,” and was now performed by Frank
Hardingstone and the Major in its highest perfection. But here again
the man of war had an advantage over the civilian. Besides the
occupation afforded him by his moustaches, of which ornaments even
D’Orville acknowledged the value in a case like the present, he was
thoroughly at his ease, and consequently good-humoured, lively, and
agreeable; whereas Frank was restless, preoccupied, almost morose. He
had never before appeared to such disadvantage in Blanche’s eyes. But
if he hoped to obtain her ear by dint of patient assiduity, and an
obvious intention to remain where he was till dinner-time, he must
have been grievously disappointed, for again a thundering knock shook
the house to its foundations, and “Lord Mount Helicon” was announced
by the polite footman, with an extra flourish on account of the title.
His lordship greeted Blanche with the greatest _empressement_, nodded
to the gentlemen with the most hearty cordiality, as though rivalry
was a word unknown in his vocabulary, and settled himself in an
arm-chair by the lady’s side with a good-natured assurance peculiarly
his own.

“Do you ride to-day, Miss Kettering?” said he, with the most
matter-of-course air. “I promised the General to show him my famous
pony, so I have ordered ‘Trictrac’ (that’s his name) to be here at
five--perhaps you’ll allow me to accompany you.”

Frank looked intensely disgusted: he had brought no hacks to town, and
if he had, would never have proposed to ride with his lady-love in
such an off-hand way. Even the Major opened his eyes wider than usual,
and gave an extra twirl to his moustaches; but “Mount” rattled on,
nothing daunted: “We shall have Lacquers here directly. I met him as I
drove up Bond Street, coming out of Storr and Mortimer’s, and I taxed
him on the spot with the accusation that he was going to be married.
He couldn’t stand the test, Miss Kettering! he blushed--actually
blushed--and tried to get rid of me by an assurance that he was very
busy, and that we should meet again in the Park. But I know better;
he’s coming here, I can take my oath of it. His hair is curled in five
rows, and he never wears more than four, save for particular
occasions. He is very fidgety about his ‘chevelure,’ ‘_his_
chevalier,’ he calls it; and went the other night to hear ‘The
Barbiere,’ as he himself acknowledged, ‘to get a wrinkle, you know,
about dressing and shaving and all that.’”

Blanche laughed in spite of herself; and Frank, seizing his hat in
ill-concealed vexation, bade her a hurried farewell, and rushed out of
the house, just as the redoubtable Lacquers made his appearance, “got
up,” as Lord Mount Helicon had observed, with the greatest
magnificence, and fully resolved in his own mind to push the siege
briskly with the heiress, and at least to lose no ground in her good
graces for want of attention to the duties, or rather, we should say,
the pleasures of the toilette.

Poor Frank was very wretched as he stalked down the sunshiny street,
and almost vowed he would never enter _that_ house again. He felt a
void at his heart that quite startled him. He had no idea he was so
far gone. For a time he believed himself really and utterly miserable;
nor did the reflection that such a feeling was a bitter satire on his
boasted strength of mind--on that intellectual training of which he
was so proud--serve to administer much consolation. Like the ruined
gamester, who

    “Damned the poor link-boy that called him a duke,”

Frank felt inclined to quarrel with the world in general, and buttoned
his coat with savage energy when the poor crossing-sweeper held out
her toil-worn hand for a penny. He relented too, and gave her money,
and felt ashamed that he should have thought for an instant of
visiting his own afflictions on that hard-working creature, the more
so as a sailor-looking man in front of him had evidently given a
trifle to the poor industrious woman.

Frank thought he recognised those broad shoulders, that large, loose
frame and rolling gait; in another moment he was alongside Hairblower,
and clasping the delighted seaman’s hand with a warmth and cordiality
by no means less vigorously returned.

“The last person as I ever expected to come across hereaway,” said
Hairblower, his broad, honest face wrinkling with pleasure. “I little
thought when I came cruising about this here place as I should fall
in with friends at every corner; and pretty friends they’ve showed
theirselves, some on ’em.”

As the seaman spoke these last words in bitter and desponding tones,
Frank remarked that he looked pale and haggard; and though his clear
eye and good-humoured smile were the same as ever, he had lost the
well-to-do air and jovial manner which used to distinguish him at St.
Swithin’s. Frank asked if there was anything wrong: “You know I’m an
old friend, Hairblower; I can see something has happened--can I assist
you? At any rate, tell me what is the matter.”

The tears stood in Hairblower’s eyes, and again he wrung Frank’s hand
with a grasp like a vice, and his voice came hoarse and thick as he
replied, “God bless you, Mr. Hardingstone, you’re a real gentleman,
_you_ are, and though I’m a plain man and poor--_poor_, I haven’t five
shillings left in the world--you think it no shame to be seen walking
and talking with the likes of me in the broad daylight, and that’s
what I call _manly_, sir: no more didn’t Master Charlie--poor lad!
he’s far enough now; many’s the time he’s said to me, ‘Hairblower,’
says he--but that’s neither here nor there. Well, Mr. Hardingstone,
things has gone cross with me now for a goodish bit: the fishin’ ’s
not what it used to be, nor the place neither. Bless ye, I’ve seen the
day when I could take and put my ten-pound note on the old table at
home, ay, and another to the back of that! but times is altered now,
betterer for some, worserer for others. I’ve had my share, mayhap, but
I’ve been drifting to leeward a long while back, and I’ve had a deal
of way to fetch up. Well, sir, I’m pretty stiff and strong yet, and
the Lord’s above all, so I thought I might just get things together a
bit, and streak up here to London town, and so look out for a berth in
some of these here ships a-going foreign. I’ve neither chick nor child
to care for me at home, and I reckoned as a voyage wouldn’t hurt me no
worse now than five-and-twenty years ago. Well, sir, to make a long
story short, I got a bit o’ money together, as much as would buy me an
outfit and chest, and such like, for I meant to ship as second mate at
the worst, and I always liked to be respectable; and when I’d got
that I’d got _all_, but I didn’t owe no man a farthing, and so would
be ready to clear out with a clean breast. Lord, sir, what a place
this here town is for sights: go where I would there was something to
be seen. To be sure I hadn’t many shillings to throw away, and I just
looked straight afore me, and I never so much as winked at the mammon
horse, nor the stuffed sea-serpent, nor the biggest man in Europe, nor
the fattest woman, nor the world turned upside down, nor none on ’em,
till I was brought up all standing by a board, where they offered to
show me some True-blue Kaffirs, all alive and as dark as natur’. Well,
sir, I knew a very respectable Kaffir family once, on the coast of
Africa, where we used to land a boat’s crew, at odd times, for fresh
water and such like; and, thinks I, I’ll just go and have a peep at
the True-blues, and see if they remind me of my old friends. There
they was, Mr. Hardingstone, sure enough. Old True-blue was a stampin’,
and yellin’, and hissin’, and makin’ of such a disturbance as he never
got leave to do at home, and his wives, five or six on ’em, was
yowlin’, and cryin’, and kickin’ up the devil’s delight, as _I_ never
see them when they was living decently in the bush. Well, sir, when
the True-blues held on for a while to have their beer, the company was
invited to go and inspect ’em closer, and pat ’em, and feel ’em, and I
made no doubt they was Ingines myself, when I got the wind of ’em; but
just as I was castin’ about to see if I could fish up an odd word or
two of their language, only to be civil, you know, to strangers,
True-blue’s wife--she comes up and lays hold of me by the whiskers,
and grins, and smiles, and points, and pulls at ’em like grim Death;
and old True-blue himself--he comes up and has a haul, too, and grins,
and chatters, and looks desperation fierce, and so they holds me
amongst ’em. You see, Mr. Hardingstone, they’re not used to beards,
’cos it’s not their natur’, nor whiskers neither. Well, I looked
uncommon foolish, and the company all began to laugh; and I heard a
voice behind me say, ‘Why, it’s Hairblower!’ and I turns round, and
who should I see but an old friend of mine, by name Blacke, as was a
lawyer’s clerk at St. Swithin’s: _friend_, is he?” and Hairblower
ground his teeth, and doubled a most formidable-looking fist, as he
added, “if ever I catch him I’ll give him his allowance; _friend_,
indeed! I’ll teach him who his friends are.”

For a while the seaman’s indignation was too strong for him, and he
walked on several paces without saying a word, forgetful apparently of
his companion and his situation, and all but his anger at the unworthy
treatment to which he had been subjected. As he cooled down, however,
he resumed: “Well, Mr. Hardingstone, in course we went out together,
and we turned into a Tom-and-Jerry shop to have some beer, and spin a
bit of a yarn about old times; and I asked him about his missus, and
he remembered all the ins-and-outs of the old place, and I liked to
talk to him all about it, ’specially as I shouldn’t see it again for a
goodish while; and we had some grog and pipes, and was quite
comfortable. After a time, a chap came in--a big chap, in a white
jacket and ankle-boots--and he took no notice of us, but began
braggin’ and chaffin’ about his strength, and his liftin’ weights and
playin’ skittles and such like; and Blacke whispers to me,
‘Hairblower,’ says he, ‘you’re a strong chap; put this noisy fellow
down a bit, and perhaps he’ll keep quiet.’ Well, he kept eggin’ of me
on, and at last I makes a match, stupid like, to lift a heavier weight
than the noisy one. So the landlord, he brings in half-a-dozen
fifty-sixes, and I beats him all to rubbish. So he was somethin’ mad
at that, and offered to play me at skittles for five pounds, or ten
pounds, or twenty pounds; and I said it was foolish to risk so much
money for amusement, but I’d play him for a sovereign, ’cos, ye see,
my blood was up, and I wasn’t a-goin’ to knock under to such a
land-lubber as this here. ‘Sovereign!’ says he, ‘I don’t believe as
you’ve got a sovereign,’ and he pulls out a handful of notes and
silver, and such like; and, says he, ‘Afore I stake,’ says he, ‘let me
see my money covered; it’s my belief that this here’s a plant.’ ‘You
ought to be ashamed of yourself,’ says Blacke, the first time he spoke
to him; ‘_my_ friend’s a gen’l’man, and can show _the ready_ against
all you’ve got--coin for coin, and shillin’ for shillin’.’ With that I
pulls out my purse and counts my money down on the table--eleven
golden sovereigns and a five-pound note. So we gets to skittles quite
contented, and I puts my purse back in my jacket pocket, and gives it
to Blacke to hold. Well, sir, I polished him off at skittles, too, and
he paid his wager up like a man, and treated us all round, and behaved
quite sociable-like; so we got drinkin’ again--him and me and
Blacke--at the same table. After a time my head began to get bad--I
never felt it so afore--and the mixture I was drinkin’ of--gin it was
and beer--seemed to taste queerish, somehow, but I thought nothing of
it, and drank on, thinking as the stuff would soon settle itself; but
it didn’t though; for in a little while the room and the tables and
the chairs seemed to be heavin’ and turnin’ and pitchin’, and I felt
all manner of ways myself, and broke out into a cold sweat, and says
I, ‘I think I’ll go out into the fresh air a bit, for I’m taken bad,’
says I, ‘someway; but don’t ye disturb yourselves, I’ll soon be back
again.’ So Blacke he helped me out, and directly I got into the yard
where the skittles was, I see the place all green-like, and after that
I remember no more till I found myself on the landlord’s bed
up-stairs; and by that time it was ten o’clock at night, so I up and
asked what was become of my friend; and the landlord he told me both
the gentlemen was gone, and that they had said I didn’t ought to be
disturbed, and that I was _often so_; and they was goin’ away without
payin’ the score, but the landlord was a deep cove, and he wouldn’t
let them off without settling, so they paid it all, and so walked
away. Well, I got my jacket and walked away too; and all in a moment I
thought I’d _heard_ of such things, and I’d feel in my pocket to see
if my purse was safe. There was _the purse_ sure enough, but the
_money_ was gone, every groat of it--there wasn’t a rap left to jingle
for luck, Mr. Hardingstone. Well, sir, it all came across me at
once--I’d been hocussed, no doubt--they drugged my lush, the thieves,
and then they robbed me--and my old friend Tom Blacke, as I’ve known
from a boy, was at the bottom of it. The landlord, he thought so too;
but he was in a terrible takin’ himself for the character of his
house, and he gave me half-a-crown, and begged I’d say nothin’ about
it; and that half-crown, all but sixpence I gave just now to a poor
creatur’ that wanted it more nor me, is the whole of my fortun’, Mr.
Hardingstone. But it’s not the money I care for--thank God, I can work
and get more--it’s the meanness of a man I once thought well of.
That’s where it is, sir, and I can’t bear it. Blacke by name, and
black by natur’--he must be a rank bad ’un; and I’m ashamed of him,
that I am!”

Hairblower got better after making a clean breast of it. He had no
friends in London--none to confide in, none to advise him; and his
chance meeting with Frank Hardingstone “did him a sight of good,” as
he said himself, and “made a man of him again.” Nor was the rencontre
less beneficial to Frank. When a man is suffering from that imaginary
malady (none the less painful for being imaginary) which originates in
the frown of a pretty girl, there is nothing so likely to do him good
as a stirring piece of real business, to which he must devote all his
energies of body and mind. Byron recommends a sea-voyage, with its
accompanying sea-sickness; the latter he esteems a more perfect cure
than “purgatives,” or “the application of hot towels.” Not but that
these unromantic remedies may be extremely effective; but, failing
such counter-irritants, we question whether a visit to Scotland-yard,
and an interview with those courteous and matter-of-fact gentlemen who
preside over our well-organised metropolitan police force, be not as
good a method of cauterising the wound as any other, more particularly
when such a visit is undertaken for the express purpose of seeing a
friend through an awkward scrape. Frank soon had Hairblower into a
cab, and off on his way to the head-quarters of that detective justice
which is anything but blind; where the seaman, having again told his
unvarnished tale, and been assured that his grievances should meet
with the promptest attention, was dismissed, not a little comforted,
though at the same time most completely puzzled. Frank’s assistance to
his humble friend, however, did not stop here. He _liked_ Hairblower,
partly, it must be confessed, because the seaman was so strong and
plucky, and possessed such physical advantages as no man despises,
though he who shares them himself often rates them higher than the
rest of the world. Frank enjoyed associating with men of all sorts,
but more especially he relished the society of such daring spirits as
are accustomed to look death in the face day by day, in the earning of
their very subsistence, and to trust their own cool heads and strong
hands amidst all the turmoil of the deep, “blow high, blow low.” Many
a wild night had he been out in the Channel with his sailor friend,
when an inch or two more canvas, or a moment’s neglect of the helm,
would have made the reckless couple food for those fishes after which
they laboured so assiduously; and our two friends, for so we must call
them, notwithstanding their difference of station, had learned to
depend on each other, and to admire reciprocally the frame that labour
could not subdue, the nerves that danger could not daunt. So now the
gentleman talked the sailor’s affairs over with him as if he had been
a brother. He gave him the best advice in his power; he recommended
him to go back to St. Swithin’s to prosecute the fishing trade once
more, and with the same delicacy which he would have thought due to
one of his own rank, he offered to _lend_ him such a sum of money as
would enable him to begin the world again, and expressly stipulated
that he should be repaid by instalments varying with the price of
mackerel and the success of the fishing.

“If once you get your head above water, I know you can swim like a
duck,” said Frank, grasping the honest fellow’s hand, “so say no more
about it. We’ll have rare times in the yawl before the summer’s quite
done with; and till then, God bless you, old friend, and good luck to
you!”

As Hairblower himself expressed it, “you might have knocked him down
with a feather.”

How different the world looked to Frank when he parted with his old
companion from what it had seemed some few hours before, as he left
the great house in Grosvenor Square. There is an infallible recipe for
lowness of spirits, nervousness, causeless misery, and mental
irritation, which beats all Dr. Willis’s restorative nostrums, and
emancipates the sufferer more rapidly than even the famous “Ha! ha!
Cured in an instant!” remedy. When oppressed with _ennui_, the poet
says--

    “Throw but a stone, the giant dies!”

and so, when the bright sky above seems leaden to your eyes--when the
song of birds, the prattle of children, or the gush of waters, fall
dully upon your ear--when the outward world is all vanity of vanities
and existence seems a burden, and, as Thackeray says, “Life is a
mistake”--go and do a kindly action, no matter how or where or to
whom; but, at any sacrifice, at any inconvenience, go and do it--and
take an old man’s word for it, you will not repent. Straightway the
fairy comes down the kitchen chimney, and touches your whole being
with her wand. Straightway the sun bursts out with a brilliant smile,
the birds take up a joyous carol, the children’s voices are like the
morning hymn of a seraph choir, and the babbling of the stream woos
your entranced ear with the silver notes of Nature’s own melody. Those
are now steeds from Araby which seemed but rats and mice an hour or
two ago. That is a glittering equipage which you had scouted as a
huge, unsightly pumpkin. You yourself, no longer crouching in dust and
ashes, start upright, with your face to heaven, attired in the only
robe that preserves eternal freshness, the only garment you shall take
away with you when you have done with all the rest--the web of
charity, that cloak which covers a multitude of sins. You have,
besides, this advantage over Cinderella--that whereas her glass
slippers and corresponding splendour must be laid aside before
midnight, your enchantment shall outlast the morrow; your fairy’s wand
can reach from earth to heaven; your kindly action is entered in a
book from which there is no erasure, whereof the pages shall be read
before men and angels, and shall endure from everlasting to
everlasting.



CHAPTER XVI

FORGERY

     OUR HUMBLE ACQUAINTANCES--THE SCRATCH OF A PEN--A SCOUT’S
     INFORMATION--THE MAJOR’S MEDITATIONS, NOT FANCY-FREE


In the meantime, whilst the higher characters of our drama are
fluttering their gaudy hour in the bright sunshine of fashionable
life, whilst the General and Blanche and Mary, and Mount Helicon and
D’Orville and Lacquers, and all of that class are driving and dining,
and dressing and flirting, and otherwise improving their time, grim
Want is eating into the very existence of some amongst our humbler
friends, and Vice, too often the handmaid of Penury, is shedding her
poison even on the scanty morsel they wrest from the very jaws of
danger and detection.

Tom Blacke, as we have already seen, has overleapt the narrow boundary
which separates dissipation from crime; and poor Gingham knows too
well that opportunity alone is wanting to confer on him a notoriety
infamous as that which is boasted of by his more daring associates. He
is out now at all hours, chiefly, however, during the night, and
obtains supplies of money for which she cannot account, and about
which she has been taught it is better not to question him. He drinks,
too, with more circumspection than was his wont, and has dreadful fits
of despondency, during which he trembles like a child, and from which
nothing seems to arouse him save the prattle of his infant. He is very
diligent, too, in making inquiries as to the sailing of divers ships
for the United States; and, being a sharp fellow, has acquainted
himself thoroughly with the geography of that country, and the amount
of capital requisite to enable a man to set up for himself under the
star-spangled banner. He has already hinted to his wife that if he
could but get hold of a little money he should certainly emigrate; and
by dint of talking the matter over, Gingham, although she has a
dreadful horror of the sea, contracted at St. Swithin’s, is not
entirely unfavourable to the plan. Poor woman! she has not much to
regret in leaving England. Let us take a peep at their establishment
in the Mews, as they sit by the light of a solitary tallow candle, the
mother stitching as usual, though her eyes often fill with tears,
whilst ever and anon she glances cautiously towards the cradle, to see
if the child is asleep, and listening to its heavy, regular breathing,
applies herself to the needle more diligently than before. This is the
hour at which Tom usually goes out; but to-night he shows no signs of
departure, sitting moodily with his chair resting against the wall,
and his eyes fixed on vacancy. At length he rouses himself with an
effort, and bids Rachel make him some tea.

“I’m glad you’re not going out to-night, Tom,” says his wife; “I feel
poorly, somehow, and its lonesome when you’re away for long.”

“I’d never go out o’ nights, lass,” replies Tom--“never, if I wasn’t
drove to it. But what’s a man to do?--this isn’t a country for a poor
man to live in--there’s no liberty here. Ah, Rachel, you’re made for
something better than this; stitching away day after day, and not a
gown or a bonnet fit to put on. You’re losing your looks too--you that
used to be so genteel every way.” Mrs. Blacke smiles through her
tears; he has not spoken to her so kindly for many a long day.
“There’s a country we might go to,” he adds, looking sideways at her,
to watch the effect of his arguments, “where a man as is a man, and
knows his right hand from his left, needn’t want a good house to cover
him, nor good clothes to his back. We’d be there in six weeks at the
farthest--what’s that?--why, it’s nothing; and the child all the
better for the sea air. There’s a ship to start next Thursday, first
class, and all regular. In two months from this day we might be in
America; and they don’t _keep_ a man down there because he is down.
Rachel, I’d like to see you dressed as you used to be; I’d like to
bring up the little one to be as good as its parents, at least. I’d
like to be there now; why, the dollars come in by handfuls, and silk’s
as cheap as calico.”

How could woman resist such an El Dorado? How could such an inducement
fail to have its due weight? His wife feels that she could start
forthwith, but there is one insuperable difficulty, and she rejoins--

“Ah, that’s all very well, Tom, and we might get our heads above water
over there, it’s likely enough. But how are we to get to
America?--people can’t travel nor do anything else without money; and
where is it to come from?”

“_You know_,” replied Tom, with a meaning smile on his pale, anxious
face; and while he speaks the clock of a neighbouring church strikes
ten.

“Any way but _that_, Tom,” says his wife, with a shudder. “I’d do
anything, and bear anything for you; but not _that_, Tom--not _that_,
as you’ve a soul to be saved!”

“It must be that way, or no way at all, missus,” Tom hisses between
his teeth, keeping down his anger and a rising oath with a strong
effort. “I’ve done all _I_ can; it’s time for _you_ to take your
share. Why, look ye here, Rachel; a hundred pound’s a vast of money--a
hundred pounds is five hundred dollars. Oh, I’m not going blindly to
work, you may depend. If we could begin life with half that, over the
water, it would be the making of us. I’d leave off drinking--so help
me heaven, I would!--take the pledge, and work like a new one. You’d
have a house of your own, Rachel, instead of such a dog-hole as this;
and I’d like to see one of them that would take the shine out of my
wife on Sundays, when she was tidied up and dressed. Then we’d put the
little one to school, when she’s old enough, and we’d keep ourselves
respectable, and attend to business, and be a sight happier than we’ve
ever been in this miserable country. And all just for the scratch of a
pen; Rachel, d’ye think I’d refuse _you_ a trifle like that, if you
was to ask me?”

“O Tom, I never could do it,” says his wife; “good never would come of
such a sin as that.”

“Well, Rachel,” rejoins her husband, “there’s some men would make ye.
Well, you needn’t draw up so; I’m not going to come it so strong as
all that. Let’s talk it over peaceably, any way. And first, where’s
the harm? There’s Master Charlie, if ever he comes back from the wars,
isn’t he to marry Miss Blanche? And so it’s six to one, and
half-a-dozen to the other. And what’s a hundred pounds out of all
their thousands? Besides, didn’t the old lady mean to leave you as
much as that? and didn’t you deserve it? And if she had lived,
wouldn’t she have signed her own name; and where’s the harm of your
doing it for her? You can write like your old mistress, Rachel,” adds
the tempter, with a ghastly smile; “there’s pen and ink yonder on the
mantelpiece. Come!” Rachel wavers; but education and good principles
are still too strong within her, and she assumes an air of resolution
she does not feel, as she takes up her work, and replies--

“Never, Tom, never!--not if you was to go down upon your bended knees.
O Tom, Tom! don’t ask me, and don’t look at me so, Tom. I’ve been a
good wife to you; don’t ask me to do such a thing, Tom; don’t.”

Her husband pauses for a moment, as though nerving himself for a
strong effort, and answers, speaking every word distinctly, and as if
in acute physical pain--

“Then it must come out, wife; you must know it all, sooner or later;
and why not now? Rachel, _I’m wanted_--they’re looking for me, the
bloodhounds--it’s my belief they were after me this very morning. If I
don’t cross the seas on my own account, the beaks will send me fast
enough on theirs.”

“O Tom, Tom! what have you done?” interrupts his wife, clasping her
hands, and straining her eyes, dilated with horror, upon her husband’s
working features. “It’s not---- Tom, I can’t bring myself to say it.
You haven’t lifted your hand against another?”

“No, no, Rachel,” says he; “not so bad as that, lass, not so bad as
that; but it’s fourteen years, anyhow, if they bring it home to me.
_I_ must cut and run, whatever happens. Now, there’s some men would be
off single-handed, and never stop to say good-bye; but I’m not one of
that sort. I couldn’t bear to leave you and the child; and I won’t
neither. Rachel, do you mind the time when we sat on the beach at St.
Swithin’s, and what you said to me there? Well, dear, that’s past and
gone, now; but you’re not changed, anyhow. Will you do it, Rachel, for
_my sake_?”

The poor woman wavers more and more; she is white as a sheet, and the
perspiration stands in beads on her lip and forehead. Tom produces a
pen and ink, and a certain document we recognise as having lain in
Mrs. Kettering’s writing-case the night she died at St. Swithin’s. But
his wife shrinks from the pen as from a serpent, and he has to force
it into her fingers.

“It’s the _last time_, Rachel,” he pleads; “I’ll never ask you to do
such a thing again. It’s the _last time_ I’ll do wrong myself, as I
stand here. It’s but a word, and it will be the saving of us both; ay,
and the little one yonder, too--think what she’d be growing up to, in
such a place as this. You sign, dear, and I’ll witness--I can write my
own name, and my old master’s too; he’s dead and gone now, but he
didn’t teach me law for nothing.”

She does not hear him; her whole being is absorbed in the
contemplation of her crime. But she _does it_. Pale, scared, and
breathless, she leans over the coarse deal table; and though the
dazzling sheet is dancing beneath her eyes, and her hands are icy
cold, and her frame shakes like a leaf, every letter grows distinct
and careful beneath her fingers, and burns itself into her brain, the
very facsimile of her old mistress’s signature. The clock strikes
eleven; and at the first clang she starts with the throb of
newly-awakened guilt, and drops the pen from her failing grasp. But
the deed is done. From that hour the once respectable woman is a
felon; and she feels it. To-morrow morning, for the first time in her
life, she will awake with the leaden, stupefying, soul-oppressive
weight of actual law-breaking guilt; and from this night she will
never sleep as soundly again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tom prided himself, above all things, on being “up to trap,” as he
expressed it. He thought his own cunning more than a match for all the
difficulties of his situation and the vengeance of the law. He was
considered “a knowing hand” amongst his disreputable associates, and
had the character of a man who was safe to keep his own neck out of
the noose, whatever became of his comrades’. But, though a bold
schemer, he was a very coward in action, and his nerves were now so
shattered by hard drinking that he was almost afraid of his own
shadow. A bad conscience is always the worst of company, but to a man
not naturally brave it is a continual bugbear--a fiend that dogs his
victim, sleeping or waking--sits with him at his meals, pledges him in
his cups, and grins at him on his pillow. Tom possessed this familiar
to perfection. Like all “suspected persons,” he conceived his
movements to be of more importance in the eyes of Justice than they
really were; and although the “hocussing” and robbery of Hairblower
richly deserved condign punishment, he was suffering from causeless
alarm when he informed his wife that he was “wanted” on that score.
The truth is, the police were on a wrong scent. The landlord either
could not, or would not, give them any actual information as to his
guests; he “remembered the circumstance of the gentleman being taken
ill--did not know the parties with whom he was drinking--thought they
were friends of the gentleman--the parties paid for their liquor, and
went away, leaving the other party asleep--it was no business of
his--had never been in trouble before, he could swear--commiserated
the party who had got drunk, and gave him half-a-crown out of sheer
humanity--had known what it was to want half-a-crown himself, and to
get drunk too--was doing an honest business now, and thought publicans
could not be too particular.” So the blue-coated myrmidons of Scotland
Yard got but little information from Boniface; and for once were
completely at fault, more especially as Hairblower, _more suorum_, did
not know the number of the note he had lost--could swear it was for
five pounds, but was not quite clear as to its being Bank of England.
Under these circumstances, Tom, had he only known it, might have
walked abroad in the light of day, and put in immediate practice any
schemes he had on hand. Instead of this he chose to lie in hiding, and
only emerged in the evening, to take his indispensable stimulants at
one or other of the low haunts which he frequented. Men cannot live
without society; the most depraved must have friends, or such as they
deem friends, on whom to repose their trust; and Tom Blacke, in an
unguarded moment of gin and confidence, let out the whole story of the
will (though he was cunning enough to omit the forgery) and boasted
what an engine he could make of it to extort money from Miss Blanche’s
guardian, and how he was certain of getting _at least_ a hundred
pounds, and detailed the proposed plan of emigration, and, in short,
explained the general tenor of his future life and present fortunes to
Mr. Fibbes; of all which matters, though by no means a gentleman of
acute perception, that worthy did by degrees arrive at the meaning,
quickening his intellects the while with many pipes and a prodigious
quantity of beer. Now, Mr. Fibbes had been concerned in his earlier
youth in a business from which his size and his stupidity had
gradually emancipated him, but which, compared with his present trade,
might almost be called an innocent and virtuous calling. It consisted
in ascertaining by diligent and clandestine vigilance the relative
merits of race-horses as demonstrated by their _private trials_, and
is termed in the vernacular “touting.” What may be the _moral_ guilt
of such forbidden peeps we are not sufficient casuists to explain, but
it is scarcely considered amongst the least particular classes a
_respectable_ way of obtaining a livelihood. Nor did the association
gain additional lustre from the adhesion of Mr. Fibbes, who, until his
great frame grew too large to be concealed, and his hard head too
obtuse to make the best of his information, was the most presuming, as
he was least to be depended on, of the whole brotherhood. In this
capacity, however, he had made the acquaintance of Major D’Orville, a
man who liked to have tools ready to his hand for whatever purpose he
had in view; and Mr. Fibbes had been careful to keep up the
connection, by respectful bows whenever they met in the streets, or at
races, or such gatherings as bring together sporting gentlemen of all
ranks. On these occasions Mr. Fibbes would make tender inquiries after
the Major’s health, and his luck on the turf, and the well-being of
his white charger, and sundry other ingratiating topics; or would
inform him confidentially of certain rats in his possession which
could be produced at half-an-hour’s notice, without fail--of terriers,
almost imperceptible in weight, which could be backed to kill the rats
aforesaid in an incredibly short space of time--of toy-dogs surpassing
in beauty and discreet in behaviour--or of the pending match against
time which “The Copenhagen Antelope” meant to _square_ by running _a
cross_, or, in other words, losing it on purpose to play booty. Primed
with such conversation he amused the Major, who liked to study human
nature in all its phases, and they seldom met without a lengthened
dialogue and the transfer of a half-crown from the warrior’s pocket
into Mr. Fibbes’ hand; the latter accordingly lost no opportunity of
coming across his generous patron.

Now, Mr. Fibbes had observed, by hanging about Grosvenor Square and
making use of his early education, that Major D’Orville was a constant
visitant at a certain house in that locality; indeed, on more than one
occasion he had held the white horse at the very door which was
honoured by the egress and ingress of Blanche Kettering herself. We
may be sure he lost no time in discovering the name of the owner, and
mastering such particulars of her fortune, position, general habits,
and appearance as were attainable through the all-powerful influence
of beer; so when Tom Blacke made his ill-advised confidences to his
boon companion, omitting neither names, facts, nor dates, Mr. Fibbes,
who, to use his own words, was “not such a fool as he looked,” put
_that_ and _that_ together quite satisfactorily enough, to be sure he
had some information well worth a good round douceur, for the ear of
his friend the Major. And he waylaid him in consequence, the first
sunshiny afternoon on which, according to his wont, D’Orville appeared
in the neighbourhood of his lady-love’s domicile.

“Want yer horse held, Major?” said he, leaning his huge, dirty hand on
the white charger’s mane. “Haven’t seen your honour since we won so
cleverly at Hampton--no offence, Major!”

“None whatever, my good fellow,” said the Major, who, by the way, was
never in a hurry, though few men loved going _fast_ better; “none
whatever; but I’m busy now, I’ve no time to stop. Good-day to you.”

“Well, but, Major, see,” pleaded Mr. Fibbes, still smoothing the white
horse’s mane, “I’ve got something at my place you _would_ like to look
at--she’s a _real_ beauty, she is--I refused five sovereigns for her
this blessed mornin’; for I said, says I, no, says I, not till the
Major has seen her, ’cause she _is_ a rare one--not that you care for
such in a general way, Major, but if once you clapped eyes on
‘Jessie,’ you’d never rest till you got her down at the barracks. I
never see such a one.”

“Such a what?” inquired D’Orville, gradually waxing curious about such
manifold perfections.

“Why, such an out-an’-outer,” retorted Mr. Fibbes, half angrily; “none
of your _brindles_--I can’t abide a brindle--they may be good, but
they look so _wulgar_. No, no, Jessie’s none of your brindles.”

“Well, but _what_ is she, my good fellow?” said the Major; “I can’t
stay here all day.”

“_Bul_,” replied Mr. Fibbes, throwing into the monosyllable an
expression of mingled anger and contempt, which, having given the
Major sufficient time to digest, he followed up by the real topic on
which he was anxious to enlarge. “No offence, Major,” he repeated,
“but I’ve got something else to say--you’ll excuse me, sir--but you’ve
stood a friend to me, and I won’t see you put upon. Major, there’s a
screw loose here--it’s not _on the square_, you understand.”

“What do you mean?” said the Major, amused in spite of himself, at the
ungainly nods and winks with which Mr. Fibbes eked out his mysterious
communication.

“Well, Major,” replied his informant, “what I mean is this here. Some
men would hold out in my place, and I’ve seen the day when my
information was worth as much as my neighbours’; but when I’ve to do
with a real gent, why, I trusts to him, and he gives _what he
pleases_. Now, Major, look at that there house--it’s a good house
up-stairs and down, fixtures and furniture all complete, I make no
doubt--Major, there’s _a man of straw_ in that house.” Mr. Fibbes
paused, having delivered himself of this oracular piece of
information; but, finding his listener less interested in the
discovery of the artificial stranger than he had reason to expect, he
proceeded in his own way to clear up his metaphor. “What I says is
this--a bargain’s a bargain; now the young woman as owns that house
has got _the boot on the other leg_--my information’s _good_, Major,
you may depend on it; there’s another horse in the stable,
sir--there’s a young gent as owns all the property they keep such a
talk about; I won’t ask ye to believe my naked word, Major” (such a
request, indeed, would have been superfluous), “but what should you
say if I was to tell you--I’ve spoke to the party as has _seen the
will_?”

“Why, I should say that if you have any information that is really
well-authenticated, I’ll pay you fairly for it, as I always have
done,” replied D’Orville, unmoved as usual, though in his innermost
heart a tide of doubts and hopes and fears was swelling up, in strange
tumultuous confusion.

“Well, Major,” whispered his informant, “as far as I can learn, for I
ain’t no scholar, you know--but _as_ far as I can learn, there’s been
a will found, and by that will the young lady as owns this here house
don’t own it by rights, and can’t keep it much longer. There’s a old
gentleman as lives here, rayther a crusty old gentleman, so my mate
tells _me_, and he knows _nothing_ good or bad; but it stands just as
I’ve said, you may depend; and instead of Miss Kettering, if that’s
her name, being such a grand lady, why she’s no better off than I am,
and that’s _where_ it is. My mate wouldn’t deceive _me_ no more than
I’m deceivin’ you. Thank ye, Major, you always was a real gentleman;
thank you, sir, and good-day to you. You won’t come up and take a look
at Jessie?” So saying, Mr. Fibbes put his dirty hand, not quite empty,
however, into his pocket, and with a snatch at his rough hat, and an
awkward obeisance, took his departure, his linen jacket and
ankle-boots fading gradually in the direction of the nearest
public-house, whither he proceeded incontinently to “wet his luck,”
after the manner of his kind.

D’Orville laid the rein on his favourite’s neck, and paced along at a
slow, thoughtful walk, the white horse wondering, doubtless, at his
master’s unusual fit of equestrian meditation. And what were the
suitor’s feelings as he pondered over the news he had just received,
the downfall of his golden castles in the air, the blow which would
surely fall heavy on that bright, happy girl, whom he had been
endeavouring to attach to himself day by day? Did he mourn over his
withered hopes of wealth and ease? did he regret the melting of the
vision, and pine for the domestic future, now impossible, which he had
contemplated so often of late? or did he chivalrously resolve to give
his hand to a penniless bride where he had been wooing a wealthy
heiress, and to love her even more in her misfortunes than he had
admired her in her prosperity? Alas! far from it. Some fifteen years
ago, indeed, young Gaston D’Orville would have sacrificed his all to a
woman, almost to any woman, and been well pleased to throw his heart
into the bargain; but fifteen years of the world have more effect on
the inner than the outward man, and the boy of five-and-twenty thinks
that a glory and a romance which the man who is getting on for forty
deems a folly and a bore. The Major was not prepared to give up
_everything_, at least for _Blanche_, and his first sensations were
those of relief, almost of satisfaction, as he thought he was again
free--for of course this arrangement couldn’t go on; it would be
madness to talk of it now: no, he would make his bow while it was yet
time: how lucky he had never positively committed himself: nobody
could say _he_ had behaved ill. Of course he would take proper
measures to ascertain the truth of that rascal’s report; and if it had
foundation, why, he was once again at liberty. He had his sword and
his debts, but India was open to him, as it had been before, and a
vision stole over him (the hardened man of the world could scarce
repress a smile at his own folly)--a vision stole over him of military
distinction, active service, a return to England--and Mary Delaval. So
the Major drew his rein through his fingers, pressed his good horse’s
sides, and cantered off, but did not, _that_ afternoon, pay his usual
visit in Grosvenor Square.



CHAPTER XVII

CLUB LAW

     A VALID EXCUSE--AN ANONYMOUS LETTER--A RECIPE FOR
     ANNOYANCES--THE GENERAL ON THE PAVE--SECOND CHILDHOOD--RUNNING
     THE GAUNTLET--A SUIT OF CLUBS--SETTLED AT LAST--THE FRIEND IN
     NEED


“Who the deuce ever heard of ‘military duty’ interfering with dinner?
and what’s the use of being one’s own commanding-officer if one can’t
give oneself leave?--What?--read that, Blanche!” We need hardly
observe that it was General Bounce who spoke, as he tossed a note
across the luncheon-table to his niece, and proceeded to bury himself
in his other dispatches. The General was none of your dawdling,
half-torpid, dressing-gown and slipper gentlemen, who consider London
a fit place in which to spend the greater part of the day in
_déshabillé_--not a bit of it. The General was up, shaved, and rosy
and breakfasted, and prepared to fuss through his day, every morning
punctually at eight. On the one in question he had reviewed a
battalion of Guards who were at drill in the Park, utterly unconscious
of their inspection by such a martinet, and had been good enough to
express his disapprobation of their dress, method, and general
efficiency, to a quiet, unassuming bystander whom he had never set
eyes on before, but who happened to be a peer of the realm, and whose
son, indeed, commanded the very regiment under discussion. The peer
was quite alarmed at the denunciations of a casual acquaintance, so
fierce of demeanour and of such warlike costume, the General never
stirring abroad, for these morning excursions, save in a military
surtout, buttoned very tight, a stiff black stock and buckskin
gloves, armed moreover with a bamboo walking-stick, which he
brandished with great impartiality. After his strictures on the
sovereign’s body-guard he proceeded into the City by a hansom cab;
there was no cab-rebellion in those days, but, nevertheless, Bounce
succeeded in having a violent altercation with his driver, which
resulted in that observer of human nature setting him down for a
madman, and his own discomfiture on referring the dispute to an
impartial policeman. From thence he visited his stables, and
instructed divers helpers belonging to the adjoining mews in the
proper method of washing a carriage, a lesson received by those
worthies with much covert derision. The General was by this time ready
for “tiffin,” as he still called it--a meal at which, for the first
time in the day, he met the ladies of his establishment, read his
notes, letters, etc., and arranged with Blanche the details of the gay
life they were every day leading. That young lady, in a very pretty
morning-gown, now occupied the head of the table; Mary was up-stairs
with a headache--she was very subject to them of late--yet a skilful
practitioner might have guessed the malady lay elsewhere; and whilst
the General, with his eyebrows rising into his very forehead, perused
a dirty, ill-conditioned-looking missive, which seemed to afford him
great astonishment, his niece glanced over her military suitor’s
excuse for not dining with them, in which he expressed his regret that
duty and the absolute necessity of his presence in barracks would
prevent his having that pleasure, but did not as usual suggest any
fresh arrangements for rides, drives, or walks, which should insure
him the charms of her society. Blanche was a little hurt and more than
a little offended; yet, had she closely examined her own feelings, she
would probably have been surprised to find how little she _really_
cared whether he came or not. “Well, Uncle Baldwin,” she said, with
her usual merry smile, “you and I will dine _tête-à-tête_, for I don’t
think poor Mrs. Delaval will be able to come down. We shall not
quarrel, I fancy--shall we?” The General was dumb. His whole soul
seemed absorbed in the missive which hid his face, but, judging from
the red swollen forehead peeping above, indignation appeared to be the
prevailing feeling inspired by its contents. It was not badly
written, though in an unsteady hand, nor was it incorrectly spelt; it
bore no signature, and was to the following effect--

     “GENERAL BOUNCE,

      “Sir,--This from a friend.--Seeing that you would probably be
      averse to an exposure of family matters, in which Miss
      Blanche’s name must necessarily appear, a well-wisher sends
      these few lines to warn you that _all has been discovered_.
      The late Mrs. K.’s will has been found, in which she devises
      everything, with the exception of certain legacies, to C----.
      The writer has seen it, and knows where it is to be found. His
      own interests prompt him to make _everything_ public, but his
      regard for the family would induce him to listen to terms,
      could he himself be guaranteed from loss. General, time is
      everything: to-morrow may be too late. If you should be
      unwilling to disturb muddy water, an advertisement to X. Y.,
      in the second column of the _Times_, or a line addressed to P.
      Q., care of Mr. John Stripes, Bear and Bagpipes, corner of
      Goat Street, Tiler’s Road, Lambeth, would meet with prompt
      attention. Be wise.”

We regret to state that the General’s exclamation, on arriving at the
conclusion of this mysterious document, was of a profane fervour,
inexcusable under any provocation, and very properly amenable to a
fine of five shillings by the laws of this well-regulated country. It
was repeated, moreover, oftener than once; and without deigning to
explain to his astonished niece the cause of his evident discomposure,
was followed by his immediate departure to his own private
snuggery--by the way, the very worst and darkest room in the house,
whither our discomfited warrior made a tremulous retreat, banging
every door after him with a shock that caused the very window-frames
to quiver again.

“Zounds! I won’t believe it!--it’s impossible--it’s a forgery--it’s a
lie--it’s an artifice of the devil! Why, it’s written in a clerk’s
hand. ’Gad, if I thought there was a word of truth in it, I’d go to
bed for a month!” burst out the General, as soon as he was safe in his
own sanctuary, choking with passion, and tugging at the black stock
and tight frock-coat as if to put his threat of retiring into
immediate execution. It was one of his peculiarities, which we have
omitted to mention, to adopt this method of avoiding the common
annoyances and irritations of life. When anything went wrong in the
household, the General made no more ado but incontinently proceeded to
_strip and turn in_. When there was an _émeute_ below stairs, and
Newton-Hollows was in a “state of siege”--a calamity which occurred
about once in two years--the proprietor used to go to bed till the
disturbance had completely blown over. When the news arrived of Mrs.
Kettering’s death, her brother gave vent to his feelings between the
sheets, although he was obliged to get up within a few hours and
travel post-haste to join the afflicted family at St. Swithin’s; nay,
it is related of him that, on one occasion, when an alarming fire
happened to break out in a country-house where he was staying on a
visit, nothing but the personal exertions of his friends, who hurried
after him, and carried him off by force from his chamber, where he was
rapidly undressing, prevented his being burnt alive in his nightcap.
At the present crisis the General had already divested himself of
coat, waistcoat, etc., ere the sight of a clean change of apparel,
laid out ready for his afternoon wear, altered the current of his
ideas, and he bethought him that it would be wiser to walk down to his
club, amuse himself as usual in his habitual resorts, and thus drive
this impertinent “attempt at extortion,” for so he did not hesitate to
call it, entirely from his mind, than place himself at once _hors de
combat_ amongst the blankets. So, instead of his night-gear, the
General struggled into a stiffer black stock and a tighter frock-coat
even than those which he had discarded, and arming himself with his
formidable bamboo (how he wished the head and shoulders of his unknown
correspondent were within its range), strutted off to Noodles’,
feeling, as he cocked his chin up, and threw his chest out, and struck
his cane against the sunny pavement, that he was still young and
_débonnaire_, as in the _beaux jours_ at Cheltenham twenty, ay, thirty
years ago.

No place makes a man forget his years so much as London. In the great
city, one unit of that circling population rapidly loses his
individuality. There nothing seems extraordinary--nothing seems out of
the common course of events--there, it is proverbial, people of all
pretensions immediately find their own level. If a man thinks he is
wiser, or better, or cleverer, or handsomer, or stronger, or more
famous than his neighbours, in London he will be sure to meet those
who can equal, if not excel him, in all for which he gives himself
credit; and so if an elderly gentleman begins to feel at his
country-place that all around him speaks of maturity, not to say
decay--that his young trees, and his old buildings, and his missing
contemporaries, and the boy to whom he gave apples standing for the
county, and the village he remembers a hamlet growing into a town, and
all such progressive arrangements of Father Time, hint rather
personally at old-fellowhood--let him come to London, and take his
diversion amongst a crowd of fools more ancient than himself: he will
feel a boy again--Regent Street will not appear altered to his
enchanted eye, though they _have_ taken down the colonnade in that
well-remembered thoroughfare. Pall Mall is as much Pall Mall to him as
it was when he trod it in considerably tighter boots, never mind how
many years ago. At his club the same waiter (waiters never die) will
bring him the paper, and stir the fire for him, just as he used to do
when the Reform Bill was a thing unheard of, and he can contemplate
his bald head in the very same mirror that once reflected locks of
Hyacinthine cluster. He meets an old crony, and he is shocked (though
but for the moment) to find him so dreadfully altered--it is possible
the old crony, in his heart of hearts, may return the compliment, but
in all human probability he will greet the friend of his boyhood as if
he had seen him the day before yesterday. If a very demonstrative man,
and it should be before two o’clock in the day--for in the afternoon
our English manners are all squared to the same pattern--the old crony
may perhaps exclaim, with languid rapture, “Why, I haven’t seen you
_for ages_; I don’t think you were in London _all_ last season!” Why
should our gentleman from the country undeceive him, and tell him they
have not met for more than twenty years, and remind him with
mellowing heart of boyhood’s sunny hours and joyous escapades? The old
crony will only think him _a twaddle_ and _a bore_, and thank his
stars that he has stuck to London and the world, and his gods, such as
they are, and is a much _younger_ man of his age than his rustic
friend. And so our country mouse will find in a day or two that the
artificial sits quite as easily upon _him_. When he has visited two or
three of his old haunts he will feel as if he had never left them. He
will go, perhaps, to some well-remembered palace of revelry, and find
there, it may be, one contemporary out of a hundred with whom he once
drank deep of dissipation and amusement, but he forgets the other
ninety-nine. He feels as if the world had gone along with him, and
that threescore years and odd were, after all, as the French king’s
courtiers said, _L’âge de tout le monde_; so he lifts the cup of
pleasure once more with shaking hands to his poor, dry old lips, and
pours its flood, erst so luscious, over a palate, alas! deadened to
all but the intoxication of the draught. Why is it that we so
sedulously strive to deceive ourselves about the lapse of time? Why do
we so wilfully close our eyes to that certainty that every passing
moment brings an instant nearer? It must come! Why will we not look
the shape steadily in the face? We are not afraid to front our
fellow-man in the struggle for life and death; why should we shrink
from the shadowy foe, from whom there is no escape? Perhaps, like all
other distant horrors, it will lose half its terrors when it does
approach--perhaps it will turn out a friend after all. Man lives in
the future; can he not carry his future a little beyond life? Will it
be such a bereavement to lose a poor, old, worn-out frame, with its
gout and its rheumatism, and its hundred aches and pains, and burdens
dragging it day by day towards the earth from whence it sprung? But
where will the disembodied self find shelter? “Ay, there’s the rub,”
and so “conscience doth make cowards of us all.”

Well, young or old, boys will be boys, whether at one score or three,
and all the sermonising in the world will not empty St. James’s Street
towards four o’clock on a summer’s afternoon, or prevent one nose
being flattened against those club-windows from which the _terrarum_
_domini_ of the present day look upon the world with a mixture of
good-humoured satire and careless contempt. Stoics are they in manners
and principles, Epicureans in tastes and practice, and Philosophers of
the Porch on the clear bright evenings--or rather midnights--when they
assemble to smoke in gossiping brotherhood. But now, in the afternoon,
laws human and divine would vote it “bad style” to have anything in
their mouths save the tops of their canes and riding-whips, and these
are scarcely removed to make a passing remark on the unconscious
General as, having accomplished the crossing of Piccadilly, he sweeps
under the guns of battery No 1, on his way to his own resort, where he
too will stand at a window and make comments on the passers-by.
Talking of these batteries, we can recollect, old as we are, when we
preferred to thread the press of Piccadilly, and so dodging down Bury
Street to bring up eventually opposite Arlington Street, rather than
face the ordeal of passing under those great guns. Yet was our cab
well hung and well painted, our tiger a pocket-Apollo, and our horse
well-actioned and in good condition, while no one but ourselves and
the dealer who sold him to us could be aware of his broken knee. What
strategy wasted! What skill in charioteering thrown away! How should
we then, in our shy and sensitive boyhood, have winced from the truth,
that no one probably in that dreaded window would have thought it
worth while to waste a single monosyllable on anything so
insignificant as ourselves. Verily, _mauvaise honte_ is a
contradictory foible; but of this weakness the General, like most men
who have arrived at his time of life, has but a small leaven. He
toddles boldly down, under the battery, masked as it is by the _Times_
newspaper, and nods familiarly to a well-brushed hat and luxuriant
pair of grey whiskers just peering above the broadsheet. The whiskers
return the salutation, and a stout gentleman at the fireplace, where
he has been standing for the last three-quarters of an hour, hatted,
gloved, and umbrellaed, as though prepared for instant departure,
carelessly remarks, “Old Bounce is getting devilish shaky;” to which
the grey whiskers reply, “No wonder; he’s an oldish fellow now. Why,
Bounce’ll be a lieutenant-general next brevet. By the by, when _are_
we to have a brevet?” the whiskers forgetting, as after the lapse of
so many years it is natural they should, that they were at school with
“the oldish fellow,” who was then a “younger fellow” than themselves.
However, they have talked about him quite long enough, and pass on to
a fresh topic by the time the General himself arrives at Noodles’.

This very excellent and exclusive club seems to bear to institutions
of a like nature much the same relation that Greenwich and Chelsea
Hospitals do to the crews and battalions of our forces by land and
sea. Should the warrior who enlists under the banner of Fashion have
the good fortune to escape the various casualties common in his
profession, such as absenteeism, imprisonment, marriage, or any other
sort of ruin, he is pretty safe to anchor at Noodles’ at last. There
he brings up, after all his perils and all his triumphs, amongst a
shattered remnant of those who set sail with him in the morning of
life, when every wind was fair and every channel practicable. Many
have been lured by the siren on to sunken rocks, and gone down “all
standing”--many have lost their reckoning and drifted clean away, till
they can “fetch up” no more--many have been captured by crafts trim
and flaunting as themselves, and towed away as prizes into different
havens, where they ride in somewhat wearisome monotony--and of many
there is no account, save that which shall be rendered when the sea
gives up its dead. Yet a few crazy old barks have made the haven at
last--worn, leaky, and sea-worthless, with bulging ribs and warped
spars, and tackle strained, yet are they still just buoyant enough to
float--can still drift with the tide, and, above all, are still
disposed to take in cargo on every available opportunity. As London is
now constituted, you can almost tell a man’s age by the clubs he
frequents. “Tell me your associates, and I will tell you your
character,” says the ancient philosopher. “Tell me your club, and I
will tell you your age,” says the modern “ingenious youth,” as that
sporting Falstaff Mr. Jorrocks calls him, who begins with huge cigars,
gin and soda-water, and billiards, much bemused, at Trappe’s. Anon, as
his collars get higher, and the down upon his cheek begins to justify
a nobler ambition, he aspires to the science of numbers, and lays the
odds to more experienced calculators at “The Short-Grass.” But our
youth is becoming a man-about-town, or thinks he is, and must have the
_entrée_ to more than one of these luxurious republics; so according
to his rank, his profession, or his pretensions, he affects another
afternoon club, esteeming it, whichever it may be, the best and _most
select_ in London. Here he has a plentiful choice. If a professional
or a politician, he will find associations purposely established for
those of his own practice or opinions; and here they are looming like
a city of palaces--the Conflagrative, the Anarchic, the Regency, the
Hat-and-Umbrella, the Chelsea, and the Peace and Plenty. Is there not
the Megatherium for the literary, and the Munchausen for the
travelled? But peradventure our youth is fast, and aspires to be a man
of figure; so shall his carriage be seen waiting at the Godiva, or
himself shall face the ballot at Blight’s. For a time all goes on
smooth and sunny; but the young ones keep growing up, and they rather
jostle him in his chair, and “people let in such boys now-a-days”; so
in disgust he abdicates a sovereignty conferred by years, and retreats
to quieter resorts, where the cutlet is equally well dressed and the
wine a thought better. So we find him presiding over house-dinners at
Alfred’s, or winning the odd trick after a quiet _parti carré_ at
Snookes’s. But even from these celestial seats he must be ousted at
last. Still that pressure from below keeps increasing year by year,
“and the young men of the present day are so slangy, and so noisy, and
so disagreeable,” that he can stand it no longer, and puts his name
down for the first vacancy in that last refuge recommended by his old
friend Sapless. Behold him at length shouldered into the harbour, and
safely landed at Noodles’.

Thither we have likewise brought the General, and given him ample time
to spell through the papers, and reconnoitre his acquaintance as they
pass up and down St. James’s Street. But the General is ill at
ease--he cannot get that infernal anonymous letter out of his head; do
what he will, he cannot prevent himself from glancing at the second
column of the _Times_, and poring over a map of London in search of
Goat Street, Tiler’s Road, Lambeth. He fancies, too, as a man is apt
to do when self-conscious of anything peculiar, that people look at
him strangely; and if two men happen to whisper in a window, he cannot
help thinking they must be talking about him. At last he gets nervous,
and determines to take counsel of a friend; nor is he long in
selecting a recipient for his sorrows, inasmuch as the most remarkable
object in the room is Sir Bloomer Buttercup, who is standing in an
attitude near the fireplace (Sir Bloomer, for certain mechanical
reasons, cannot sit down in that particular pair of trousers), and to
him the General resolves to confide his annoyances, and by his advice
determines to abide. Although, probably, no man in this world ever
managed his own affairs so badly as Sir Bloomer Buttercup--partly, it
must be owned, in consequence of his having the most generous heart
that ever beat under three inches of padding--yet in all matters
unconnected with self, his judgment was as sound as his penetration
was remarkable. No man had got his friends out of so many scrapes, no
man had given such good counsel, and no man had probably done so many
foolish things as kind, good-natured Sir Bloomer; and when he minced
after the General into an empty room on those poor, gouty, shiny toes,
he really felt as ready as he expressed himself, to “see his old
friend through it, whatever it was.”

“I’ll tell you what, Bounce,” lisped the old beau, as the General
concluded his tale with that most puzzling of questions, “What would
you advise me to do?”--“I’ll tell you what. I think I know a fellow
that can sift this for us to the bottom. You know, my dear boy, that I
have occasionally been in slight difficulties--merely temporary, of
course, and entirely owing to circumstances over which I had no
control” (Sir B. had spent two fortunes, and was now living on the
recollection of them, and the possible reversion of a third)--“but
still difficulties--eh?--a ten-knot breeze was always more to my fancy
than a calm. Well, I’ve been brought in contact with all kinds of
fellows, and I do know one man, a sort of a lawyer, that’s in with
every rogue in London. He could get to the rights of this in
twenty-four hours if we made it worth his while. He’s a clever
fellow,” added Bloomer reflectively, “a very clever fellow; in fact, a
most consummate rascal. Shall I take you to him?”

“This instant,” burst out the General, with a terrific snatch at the
bell; “I’ll send for my brougham--what?--it’ll be here in five
minutes. Zounds! not go in a brougham? Why not?”

Sir Bloomer had frightful misgivings as to the effects on his costume
of the necessary attitude in which carriage exercise must be taken;
but in the cause of friendship he was prepared to hazard even a
rupture of the most important ties, and he replied heroically, “I’ll
see you through it, Bounce; what o’clock is it? Ah! I promised--never
mind--they must be disappointed sometimes; and for the sake of your
charming niece, I’d go through fire and water a good deal farther than
the City. Bounce, Bounce, what an angel that girl is! She mustn’t be
told a syllable of this--not a syllable; with me, of course, it’s
secret as the grave.” So the pair started, firmly persuaded that not a
soul in London, save their two selves, knew a word about the letter,
or the will, or the dethronement of poor little Blanche from her
pedestal as an heiress.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE STRICTEST CONFIDENCE

     KEEPING A SECRET--LADY MOUNT HELICON “AT HOME”--A CHAPTER OF
     FINANCE--WHY LACQUERS WENT TO THE BALL--EXOTICS IN A
     CONSERVATORY--MRS. BLACKLAMB AND HER CAVALIER--IMPORTANT
     DISCLOSURES--A LONG WAY OFF, AND FARTHER THAN THAT


You must be an individual of an equally sanguine temperament and
confiding disposition, if you believe that what you impart to your
neighbour in the modern Babylon under seal of the strictest secrecy,
might not as well be published in the leading article of the _Times_
newspaper. How “things get about” is one of those inexplicable
mysteries for which nobody is able or willing to account. Some people
lay it to servants--some to the amiable generosity in imparting
information for which the fair sex are so remarkable; the latter,
again, say that “every bit of scandal in London originates at those
horrid clubs!” but few will allow that Rumour owes a large portion of
her ubiquity to that organisation of mankind which makes a secret
utterly valueless unless shared with another. What is the use of
knowing something we must not tell? In the strictest confidence, of
course, it was told us under promise that we would not breathe a
syllable to a single soul--we only make an exception in your favour
under the same solemn obligation. You, of course, in mysterious
conclave with Tom, will bear in mind our prohibition, and, acting as
we have done, Tom shall become a party to the treason. Still upon
oath, it will not be long, we think, before Jack and Harry are
empowered to join chorus, and whilst our cherished mystery becomes
patent to the world in general, we ourselves feel completely absolved
from the consequences of our breach of trust. In the whole of Lady
Mount Helicon’s crowded rooms to-night, we believe Blanche herself is
the only person that is not aware of her own precarious position; and
the girl, happy in her ignorance, looks brighter and more blooming
than usual, though _the world_ will admire her less on this occasion
than it has ever done before. Yes, this is one of Lady Mount Helicon’s
“At Homes,” with a small italicised “_Dancing_” in the corner; and a
very brilliant affair it is, as the hostess herself is fully
persuaded:--the front and back drawing-room, and the boudoir beyond
that, are thrown open and lighted with dazzling brilliancy, whilst a
softer lustre shed upon the conservatory and balcony, craftily covered
in for the purpose, lures to those irresistible man-traps without
betraying their insidious design. Below stairs, libraries and
school-rooms and other resorts, devoted in every-day life to far more
practical uses, are now cleared and emptied for the reception of
shawls, cloaks, and coverings, and the production of countless cups of
tea and glasses of lemonade. Lady Mount Helicon’s own maid, in a
toilette of gorgeous magnificence, presides over this department,
casting the while glances of covert scorn and envy at a younger and
prettier assistant in a more becoming cap, on whom the dandies, as
they enter, impress with unnecessary circumlocution the propriety
of taking great care of their gregos, paletôts, and other
sheep’s-clothing. In the dining-room preparations are making for a
“stand-up supper” of unparalleled luxury, but we think it right to
warn the champagne-drinking guests, that on passing the door in the
morning we spied several hampers of that popular fluid, labelled with
the _maker’s name_, and much as we admire its chemical preparation and
laudable cheapness, we are concerned to admit that “the splendid
sparkling of that house at 45_s._” always disarranges our internal
economy for several days after an indulgence in its delights. Mount
Helicon himself never drinks his mother’s champagne, and to his
abstinence he attributes his own unfailing health. At Dinadam’s, or
Lord Long-Acre’s, or Wassailworth, he does not by any means practise
the same self-denial. Still it is doubtless good enough for a ball,
and what with the young ladies, and the old gentlemen, and the
servants, will experience a very fair consumption. A bearded band
meanwhile is in waiting up-stairs, elaborately dressed, and from the
conductor in white kid gloves to _the Piccolo_ in a chin-tuft,
rejoicing in boots of jetty brilliancy, and neckcloths dazzling with
starch. The whole establishment is so utterly at variance with its
usual routine, and the house looks so entirely changed when thus
stripped and lighted for reception, that if the old lord, who never
permitted these _bouleversements_, could but come back, he would
scarcely recognise his former home, and would unquestionably be glad
to return to the quiet of his family vault. The presiding genius of
the scene, the hostess herself, is already at her post. A very capital
dressmaker, an abundance of well-selected jewellery, and a mysterious
compound much enhancing the beauty of the human hair, have turned her
out a very personable dame, and as she stands in the middle of her
ball-room, as yet “monarch of all she surveys,” and spreads her
rustling folds, and buttons her well-fitting gloves, the possibility
of her marrying again seems no such absurdity after all, nor does she
herself look upon such an event as by any means a remote contingency.
But soon the knocker is at work, the chariot wheels are clattering in
the street, and stentorian voices, louder in proportion to their
indistinctness, announce the fast-arriving guests. Unlike a country
ball, the feathers of the ladies require but little shaking after a
short drive from the next street, nor, fresh from their own impartial
mirrors, need they hazard the opinion of perhaps an unbecoming
reflector; so they troop up-stairs with small delay, their glossy
locks, white shoulders, and gossamer draperies showing to the greatest
advantage in the well-lighted ball-room. The earliest arrivals of
course receive the most affectionate greeting, proportionately
decreased as the plot thickens, till the shake by both hands, and
graceful little compliment about “looking so well,” subsides into a
stately courtesy and the coldest welcome good-breeding, not
hospitality, will admit. At last all individual figures are well-nigh
lost in the crush. A mass of charming dresses and well-made coats are
swaying and struggling in the doorways, the band is pealing forth a
melody of Paradise, and the votaries of the quadrille are striving to
adhere to their superstitious evolutions by treading on each other’s
toes, entangling each other’s dresses, begging each other’s pardon,
and generally complaining of the heat of the atmosphere and crowded
state of the room. It is at this juncture that “General Bounce” and
“Miss Kettering” make their appearance, the General having placed a
guard upon his lips, and neither during the dinner nor the drive
hinted at his misgivings and inner discomfiture. “Poor Blanche!” he
mutters, as he follows her up the wide, stately staircase; “she’ll
know it soon enough, if it’s true--zounds! a girl like that would be a
prize without a penny--the young fellows now-a-days are not like what
_we_ used to be.” And as the General arrived at this conclusion he
bowed his bald head nearly into Lady Mount Helicon’s bosom, in return
for her stately, measured greeting. That greeting, both to himself and
Blanche, was colder than usual; the girl, frank and unconscious, did
not perceive the change, but her uncle caught himself saying, almost
aloud, “Zounds! is it possible that this old cat knows it too?” The
music ceased, the dancers walked about, the wrongly-paired ones
looking for “mamma,” or “my aunt,” inwardly longing to get rid of each
other, and glancing in every direction for their own particular
vanities, the more fortunate couples likewise keeping a sharp look-out
for the chaperons, but this in order to avoid them, and hinting that
“It’s much cooler on the staircase,” or “Have you seen the
conservatory?” to prolong the delicious interview. The tea-room begins
to fill, and incautious youth presses that domestic beverage on beauty
nothing loth, nor reflects that charming as are those ringlets
drooping over the cup, and rosy as are the lips that whisper their
soft affirmative, it would be as well that he should distinctly know
his own mind as to whether he would like this celestial being to make
tea for him during the rest of his life, and whether it would be
always as sweet as it is now. For the first time in her experience of
a London season Blanche, begins to think it a “stupid ball.” She has
not yet been asked to dance; and spoilt by her previous successes, she
feels hurt at the neglect. “The best men,” as they are called, have
not yet, indeed, arrived--if, as is somewhat uncertain, they will come
at all, for they sometimes throw Lady Mount Helicon over; and “Mount”
himself is still detained at the “House.” But there are plenty of
beardless dandies and gay young guardsmen, who are far more prone to
dance; and yet they all seem to keep aloof. To be sure, whenever they
_have_ asked her formerly she has always been “engaged”; but she would
like to stand up now, even with young Deadlock, if it was only for
“the look of the thing.” However, she hangs contentedly on the
General’s arm, and “bides her time.” It is not long coming. A tall,
good-looking man, with features expressive only of a kind disposition
and a general air of self-satisfaction, bows and sidles and screws
himself towards Blanche and her chaperon, receiving as his natural
homage the smiles of the old ladies on whose toes he is treading, and
regardless of the imploring looks of the young ones who hope he is
going to ask them to dance. His glossy hair is curled distinctly in
five rows, which, according to Lord Mount Helicon’s account, betokens
weighty intentions; and it is no other than our friend Captain
Lacquers, who has dined temperately, abjured his usual cigar, and come
here for the especial purpose of meeting Miss Kettering. A bow, an
indistinct murmur about “not engaged,” and “honour,” and “delighted,”
and the couple are off, tripping gracefully round amongst the whirling
confusion of the _Valse des Fantassins_, truly “a mighty maze, but not
without a plan.”

To explain the intentions of our rotatory hussar, we must take the
liberty of putting the clock back a few hours--an impossibility only
permitted to the novelist--and record a conversation which took place
between Lacquers and his friend Sir Ascot that very afternoon, in a
secluded window of the Godiva Club.

“Well out of this business about Miss Kettering,” said the latter, who
was becoming more communicative since he had found so little
difficulty in speaking his mind to Blanche on a previous occasion.
“You’ve heard of the smash? Not a penny, after all. Downright
swindling, I call it--that old Bounce must be a deep one. They tell me
that, except the life-interest of the house in Grosvenor Square, she
hasn’t a brass farthing. It’s frightful to think of,” added the old
head on young shoulders, scanning with rigid attention his companion’s
face, in which concern was more apparent than surprise.

“Poor thing, poor thing” rejoined Lacquers; “I had no idea it was so
bad as that. They told me she was sure to have Newton-Hollows, at any
rate. She must feel it sadly, poor girl; I wonder how she looks since
it all came out.”

“Oh, I fancy very few people know it as yet,” suggested Sir Ascot, who
was somewhat uncharitable in his conclusions. “I daresay they’ll try
to brazen it out, at least till the end of the season. They may if
they like, for all I care. I never knew any good come of these
_half-bred_ ones, and _I’ll_ have nothing more to do with them!”

Lacquers heard as though he heard him not. He was trying to think, and
his well-cut features were gathered into an expression of hopeless
perplexity, at which his companion could scarce forbear laughing
outright. At last he had recourse to the never-failing moustache; and
drawing inspiration from its touch, he began--

“Uppy, you’re a safe fellow--eh?--wouldn’t throw a fellow over, and
put him in the hole, you know. You’ve got some brains, too--made a
capital book on the Ascot Stakes. Now you understand finance and
arithmetic, and that--what should _you_ say a married fellow could
live upon? Of course he wouldn’t require so many luxuries as a single
one; but what do you think, now, a fellow like _me_, for instance,
could do with?”

Sir Ascot looked completely taken aback. “Why, you’d never be such a
fool as to think of----”

“That’s neither here nor there, old boy,” interrupted Lacquers; “of
course if I _do_ you shall have the earliest intelligence. But come,
here’s a book and a pencil; let’s see how the thing would work with
good management and strict economy. _Strict economy_, you know, of
course.” Lacquers had a great idea, _in theory_, of strict economy. So
the young man sat down, and went deep into the various items of rent,
and stable expenses, and opera-boxes and pin-money, and cigars and
travelling; Sir Ascot arriving at the conclusion that a quiet couple
might manage to exist upon something over two thousand a year; whilst
Lacquers thought it was to be done, with _strict economy_, of course,
for about five hundred less; but as they both entirely overlooked an
indispensable item termed “housekeeping,” we think it needless to
record their calculations for the benefit of the inexperienced.

“Well,” said Lacquers, when he had finished his arithmetic and put his
betting-book once more into his pocket, “I think it can be done--I
believe a fellow _ought_ to marry, you know; what does Shakespeare say
about ‘Solitude being born a twin’? it certainly sobers him”--(Sir
Ascot smiled as he admitted that was undoubtedly a strong
argument)--“and altogether married fellows get into more respectable
habits. Look at a breakfast in a country-house; you see all the
married ones up and dressed with the lark, while the single men come
dawdling down at all hours. Yes, there’s a good deal to be said on
both sides, like a Chancery lawsuit; but I’ll think it over, Uppy, my
boy, I’ll think it over.” And Lacquers did think it over, and arrived
at a conclusion as honourable to his heart as it was antagonistic to
that worldly wisdom by which all with whom he associated thought it
right to regulate their every action. Here was a man spoilt by the
accident of personal beauty and good birth and position. From his
earliest boyhood he had never been taught that there was any ulterior
object in life save to shine in society, if not intellectually, why,
physically, with a handsome person and fine clothes--a far more
effectual passport than all the talents to the good graces of the
world. What wonder that the tree grew up as it had been bent? what
wonder that the hussar had scarcely two ideas beyond his uniform and
his betting-book, and his seat upon a horse? that he looked on the
world at large as the butterfly on the sunny square enclosed by the
garden wall--a mere stage for display, a mere hot-bed for physical
enjoyment, to be got the most out of during the bright, gaudy hours of
noon; and afterwards--why, afterwards, when the sun goes down and the
chill dews of evening clog his fading wings--the butterfly must do the
best he can, and perish as he may. With such an education, the sole
manly quality left was courage, and it was only the touchstone of a
gentle face like Blanche’s that brought out the latent generosity of a
character overlaid with faults, for which its training was more to
blame than its organisation. We are obliged to confess that Lacquers
was vain, thoughtless, self-opinionated, frivolous, ignorant, and
empty-headed, but there _was_ some good in him, and it was brought
out, as it always will be when it exists at all, by a woman’s smile,
and, above all, by a woman’s misfortunes.

Lacquers made up his mind that he would marry Blanche Kettering
without a sixpence. The young lady’s consent he rather prematurely
counted on as a matter of course, but in making this resolution he
deserves some credit for the readiness with which he was prepared to
sacrifice all that to him was precious in life, at the feet of his
lady-love. He was a younger brother, and, it is needless to add,
considerably involved--of course he must bid farewell to all those
amusements and pursuits which have hitherto constituted his actual
existence. No more Derbys and Hamptons, and Richmond breakfasts, and
Greenwich dinners, all vanities enticing enough in their way--no more
stalls at the opera, and supper-parties in the suburbs, likewise
vanities of a more dangerous tendency--no more hunting in
Leicestershire and deer-stalking in Scotland, yachting at Cowes and
philandering at Paris--all these must be given up; and worse than all,
the profession he delights in, the regiment he is devoted to, must be
offered at the shrine of domestic respectability. That these would be
privations no man could feel more keenly than Lacquers, yet was he
prepared to go through with it, and had it been necessary, we firmly
believe he would have cut off his very moustaches and laid them at the
feet of Blanche Kettering! Therefore it was that he appeared on the
evening in question at Lady Mount Helicon’s ball; therefore it was
that his manner had assumed a softness and diffidence which made
Blanche confess to herself, as she leaned on his arm in the intervals
of the dance, that he was “really very much improved”; and therefore
it was that he suggested the old excuse of “looking at the flowers in
the conservatory,” and skilfully availing himself of a general rush
down-stairs connected with supper, managed to entice his partner into
a secluded corner of that love-making retreat, which had indeed been
already occupied by several pairs for the same purpose, and having
furnished her with a cup of tea, and himself with an ice to keep them
both quiet, he entered with much circumlocution on one of those
embarrassing interviews such as, we are quite sure, no lady who
condescends to glance over these pages but must have experienced at
least _once_ before she had been out two seasons.

“That’s a case,” said Mrs. Blacklamb, as she swept down to supper on
Lord Mount Helicon’s arm, her dark, haughty features writhing with
something between a smile and a sneer, while she caught a glimpse of
Blanche’s well-cut profile, and one of Lacquers’s faultless boots in a
mirror opposite their retreat. “Will it _be_, do you think?” she added
with a softening expression, for all women warm towards a love-affair,
and even Mrs. Blacklamb, with her many faults, was a very woman,
perhaps rather too much so, in her heart of hearts.

“I hope not,” replied Mount, with a smile into his companion’s face.
“I’m very much in love with her myself. If it hadn’t been for ‘the
Division’ I should have been where Lacquers is at this moment. Look
what my patriotism has cost me, but I don’t regret it _now_,” and he
emphasised the monosyllable with an almost imperceptible pressure of
the arm that hung upon his own, a movement that had little effect on
Mrs. Blacklamb, with whom flirtation (whatever that comprehensive word
may mean) was the daily business of life.

“Why, you know you would have married her, and too happy if she had
only been the catch you all thought she was,” replied the lady. “I
must say I could not help being delighted, though I was sorry for
_her_, poor girl, to see you all ‘getting out’ just as you do when
some racehorse breaks down, trying which could be first to pull
himself clear of the scrape, and leave his neighbours in the lurch.
Major D’Orville behaved _shamefully_, and you still worse, for she
really was fond of _you_.”

“Mount’s” imperturbable good-humour was proof against quizzing, so the
sneer fell harmless, and he replied carelessly, “Fond? of course she
was, but not so _very_ fond--no. Mrs. Blacklamb, I’m easily imposed
on by ladies. I think it’s my diffidence that stands so much in my
way; even where my affections are most irrevocably engaged, where I
worship is hopeless constancy, and I feel my heart breaking, and
my--my--my hair coming out of curl, I dare not ask my enslaver more
than whether she will have a glass of wine. Give Mrs. Blacklamb some
champagne, and I’ll have a little sherry, if you please;” so the pair
went on jesting and philandering and making fools of each other and of
themselves, but they troubled their heads no more about the couple in
the conservatory; and when “Mount” deserted his fair companion and
returned into the ball-room, as he said, “to dance just once with Miss
Kettering, in common decency,” he sought her in vain, for she was
gone.

“Uncle Baldwin,” said Blanche, when they reached home, and lingered a
moment in the drawing-room before retiring--“Uncle Baldwin, I’ve got
something to say to you.” Blanche blushed and hesitated, and looked at
the little white satin shoe she was resting on the fender in every
possible point of view. “To-night at the ball, I--that’s to say,
Captain Lacquers--in short, I dare say you remarked--in the
conservatory, you know--Oh, Uncle Baldwin, _he proposed_ to me,” and
Blanche, half-laughing, half-crying, and blushing over her neck and
shoulders, hid her face on the breast of the General’s coat, as she
used to do when she had been a naughty little girl and repented, ten
years ago.

“Zounds! Blanche, what did you say?” burst out the General, in a
terrible taking, as he thought now everything must come out. “Yes or
No, my darling, don’t keep me in suspense--which is it, heads or
tails? in or out? I mean, Yes or No?”

“No!” whispered Blanche, to the General’s inexpressible relief, who
cooled down into a prolonged _whew_, like the escape of steam from a
safety-valve; but it was rather difficult to say it, he seemed so
sorry and so patient and considerate. “Do you know, Uncle Baldwin, I
never thought so highly of Captain Lacquers as I do to-night.”

“Probably not, my dear,” grunted the General, “you never knew before
he thought so highly of you. But, Blanche, as we are here, and--and
it’s not very late--zounds! they’ve put that clock on again--well,
dear, I too have got something to tell you; but mine, I am sorry to
say, is bad news. Prepare yourself, my dear Blanche. I’m sure you will
bear it well, my little pet, and as long as I have a roof over my head
you will have a home; but, in short, it’s no use mincing the matter,
Blanche, you’re not an heiress after all--you won’t have a sixpence
beyond what I can leave you, and that’s little enough, heaven knows.
They’ve found your mother’s will, my dear, and a most unfair and
unreasonable will it is; but still, my pretty Blanche, it makes you a
penniless young lady, after all!”

“Is that the worst?” answered Blanche, looking up with an air of
immense relief, though she had turned deadly pale; “is that all, Uncle
Baldwin? dear me, I’m not worse off than half the other girls I know.
We shall leave this house, I suppose,” she added, looking round at the
ample room and its stately furniture, jumping at once to conclusions,
as young ladies will do, “and we shall live entirely at
Newton-Hollows, and I shall be there all the time my garden looks most
beautiful; but we shan’t have to send away Mrs. Delaval, shall we?”
(The General winced.) “And when will it all be settled? and when shall
we go?”

“Blanche, you’re a diamond,” said the General, his eyes filling with
tears; “you’ve the pluck of ten women. You ought to have commanded the
Kedjerees. Go to bed now, my dear, and to-morrow we’ll look things
boldly in the face, and see what is best to be done.” So the General
stumped off with his bed-candle, more than ever doating on his niece,
more than ever persuaded that she inherited her sterling qualities
from his side of the house, and not from that “poor, foolish old
Kettering,” as he called him, and more than ever indignant with all
the young men of his acquaintance, except Lacquers, for not being on
their knees to Blanche. “They’ve no energy; they’ve no devotion;
zounds! they’ve no chivalry amongst ’em--none whatever! If I was such
a fellow as any one of these, ’gad, I’d go to bed and never get up
again;” with which soliloquy the General proceeded to divest himself
of his ball-going attire, and prepared for his refuge from all the
ills of life.

To those who are conversant with the habits of ladies, it is needless
to mention that Blanche did not, by any means, follow her uncle’s
excellent advice and example, in betaking herself to immediate repose.
The fair sex will easily comprehend how she sought Mrs. Delaval’s
room, and how the two ladies sat up in “their wrappers” and consoled
each other, and talked it all over, backwards and forwards, and came
to no very logical conclusions; and, above all, how the proposal and
its reception were quite as engrossing a topic, and were quite as much
dwelt on as the loss of Blanche’s fine fortune; nor will it escape
their observation that Mary’s greater worldly experience would clearly
foresee the substitution of one cousin for another in this revolution
amongst the Kettering possessions, and how a marriage between the two
was the only plan to make everything right; and how the fair young
face, with its kind eyes, that had haunted her so long, was farther
from her now than ever. She knew, of course, long ago, that it was
hopeless and impossible--that must surely have been a great
consolation! When a child cries for the moon, and a cloud comes and
covers up the coveted bauble, and hides it away, the urchin has small
comfort in being told that it is just as near the object of its
desires as when it could see it, and look, and long, and stretch its
tiny hands. When the beggar-maiden sets her affections on King
Cophetua, without a hope, in these days, of the famous fabulous
_mésalliance_ being perpetrated, the fact that it does not, in
reality, remove him one iota farther than before from her humble self,
helps but little to assuage the pang inflicted on her infatuated heart
by his Majesty’s nuptials with one of his own degree. The impossible
may be increased in love, if not in logic, and Mary was lying awake
and desponding, long after Blanche had forgotten all the excitement
and changes of the evening in happy, dreamless slumbers.



CHAPTER XIX

DISPATCHES

     SOCIAL LIBERTY--DOMESTIC ECONOMY--A GAZETTE FROM THE CAPE--A
     MAN OF MANY IRONS--A TRUE FRIEND--A REAL HERO--COUPLES, NOT
     PAIRS--OH ME MISERUM!--GATHERED IN THE DEW


Mary Delaval, in London, was one of the many flowers born to “waste
their sweetness on the desert air,” for London is, indeed, a desert to
those who are in it and not of it, whose destiny seems to have been
warped into a strange unfitness in the great, struggling, noisy,
pompous town; whose proper place would seem to be in some quiet,
secluded nook, the ornament and the joy of a peaceful home, instead of
the ever-shifting surface of that seething tide which drifts them here
and there in aimless restlessness. Verily, Fortune does sometimes
shuffle the pack in most inexplicable confusion--_Ludum insolentem,
ludere pertinax_--she seems to take a perverse pleasure in smuggling
the court-cards into all sorts of incongruous places, and to carry out
the Latin poet’s metaphor, _trans-mutat incertos honores_, or, in
plain English, palms the trumps, with dexterous sleight-of-hand, where
they seem utterly valueless to influence the result of the game. As
society is constituted, such a woman as Mary, with her queenly
dignity, her charming manner, her striking beauty, and, above all, her
noble, well-cultivated mind, was just as thoroughly _tabooed_ and
excluded from the circle of her so-called superiors as if she had been
a quadroon in the United States, whose very beauty owes its brilliance
to that African stain which, in the Land of Freedom and Equality,
makes a shade of colouring the badge that entitles man to lord it
over his brother more despotically than over the beasts of the field.
Thank God for it, we have no slavery in England; and the time cannot
be very far distant when slavery shall be a word without a meaning in
the dictionary of every language on the face of the globe. Already,
from East to West, the trumpet-note has sounded, and those stir in
their sleep who have drugged themselves into insensibility, and
stopped their ears against the voice of the charmer, but cannot
smother the still small whisper within. Scarcely has its last peal
died away beneath the blushing Western wave, ere its echoes are caught
up in the very heart of the Morning Land, and even now, while we
write, a barbarian despot is quailing on his celestial throne, and the
voice of Liberty--real Liberty, Civilisation, and Christianity--is
thundering in the ears of millions and millions of immortal beings,
hitherto held in thraldom, throughout that mysterious empire, which
for ages has been a sealed book to all other nations upon earth. Shall
not England still be in the van, as she has always been? Never yet has
she failed in the good cause, and never will she. Has she not ever
struck for Freedom and the Cross? inseparable watchwords, that the
experience of the world has taught us must go hand in hand, or not at
all; and where she strikes, good faith, she drives well home. Has she
not ever been the first assailant in the breach? stood the outmost
bulwark in the gap? and will she fail now? Believe it not. Her destiny
would seem the brightest that Providence has yet ordained for any
nation since the world began. Formidable and glorious without, she is
setting her house in order within. Steadily and gradually the good
cause--the universal brotherhood of the soul--is progressing
everywhere; through wars and rumours of wars, through political clouds
and private disappointments, there seems to be in all men’s minds a
settled conviction that “the good time’s coming”; and if, as we firmly
believe, England shall bear the glorious banner in the van, why, night
and morning will we go down upon our knees and thank God that we are
Englishmen! But what has all this to do with a penniless governess,
sitting up two pair of stairs in Grosvenor Square? Thus much, as we
think: our social system is yet a long way from perfection--there is
yet much to be improved and much prejudice to be taken away--we have
too much class-feeling and class-isolation, and, perhaps, on no people
do these shortcomings in our charity fall so heavily as on those to
whom we entrust the education of our children. What is it in which we
are so superior to them that entitles us to hold ourselves thus aloof,
and, for all the courtesy of our wayfaring salutation, virtually “to
pass by on the other side”? What is it that constitutes the talismanic
qualification for what we modestly term _good_ society? Is it birth,
that accident on which we so rationally plume ourselves? They
generally possess even that negative advantage. Is it education,
intellect, cultivation of mind? We do not entrust our darlings to
their care because they are _inferior_ to us in attainments, or we
should teach the pupils ourselves. Is it manner? We do not quarrel
with a peer for being gross, or a millionaire for being vulgar--and
those of whom we are speaking generally show no want at least of
decorum in their demeanour and conversation. Is it money? God forbid!
Is it then mere frivolity and assumption in which we excel? For shame!
No; the truth must out; there is a leaven still left in us of the very
essence of vulgarity, the feeling that we are ill at ease with a
so-called inferior, or the domineering spirit which every schoolboy
knows too well, prompting us to exult in every chance advantage we may
possess over a fellow-creature. Of these amiable causes we may take
our choice; but one or other it is which leaves the governess to pine
up-stairs in her school-room, while revelry and pleasure and
good-fellowship are laughing below.

Now, Mary had, indeed, little of this sort of neglect to complain of;
yet was she lonely and sad during the London season which Blanche
enjoyed so much. She could not, of course, accompany her to all the
balls and “At Homes” which were fast becoming the business of the
girl’s life; if she had, we think the worshipful body of chaperons
would have lost nothing in dignity, and gained a good deal in grace,
beauty, and good-humour by her adhesion. So she felt she was too much
separated from Blanche, whom she dearly loved; and it was with a
sensation almost of satisfaction, for which she was, nevertheless,
quite angry with herself, that she heard of the entire disturbance of
all the family arrangements, and the loss of fortune sustained by the
young heiress. “Ah,” thought Mary, “perhaps I may be of some use to
her now in her distress; at any rate, I can give her good counsel and
practical instruction how to _bear_--none better;” and had it not been
for a certain marriage, which seemed more than ever indispensable,
Mary would have been ashamed to confess to herself how glad she was.

The General, it is needless to say, was a man of vigorous execution
when he had once made up his mind. He had ascertained, as he believed,
the validity of the will, had paid Gingham her legacy, with a gratuity
over and above on his own account, and now held a council of war with
the two ladies, before breakfast, in which he discloses his plans with
a degree of meekness nothing could ever have brought him to, save a
misfortune affecting his beloved Blanche.

“No going abroad this year, my dear,” said the General, looking the
while less warlike than usual; “glad of it--what? A German
watering-place--bah! an association of blackguards in an overgrown
village, robbing the public to soft music in the open air. No, my
dear, we’ll get to Newton-Hollows before the strawberries are
done--and I’m glad of it. We’ll let this great house--you’re tired of
it, Blanche, and so am I; what’s the use of a house all up and
down-stairs? You should have seen my bungalow at Simlah--a man could
get about in that and hear himself speak. Well, we’ll put down two of
the carriages and one of the footmen--that pompous one. Zounds, if he
had stayed a week longer I must have bastinadoed him--and we’ll start
Poulard: confound him, he never gives one a dinner fit to eat, and
wouldn’t dress a cutlet for Mrs. Delaval, only the day before
yesterday, because we dined out--I’ll trounce him before he goes.
Then, my dear, we’ll keep your scrubby pony for the little carriage,
and ‘Water King’ can go down home with the others, and you’ll ride a
deal more there than in London, Blanche. Manage? I’ll manage--how d’ye
mean? I’m only a steward till Charlie comes back. I must write to
Charlie by this mail, and we’ll have him safe and sound from the
Kaffirs--and rejoicings when he comes home, and a--who knows
what?”--(Mary Delaval got up at this juncture, went to fetch her work,
and sat majestically down to it, as the General went on.)--“Yes, we’ll
make it all right when Charlie comes back. Let me see, we ought to
have a mail to-day. Zounds, these servants they read all the
news--money market, foreign intelligence, every one of their own
cursed advertisements for places they won’t keep six months--and then,
if I ask whether the paper’s come, ‘Please, sir, it’s not ironed.’
Ironed! ’Gad, I’ll iron them--wish I’d my Kitmugar here--bamboozle
them well on the soles of their feet--there’s no liberty in this
country. Blanche, ring the bell, there’s a dear--oh, here it comes;”
and the General’s further strictures were cut short by the entrance of
his old, pompous servant, who laid the paper out for his master’s
perusal with a strange air of mingled pity and concern. The General
put on his spectacles, deliberately unfolded the sheet, and after a
glance at the money market, in which consols had, as usual, fluctuated
the fraction of a fraction, he turned to the well-known column in
which the budget of the African mail was likely to be detailed;
Blanche leaning over his shoulder the while, and Mary watching them
with an eager glance that seemed almost prescient of evil.
Suddenly the General’s face flushed up to a purple hue. “Engagement
with the Kaffirs,” he muttered; “gallant repulse of the
enemy--capture--loss--strong position--brilliant success of the Light
Brigade--O my boy! my boy!” And, forgetful of all around, the old man
leaned his head upon the table and gave way to a passion of grief that
was frightful to contemplate. There it was, sure enough, in distinct,
choicely-printed types--there was no mistaking the name, or the
regiment, or the authenticity of the report, and Blanche, with
bloodless lips and stony eyes, could see nothing but that one line of
hopeless import--“Missing, Cornet Kettering, of the 20th Lancers.”
Yes, she had skimmed through killed and wounded, with the agonising
fear of seeing her cousin returned in that awful list, and a deep sigh
of relief was rising to her lips as she recognised no beloved name
among the sufferers, when it was frozen back again by the startling
truth. And there she stood, utterly colourless, her hair pushed back
from her temples, and her eyes staring wildly and vacantly, as she
kept her finger pressed on the dreadful line, of which she too well
comprehended the meaning.

The General rocked to and fro in an agony of grief, his broken
exclamations of childish despair strangely mingled with those warlike
sentiments of honour and resignation which become second nature in the
soldier’s character.

“My boy, my boy! my gallant, handsome, light-hearted Charlie! I might
have known it must be so--I’ve seen it a hundred times--the youngest,
the fairest, the happiest, go down at the first shot. That pale,
tender lad at the sortie from Bayonne--my subaltern at Quatre Bras--my
_aide-de-camp_ in the Deccan, always the brightest and the most
hopeful--and now my boy, my Charlie! Why did I let him go? a soldier’s
fate, poor lad. Well, well, every bullet has its billet--but, oh, he
need never have gone to that savage country. O my boy, my boy! you
were more than a son to me, and now you’re lying mangled and rotting
in the bush below the Anatolas.”

Mary alone preserved her presence of mind. Utter despair is the most
powerful of sedatives; and she walked deliberately across the room,
took the paper from Blanche’s unresisting hands, and satisfied herself
of the worst. A special paragraph of nearly six lines was devoted to
the fate of “this gallant and promising young officer, who was last
seen waving his men on in a brilliant attack which he led against a
numerous horde of savages; the enemy were driven from their defences
at all points; but we regret to learn Cornet Kettering was reported
missing at nightfall, and we have reason to fear, from the barbarous
and ferocious character of Kaffir warfare, it will be almost
impossible to recover or identify his remains.”

And was this the end of all? Was this the fate of the
bright, happy, beloved boy, whose image, as she last saw
him, radiant in health and hope, had never since left her
mind?--mangled--defaced--butchered--dead!--that awful word comprised
everything--never to see him more, never to hear his voice; to feel as
if it was all a dream, as if it had never been; as if there was no
Past, and there would be no Future--that the deadening, heavy,
soul-sickening Present was to be all! But she could not give him up
like this: the report was dated immediately previous to the departure
of the mail, and there might be a possibility of error. Steadily,
calmly, closely, like a heroine as she was, Mary read through the
whole official account of the engagement, word for word, and line for
line; how “the Brigadier had received information of the enemy’s
movements, and had held himself in readiness, and had given such and
such orders, and executed such and such movements,” all detailed in
the happy, self-satisfied style which characterises official accounts
of the game of death; how in a previous report his Excellency had been
apprised of the capture of so many head of cattle, and the submission
of so many chiefs with hard names; and how the Brigadier had great
pleasure in informing his Excellency of the further capture of several
thousand oxen, and the discomfiture of more chiefs, and all with a
loss of life trifling compared to the important results of this
brilliant _coup-de-main_. How the troops, and the levies, and the
Hottentots, had each and all reaped their share of laurels, by their
gallantry in attack, their steadiness under fire, and general
cheerfulness and good discipline through long, toilsome marches and
harassing privations; and how the Brigadier’s own thanks were due to
officers commanding regiments, and officers commanding companies, and
his _aides-de-camp_, and his quartermaster, and his medical staff, and
all the brave fellows who had won their share in the triumph of the
hour; and the report concluded with a few feeling words of manly
regret for those who had earned a soldier’s grave, amongst whom poor
“Old Swipes,” shot down as he led his men so gallantly to the attack,
was not forgotten; whilst a line of concern for the uncertainty
attending Cornet Kettering’s fate (otherwise honourably mentioned in
the dispatch) wound up the whole. All this Mary read with a painful
distinctness that seemed to burn every word into her brain, and from
it she gathered, indeed, small hope and small consolation. Truly, war
is a fine thing in the abstract! The martial music, the flaunting
colours, the steady tramp of bold, bronzed men, exulting in their
freemasonry of danger, the enthusiasm of the spectators, the
professional charlatanry (we use the word with no disrespectful
meaning) which pervades the brotherhood,--all this is taking enough
when the engine is in repose; and then the joys of a campaign, the
continual change of scene, the never-flagging excitement, the little
luxuries of the bivouac, the rough good-fellowship of the march, and
the boiling, thrilling excitement of the encounter--all these
doubtless have their charms when the machine is put into action; but
there is a sad reverse to the picture, and those who read with the
military enthusiasm of ignorance such captivating accounts of
brilliant strategy and daring heroism, should recollect that the same
Gazette which makes captains and colonels, makes also widows and
orphans; that eyes are gushing and hearts breaking over those very
lines that bid the uninterested peruser thrill with warlike ardour and
half-envious pride in the deeds of arms of his countrymen. The
greatest hero of the age has recorded his opinion of those scenes in
which he reaped his own immortal laurels, when he said, “he prayed God
he might never again see so frightful a calamity as a national war;”
and his opinion has been often quoted, to the effect that a battle won
was the next most horrible sight to a battle lost. Far and wide
spreads the crop of misery that springs from that iron shower. Its
effects are not confined to wasted fields and blackened houses, and
devoted ranks stretched where they fell in all the ghastly distortions
of violent death. Far, far away, in happy homes and peaceful families,
women and children must wail and pine in vain for him whom they will
never see again on earth; and the ounce of lead that carries death
into that loyal, kind heart, scatters misery and grief, and penury,
perhaps, and ruin, over the gentle dependents here at home in England,
that have none to trust to, none to care for them, save him who lies
cold and stiff upon the field of glory. Glory! when will men learn the
right meaning of the word?

Well, three lines in the Gazette had brought misery enough to the
inmates of the house in Grosvenor Square. How paltry to them now
seemed the household cares and little money arrangements that had
occupied their morning consultation. What was there to arrange for
now? What signified it how things went? He would never return to
enjoy the fruits of their care. What mattered it who had the house,
and the fortune, and the plate, and the personalities, and all the
paltry dross, which now showed its real value?--to-morrow it will
begin again to resume its fictitious appearance, for grief passes as
surely as does the cloud. But to-day, the General and Blanche are
almost stupefied, and can think of nothing but Charlie--dear, _dear_,
lost Charlie. The old man sits rocking to and fro, in violent
paroxysms, frightful in one of his age--who would have thought he had
so much feeling left in him?--and Blanche is exhausted with weeping,
and lies with her face buried, and her long golden hair trailing over
the sofa cushions, incapable of thought or exertion. Mary alone
retains her presence of mind; Mary alone vindicates her noble nature
in the hour of trial; Mary alone is fit to command; and Mary alone
resolves upon what is best to be done, and proceeds at once to put her
schemes into execution. There is but one person to apply to for advice
and assistance: there is but one friend in whom the bereaved family
can confide; who should it be but kind, generous, bold-hearted Frank
Hardingstone? Mary puts on her bonnet and shawl: out of the confused
mass in the hall she selects Mr. Hardingstone’s card, ascertains his
address, and without saying a word about her intentions, sallies forth
to seek him out, primed with the eloquence of a woman’s hopeless,
unselfish love.

Frank has lingered on in London, he scarce knows why. He is training
his strong, masculine mind to bear the loss of Blanche--for he feels
that Blanche is lost to him--just as he would train to make any other
effort, or endure any other suffering. His mornings are spent in close
and severe study; his afternoons in those athletic exercises at which
he is so proficient; and in the evening he goes into _men’s_ society,
as gentlemen do when they are sore about the other sex, and tries to
be amused, and to enter into the frivolities and pastimes of his
associates, and succeeds sometimes indifferently badly, sometimes not
at all. Strange visitors are admitted to Frank’s morning-room at the
hotel where he puts up--the waiter cannot make him but at all. Now, an
engineer, in his Sunday clothes, but with a rough chin and grimy
hands, is closeted with him all the morning, and the waiter overhears
casual expressions, such as “power,” and “gradients,” and “angles,”
and “the motive,” and “the bite,” and “the catch,” which, on the
principle of _omne ignotum pro terribili_, make his hair stand on end.
Then, just as he had made up his mind that Mr. Hardingstone is
_professional_, and not a _real_ gent after all, some live Duke or
magnificent Marquis comes in with his hat on, and says, “Frank, my
dear fellow, how goes it?” and the waiter’s conclusions are again
completely upset. Then an archæologian, with smooth white neckcloth
and well-brushed beaver, steps gravely up-stairs, and remains for
hours discussing the probable site of some problematic edifice which
there is reason to suppose _might_ have been pulled down by the
Confessor; and on this interesting topic they lavish a store of
knowledge, penetration, and research rather disproportioned to the
result arrived at, till the archæologian stays to have luncheon, and
shows no small energy even at that. The waiter begins to think Mr.
Hardingstone is a gent connected with the British Museum (for which
institution he entertains a superstitious reverence), and possibly a
fellow-labourer with Layard and Rawlinson. But again, twice a week, an
individual is admitted whose general appearance is so much the reverse
of the respectable, sleek archæologian, that the waiter finds it
impossible to reconcile the contradiction of Mr. Hardingstone’s being,
as he terms it, “_in_ with both.” This latter visitor is of athletic
frame, and remarkably forbidding countenance, none the less so from an
originally snub nose having been smashed into a sort of plaster over
the adjoining territory. His hair is cut as short as is consistent
with the use of scissors, and his arms, in very tight sleeves, hang
down his sides as if they were in the last stage of powerless fatigue.
He dresses as though he kept a horse, yet is his gait that of a man
who is continually on his legs, active as a cat, and of no mean
pedestrian powers. He remains with Mr. Hardingstone about an hour,
during which time much shuffling of feet is heard, and much hard
breathing, with occasional expectoration on the part of the visitor.
The windows are invariably thrown wide open during the interview; and
at its conclusion, the stranger being supplied with beer, for which
fluid he entertains a remarkable predilection, wipes his mouth on his
sleeve, and expresses his satisfaction at the hospitality of his
entertainer, and the warmth of his reception, by stating, in
reprehensibly strong language, that he has had “a--something--good
bellyful.” This too is a professor, and a scientific man; but his
profession is that of pugilism, his science the noble one of
self-defence. So the waiter is again all abroad: but when Mary Delaval
puts up her veil, and taking out a plain card with her name written
thereon, requests the astonished functionary to “take it up to Mr.
Hardingstone, and tell him a lady wishes to see him,” even a waiter’s
self-command is overcome, and he can only relieve his feelings by the
execution of an infinity of winks for his own benefit, and the
frequent repetition of “Well, this beats cock-fighting!” as he ushers
the lady up the hotel stairs, and points out to her the rooms occupied
by the mysterious guest.

Most people would have considered Frank hardly prepared to receive
visits from a lady, both in respect of his costume and the general
arrangement of his apartment. He was sitting in his shirt-sleeves,
unbraced, and with his neck bare; his large loose frame curled up on a
short, uncomfortable sofa, in anything but a graceful position, and
his broad manly countenance gathered into an expression of intense,
almost painful attention. A short pipe between his strong white teeth
filled the room with odours only preferable to that of _stale_
tobacco-smoke, with which its atmosphere was generally laden; and the
book on his knee was a ponderous quarto, to the full as heavy as it
looked, and fit for even Frank’s large intellect to grapple with. The
furniture was simple enough; most of that which belonged to the hotel
had been put away, and a set of boxing-gloves, two or three foils, a
small black leather portmanteau, and a few books of the same stamp as
that on the owner’s knee, comprised almost the only objects in the
apartment. The morning paper was lying unopened on the window-sill.
When he saw who it was, Frank started up with a blush, snatched the
short pipe out of his mouth, set a chair for his visitor, and sitting
bolt upright on the short sofa, stared at her with a ludicrous
expression of mingled shyness and surprise. He was glad to see her,
too--for why?--she belonged in some sort to Blanche.

“Have you seen the morning paper?” began Mary, in her low, measured
tones, though her voice shook more than usual. “Have you seen those
disastrous tidings from the Cape? Oh, Mr. Hardingstone, we are all in
despair! Charles Kettering has, in all probability, been”--she could
not bring herself to say it--“at least he is missing--missing,
gracious Heaven! in that fearful country!--and we have only heard of
it this morning. The General is incapable of acting; he is completely
paralysed by the blow; and I have come--forgive me, Mr.
Hardingstone--I have come to you as our only friend, to ask your
advice and assistance; to entreat you to--to----” Poor Mary broke
down, and went into a passionate fit of weeping, all the more violent
from having been so long restrained.

Frank was horrified at the intelligence; he made a grasp at the paper,
and there, sure enough, his worst fears were confirmed. But this was
no time for the indulgence of helpless regret; and when Mary was
sufficiently composed, he asked her with a strange, meaning anxiety,
“How Blanche bore the fatal tidings?” Heart of man! what depths of
selfishness are there in thy chambers! At the back of all his sorrow
for his more than brother, at the back of all his anxiety and horror,
he hated himself to know that there was a vague feeling of relief as
if a load had been taken off, an obstacle removed. He would have laid
down his life for Charlie; had he been with him in the bush, he would
have shed the last drop of his blood to defend him; yet now that his
fate was ascertained, he shuddered to find that his grief was not
totally unqualified; he loathed himself when he felt that through the
dark there was a gleam somewhere that had a reflection of joy.

“Blanche’s feelings you may imagine,” replied Mary, now strangely,
almost sternly composed; “she has lost a more than brother” (Frank
winced); “but of feelings it is not the time to talk. You may think me
mad to say so, but something tells me there may still be a hope. He
is not reported killed, or even wounded; he is ‘missing’; there is a
chance yet that he may be saved. These savages do not always kill
their prisoners” (she shuddered as she spoke); “there is yet a
possibility that he may have been taken and carried off to the
mountains. An energetic man on the spot might even now be the means of
preserving him from a hideous fate. These people must surely be
amenable to bribes, like the rest of mankind. Oh, it is possible--in
God’s mercy it is possible--and we may get him back amongst us, like
one from the dead.”

Frank grasped at her meaning in an instant; and even while he did so,
he could not help remarking how beautiful she was--her commanding
sorrow borne with such dignity and yet such resignation. He drew down
his brows, set his teeth firm, and the old expression came over his
face which poor Charlie used to admire so much--an expression of grim,
unblenching resolve.

“You’re right, Mrs. Delaval, it might be done,” he said, slowly
and deliberately. “How long has the mail taken to come to
England--twenty-eight days?--the same going out. It is a desperate
chance!--yet would it be a satisfaction to know the worst. Poor
boy!--poor Charlie!--game to the last, I see, in the general order.
What think ye, Mrs. Delaval; would it be any use?”

“If I was a man,” replied Mary, “I should be in the train for
Southampton at this moment.”

Frank rang the bell; the waiter appeared with an alacrity that looked
as if he had been listening at the keyhole. “Bring my bill,” said
Frank to that astonished functionary, “and have a cab at the door in
twenty minutes.”

“You are going, Mr. Hardingstone?” said Mary, clasping her hands; “God
bless you for it!”

“I am going,” replied Frank, putting the short pipe carefully away,
and pulling out the small black portmanteau.

“You will start to-day?” asked Mary, with an expression of admiration
on her sorrowing countenance for a decision of character so in
accordance with her own nature.

“In twenty minutes,” replied Frank, still packing for hard life; and
he was as good as his word. His things were ready; his bill paid; his
servant furnished with the necessary directions during his master’s
absence; and himself in the cab, on his way to his bankers, and from
thence to the railway station, in exactly twenty minutes from the
moment of his making up his mind to go.

“Tell Blanche I’ll bring him back safe and sound,” said he, as he
shook hands with Mary on the hotel steps; “and--and--tell her,” he
added, with a deeper tint on his bronzed, manly cheek, “tell her that
I--I had no time to wish her good-bye.”

We question whether this was exactly the message Frank intended to
give; but this bold fellow, who could resolve at a moment’s notice to
undertake a long, tedious voyage, to penetrate to the seat of war in a
savage country, and, if need were, to risk his life at every step for
the sake of his friend, had not courage to send a single word of
commonplace gallantry to a timid, tender girl. So it is--Hercules is
but a cripple in sight of Omphale--Samson turns faint-hearted in the
lap of Delilah--nor are these heroes of antiquity the only champions
who have wittingly placed their brawny necks beneath a small white
foot, and been surprised to find it could spurn so fiercely, and tread
so heavily. Mary should have loved such a man as Frank, and _vice
versâ_--here was the _beau idéal_ that each had formed of the opposite
sex. Frank was never tired of crying up a woman of energy and courage,
one who could dare and suffer, and still preserve the queenly dignity
which he chose to esteem woman’s chiefest attraction; and so he
neglected the gem, and set his great, strong heart upon the flower.
Well, we have often seen it so; we _admire_ the diamond, but we _love_
the rose. As for Mary, she was, if possible, more inconsistent still.
As she walked back to Grosvenor Square she thought over the heroic
qualities of Mr. Hardingstone, and wondered how it was possible he
should yet remain unmarried. “Such a man as that,” thought Mary,
revolving in her own mind his manifold good qualities, “so strong, so
handsome, so clever, so high-minded, he has all the necessary
ingredients that make up a great man; how simple in his habits, and
how frank and unaffected in his manner; a woman might acknowledge
_him_ as a superior indeed! Mind to reflect; head to plan; and energy
to execute! She would be _proud_ to love him, to cling to him, and
look up to him, and worship him. And Blanche has known him from a
child, and never seen all this!” and a pang smote Mary’s heart, as she
recollected _why_, in all probability, Blanche had been so blind to
Frank Hardingstone’s attractions; and how _she_, of all people, could
not blame her for her preference of another: and then the fair young
face and the golden curls rose before her mind’s eye like a phantom,
and she turned sick as she thought it might even now be mouldering in
the earth. Then Mary pulled a letter from her pocket, and looked at it
almost with loathing, as the past came back to her like the shade of a
magic-lantern. She saw the gardens at Bishops’-Baffler; the officers
in undress uniform, and the grey charger; the evening walks; the quiet
summer twilight; the steeple-chase at Guyville; and her eyes filled
with tears, and she softened to another’s miseries as she reflected on
her own. “Selfish, unprincipled as he is,” thought Mary, “he must love
me, or he never would make such an offer as this. And what am I, that
I should spurn the devotion of any human being? Have not I, too, been
selfish and unprincipled, in allowing my mind to dwell alone on him
who in reality belonged to another? Have I not cherished and
encouraged the poison?--have I not yielded to the temptation?--do I
wish even now that it was otherwise?--and am I not rightly
punished?--have I not suffered less than I deserve?--and yet how
miserable I am--how lonely and how despairing!--there is not another
being on earth as miserable as I am!”

“By your leave, ma’am,” said a rough, coarse voice; and Mary stepped
aside to make way on the pavement for a little mournful procession
that was winding gloomily along, in strange, chilling contrast to the
bustle and liveliness of the street. It was a little child’s funeral.
The short black coffin, carried so easily on one man’s shoulder,
seemed almost like a plaything for Death. It was touching to think
what a tiny body was covered by that scanty pall--how the little
thing, once so full of life and laughter, all play and merriment and
motion, could be lying stiff and stark in death! It seemed such a
contradiction to the whole course of nature--a streamlet turning back
towards its source--a rosebud nipped by the frost. Had the grim Reaper
no other harvest whitening for his sickle? Was there not age, with its
aches and pains and burdens, almost asking for release? Was there not
manhood, full of years and honours, its appointed task done on earth,
its guerdon fairly earned, itself waiting for the reward? Was there
not crime, tainting the atmosphere around it, that to take away would
be a mercy to its fellow-men, and a deserved punishment to its own
hardened obstinacy, having neglected and set aside every opportunity
of repentance and amendment? Was there not virtue willing to go, and
misery imploring to be set free? And must he leave all these, and cut
off the little creeping tendril that had wound and twisted itself
round its mother’s heart? There was the mother first in the slow
procession--who had so good a right to be chief mourner as that poor,
broken woman? Who can estimate the aching void that shall never be
quite filled up in that sobbing, weary breast? She is not thinking of
the funeral, nor the passers-by, nor the crape, nor the mourning; she
does not hear rough condolences from neighbours, and well-meant
injunctions “to keep up,” and “not to give way so,” from those who
“are mothers themselves, and know what a mother’s feelings _is_.” She
is thinking of her child--her child shut down in that deal box--yet
still hers--she has got it still--not till it is consigned to the
earth, and the dull clods rattle heavily on the lid, will she feel
that she has lost it altogether, when there will come a fearful
reaction, and paroxysms of grief that deaden themselves by their own
violence; and then the wound will cicatrise, and she will clean her
house, and get her husband’s dinner, and sit down to her stitching,
and neighbours will think that she has “got over her trouble,” and she
will seem contented, and even happy. But the little one will not be
forgotten. When the flowers are blooming in the spring--when the
voices of children are ringing in the street--when the strain of music
comes plaintively up the noisy alley--when the sun is bright in
heaven--when the fire is crackling on the hearth--then will her lost
cherub stretch its little arms in Paradise, and call its mother home.

As Mary made way for the poor afflicted woman, who for an instant
withdrew from her mouth the coarse handkerchief that could not stifle
her sobs, she recognised Blanche’s former maid, poor Gingham. Yes, it
was Mrs. Blacke, following her only child, her only treasure, her only
consolation, to the grave. Poor thing! her sin had been too heavy for
her to bear; with her husband’s example daily before her eyes, what
wonder that she strove to stifle her conscience in intoxication? Then
came “from bad to worse, from worse to worst of all”; the child was
neglected, and a rickety, sickly infant at all times, soon pined away,
and sickened and died. The mother was well-nigh maddened with the
thought that it _might_ have been saved. Never will she forgive
herself for that one night when she left it alone for two hours, and
coming back, found the fever had taken it. Never will she drive from
her mind the little convulsed limbs, and the rolling eyes that looked
upward, ever upward, and never recognised her again. And now her home
is desolate, her husband is raving in the hospital, and her child is
in that pauper-coffin which she is following to the grave. Mary
Delaval, do you still think you are the most miserable being on the
face of the earth?



CHAPTER XX

DAWN IN THE EAST

     MILITARY CRITICISMS--GARE LES FEMMES!--THE MAJOR AT HOME--A
     BITTER PILL--“I’M A-WEARY”--VERY NEAR THE BORDER--DAY DAWNS IN
     THE EAST--THE BETTER ANGEL--A BRAIN FEVER--A SICK-NURSE IN
     SPURS


“’Gad, I thought the Major was very crusty this morning,” remarked
Cornet Capon, as he removed a large cigar from his lips, and watched
its fragrant volume curling away into the summer air. “How he gave it
you, Clank, about leading the column so fast, and about riding that
old trooper instead of your own charger! I can’t help thinking
D’Orville’s altered somehow; used to be such a cheery fellow.”

“_You_ needn’t talk, my boy,” retorted Captain Clank to his subaltern;
“I heard him tell you that if you would attend a little more to your
_covering_, and less to your _overalls_, you would be quite as
ornamental, and a good deal more useful to the regiment; but I agree
with you--he _is_ altered. He’s like all the rest of ’em--a capital
fellow till you get him in command, and then he’s crotchety and
cantankerous and devilish disagreeable. Give us another weed.”

These young officers were not very busy; they were occupied in,
perhaps, the most wearisome of all the duties that devolve on the
dragoon, and their task consisted of lounging about a troop-stable,
attired in undress uniform, to watch the men cleaning and “doing up”
their respective horses. They could but smoke, and talk over the
morning’s field-day to while away the time. Neither of them was
encumbered with an undue proportion of brains--neither of them could
have engaged in a much deeper discussion than that which they now
carried on; yet they did their duty scrupulously, they loved the
regiment as a home, and looked upon the B Troop as their family; and
although their thoughts ran a little too much on dress, fox-hunting,
driving, and other less harmless vanities, they were, after all, good
comrades and tolerably harmless members of society. Cornet Capon’s
ideas oozed out slowly, and only under great pressure, so he smoked
half a cigar in solemn silence ere he resumed, with a wise look--

“There’s something at the bottom of all this about the Major, Clank.
Did you notice where he halted us after the charge--all amongst that
broken ground at the back of the Heath? We shall have half the horses
in the troop lame to-morrow.”

“Old ‘Trumpeter’ was lame to-day,” returned Clank, with a grim smile,
“and that’s why D’Orville was so savage with me for riding him. You’re
right, Capon. The Major’s amiss--there’s a screw loose somewhere, I’m
sure of it, and I’m sorry for it.”

“He lost ‘a cracker’ at Newmarket last week, I _know_,” said Capon,
thoughtfully; “I shouldn’t wonder if he was obliged to go--let me
see--Lipstrap’ll get the majority, and I shall get my lieutenancy.
Well, I shall be sorry to lose him, though he _does_ blow me up.”

“Pooh! man, it’s not _that_,” rejoined Clank, who was a man of
sentimental turn of mind, and kept Tommy Moore in his barrack-room.
“You young ones are always thinking about racing. I’ve known D’Orville
hit a deal harder than that, and never wince. Why, I recollect he
played a civilian, at Calcutta, for his commission and appointments
against the other’s race-horses and a bungalow he had up in the hills.
’Gad, sir, he won the stud and the crib too--and not only that, but I
landed a hundred gold mohurs by backing his new lot for the
Governor-General’s Cup, and went and stayed a fortnight with him at
his country-house besides--best billet _I_ ever had--furniture and
fittings and fixings all just as t’other fellow left them.
No--D’Orville’s as game as a pebble about money--it isn’t _that_.”

Cornet Capon opened his eyes, smoked sedulously for about five
minutes, and then asked Clank, “What the devil there was to bother a
fellow, if it wasn’t money?”

“Women!” replied the Captain, looking steadily at his companion;
“women, my boy. I’ve watched the thing working now ever since I was a
cornet, and I never knew a good fellow thoroughly broke down that
there wasn’t a woman at the bottom of it. Now, look at Lacquers; when
Lacquers came to us, there wasn’t such another cheery fellow in the
Hussar Brigade--it did me good to see Lacquers drink that ’34 we
finished in Dublin--and as for riding, there wasn’t another
heavy-weight in that country could see _the way he went_--and now look
what he’s arrived at. Never dines at mess--horses gone to
Tattersall’s--sits and mopes in his barrack-room, or else off to
London at a moment’s notice--and closeted all day with agents and
men-of-business--and what is it that’s brought him to this pass? Why,
that girl he wants to marry, who won’t have anything to say to
him--and why she won’t is more than I can tell, unless she’s got a
richer chap in tow somewhere else. Capon, my boy, you’re younger than
me, and you’ve got most of your troubles to come. Take my advice, and
stick to the regiment, and horses and hunting and that; but keep clear
of women; they’re all alike--only the top-sawyers are the most
mischievous--you keep clear of ’em all, for if you don’t you’ll be
sorry for it--mark my words if you’re not.”

This was a long speech for the Captain, and he was quite out of breath
at its conclusion; but the Cornet did not entirely agree with him. He
had got a _tendresse_ down in the West--a saucy blue-eyed cousin,
whose image often came before the lad’s eyes in his barrack-room and
his revelry and his boyish dissipation; so he contented himself with
remarking profoundly that “Women were so different, it was impossible
to lay down any general rule about them any more than horses;” and
expressing his conviction that, whatever might be the secret grief
preying upon the Major’s spirits, it could have nothing to do with the
fair sex, “for you know, Clank, D’Orville’s a devilish _old_
fellow--why, he must be forty if he’s a day.”

So the pair jingled into the mess-room to have some luncheon, and
ordered their buggy, to drive up to London afterwards, and spend the
rest of the day in the delights of the metropolis--since this it is
which makes Hounslow such a favourite quarter with these light-hearted
sons of the sword.

The Major was altered certainly, not only in temper, but even in
appearance. He had got to look quite aged in the last few weeks. How
strange it is that time, so gradual in its effects on the rest of
creation, should make its ravages on man by fits and starts, by sudden
assaults, so to speak, and _coups-de-main_, instead of the orderly and
graduated process of blockade! We see a “wonderfully young-looking
man”--we watch him year by year, still as fresh in colour, still as
upright in figure and as buoyant in spirits as we recollect him when
we were boys--we admire his vigour--we envy him his constitution, and
we make minute inquiries as to his daily habits and mode of life--“he
never drank anything but sherry,” perhaps, and forthwith we resolve
that sherry is the true _elixir vitæ_. All at once something
happens--he loses one that he loves--or he has a dangerous
illness--or, perhaps, only meets with severe pecuniary losses and
disappointments. When we see him again, lo! a few weeks have done the
work of years. The ruddy cheek has turned yellow and wrinkled--the
merry eye is dim--the strong frame bent and wasted--the man is old in
despite of the sherry; and Youth, when once she spreads her wings,
comes back no more to light upon the withered branch.

Hair has turned grey in a single night. We ourselves can recall an
instance of a young girl whose mother died suddenly, and under
circumstances of touching pathos. Her daughter, who was devotedly
attached to her, was completely stupefied by the blow. All night long
she sat with her head resting on her hand, and her long black tresses
falling neglected over the arm that supported her throbbing temples.
When the day dawned she moved and withdrew her hand. One lock of hair
that had remained pressed between her unconscious fingers had turned
as _white as snow_. That single lock never recovered its natural hue.
Like the Eastern virgins, it mourned in white for a mother.

Well, the Major looked old and worn as he sat in his lonely
barrack-room, surrounded by many a trophy of war-like triumph or
sporting success. Here was the sabre he had taken from the body of
that Sikh chief whom he cut down at the critical moment when, six
horses’ length ahead of the squadron he was leading, he had been
forced to hew his way single-handed through his swarming foes. There,
spread out on a rocking-chair, was the royal tiger-skin perforated by
a single bullet, that vouched for the cool hand and steady eye which
had stretched the grim brute on the earth as he crouched for his fatal
bound. On the chimney-piece those enormous tusks recalled many a
stirring burst over the arid plains of the Deccan, when the boldest
riders in India thought it no shame to yield the “first spear” to the
“Flying Captain,” as they nicknamed our daring hussar. Nor were these
exploits confined to the East alone. On the verdant plains of merry
England had not Sanspareil, ridden by his owner, distanced the cream
of Leicestershire in a steeple-chase, never to be forgotten whilst the
Whissendine runs down from its source; and did not that spirited
likeness of the gallant animal hang worthily above the cup that
commemorated his fame? Yes, the Major had earned his share of the
every-day laurels men covet so earnestly, and truly it was only
opportunity that was wanting to twine an undying leaf or two amongst
the wreath. Yet did he look haggard, and _old_, and unhappy. His hair
and moustaches had become almost grey now, and as he sat leaning his
head upon his hand, with an open letter on his knee, the strong
fingers would clench themselves, and the firm jaw gnash ever and anon,
as though the thoughts within were goading him more than he could
bear. Like some gallant horse that feels the armed heel stirring his
mettle the while he champs and frets against the light pressure of the
restraining bit, a touch too yielding for him to face, too maddening
for him to overcome, so the Major chafed and struggled, and while he
scorned himself for his weakness, submitted to the power that was
stronger than he; and though he strove and sneered, and bore it with a
grim, sardonic smile, was forced to own the pang that ate into his
very heart.

“And this is what you have come to at last,” he said, almost aloud, as
he rose and paced the narrow room, and halted opposite the
looking-glass that seemed to reflect the image of his bitterest enemy;
“this is what you have come to at last. Fool--and worse than fool!
After chances such as no man ever so threw away--after twenty years of
soldiering, not without a certain share of distinction--with talents
better than nine-tenths of the comrades who have far outstripped you
in the race--with a brilliant start in life, and wind and tide for
years in your favour--with luck, opportunities, courage, and above
all, experience, what have you done? and what have you arrived at?
Three words in a dispatch which is forgotten--a flash or two of the
spurious, ephemeral fame that gilds a daring action or a sporting
feat--the reputation of being a moderately good drill in the
field--and a chance word of approbation from fools, whom you know that
you despise. Truly a fair exchange--a most equal barter. This proud
position you have purchased with a lifetime of energy spent in vain,
and that thorough self-contempt which is now your bitterest
punishment. Money, too; what sums you have wasted, lavished upon worse
than trifles!--but let that pass. Had you the same fortune and the
same temptations you would spend it all again. The dross is not to be
regretted; but oh! the time--the time--the buoyancy of youth, the
vigour of manhood that shall never come again. Fool! fool!” and the
Major groaned aloud. “And what have I lived for?” he added, as he sat
himself down and leaned his head once more upon his hand, looking into
his past life as the exile looks down from a hill upon the lights and
shades of the cherished landscape he shall see no more. “I have lived
for self, and I have my reward. Have I ever done one single action for
a fellow-creature, save to indulge my own feelings? have I not schemed
and flattered, and worked and dared all for self? and this is the
upshot. The first time I try to do a disinterested action--the first
time I strive to break from the fetters of a lifetime, to be free, to
be _a man_, I am foiled, and scouted, and spurned. Refused!--refused!
by a poor governess--ha! ha!--it is, indeed, too good a joke. Gaston
D’Orville on his knees, at forty, a grey old fool--on his knees to a
wretched, dependent governess, and she refuses him. By all the demons
in hell--if there _is_ a hell--it serves him right. Laugh! who can
help laughing? And yet what a woman to lose--a woman who could write
such a letter as this--a woman who knows me better, far better, than I
know myself; she would have shared with me every dream of
ambition--she would have appreciated and encouraged the few efforts I
have ever made to be good--she would have understood me, and with her
I could have been happy even in a cottage--but no! forsooth. Her
mightiness, doubtless, thinks the poor major of hussars, pretty nearly
ruined by this time, no such great catch. And is she not right? What
am I, after all, that I should expect any human being to give up
everything for _me_? Broken-down, old, worn-out, if not in body, at
least utterly out-wearied and used-up in mind, why should I cumber the
earth? Gaston, my boy, you have played out your part--you have got to
the end of your tether--’tis time for the curtain to drop--’tis time
to lie down and go to sleep--there is not much to regret here--you
have seen everything this dull world has to show. Now for ‘fresh
fields and pastures new’--at all events the waking will be glorious
excitement--to find out the grand secret at last--where will it be,
and how? I might know in ten minutes--many an old friend is there
now--not badly off for company at any rate--there was poor Harry, the
night before we were engaged at Chillianwallah he thought he was
_there_. How well I remember him, as he told me his dream just before
we went into action! He thought he was disembodied--floating, floating
away through the blue night sky--hovering over the sea--bathing in the
moonlight--flitting amongst the stars, and ever he got lighter and
lighter, and ever he rose higher and higher, till he reached a cool,
quiet garden, without a breeze or a sound, and there he saw his mother
walking, as he remembered her before she died, when he was yet a
child. And she placed her hand upon his brow, and the thin transparent
hand clove through him--for he, too, was a spirit--till it struck
chill like ice around his heart, and he awoke. Poor Harry, I saw him
go down with a musket-shot through his temples; and he knows all
about it, too, now. Pain! the pain is nothing. A dislocated ankle is
far more acute agony than it would take to kill an elephant--’tis but
a touch to a trigger, and the thing’s done.”

D’Orville got up coolly, and calmly walked across the room, took a
certain oblong mahogany box from under his writing-table, and quietly
unlocking it, drew his hand along the smooth, shining barrel of a
pistol. He examined it well, pricked the touch-hole, shook the powder
well up into the nipple, and then, having wiped the weapon almost
caressingly, laid it down on the table at his elbow, and pursued his
reflections, more at ease now that he had prepared everything for his
escape.

“Well, it can be done in a moment, so there need be no hurry about it.
In the meantime, let me see--I should like to leave some remembrances
to the fellows in the regiment. There’s that sabre--how game the old
white-bearded chief died!--I almost wish I hadn’t cut him down.
‘Faith, I shall see him too. I expect he won’t give me so warm a
welcome as Harry--it’s a pity I can’t take him his sword back again.
Well, Lacquers always admired it, and I’ll leave it him. Poor
Lacquers, he’s a good fellow, though a fool. I’ll leave a note, too,
asking him to take care of the white horse, and shoot him when he’s
done with him: let him follow his master, poor old fellow! Yes;
there’s very little to arrange--one advantage in having got through a
good property. I don’t think there’ll be much quarrelling over _my_
will. And now, to consider the journey. I must have been very near it
often before; and yet, somehow, I never looked at it in that light.
’Tis a different thing in action, with the excitement of duty, and
watching the enemy, and keeping the men in hand, and that confounded
smoke preventing one from seeing what is going on. No, I’ve never been
_quite_ so near as now; but I must some day, even if I should put it
off--I _must_ go at last--and why not now? What matter whether at
forty or seventy? Time is not to be reckoned by years. I am old, and
fit for nothing else. When the fruit is ripe, it had better be
plucked; why should people let it hang and rot, till it drops off the
tree, all spoilt and decayed? How do I know I may not want some of
my manly energy where I am going? _Going_--how strange it
sounds! Well, now to ticket the sabre, and write a line to poor
Lacquers”--(D’Orville indited a few words in his firm, bold hand; if
anything, firmer and bolder than usual)--“and now for ‘a leap in the
dark’--face the Styx, if there be such a place, just like any other
_yawner_; and so, steady, steady!”

His hand was on the pistol--the lock clicked sharp and true up to the
cock--one touch of the trigger, and where would Gaston D’Orville have
been?--when his eye chanced to light upon the seal of Mary’s letter.
It was a casual seal, accidentally selected from a number of others,
but the device was somewhat uncommon, and now struck D’Orville with a
strange, painful distinctness that surprised him. It was but an eye,
surrounded by an obliterated motto; yet it served for an instant to
divert his attention; and--on such trifles turns the destiny of
man--he laid down the pistol, and took up the letter to examine it
more closely. The eye seemed to fascinate him. Turn which way he
would, that eye seemed to watch him; steadily, unremittingly, an eye
that never closes or slumbers seemed to be above him, around him, all
about him; he rose from his chair, and still the eye followed him; he
walked to the window, and the eye watched him steadily from out the
blue summer sky. A trumpet-note pealed from the rear of the building;
it was one of those merry stable-calls so dear to every cavalry
soldier’s heart. The familiar strain brought D’Orville to himself; the
tension of his brain relaxed. As the excitement subsided, the
visionary disappeared, and the real resumed its sway over strong
nerves and a powerful intellect. Mechanically he put the pistols away,
and carefully locked them in their case. Still the eye seemed to be
watching him; and a vague feeling of shame began to take possession of
him, as the suspicion rose in his mind that there was _cowardice_ at
the bottom of the resolution which he had made, as he thought so
boldly, a few minutes ago.

D’Orville was a naturally brave man, and the force of habit and
education had taught him to scorn anything in the shape of fear as the
vilest of all degradation. To betray a woman in his code might be
venial enough; but to shrink from aught in earth, or heaven, or hell,
was a stain upon his honour _not_ to be thought of. In his career of
active service he had seen the advantage of courage too often, had
discovered too frequently how much more rare a quality it is than is
generally supposed, not to appreciate its value and worship it as an
idol, although conscious of possessing it himself. It now dawned upon
him that suicide was after all but a desperate method of running
away--that the sentry had no right to desert his post until regularly
relieved. By the by, in Mary’s letter was there not something about
warfare as compared to religion?--some parallel drawn between the
Christian and the soldier? Again he perused that letter carefully,
attentively, word for word: but the bitterness was past; the writer
was no longer the poor governess, spurning a suitor whom she ought to
have been proud to accept, but the high-minded, pure-hearted woman,
feeling for his sorrows, appreciating his good qualities, and pointing
out to him those consolations which for her could take the sting from
earth’s most envenomed shafts. One or two expressions reminded him of
his mother--the mother he had loved and lost as a boy. Again he seemed
to see that gentle lady bending her graceful head over him, as she
spoke of other worlds, and other duties, and other pleasures totally
unconnected with this lower earth. He remembered the very gown she
wore; he seemed to hear her low, sweet, serious tones, as she called
him “my darling boy,” and insisted on those miraculous stories which
she was herself fully persuaded were truths, and which the boy drank
in, childlike, nothing doubting. Ah! what if they should be true after
all? What if the whole history should be something more than a legend
of priestcraft, an old woman’s fable? D’Orville had thought but little
on such matters; he had heard them discussed by clever men of opposite
opinions, and it never struck him that either side could demonstrate
very satisfactorily the futility of the adversary’s arguments; but he
was wise enough to know that the boasted human intellect has but a
narrow horizon, that “the two-foot dwarf” sees little beyond the
garden-wall, and that “there are more things in heaven and earth than
are dreamt of in our philosophy.” Here were the only two beings he had
ever _respected_ in the world, shaping their whole conduct, as they
formed all their opinions, upon circumstances which they seemed to
believe facts, as firmly as they believed in their own identity. Well,
what of that? These might be facts or they might not. But stay: was
there not something wanting in the whole scheme and constitution of
life, as he had tried it? Could any man have had better chances of
being happy here than he had had? Was he happy? Was he satisfied? Was
there not always a shadow somewhere athwart the sunlight? Was there
not always a craving for something more? As a boy, he longed to be an
officer; no sooner was that distinction gained than he longed for
fame, first in the boyish arena of mere field-sports, then in the
daring exploits of real war. Had he not for a time drunk his fill of
both? and was his thirst quenched? Could he sit down, “_uti conviva
satur_,” and say “Enough”? No, no, he knew it too well. Then came the
daily craving for excitement--that longing for something unattainable,
which, more than all besides, argues the inferiority of our present
state--the necessity for a _to-morrow_, even when the sun of to-day
has for us set its last. Well, had he not wooed excitement in all her
haunts? Had he not gambled and raced and speculated, and shone in the
world of fashion, and sunned himself in the smiles of Beauty? And had
not the goddess ever fleeted away when just within his grasp? Was not
his heart still empty, his desire unslaked? Even had he not endured
this disappointment--had the only woman he really loved consented to
be his--did he not feel in his innermost soul, was he not forced to
confess to himself, that still there would have been a want?--still
would to-morrow have been the goal, still to-day but the journey. Yes,
disguise it how he might, deaden his sensations with what opiates he
would, he could not but own that hitherto his world had been “stale,
flat, and unprofitable.” Had he not been so weary of life, that he had
voluntarily, even now, been within the wag of a finger of laying it
down, to go he cared not whither, so as it was anywhere but here?

Then if there was nothing in the present that could satisfy his soul,
might he not presume that there was a future for which it was
specially created and intended? Yes, there might be something to live
for after all--there might be a career in which to win more than fame
and more than honour--which at any rate should satisfy those longings
and aspirations here, and might be the portal to such a glorious
hereafter as he could not even picture to his world-wearied
imagination--and if so, what scheme so probable, what religion so well
supported by historical proof and logical deduction, as that which he
had learnt at his mother’s knee? One by one, thoughts came back to him
that had lain dormant for more than thirty years; one by one he
recalled the miraculous facts, the touching sufferings that had awed
his boyish imagination and moved his boyish heart. For the first time
for more than thirty years, he thought as a reality of the Great
Example who never quailed nor flinched, nor shrank one jot from His
superhuman task. Did he admire courage? There was One who had faced
the legions of hell, unaided and alone, with but human limbs and a
human heart to support Him through the dread encounter. Did he admire
constancy? There was One who voluntarily endured the obloquy of the
world, the agonies of the most painful death, and moved not an eyelash
in complaint or reproach. Did he admire self-denial--that most heroic
of all heroism? What had that One given up to walk afoot through this
miserable world, with such a prospect as the close of His earthly
career!--and for whom?--even for him amongst the rest--for him who
till this very moment had never thanked Him, never acknowledged Him,
never so much as thought of Him. The strong man’s heart was touched,
the well was unsealed in the desert, and, as the tears gushed from his
unaccustomed eyes, Gaston D’Orville bent the knees that had not bent
for half a lifetime; and can we doubt that he was forgiven?

       *       *       *       *       *

In four-and-twenty hours D’Orville was laid upon his small
camp-bedstead in a brain fever. The excitement of his late life; the
reaction consequent on his abandonment of his awful resolution; the
strong revulsion of feeling, into which we have no right to pry, had
been too much for a constitution already shaken by years of
dissipation and hard service beneath an Indian sun; and for days
together life and death trembled in the balance so evenly that it
seemed a single grain might turn the scale. And of all his comrades,
who was it that watched at his bedside with the attention, almost the
tenderness, of a woman--sitting up by him at night, giving him his
medicine, smoothing his pillow, and tending him with a brother’s
love?--who but Lacquers! the unmeaning, empty dandy--the fellow with
but two ideas, his dress and his horses--the ignorant, grown-up
schoolboy that could scarcely write his own name; but, for all that,
the staunch, unflinching comrade, the true-hearted, generous friend.
When the lamp, after flickering and fading, and well-nigh dying out
altogether, began once more to flame up pretty steadily, and the
Major, gaunt and grim, with nearly white moustaches, and a black
skull-cap, and haggard hollow cheeks, began to experience the
superhuman appetite of convalescence, and the wonderful longing for
open air and country scenery, and such simple natural pleasures, which
invariably comes over those who have been near the confines of Life
and Death, as though they brought back with them from that mysterious
borderland the earlier instincts of childhood; when, in short, the
Major was getting better, and could sit at his window and see the
white charger go to exercise, or the regiment get under arms below,
many and long were the conversations between him and Lacquers on the
thoughts and feelings which almost insensibly had sprung up in each of
them. Lacquers did not conceal his disappointment as regarded Blanche.
Poor fellow, he had made her an honest, disinterested offer, and it
had not entered into his calculations that he might be repulsed.

“I know I’m not good enough for her, D’Orville,” the humbled dandy
would sigh, as he poured his griefs into his friend’s ear. “I’m not
very ‘blue,’ and that sort of thing, though I suppose I’ve got natural
talents just like other fellows; but I stood by her when all the rest
gave way, and I was the only one amongst ’em that really liked her for
herself and not for her money. Why, you yourself, D’Orville” (the
Major winced), “you yourself never made up to her after you heard of
the smash, nor Mount Helicon, nor Uppy, nor any of ’em; to be sure she
had refused Uppy; do you remember how glum he looked that night at
‘The Peace’? but I don’t believe he’d have proposed to her ten days
later. She might have liked me much better when she came to know
me--mightn’t she? and I would have read history and grammar, and Latin
and Greek, and that, and made myself a scholar for her sake. I can’t
help feeling it, Major, and that’s the truth. She’s the only woman I
ever really cared for; and what have I to live for now?”

Then it was that D’Orville showed himself an altered man--then it was
that the thoughts which had first flashed across him when he
contemplated self-destruction, and had since been progressively
developing themselves on a bed of sickness, bore their fruit, as such
thoughts will sooner or later where a man has a heart to feel or a
brain to reason. He explained to Lacquers the views he now entertained
of life, its duties, and its charms--how different from those on which
he had hitherto acted! He pointed out to him the utter insufficiency
of everything on earth to constitute happiness, when unconnected with
a grand object and a future state of being. He talked well, for he was
in earnest; and he reasoned closely, for his was a penetrating
intellect, ever ready to strip at a moment’s notice the illusive from
the real. He had all his life been an acute man--saw through a fallacy
in an instant, and, to do him justice, never hesitated to expose it:

    “Called knavery, knavery--and a lie, a lie.”

Such a mind, when convinced of truth, is doubly strong; and Lacquers
listened, much admiring, though, it must be confessed, not always
quite understanding the deductions of his mentor. Yet was he too, ere
long, stirred with a noble ambition, a desire to fulfil his
destiny in life with some credit to himself and benefit to his
fellow-creatures--a longing to be useful in his generation--to feel
that he was part of the great scheme, and, however humble might be his
task, yet that its fulfilment was a fair condition of his very
existence, and was conducive to the well-being of the whole.

“But what can I do, however willing I am?” he would say. “An officer
of hussars cannot be a Methodist preacher, or even a moral
philosopher, without doing more harm than good. If I thought I had
talents for it, and eloquence and learning, I’d sell out to-morrow,
and go to South Africa as a missionary, or anywhere else--Gold Coast,
Sierra Leone--anything rather than be a useless drone cumbering the
earth in a life without an aim.”

“Not the least occasion for that,” replied D’Orville.
“Fortune--accident--call it rather Providence--has placed you in a
certain station, and it is fit for you to fulfil the duties of that
station without repining or restlessness, because, forsooth, it does
not happen to square exactly with some vague notions of your own. You
may do a deal of good, though you _are_ an officer of hussars. Why
should a soldier be necessarily an irreligious or an immoral man? It
is not his profession that should bear the blame, however convenient
it may be to make the red coat a scapegoat. We must have troops. We
cannot be secure from war. Do you suppose a man leading a squadron
gallantly against an enemy, doing the best he can for all--cool,
confident, and daring--is not fulfilling his duty every whit as well
as he who is on his knees in the rear praying for his success the
while? Our calling bids us look death in the face oftener than other
men, and that very fact should give us trust in Him on whom alone we
can depend at the last gasp. We are always nearer His presence than
those who are not so exposed: and, for my part, I think it a proud and
honourable privilege. Then, in barracks, may you not improve the
_morale_ of all about you in a thousand ways? You may look to the
bodily well-being of your troop. Why?--first, because it’s your duty;
and secondly, because it’s a pleasure to you, and a credit to have
them smart and clean and well-disciplined! Why should you totally
neglect their minds? They, too, have a future as well as a present.
The one is not less a reality than the other. Ay, it’s startling
enough, because people slur it over, and don’t talk of it, or allow
themselves to think of it; but it’s none the less true for all that.
You may shut your own eyes as close as you please, but you won’t
prevent the sun from shining just the same. I grant you that the task
is a difficult one. So much the more credit in fulfilling it, by an
effort that does require some sacrifice and some self-denial. I have
lived forty years in this world for _myself_--the careless,
thoughtless life that a tolerably sagacious dog might have led--and I
have never been really happy. Come what may, I hope to do so no more.
I have found out the true secret that turns everything to gold, and I
don’t grudge a share of my good fortune to my friends.”

“You’re right, D’Orville,” said Lacquers, shaking the Major by the
hand; “you’re right, though I never looked at it in that light before.
I see that I have an object in life--that I have a task to perform;
and I see--no, I don’t see my way quite through it; but I trust I
shall have courage and patience to do the best I can. D’Orville, I
feel happier than I did. I’m not much of a book-worm, and I can’t
quite express what I feel; but, old fellow, you talked of exchanging,
and going to India; well, I’ll go too--we’ll get appointed into the
same corps--I’m good enough to be broiled in that country, at any
rate--and I’ll never leave you, old boy, for you’re the best friend I
ever had!” Little Blanche Kettering might have done worse than take
poor, ignorant, good-looking, blundering, warm-hearted Lacquers.



CHAPTER XXI

HOSPITAL

     DOWN AMONGST THE DEAD MEN--CHARLIE’S PRESERVER--A SICK MAN’S
     VISIONS--MENTAL PROSTRATION--THE DYING MAN’S GUESTS--DISCHARGED
     WITHOUT A PENSION--LEADEN HOURS--HOW’S THE PATIENT?--“WELCOME,
     FRANK”--HOMEWARD BOUND


We left Cousin Charlie, some chapters back, in a sufficiently
unpleasant predicament. His arm broken by a bullet, a Kaffir’s assagai
through his shoulder, stunned moreover by a crushing blow from the
butt-end of a musket (Birmingham-made, and sold in the gross at
nineteen shillings apiece), not to mention a roll of some fifty feet
down an almost perpendicular ravine, the boy lay senseless, and to all
appearance dead. The tide of war rolled far away from the _kloof_ that
had been defended so fiercely, and won with such loss of life; and ere
the young lancer had recovered his senses, an outlying band of the
enemy, driven from their fastnesses far on the right, wound stealthily
through this very ravine in full retreat. Fortunately they had that
day got such a taste of English discipline as made them loth to
improve any further acquaintance with “Brown Bess”; and although they
stripped the lad from head to foot, believing him to be stone-dead,
they had no time to stay and practise those horrid mutilations with
which these demons signalise their triumph over a fallen foe. Not a
shred of clothing, however, did they leave on the body; even his
boots, the most useless articles conceivable to a Kaffir, were carried
off as the spoils of war. For aught we know, to this day Charlie’s
smart jacket forms the ceremonial dress of some burly chief. Very
tight, and worn with long, black legs, _au naturel_, it is doubtless a
most imposing costume. Be that how it may, the white man was left
naked and weltering in his wounds, whilst the routed party, who had
wasted but little time in stripping him, made the best of their way to
a more respectful distance from the British posts. Charlie never
stirred for hours. The moon rose, and bathed in her cold light the
crisp, rugged scenery and the ghastly accessories of that fatal glen.
Here, a stunted jagged bush threw its smoke-blackened twigs athwart
the clear night sky, and beneath it, bleached by the moonlight, lay
some grinning corpse that had dragged itself there to die, whilst a
clean musket-barrel shining in those pale beams showed it had been a
British soldier when morning dawned. There, hurled in a fantastic
heap, lay the swarthy bodies of some half-dozen Kaffirs, one balanced
on the verge of a blank bare cliff, his arms and head dangling, limp
and helpless, over the brink--his comrades piled above him, as they
fell in their desperate efforts to escape. Yonder, where the moonbeams
glimmered through the twinkling foliage, frosting the leaves with
silver, and shedding peace and beauty over the unholy scene, a Fingoe
auxiliary stirred and groaned in his last mortal agony, his dusky skin
welling forth its very life-drops on the trampled sward. Shout and
curse and clanging blow, all the riot and confusion of the strife, had
long since died away. The writhing Fingoe groaned out his soul with a
last gasping sigh, and save for the short yelp of a famished jackal in
the adjoining thicket, silence slept upon the glen, and Night shared
with Death her dominion over that blood-stained, devastated spot.
Charlie came to himself--not that he knew where he lay, or was
conscious of aught save a numbed sense of pain, and a confused
stupefied idea, first that he was in bed, then that he was on the deck
of a ship, heaving and plunging over the rolling waters. As sensation
gradually returned, an intolerable thirst, so fierce as to amount to
positive agony, began to rage in his dry, choking throat; then, with
that unaccountable instinct to rise which is the first impulse of a
man who is knocked down, he made a sort of abortive, staggering effort
to get to his feet, it is needless to say in vain. The blood welled
freshly from his wounds, the branches overhead spun round him, and he
was again insensible. But the effort saved his life: the slight
movement was seen, and in another instant a dark Fingoe girl was
kneeling over him, with her hand upon his heart. The poor young savage
had been stealing distractedly through the glen, looking for the body
of her lover. She had missed him from his hut at nightfall. She knew
there had been a severe engagement, and, like a very woman, faithful
even unto death, she had glided away in the darkness to seek him out,
succour him if wounded, and mourn over him if succour should come too
late. It was a woman that alone recognised the body of the last of the
Saxon kings, on the fatal field of Hastings. When earl and thane and
liegeman saw but a mangled, mutilated corpse, Edith the swan-necked
knew her lover and her lord. Keen was the eye, unerring was the
instinct of affection, and Edith’s fame lives in history and song; but
our poor Fingoe girl was but a nameless savage, a wretched, ignorant
heathen, debased almost to the level of the brute; yet she, too, had a
woman’s heart, and cherished a woman’s love--she, too, recognised her
barbarian lover, gashed and defaced by assagai and war-club, and it
was whilst she wept and moaned over his mangled remains that her eye
caught the stir of Charlie’s white body, and her heart, softened by
grief, bid her, woman-like, again come to the assistance of the
suffering and the helpless. She threw a _kaross_ over his naked body.
Light-footed as an antelope, she darted to a neighbouring spring,
shuddering the while--for that, too, was polluted with blood--and
returned with a skin of the clear, cold water. She bathed his brow and
temples--she poured the grateful drops between his blackened lips--and
as he groaned and stirred once more, she knew there was life in him
yet. The huts of her countrymen (half-armed auxiliaries to the British
force) were at no great distance, and, savage as she was, the maiden
would not leave a fellow-creature, particularly such a good-looking
one as Charlie, to die like a dog without assistance. Her shapely
limbs bore her rapidly back to her people. Alas! there was scarce a
family amongst them that had not lost a member, and she soon returned
with four stalwart Fingoes, who carried Charlie’s senseless frame to
their encampment, where they tended him with such knowledge of surgery
as they possessed, far more efficient, despite of sundry charms and
superstitions, than our College of Surgeons at home would easily
believe. There were other wounded soldiers in the encampment, and
Charlie, though not recognised, was judged to be an officer, and met
with all the attention from these poor fellows that they could spare
from their own sufferings. But it was to the Fingoe girl that, under
Providence, he owed his life. Night and day she tended him like a
child, and when at length a convoy arrived from head-quarters with a
train of waggons to carry off all the sick to Fort Beaufort, it was
with difficulty the poor savage maiden was dissuaded from accompanying
him even into the distant settlements, and long and wistfully she
gazed after the waggon that bore her white charge out of her sight.
Charlie had not yet recovered his consciousness, and had scarcely
spoken; and when he did, muttered but a few incoherent words; yet the
girl had saved his life, and nursed him in his agony, and it was hard
to give him up!

When our hapless lancer really came to himself he was lying on a
comfortable bed, with all the necessary appliances and alleviations
for sickness, nowhere so efficient as in an English military hospital.
His first sensation was one of pleasing languor, almost of luxury, in
the new feeling of complete repose; for, in the Fingoe hut, and yet
more in the jolting, slow-moving waggon, his powerless limbs had never
been able to dispose themselves in _real_ rest, and the change was
positive delight. He was too weak to take any note of time or
place--he was conscious of but one feeling, that of bodily ease; and
he could no more undergo the mental exertion of recalling past events,
or judging from present circumstances, than he could play the physical
one of getting out of bed. He knew he was bandaged--he knew he had not
strength to stir a finger were it to save his life, nor did he wish to
do so--he knew he was lying between clean sheets, in a bed, somewhere;
it seemed strange, for he had not been in a bed for so long, and he
was quite satisfied to take things as they were, and gaze drowsily
upon the wall, and hear a stealthy footfall in the room, far too
languid to turn his head, and so drop off to sleep again quite
contentedly. And when the surgeon of the Light-Bobs--a gallant fellow,
whose only fault was that he never would keep his confounded lint and
bandages and tourniquet far enough in the rear--saw his patient in
this second slumber, and listened to his soft breathing, and placed
his finger on the fluttering, scarce-perceptible pulse, he stroked his
chin with a self-satisfied air, and smiled, and muttered to himself,
“He’ll do now, _I think_--not above twenty--young constitution--never
drank, I’ll be bound. It’s been touch-and-go; but I believe now he’ll
pull through.”

So Charlie got over the crisis, and slept, and struggling hard with
the ebbing tide, little by little gained ground and footing, and inch
by inch, as it were, reached the shore.

As consciousness returned with returning strength, memory began to
unravel its tangled skein of dim fantastic recollections, and by
degrees the march, the engagement, the last brilliant charge,
separated themselves from the ghastly moonlight glen, the dark
phantom-shape that had saved him, the strange huts of the savages, and
above all those excruciating sufferings in that jolting waggon. But
with convalescence came the weary longing to be well, the restlessness
of protracted confinement, the loathing of those tedious, monotonous
days--their only event that unvarying meal--their only amusement to
gaze upon the sunlight brightening that white-washed wall. How Charlie
pined to feel the free, fresh breeze of out-of-doors; how horse and
hound and field-day, the bounding charger, the jovial march, the
cheerful mess, seemed to mock him with their phantom-like delights, as
his body lay pinioned and helpless on that loathed couch, and his mind
went soaring away in vision after vision of waving woods and rugged
hills, and, above all, the glorious summer air, that he would fain
have bathed in like a lark--have drunk into his very being as the true
_elixir vitæ_!

Of serious thoughts as to his late proximity to another world, of
gratitude for his narrow escape from death, we fear we must confess
our patient was altogether innocent. The sick-bed is the last place
in the world to promote such grave reflections: and those who trust to
an illness as a means of making them better and wiser men, will
generally find that they have leant upon a broken reed. The exhaustion
of physical pain acts little more upon the body than the mind. The
latter partakes of the languor which pervades its tenement, and has
generally but strength to pine in helpless inactivity, and gaze idly
on the balance of life and death, with scarce a wish even to turn the
scale. If a man never reflects when well, still less can he expect to
have power to do so when sick; and many a death-bed, we fear, has
owned its tranquillity to the mere prostration, intellectual as well
as physical, which quiets the departing sufferer. ’Tis an
uncomfortable notion; but we hold it too true, nevertheless. Charlie
had an instance in his very next neighbour, a gallant private of the
Light-Bobs, who occupied the adjoining bed to our young lancer. He,
too, had been shot down in the fatal ravine, had been nursed in the
Fingoe huts, and forwarded to Fort Beaufort in the waggon-train. For a
time his wounds went on favourably enough, and he seemed to have a far
better chance of recovery than poor Charlie. But he had been a
drunkard in early life; his constitution was sapped with strong
liquor; something unintelligible “supervened,” as the medical officer
said; and the man was doomed--doomed, as surely as if he had been
sentenced to death by court-martial.

In the earliest stages of his own recovery, Charlie would lie and
listen to the poor fellow’s ravings, till he shuddered at the wild
imaginings of that delirious brain. Now the man would fancy himself
back in England, amongst the low haunts of vice and debauchery which
seemed most familiar to his mind. He would shout out ribald toasts and
drinking-songs, and roar fierce oaths of mingled pain and exultation,
till he roused every pale inmate of the ward. Then would a frightful
reaction take place, and he would lie still as a corpse, hand and
foot, but mutter and roll his eyes and gnash his teeth, like one
possessed. He peopled the place, too, with frightful apparitions;
amongst which a pale girl, with her throat cut from ear to ear, and
the enemy of mankind, seemed, by his expressions, to be the most
frequent visitors. With these he would hold long conversations,
ludicrous even through their horrors, and would display much ingenuity
in their imaginary questions, to which he poured forth voluble answers
of abuse and blasphemy. Of his satanic disputant he generally seemed
to get the better, by his own account; but the mutilated girl always
brought on a fit of trembling that was frightful to behold. Once,
after a visit from this spectre, which he detailed at considerable
length, he tore all the bandages from his wounds, and was obliged to
be pinioned in a strait-waistcoat. After this he got quieter, not so
much from the restraint as the weakness and loss of blood consequent
on his paroxysm. He would listen with marked attention to the
chaplain, who visited him daily; and when the good man was gone, would
mumble out incoherent words of repentance and amendment; but could
never fix his mind upon their meaning for two seconds at a time. Then
he would give it up in despair, and would shout and sing again more
boisterously than ever. At length it became evident, even to Charlie’s
enfeebled perceptions, that he was sinking fast; and as the sand of
life ebbed more and more rapidly, the dying man became more and more
composed and tranquil, till he promised to make as peaceful an ending
as ever did glorified saint in Popish calendar. The eye lost its
unnatural glitter, the pain ceased entirely, and the pulse became
quiet and regular--but oh, so weak for that active, muscular frame!
The youngest tyro would not have been deceived by the change; it was
obvious that his very hours were numbered; yet now, for the first
time, he seemed to recognise place and people--called Charlie by his
name, and asked Mr. Kettering after “the reg’ment,” and whether the
old major was shot dead when he forced the river so smartly, and the
colour-sergeant (he never could abide that colour-sergeant) lost his
life in the very middle of the stream; then he remembered how Charlie
had led the assault, and from that time he seemed to confide in him,
and whispered to him his plans, and his little spites against his
comrades, and his longing for his old life; for he made no doubt of
getting well. And so he slept for a few hours (the doctor came in and
looked at him asleep, and shook his head), and woke about noon, and
asked for something to drink; but his lips were quite black, and
Charlie saw that he was somehow changed even before the man told him
he was conscious of it himself.

“It’s all up, Mr. Kettering,” said he, in a husky whisper, “it’s all
up with me this turn. What’s the time o’ day now? Twelve o’clock? I
shall be a dead man at sundown;” and then he told Charlie how he had
received a warning, and he knew there was no hope “_here_ nor yet
_yonder_,” he said, with a ghastly smile; for he had dreamt that he
was standing sentry on a rampart over against the ocean, and the sun
was setting in a golden haze, and the waters gleamed like molten gold;
and he laid his firelock down, and rested and gazed with delight upon
the scene; but a girl rose from the waves, far off between him and the
sunset, and wrung the water from her long black hair, and pressed it
with both hands to her throat, and seemed to staunch a ghastly wound
that gaped at him even at that distance, and ever the blood flowed and
flowed, and the sea became crimson, and the sun went down in blood-red
streaks, and the sky darkened to the colour of blood, and everywhere
there was blood, blood, nothing but blood; and the girl screamed to
him in agony, saying, “Pray! pray!” and he knew that if he could speak
a prayer before the sun went down he might be saved; and he strove and
gasped, but he was choked; and still the sun dipped and dipped, and a
fiery rim only was left above the sea, and still he could not speak;
and it went down too; and the girl tossed up her arms with a shriek,
and all was dark; and then with a convulsive effort he cried aloud,
and his mouth was full of blood--and so he awoke. “And I shall never
stand sentry nor carry a firelock again,” he said; and from that time
he spoke no more, but folded his hands and lay quiet, as if asleep.
The afternoon shadows lengthened on the hospital-wall--the evening
drew near--at half-past six the dying man muttered a request for
drink--at seven the sun went down, and he was dead!--peacefully,
quietly he parted, like a child going to its rest. Charlie never knew
it was all over till the doctor came; and they took him away and
buried him, and there was a vacant place by Charlie’s bedside; and so
Her Majesty lost a soldier, and a recruit was enlisted and sent to the
_dépôt_ at home, and his place in the ranks was filled, and he was
forgotten, just as peers, poets, conquerors, sovereigns, and sages are
forgotten, only a little sooner--for the grim Reaper makes no
distinction, and the monarch oak of the forest perishes as surely as
the weed by the wayside.

       *       *       *       *       *

Week after week Charlie lay in that weary bed. One by one patients
became convalescents, and convalescents went back to their duty, and
still he was not allowed to move. A fresh action was fought, and more
wounded were brought in, and yet Charlie was unfit for duty--in fact,
was unable to rise. The doctor was hopeful and good-humoured, as
doctors generally are, not being invalids themselves, and told him “he
was going on most satisfactorily, and all that was wanted was a little
time, and patience and quiet;” but at length even he hinted at
sick-leave, and talked of a return to England, and the necessity of
care and avoidance of exposure to weather, even after the wounds were
healed; and Charlie’s dearest hopes of rejoining his regiment, and
tasting once more the excitement of warfare, were dashed to the
ground. The kind doctor had written to his patient’s friends in
England, and assured them of his safety--on the rejoicings thereby
created at Newton-Hollows we need not now enlarge--so that all anxiety
on that score had passed away, and there was nothing to do now but to
get well and embark for home. What a tedious process that same getting
well was! Charlie began to pine, and grow dispirited and nervous. He
had no friends, no one to speak to but the doctor; and the gallant
boy, who would have faced a whole tribe of Kaffirs single-handed and
never moved an eyelash, was now so completely weakened and broken down
that he would lie and weep for hours, like a girl, he knew not why. At
last he began to give way to despondency altogether. One day in
particular, when the ward was again emptied of its recovered inmates,
and the boy was left quite alone in that long, dull room, he lost
heart entirely. “I shall never get well now,” he said aloud in his
despair; “I shall never see the bright blue sky again, nor the
regiment, nor Blanche, nor Mrs. Delaval, nor any of them--sinking,
sinking, day by day, and scarcely twenty! ’Tis a hard lot to die like
a dog, in such a hole as this. Ah! Frank always talked of death as the
ever-present certainty, and the next world will be a happier one than
this, I do believe, though this has been a happy one to me. I used to
think I shouldn’t mind dying the least--no more I should, in the free,
open air, leading a squadron, with the men hurraing behind me; or
falling neck and crop into a grass-field with ‘Haphazard,’ alongside
the leading hounds.” (Charlie was barely twenty, and to him the
hunting-field was just such an arena of glory as was the tilt-yard to
a knight of the olden time.) “No, I could die like a man at home, but
to rot away here in a hospital, thousands of miles from merry England,
without a friend near me, it’s hard to bear it pluckily, as it ought
to be borne. Frank! Frank! I want some of your dogged resolution now.
If I could see your dear old face once more, and shake you by the
hand, I should be a different fellow. Ah! it’s too late now; I shall
never see you again, and you will hardly know what became of me. But
you won’t forget me, old boy, will you?” and poor Charlie gave way
once more, and turned his wet cheek down upon his pillow, as he heard
the doctor’s step along the passage; for he was ashamed of his
weakness, though he knew it was but the effect of his wounds. Hark!
there is some one with him; the doctor is bringing a visitor to
see him. He knows that firm, heavy tread. Is it one of his
brother-officers?--how kind of them! No, that is no dragoon’s step: it
is familiar, too, and yet he cannot remember where he has heard it. Is
he dreaming? Over the doctor’s shoulder peers a well-known face,
embrowned with travel, but with the old kind, frank expression beaming
through those manly features. In another instant Charlie is clasping
Frank Hardingstone’s strong hand in his own two emaciated ones, and
after an abortive “How are ye, old fellow?” and a vain effort to laugh
off his emotion, is sobbing once more like a woman or a child.

“So you came out all the way from England on purpose to look after
me,” said he, when the first burst of feeling had subsided; “how like
you, old Frank--how kind of you!--and what did they say about me at
home? and wasn’t Blanche sorry for me when she thought I was killed?
and did Uncle Baldwin and--and Mrs. Delaval read the dispatch? and
where are they all now? You know I’m to have sick-leave, and we’ll go
back together. When does the doctor think I shall be able to sail?
Frank, he’s a shocking muff; I’ve been in this bed for thirteen weeks,
but I shall get up to-day--of course he’ll let me get up to-day;” and
so Charlie ran on, and Frank was soon forcibly withdrawn from the
patient, whose over-excitement was likely to be as prejudicial as his
late despondency; but the maligned doctor whispered to him as he went
out, “Your arrival, sir, has done more for my patient than the whole
pharmacopoeia: he’ll be well now in a fortnight.”

The doctor was right. From that day Charlie began to mend. Many a long
hour Frank sat by his bedside, and talked to him of home, and of his
prospects, and of his cousin (honest Frank), and settled over and over
again their plans of departure, to which Charlie was never tired of
listening; and after every one of these visits the boy’s appetite was
better and his sleep sounder, and in a few days he got out of bed, and
then he was moved into the hospital-sergeant’s room, who readily
vacated his apartment for the young officer; and then he got out on
Frank’s arm into the summer air, for which he had so pined--pleasant
it was, but yet not _so_ pleasant as he thought it would be, when he
lay in that dull ward; and then his voracity became something
ridiculous, and at the end of about three weeks Frank helped him up
the companion-way of the _Phlegethon_, 200 horse-power,
homeward-bound; and although wasted to a skeleton, his large eyes
looked bright and clear, and now that he was really on his way to
England he was well.



CHAPTER XXII

THE WIDOW

     FAMILY ARRANGEMENTS--MOTHER AND SON--SEPARATE INTERESTS--A
     WIDOW’S DAY-DREAMS--FEMALE CONFIDENCES--THE RULE OF CONTRARY


“My dear Mount, I think, after all, I shall spend the winter at
Bubbleton,” said Lady Mount Helicon to her hopeful son, as they sat
one sunny afternoon in her well-furnished drawing-room. London was
emptying fast; a few of the lingerers still contrived to keep up a
semblance of gaiety, and those who stayed on, like Lady Mount Helicon,
because they had no country-houses to go to, voted it _so_ much
pleasanter now the crush and hurry of the season was over. But even
these could not conceal from themselves that they were but “the last
roses of summer,” that “all the world” was rushing out of town, and
they had no business here any longer. The water-carts were getting
very slack, and the dust unbearable; the Ride and the ring were
fitting haunts for a hermit, and the Serpentine was gloomy as the
Styx. Dinadam was inhaling appetite in his deer-forest--Long-Acre was
tempting Providence in his yacht--Mrs. Blacklamb was breaking hearts
at Cowes--ministers had celebrated their many defeats during the
session by their annual fish-dinner at Greenwich--and grouse were
advertised at five shillings a brace in Leadenhall Market. Yes, the
season was over, and Mount would not have been here instead of in
Perthshire had it not been for the absolute necessity of his writing
his autograph in person for the ulterior disappointment of a Hebrew,
and his own immediate benefit. He was an excellent son when he had
nothing better to do, and now sat for hours with his mother and talked
over his own plans and hers with the most perfect open-heartedness.

“Bubbleton,” said he, “mother, and why Bubbleton?”

“Can’t you see, Mount?” replied her ladyship; “Bubbleton is within
visiting distance of Newton-Hollows.”

“What then?” rejoined her son; “I thought you had made up your mind to
drop them when you found they were of no use.”

“So I should, my dear,” confessed the diplomatic lady, “if things had
turned out as I expected; but don’t you see that the game is not yet
half played out? That unfortunate boy who went off to the Cape has
been severely wounded; you know they put on mourning for him, thinking
he was dead; and it is quite on the cards that he may not recover; he
never looked strong; then our little friend is as great an heiress as
ever; and I am sure, with _your_ eloquence, you could easily persuade
her that it was jealousy, or pique, or something equally flattering,
that made you so remiss for a time, and it would be all _on_ again.
Besides, I have been making a good many inquiries lately in a
roundabout way, and I find that, even if the ‘beau cousin’ should
return safe and sound, there will be a large sum of ready money to
which the girl will be entitled when she comes of age. You want money,
Mount, I fancy?”

“Not a doubt of it, my dear mother,” replied he; “this has been my
worst year for a long time, and you know I never holloa before I’m
hurt. Goodwood _ought_ to have pulled me through, if ‘Sennacherib’
hadn’t failed at the last stride. I am afraid to say, and I can
believe you had rather not hear, what that odd six inches cost me. No,
mother, I can’t go on much longer; I don’t see my way a bit. If a
general election comes I shall have to bolt.”

“Listen to me, Mount,” said her ladyship. “I have a plan that may save
us all yet. I shall take a house at Bubbleton for the winter, and
wherever I have a roof over my head you know I am too happy to give
you a home. You can send down two or three horses, and hunt quietly
in the neighbourhood, instead of going off to Melton with eight or
ten, and losing a fortune at whist; and of all places I know,
Bubbleton is the most likely for something to _turn up_--then _if_ we
should arrange matters with Miss Kettering, everything will go
smoothly; but there is one thing I must beg of you, my dear Mount, and
that is to give up the turf. It is all I ask,” said her ladyship, with
tears in her eyes--“all I ask in return for my devotion to your
interests is to sell those horrid race-horses, and give the thing up
altogether.”

Mount made a wry face--“Sennacherib,” notwithstanding his defeat,
which, as usual, was from no lack of speed or stamina, but entirely in
consequence of _the way the race was run_--“Sennacherib” was the very
darling of his heart; and he had, besides, amongst his yearlings,
_such_ a filly, that promised, as far as babies of that age can
promise, to have the speed of the wind. Must these treasures go to
Tattersall’s? Must the hopes of Olympic triumphs and future mines of
wealth be all knocked down to the highest bidder, as the stud of a
nobleman declining racing? It was a bitter pill; but he knew his
mother was a strong-minded woman--he knew that if she insisted on the
sacrifice being made a part of the bargain, nothing would induce her
to fulfil her share unless he fulfilled his. He recollected how, in
his father’s time, crabbed as that respectable nobleman undoubtedly
was, my lady always got her own way in the long-run, and he determined
to make a virtue of necessity and give in, consoling himself with the
reflection that, when all was arranged, he could easily buy some more
horses with his wife’s money. So he promised with a good grace, and
his mother kissed him, and called him “her own dear boy”; and the pair
separated--my lord to get upon “Trictrac” and ride down to Richmond,
whither there is no occasion for us to follow him--my lady to write
sundry little notes to her friends, to consult with her agent about
letting her house in London--and then, with a good book upon her knee,
to indulge in dreamy castle-building schemes for upholding the
integrity of the house of Mount Helicon, not unmixed with rosier
visions as regarded her own prospects for the future.

This pair, whatever might be their failings as regarded the rest of
the world, seemed at all events blamelessly to fulfil their duties
each towards the other. Yet behind this apparent sincerity and
affection each was playing a separate game, totally irrespective of
aught but self; each was actuated solely by motives of interest; each
had a separate path to pursue, a separate object to attain. Mount
Helicon came readily into his mother’s views for the best of all
reasons. Everything that could save the disbursement of a shilling was
now of paramount importance to him. After a problematic trip to Norway
in Long-Acre’s yacht he would literally not have a roof to cover him.
It was all very well to make a great merit of giving up Melton, and to
dwell on the sacrifice he made on his mother’s account in foregoing
the delights of that very charming place; but Mount had now neither
hunters nor the means of getting them, and a man at Melton without
money or horses is like a fish out of water, or a teetotaller at an
Irish wake. Everything had failed with him lately. Successful as were
his literary schemes, their profits were but a drop in the ocean
compared with his necessities. Goodwood had nearly finished him, and
he hardly dared think of Doncaster, so unfortunate were his
investments on the coming St. Leger. He could see only one way out of
his difficulties--to sell himself and his title to some wealthy young
lady, and he rather fancied giving Blanche the opportunity of becoming
a purchaser; that which he would have considered a mere pittance some
six months ago he now looked upon as a very fair competence; and the
chance of young Kettering’s death, with the reversion of that large
property, was a contingency by no means to be despised; so he
submitted, with as good a grace as he could, to selling his
race-horses, and spending the winter at Bubbleton with his mother,
inwardly resolving that when he had secured his object he would break
out again into fresh extravagances, and shine with redoubled
splendour.

Lady Mount Helicon, too, had her own ends to further in her
affectionate and hospitable invitation to her son. She had found out
that his agreeable qualities, his large acquaintance, and his
brilliant reputation, always succeeded in filling her house with
those whom she was pleased to term “the best men,” fastidious
individuals who never condescended to dine with her when Mount and she
kept separate establishments. Now my lady calculated that with her
title, her cook, and her celebrated son, she would create a prodigious
sensation at Bubbleton, where neither rank, talent, nor faultless
cutlets are as common as in London; and that with these attractions in
her house, she would have an opportunity of seeing all the male
eligibles whom that salubrious locality might bring together. And she
could thus judge of them at her leisure, and pick and choose at her
caprice. That was the end in view. The idea of entering once more into
the holy bonds of matrimony had long been present to her ladyship’s
mind; and when she consulted her looking-glass, and saw reflected her
large, comely form, her still healthy complexion, and her
well-arranged hair, by courtesy called auburn, but sufficiently red to
lose little of its youthful appearance from an occasional silver line,
she grudged more and more that all these charms should be wasted on a
widow’s lonely lot, and resolved that when the time came, and the
_man_, it would be no fault of hers if she did not stand again at the
altar in the coloured robes of a bride who adds the advantage of
experience to the ripe maturity of autumnal beauty. Bubbleton, then,
was the very place from which to select the fortunate man. Its
frequenters were many of them steady-going, respectable gentlemen of
middle age, and like all unmarried middle-aged men, unless completely
ruined, sufficiently well-to-do in the world. Such are by no means
ineligible matches for a widow; and then, should none of these be
found willing to aspire to such happiness, might not General Bounce
surrender at discretion, if properly invested--more particularly
should the other matrimonial scheme progress favourably, and the
relationship thus created afford opportunities for surprises,
_coups-de-main_, or the tardier but no less fatal advances of a
regular blockade? He certainly had paid her attention in London; he
was a stout, soldier-like man for his years; above all, he had a
charming place at Newton-Hollows, and a good fortune of his own. Yes,
_faute de mieux_, the General would do very well; and then the two
families might live together, and if Blanche _did_ succeed to
everything, what a piece of luck it would be for them all! And her
ladyship, with all her knowledge of the world, actually deluded
herself into the idea that the two establishments could keep the peace
for an hour together in the same house, or that Mount, after he had
got all he could, and had no further use for his mother, would hear of
such an arrangement for one single moment. So Lady Mount Helicon rose
and smoothed her hair in the mirror over the chimney-piece, and looked
at a miniature of herself, done before she married, and lying on the
drawing-room table; and persuaded herself she was wonderfully little
altered since then, and returned in haste to her good book and her
seat with her back to the light, you may be sure, as a knock at the
door announced an arrival, and her well-powdered figure-footman
ushered in Lady Phoebe Featherhead.



CHAPTER XXIII

“STOP HER”

     THE VOYAGE HOME--“WHOM TO MARRY”--DISINTERESTED ADVICE--THE
     LOOKER-ON SEES MOST OF THE GAME--A FOG IN THE CHANNEL--FRANK’S
     STRIKING ARGUMENTS--LADIES FIRST--THE REMNANT ON THE
     WRECK--HOPE ON THE HORIZON--HAIRBLOWER’S OFFER


In these days of steam and perpetual locomotion everybody has been a
voyage of some sort over the seas; and one of these uncomfortable
expeditions is so like another, that it is needless to describe the
transit of Frank Hardingstone and Cousin Charlie from the Cape home.
There were but few passengers on board the _Phlegethon_, and those
were as much bored with the length and monotony of their voyage as
passengers usually are; they ate, drank, smoked, walked the deck,
pestered the professionals with perpetual questions as to when they
should make the Needles, and otherwise comported themselves so as to
lengthen as much as possible the apparent duration of their
imprisonment. Charlie was as idle and impatient as the rest. Frank
alone seemed an exception to the general rule; when not reading hard
in his cabin he was sure to be found studying steam in the
engine-room, “shooting the sun” with the captain, or learning
navigation with the mate. “There’s a good man spoilt in making that
chap a gentleman,” was the constant remark of these worthies, who
contracted an immense love and admiration for Frank. Yet of late he
had maintained a grim reserve very foreign to his usual open
demeanour, and more especially in the society of Cousin Charlie. He
did not shun him, nor did that careless and good-humoured young
gentleman perceive any difference in his friend’s manner; but Frank
could not conceal from himself that he was not thoroughly at ease with
the boy for whom he had endured so much. He felt that he had given up
his dearest hopes for his young _protégé_--that he had sacrificed to
him the inestimable treasure of Blanche Kettering’s love; he had on
one or two occasions even done such violence to his feelings as to
touch upon the subject of their approaching marriage in his
conversations with her cousin, and had been surprised and disgusted at
the coldness with which so engrossing a topic was received by the
young gentleman most concerned. Frank could have borne it better, he
thought, had Charlie been worthy of the blessing in store for him--had
he appreciated the unspeakable bliss which others would have given all
on earth to enjoy; but to yield her to one who scarce seemed willing
to stretch out his hand to receive her--to resign all that made life
valuable to another, and to find that other appreciated the object as
little as the sacrifice--this was indeed a hard task; but Frank
thought it his duty so to act, and resolved, with his usual
determination and forgetfulness of self, that he would lose no
opportunity of forcing upon Charlie the absolute necessity of marrying
the only woman he had himself ever loved. Thus the voyage drew to a
close. Contrary winds were baffled by the power of steam; the good
ship stemmed the mountain waves of the Bay of Biscay, and at length
the coast of England was hailed; and, though labouring in a heavy gale
of wind and a cross-pitching sea, they were steaming steadily up the
Channel, and congratulating themselves that to-morrow they would once
more set foot on English ground. Frank and Charlie were on deck,
enjoying the broken gleams of an afternoon’s sun, that shone fitfully
through the mists and storm-rack driving fast overhead; and their
conversation naturally enough turned upon their own plans and
intentions when they should get ashore. Charlie was full of his horses
and his anticipations of sport in game-preserve and hunting-field,
with sundry speculations as to the state of “Haphazard’s” legs, much
damaged by the never-to-be-forgotten steeple-chase; and it was with
difficulty Frank could command his attention whilst he made a final
effort to impress upon him the absolute necessity of his making up
his mind and marrying his pretty cousin forthwith.

“It’s not fair upon any one,” said Frank, holding manfully on to the
mizen-topmast stay, “it’s not doing as you’d be done by, to keep a
thing of this sort off and on; it’s not fair upon your family; it’s
not fair upon your uncle; and, above all, it’s not fair upon Miss
Kettering herself. I conceive that you are bound, as a gentleman, to
make all necessary arrangements, so that the business may be concluded
within a month of your arrival at Newton-Hollows.”

Charlie looked rather aghast. “Well, but,” said he, “I should have to
leave the regiment. You wouldn’t have me bring Blanche out to
Kaffirland--poor little Blanche, she’d be frightened to death, and I
know I should have to sell out--Frank, I couldn’t bear to leave the
regiment. I like soldiering better than anything.”

“We can’t help that,” rejoined his friend. “You’ve a duty to perform
in life, and you must go through with it. You’re not to live for
yourself alone; and look how many people are interested in this
question. In the first place, there’s your cousin. In consequence of
this will they’ve found, you have been the innocent cause of robbing
her of a princely inheritance; this is the only method by which you
can replace her in her former advantageous position. It was evidently
intended all through by your uncle and your poor aunt that this
marriage should take place, and their wishes ought to be your law.
Then the General has set his heart upon it, I _know_, and you are both
under great obligations to that kind old man. But all these
considerations are as nothing compared with the feelings of Blanche
herself. Charlie, would you begin by supplanting her in her
birthright, and finish by breaking her heart?”

Charlie looked wofully disconcerted. This was altogether a new light,
and he stammered out, “Of course I should like to do what’s right, but
I don’t want to give up the army;--and--and--I’m very fond of Blanche,
you know, and all that, but I don’t think I quite like her well enough
to marry her.”

“Not like her!” exclaimed Hardingstone, to whom this latter reason
was totally incomprehensible, “not like such a girl as that--the
loveliest, the sweetest, the most angelic, the most ladylike creature
on the face of the earth--I’ve never seen anything the least to be
compared to her in _my_ experience; and you talk of not liking her!”

“Hang it, Frank!” interposed the lad, “I wish you’d marry her
yourself. I’ll go shares with her in fortune; there’s more than enough
for us both, and you’re much fitter to be a respectable man than I
am.”

The shaft went deep into his heart, but the strong man never winced or
failed for a moment. “What right have you,” he broke in, almost
fiercely, “what right have you to talk of giving her money, and laying
her under obligations? Like Falstaff,” he added, relapsing into his
usual manner, “you owe her yourself and the money too. For Heaven’s
sake, Charlie, don’t tamper with the happiness of a lifetime--honour,
duty, expediency, all point one way--do not, for a mere whim, neglect
that which, left undone, you will repent ever afterwards. Promise me,
_now_ promise me, Charlie, that you will marry your cousin before you
again leave Newton-Hollows.”

Charlie bit his lip, stroked his moustaches, looked first one way, and
then another; and finally, blushing crimson over his wasted face,
exclaimed, “Never, Frank--if you must know it, you had better know it
now--never, I tell you, and for the best of all reasons; of course it
goes no farther, but the fact is, I--I like somebody else much
better.”

“And do you think you are the only person that has to sacrifice
inclination--nay, happiness, existence itself--to duty? Do you think
you are to be exempt from the common lot of man--to receive everything
and give up nothing? Do you owe no duty to your cousin? Are you not
all-in-all to her? And are you to destroy all the hopes of her
lifetime, to break her young heart, as you have destroyed her
prospects, for your own selfish gratification? Trust me, Charlie, she
loves you, and whether you care for her or not, unless your word is
irrevocably pledged to another, it is your duty to marry her, and
marry her you must!”

“You’re wrong, Frank,” said Charlie, with a roguish smile; “you’re
wrong--you’re a sharp fellow generally, but you’re out of your
reckoning here. Blanche has exactly the same regard for me that a
sister has for a brother--but love, as you and I understand the word,
bless you, she hasn’t a notion of it, as far as I am concerned; but
I’ll tell you whom I think she _does_ love, Frank--ah! you may wince
and turn pale, but you ought to know, and I’ll tell you. Frank, do you
remember the Guyville ball?--why! you’re not pale now--I should never
have mentioned it if you hadn’t driven me into a corner, but now out
it shall come. Do you remember when you came up and turned away
without asking her to dance, while we were waltzing together? Well,
when Blanche looked up, her eyes were full of tears, and she said to
me, ‘What’s the matter with Mr. Hardingstone? I’m afraid he’s offended
with us.’ And I said, ‘Blanche, you little flirt, he thinks you’ve
jilted him.’ And she blushed over her face and neck and shoulders--ay,
redder than you are now, old boy; and she followed you with such a
loving, piteous look--and I saw it all in a moment. Yes, Frank,
Blanche is over head and ears in love with you, and I’m glad of it,
for there’s no other man in the world that’s worthy of her; and _you_
shall marry her, Frank, and _I_ won’t, and I’ll get drunk at the
wedding--but let’s go below now. These cold evenings make me cough,
and I suppose the steward will manage some supper for us, though it
_is_ blowing so hard;” with which gastronomic aspiration hungry
Charlie disappeared down the hatchway, and left an altered man behind
him, to pace the deck in a confused state of tumultuous, almost
delirious happiness.

Frank was anything but a vain man; he always considered himself as
possessing no attractions for the other sex; and that such a girl as
Blanche Kettering should look upon him favourably was a happiness he
had scarcely allowed himself to picture in his dreams; but now that it
was suggested by another, now that it appeared to impartial eyes
neither an impossibility nor an absurdity, a thousand trifling
circumstances rose in his recollection--a thousand little lights and
shades of looks, and tones, and expressions, came back to him distinct
and vivid, with a meaning and a colouring they had never possessed
before, and he could hardly restrain the happiness that gushed up in
his bosom and sparkled in his eye, as after a few minutes of delicious
solitude on deck, he joined the party at supper in the cabin, and one
and all remarked that now the voyage was nearly over, the grave Mr.
Hardingstone appeared to be quite a different man. To their questions
as to the weather, he stated that it was “a beautiful night”; which
caused the captain to look at him as an undoubted lunatic, inasmuch as
the sea was getting up rapidly, and a thick mist was driving over the
face of the waters. With the passengers he joked and laughed, and
played _vingt-et-un_, and made himself so universally popular and
agreeable, that those very persons who had all along voted him an odd,
reserved, uncomfortable sort of fellow, now almost regretted that they
should so soon be parted from such a rand of good-humour and merriment
as they discovered, all too late, in their fellow-passenger.

The night grew blacker as the mist increased with the somewhat
moderating gale, and a long, heaving swell came rolling up from the
Atlantic, each succeeding sea appearing to rear its gigantic volume
higher, farther, fiercer than its predecessor, and still the good ship
steamed on through the darkness. A light at her foretop, and an
indistinct glimmer at the binnacle, only made the surrounding
obscurity appear more palpable, and through the dense fog, which
seemed to pervade the very deck, and to hang around the spars and
tackle, it was difficult to distinguish the two phantom figures at the
wheel and the look-out man in the bows. The captain ever and anon
dived to his cabin to consult his chart, and re-appearing on the wet,
slippery deck, cast an anxious eye at the ship’s compass, and the
course she was lying--then glanced to windward, where some huge wave
flung its crest of foam into the light, and sporting with that
powerful steamer as with a plaything, dashed its beating spray, in
wantonness of strength, high over the protecting bulwarks, till the
very yards dripped and streamed with brine. A few gruff words,
unintelligible to the landsmen, were addressed to the struggling
steersmen, and again the captain glanced anxiously at the compass, and
knit his brows and seemed ill at ease. Between the decks, confiding
passengers snored in their berths and dreamt of home. Little thought
they of darkness and fog and driving seas. They had paid their
passage-money, and they were to be delivered safe at their
destination--was it not in the bond? They were, besides, in the
Channel; and the ladies on board derived unspeakable relief and
consolation from the knowledge that they were once more in
soundings--and they, too, slept the sleep of innocence and security.
So midnight passed, and still the good ship held steadily on.

But the captain grew more restless and disturbed, and he ordered the
steam to be slackened, and a sailor to be slung over the side, and to
heave the lead; and these were wise and seamanlike precautions, but
they were a few minutes too late. As the words left his mouth, a shock
that made that huge fabric shake again brought him to the deck. True
to his seaman nature, he shouted to “back the engines,” even as he
fell; but she was aground, and it was too late. Ere he recovered his
legs he knew too well what had happened. Sea after sea came pouring
over the deck; one of the men at the wheel was washed overboard, the
other barely saved as he clung for dear life to the helm: everything
that was not secured went at once by the board, and the dashing waves
plunging heavily into the engine-room, put out the fires, and reduced
that triumph of man’s ingenuity to a mere helpless log upon the
waters. The seamen came tumbling up to the forecastle, every man as he
had slept, half-dressed, and even now scarce awake; yet such is the
force of habit, that confusion prevailed more than alarm, and here and
there even a jest arose to lips which in a few hours might probably be
silenced for ever. But if not sole mistress on deck, Fear could boast
of undivided dominion below. Shrieks and sobs and wailing prayers
burst from the affrighted passengers, as they rushed tumultuously from
their respective berths into the saloon, and asked wildly what had
happened, and inquired with white lips if there was any danger; one
said, “Is there any hope?” and the panic increased as it spread, and
wives clung upon their husbands’ breasts, and pressed their children
to their sides, and screamed in an unbearable agony of fear; and one,
a strong, stout man, shouted for help as though terror had turned his
brain, and raved of his wife and his little ones at home--that home,
on firm dry land, that he had never known how to prize before; then a
white-haired minister, one of honest John Wesley’s followers, proposed
in a calm, steady voice that each and all should kneel down and pray;
but the affrighted mass, now wavering and struggling to the hatchway,
paid no attention to the good man’s suggestion; for each strove to
reach the deck as though it were a haven of safety, each instinctively
shrank from the idea of perishing in that dark, dreadful cabin, and
the selfishness of man came out and developed itself even in that
maddened crowd as they pushed each other aside and struggled who
should be first to reach the door.

“Charlie! where are you?” exclaimed Frank Hardingstone’s unshaken
voice, as he emerged already dressed from his cabin into the seething
confusion of the saloon.

“Here!” said Charlie, struggling to free himself from the embraces of
a stout old Frenchwoman, who, wild with terror, was choking the lad as
she clung round his neck and implored him to be her preserver--“Here!
Frank, we’re aground, I think; I want to get on deck and make myself
useful, if this old woman would let me go!”

Charlie freed himself from the venerable dame’s embrace, but she clung
hard to his garments, and he was forced to slip out of the
dressing-gown which he had put on at the first moment of alarm, and
leaving it in her grasp, to make his escape clad only in his shirt and
trousers. When he reached the deck he found Frank already there,
having put himself under the captain’s orders, and now lending his
assistance to restore discipline as far as possible, and to clear the
wreck. The huge ship heaved and shivered in her throes, as wave after
wave washed her farther on to the shoal; the fog, too, added to the
confusion of the scene, and as it became doubtful whether her timbers
could stand against the violence of these successive shocks, even the
sturdy seamen began to hint at her going to pieces--and the cry,
though none knew whence it first arose, thrilled from stem to stern,
“The boats! the boats! Launch the boats!”

“By Him that made me! I’ll strike the first man dead that stirs
without orders,” cried the captain, heaving a broad axe above his
head, his voice rising through the confusion of the crew and the dash
of the leaping waves.

“Can the boats live in such a sea?” whispered Frank, as he stood by
the captain’s side, prepared to lend him any assistance he might
require.

“Undoubtedly, sir!” was the reply; “it’s our only chance. We’ll get
the women and children in first. Mr. Hardingstone, you’re a _man_!
take charge of the larboard boat--let no man into it without
orders--we may save them all yet!” and the captain sprang to the
starboard boat, laid hold of the “davits,” and sang out, “Lower away,
men, easy!” whilst Frank, in a hurried whisper, gave his orders to
Charlie, who was as cool as a cucumber throughout.

“Charlie, keep the hatchway with the steward--he’s a bold
fellow--don’t let a single man up till the women and children are all
on deck. If any fellow runs rusty, _knock him down_!”

By this time order was to a certain degree restored--the passengers
were indeed in a frightful state below, when they found their egress
barred, as they thought, so arbitrarily, from all hopes of safety; but
on deck every man had his own duty to perform, and the magic power of
discipline, assisted by the dawn, which was now struggling into light,
bid fair to give them every chance of safety that knowledge and
experience could suggest. But one man was mutinous. A strong,
black-bearded fellow, with a dogged, lowering countenance, who had
been most assiduous in helping Hardingstone to lower away the larboard
boat, no sooner found it launched than he made a rush for the side, to
place himself, as he hoped, in safety, regardless of the helpless and
the weak.

“Stand back!” said Frank, in a voice of thunder; “wait for your turn.”

“Turn be ----,” growled the man; “who made _you_ skipper? D’ye think
I’d lose my life for a land-lubber like you?”

“I warn you!” said Frank, clenching his fist, and looking dangerous.
The man advanced as though to push him aside. Frank drew himself
together and struck out. He knocked him clean off his legs on to the
deck, where he lay stunned and bleeding.

“Serve him right,” cried Charlie from the hatchway--an observation
which was echoed by the crew; and Frank had no further difficulty in
preserving discipline at the station of which he had taken the
command. One by one, pale trembling women, and bewildered little
children, pattering on the deck with bare feet, and enveloped in
shawls, petticoats, anything that had been first caught up in the
hurry of the moment, were handed through the hatchway, and lowered
carefully over the side into the heaving boats. There they clung
together, shivering and drenched with spray, some of the women with
scarce any other covering than their white night-dresses, their long
wet hair hanging about their shoulders; but even in that extremity
thinking only of their children, and regardless of their own
sufferings and danger. Poor things! how scared they were by the first
minute-gun that boomed from the wreck! for the captain, assisted by
Frank Hardingstone’s coolness, and now equal to any emergency, had not
neglected the precaution of making every possible signal of distress.
Then the male passengers were drafted singly, and handed over the side
by the dauntless seamen. Some behaved gallantly enough, and offered to
stand by the ship and the captain to the last; some trembled and
cowered, submissively obeying every order given them, and apparently
rendered totally helpless by fear. One sturdy little boy, of some ten
or eleven years, clung manfully to a toy, the property of his infant
sister; and when compelled to lay hold of the guiding-rope with both
hands, seized the bauble between his teeth, and so reached his mother
in the boat. The rough sailors gave him a cheer.

At length the passengers were disposed of; a few cloaks and
pea-jackets were thrown in to cover the women; the ship’s compass was
placed in one of the boats; a crew of seamen were told off, and seized
the oars; the mate took the command; strict injunctions were given for
the boats to keep together; and they shoved off into that heaving sea.
It was now broad daylight, and the rain falling heavily.

“Thank God, sir,” said the captain, with a sigh of relief, “we’ve
disposed of the passengers. The wind’s falling now, with this wet,
and they’ll make the land in three or four hours. I trust in
Providence every hair of their heads will be saved; and we’ve nothing
to think of but ourselves.”

“There’s a dozen of us left,” said Frank, looking round on the
dripping group, who were clinging to the different parts of the wreck,
consisting of one or two subordinate officers, the boatswain, and a
few old, weather-beaten seamen; “that boat will hold us all, if she
will swim; but she’s rather a cockle-shell for such a sea as this,” he
observed, pointing to a small, shallow skiff that hung at the stern,
and which had not yet been lowered.

“It’s our best chance,” said the captain, looking very grave, as
another rolling sea made the wreck heave and quiver and strain, as if
she must go to pieces; “but she’ll never hold us all. I’ll stand by
the ship to the last; and you two gentlemen, to whose coolness, under
Providence, the passengers owe their lives, will bear witness I did my
duty. God bless you! Lower away, men; cheerily, oh!” So the boat was
lowered, and as she touched the water she filled and sank, and
appeared again, bottom uppermost, some fifty yards away; and so the
last chance of escape was cut off. The little party looked at each
other in blank dismay; even Frank’s bold heart tightened itself for an
instant in the pressure of despair. Only the gruff boatswain found
words to say, “That bit plug, that didn’t ought to have been
neglected, ’s worth exactly twelve men’s lives. This here’s a stopper
over all, blessed if it ain’t.” There was nothing to be done now but
to wait manfully for death. Poor Charlie was already half-dead with
cold; but Frank took off his own pea-jacket and wrapped it round the
lad, and lashed him to the foremast; for though the weather had
moderated considerably, a sea came every now and then driving over the
deck, and carrying everything before it. The wreck was by this time
filling fast, and sinking gradually: already she had settled by the
stern, and only her bows and a part of the forecastle remained above
water. On this the sufferers were congregated, and few words did they
interchange, for consolation or hope there was none in this world.
Their powder was exhausted--true, there was plenty below, in the
powder-magazine, but that was long ago swamped, so that their very
cries for help must be silenced--that iron voice, their sole chance
of rescue, must be dumb. The fog, too, began to clear away, and a
bright gleam of sunshine ever and anon shone out upon the yellow,
foam-crested waves, and glistened on the white wings of the dipping
sea-gulls. By degrees the blue sky peered overhead, and the gap
widened and widened, and the mists rising in wreaths from the waters,
now heaving and subsiding into rest, floated lazily away, and the
discoloured sea became bright and blue, and the sun burst forth into a
glorious autumn day, and the warmth of his rays almost comforted those
poor wet wretches, clinging hopelessly to the wreck. It seemed hard to
die on such a day, but exhaustion was beginning to tell upon some of
the sufferers, and the lassitude of despair was creeping over them
with its drowsy influence, and the reason of more than one began to
give way. So they waited and spoke not, and some strove to pray, and
some shut their eyes as if in sleep; and noon came, and the day was
bright and hot, and the sea-birds screamed and soared, and everything
was full of joy and life, and only that little circle of twelve were
doomed to die. Frank and Charlie were together, and every now and then
each pressed the other’s hand, but neither spoke. The captain, who was
nearest them, seemed stupefied with despair; and he, too, spoke not.
They were a silent company. The day crept on: every minute was
precious, yet the minutes dragged on like lead. Once the captain
stirred, and Frank, glancing eagerly at his face, was aware of a
strange light upon it, and a gleam in his fixed eye that was almost
unearthly. Was it insanity? Could it be hope? Frank’s breath stopped
as he followed the direction of the captain’s gaze, but he could see
nothing, save the glancing waters and the hopeless sky-line. But still
the captain stared, and the old boatswain, too, was looking eagerly in
the same direction, and another seaman seemed to wake from his stupor,
and Frank strained his eyes, and at last he was aware of a black speck
on the horizon, and, ere he could trust his sight, the stout old
captain burst into tears, and a feeble cheer rose from the exhausted
seamen, a cheer that thrilled through Frank’s very marrow, for he knew
that they were saved.

“What is it?” said Charlie, faintly, opening his heavy eyes.

“It’s a boat,” was the reply--“a boat; the bitterness of death is
past, thank God! thank God!”

Then came the painful suspense, the agony of hope and fear; it might
after all be but a spar, or a black fish, or anything save what they
wished. No--it was a boat, a real boat; but her crew might not see
them--they might be fishing--they might never think of the wreck; then
the poor exhausted fellows strained their throats in a feeble hail, or
rather a hoarse, desperate shriek. But the boat is bearing down upon
them--she nears them. “Wreck ahoy! hilli-ho!” Never was music like to
this on mortal ear. Her sharp nose comes dancing and dipping over the
waves, the glance of her oars flashes in the sun; now they can
distinguish the forms of the rowers--now the cheery voices of their
countrymen gladden their very heart’s core--and now she is alongside;
and despair is over--suspense and misery are forgotten--and the past
is like a dream.

The steamer had struck far nearer the shore than her reckoning had
given the captain reason to suppose, and her guns had at length been
heard by some fishermen on the beach at St. Swithin’s. There was a
heavy sea running; but the lifeboat was soon manned, and our old
friend Hairblower himself took the stroke-oar, and manfully those
gallant fellows pulled till they reached the wreck. They had fallen in
with the ship’s boats about half-way from the shore, and now brought
the welcome news of their almost undoubted safety.

“To think of you and Master Charles being aboard, sir,” said
Hairblower, who seemed to consider the whole matter of the wreck as an
every-day occurrence. “This is, indeed, what may well be called ‘a
circumstance,’ if ever there was ‘a circumstance’ hereaway;” and he
settled his two friends comfortably in the stern of the lifeboat, ere
he busied himself to place the rest of the rescued seamen where they
would least interfere with the efforts of the oarsmen. They were soon
safely disposed, and by sundown, wet, weary, and exhausted, they stood
once more upon that shore which they had scarcely dared to hope they
should ever see again.

When Charlie woke the following morning in a comfortable room at the
Royal Hotel, the first person that greeted his opening eyes was
honest Hairblower. That worthy had taken entire possession of his
former _protégé_, and now made his appearance with a steaming glass of
hot brandy-and-water, the only orthodox breakfast, in his opinion, for
a man who had been wrecked the day before; though rather disgusted at
Charlie’s obstinacy in refusing this specific, he was extremely
anxious to assist him through his toilet, and was only to be got rid
of by an assurance that his young favourite would be down to
breakfast, where he would answer all his questions, and listen to all
his protestations, in an incredibly short space of time. Hairblower
accordingly drank the brandy-and-water himself, and waited patiently
during what appeared to him an unreasonably long period to spend in
the process of adornment.

When Frank and Charlie met in the coffee-room, the sailor too made his
appearance, and, with much circumlocution, managed to deliver himself
of a request which had evidently been all the morning brewing in his
mind.

“If it was not a liberty, Master Charles, and you, too, Mr.
Hardingstone, I should make bold to ask of you both to let me join
company in a cruise. I conclude as you’re bound to London this
afternoon at the latest--soon as ever you’ve got rigged out decent and
presentable. Well, gentlemen, you see I’ve a little business, too, in
London town. I haven’t been there not since, Mr. Hardingstone, you
lent me a hand so kind, and I’ve got to be there, sooner or later,
about the fishing business; for, you see, my mates, they wish me to be
spokesman like with our governor, and he can’t leave London--so, in
course, I must go to him. Now, if it wasn’t too great a liberty, I
should be proud if you gentlemen would let me wait upon you, just for
the voyage like. I can’t bear to part with you so soon: and though
you’ve no luggage, seeing all your traps is still aboard, and spoilt
by now, and I can’t be useful to you, I should like just to see you
and Master Charlie safe into London town, and shake you both by the
hand there afore we part.”

Need we say the permission was joyfully granted, and that the
afternoon train bore the trio in company to the metropolis, whence
Charlie and Frank were to start next day together for Newton-Hollows?



CHAPTER XXIV

KING CRACK

     THE TOAD WITHOUT THE JEWEL--AN INCLINED PLANE--TWO HEADS ARE
     BETTER THAN ONE--THE FIRST PARALLEL--THE FAMILY GONE OUT--A
     PLAN OF THE CITADEL--HOW TO GET IN--NO QUARTER--A TRIP BY
     RAIL--STRANGE COMPANY


“Sweet are the uses of adversity” to some malleable natures, which,
bending to the storm, rise from it softened and refreshed as from an
April shower; but there are desperate and rebellious spirits on whom
grief and misfortune seem to have an exactly opposite effect. Such are
more prone to kindle into resistance or smoulder in despair, and
whilst the humbled penitent kneels meekly to kiss the rod, the
hardened offender gnashes his teeth in impotent fury, and glories in
his mad career as he forces himself from bad to worse, even to the
very threshold of destruction--“game,” as the poor fool calls it,
“game to the last.”

Such was the disposition of Tom Blacke. When his child died, the whole
of his better nature seemed to have followed the infant to the grave.
He had nothing now to care for in the world; and it is needless to
enlarge upon the danger of such a state. His wife’s misconduct--for
she, poor woman, maddened by despair, had but followed her husband’s
example, in drowning sorrow with drunkenness--added fuel to the
flames; and Tom was descending, just as gradually and as surely as one
who walks step by step into a cellar, down into the lowest abyss of
infamy and crime. The gradations are imperceptible, there are many
windings in the path, but it never fails to terminate in the black
gulf. At first the wayfarer may be easily checked and turned aside;
but every onward step increases his velocity and his helplessness (the
laws of gravitation are no less true in the moral than the physical
world), and though a gossamer might have held him at starting, a chain
of iron shall not break his fall as he nears the bottom. The
beginning, too, is as insidious as it is effectual. The cheerful
glass, the harbinger of good fellowship and kindliness, who would be
such a churl as to deny a man the harmless pleasure of indulging in
moderation with a friend? But one cheerful glass creates a craving for
another, and ere long the liquor begins to have a charm of its own
independent of the company. Then the dose must be increased, or it
loses its power, and nightly indulgence begins to be followed by daily
reaction; so a trifling stimulant is taken in the morning, just to
steady the nerves and keep the cold out--a salutary precaution in this
damp climate! Then the pleasure becomes a necessity, and partial
intoxication begins to be the normal condition of the man. Meanwhile
the habit is expensive, but who can doubt that the moral sense becomes
blunted in so unnatural a state? and the drain on his means is
supplied by the toper’s application of his wages or other resources to
his own brutal gratification. Self-indulgence soon destroys the sense
of self-respect, and the temptation to procure money is irresistible,
for without money how can he purchase drink? So the man first begins
to lie, then to cheat, and lastly to steal. He has now arrived at the
second stage in his downward journey. He has enlisted in a profession
which has its rules, its customs, its triumphs--nay, to a certain
extent, its pleasures--but from which there is no release. The
drunkard is now a thief, and, to deaden the stings of conscience, no
less a drunkard still. Then comes madness, for a state of habitual
excitement can but be called madness, and visions of daring
recklessness rise in the brandy-sodden brain--perhaps a sort of false
ambition to triumph amongst his fellow-ruffians impels him to crimes
of deeper dye than any he has yet contemplated, perhaps a vague
longing for peril, perhaps a morbid thirst for blood. The wretch plots
under the inspiration of brandy, and spurs himself to action with the
same maddening stimulant. His nerves fail him at the critical moment,
or the frenzy of despair dyes his hand with the ineffaceable stain of
murder. In the one case a living death in the hulks separates him for
ever from his fellow-men; in the other, the just retaliation of the
law leaves his body quivering on the gallows, whilst his name becomes
a byword and a curse in the mouths of generations yet unborn. This is
the third and last stage of the downward journey; further we dare not
follow the culprit; but few arrive at this awful ending without having
gone regularly through all the previous gradations. Tom Blacke had
only reached the second stage. He was now a professional thief and
receiver of stolen goods. The lodgings in the Mews could now show
curiosities and valuables that any one but a policeman would have been
surprised to find in such a place. Gold watches, silks and shawls and
trinkets, yards of brocade, ells of lace, and last, not least, a
caldron always on the boil for the manufacture of that all-absorbing
fluid which is called “white soup,” and sold by the ounce, surrounded
the once virtuous Gingham in her once respectable home. She, too, was
on the downward track, and she drank to stupefy the sense of guilt,
which she could not altogether stifle, and from which she had not
energy to extricate herself. Mr. Blacke, however, as he began again to
be called, allowed no conscientious scruples to interfere with
business. He dressed well now, always had plenty of money at command,
might be seen at many places of public resort, and though aware that
the police had their eye on him--to use a common expression, that they
were only giving him “rope enough to hang himself,” and would
undoubtedly “want” him ere long--he appeared resolved to live out his
little hour with the usual blind recklessness and infatuation of his
kind.

Blacke was a plotting villain, and he had been for some time
meditating a daring sweep that should eclipse all his previous doings,
_and, if not thwarted_, realise a share of booty that would place him
above want for the rest of his life. In order to discover and
frustrate his plans, we must take the liberty of overhearing a
conversation carried on between him and his confederate, in a small
snug parlour off the bar of that very public-house in which
Hairblower had been so shamefully hocussed and robbed on his former
visit to the metropolis--an excursion he was not likely soon to
forget.

“Bring a quartern of gin,” said Tom to the flaunting maid who waited
on him, as he took his seat at the council-table, with a bloodshot eye
and shaking hand, that showed such a stimulus was by no means
unnecessary. “Shut the door, girl,” he added, in a threatening voice,
as the undiluted spirit was placed on the table between him and his
companion; “this gentleman and me has matters of business to talk
over; see that we’re not disturbed--d’ye understand?” The girl gave a
saucy smile of intelligence, and left the two worthies to their
consultation.

“My service to you,” said Tom, abruptly, as he lifted a brimming
wine-glass full of gin to his shaking lips.

“Here’s luck,” laconically replied the gentleman addressed, wiping his
mouth on the back of his hand, and turning his glass down upon the
table to show how religiously he had drained every drop.

There was an ominous silence--Tom felt the moment had arrived to
explain the whole of his plans, and he paused a little, like some
skilful general, as he ran over in his mind how he should impart them
in the clearest manner to his companion, a man of somewhat obtuse
intellect, though strong and resolute in action, and who was indeed no
other than Mr. Fibbes. That worthy’s appearance had decidedly changed
for the worse since we had the honour of making his acquaintance at
the truly British game of skittles, or even since we last took leave
of him in earnest conversation with his patron, Major D’Orville. He
had sustained two domestic afflictions, from each of which he had
suffered severely: the one in the loss of his little black-eyed wife,
who had been suddenly taken from him, and who, although, as he himself
said, she was a “rum ’un when she was raised,” had certainly kept him
out of a deal of mischief; the other, in the premature death of his
pride and prime favourite, Jessie, whose sufferings during distemper
and subsequent dissolution he averred would have moved “a ’eart of
stone.” Under the influence of these combined sorrows Mr. Fibbes had
neglected his person, and taken more decidedly to drinking than
formerly, and was now seldom or never in his right senses; a fact
sufficiently attested by his bloated red face, his dull leaden eye,
and general appearance of dissolute recklessness. He was indeed ripe
for mischief, or, to use his own words, “up to anythink, from skinning
a pig to smothering a Harchbishop,” a frame of mind very likely to
lead to dangerous consequences. Tom filled his glass once more, and
opened the plan of his campaign.

“It must be done to-night, Mr. Fibbes,” he remarked, with polite
energy; “this is the last night we can manage it cleverly, on account
of the moon. See now--I’ve been down in the neighbourhood to make
sure. My missus, she knows the place as well as I know you. Bless you!
she was bred and born there. But I wouldn’t trust to that. I’ve been
waiting down about there for a week. At last, the family they all goes
out a hairin’ in the phaeton or what not--I walks boldly up to the
front door and rings the bell. Up comes the housekeeper, all in a
fluster, settling of a clean cap--thinks I, the footman’s gone with
the carriage, and the butler’s out shootin’, and directly his back’s
turned, the under butler he’s off courtin’, and the boy when the
coast’s clear, he runs out to play cricket, so there’s no one left but
the women--trust me for managin’ of _them_.”

“Good,” said Mr. Fibbes, approvingly, as he filled and emptied his
glass.

“‘Is the General at home?’ says I, quite promiscuous, and looking up
and down the portico like a harchitect.

“‘No, sir,’ says she, politely enough; ‘did you wish to see him?’

“‘It’s of no consequence,’ says I, pulling a bundle of prints and a
measuring-line out of my pocket, ‘merely a small matter of business;
the General’s confidential servant would do as well.’ Ye see I knowed
the butler was out, else he’d have answered the door.

“‘Perhaps you’ll leave a message, sir,’ says she.

“‘O ma’am,’ says I, ‘it’s a matter of no importance, only I _am_ going
to town by the train to-night. Perhaps, ma’am, as you seem to be the
governess, or a relative of the family, you might give me permission
to do all I want.’

“‘What is it?’ says she, looking as pleased as Punch.

“‘Well, ma’am,’ says I, ‘the fact is, I’m engaged in preparing a work
for publication that shall comprise all the principal seats of the
nobility and gentry in the Midland Counties; would you oblige me by
glancing over the proofs? and if there are any that strike your fancy,
pray favour me by acceptin’ of them,’ says I. ‘Your noble family owns
one of the finest residences we have yet surveyed, and we shall be
proud to do justice to it.’”

“Good,” again grunted Mr. Fibbes, who was beginning to weary of the
detail, and wanted more gin to keep him awake.

“Well,” resumed Tom, “with that she takes me into the hall, and shows
me over the drawing-room, and the dining-room, and the conservatories;
and she stops and pints out a statue--rank indecent, I calls it,
without a rag of clothin’ to bless itself--and the pictures, and what
not; but I wasn’t satisfied with this here; what I wanted was to know
where the plunder was stowed, and though pictures may be very
profitable to them as sells ’em, the plate-basket’s more in my line of
business than those shammy gold frames that make such a show, and
isn’t worth half-a-crown a yard. ‘You’ll excuse me, miss,’ says I
(they likes to be called miss when the bloom’s off ’em a little), ‘but
I’ve always understood as the offices in this house is a perfect
pattern as regards servants’ accommodation and general arrangement.
Now, my governor, he’s building a country residence for the Earl of
Aircastle, and if it wasn’t takin’ too great a liberty, I might ask to
be allowed to inspect the basement; I could get a hint or two that
would please his lordship, who’s a very particular man--uncommon.’
With that she hesitated a little, and looked hard at me, so I goes at
her again: ‘I wouldn’t detain _you_, miss,’ says I, ‘but perhaps you’d
be so good as to ring for any of the hupper servants, and they could
do all I want.’

“‘Oh,’ says she, smiling again, ‘I’ll show you over the offices
myself.’ With that, blessed if she didn’t take me down-stairs, and
walk me through the sculleries, and the kitchen, and the
pantry, and the servants’ hall, and the back-kitchen, and the
housemaid’s closets--precious corners they was, too, for a game of
hide-and-seek--and the butler’s room, where he sleeps the nights he
isn’t off to Bubbleton on the sly; and I could put my hand on the
plate-chest in the dark, and I know where the General keeps his money,
and there’s gold watches and such like in the drawing-room, that would
make a matter of a hundred pounds directly they saw old Sharon’s
back-shop; and I kept my eyes open, as you may easily believe, and
I’ve got it all in my head now, let alone a bit of a plan I’ve taken
of the place just in the rough;” and with this Tom pulled a sheet of
paper out of his pocket, and proposed with its aid to elucidate the
manœuvres he proceeded to put in practice. “You and I can do it
all,” said Tom, “just the same as we stripped the old hall near
Devizes. I don’t relish more than two, not if a job’s any way
ticklish, and I do like to finish off my work neatly, I confess. Now,
look ye here, Mr. Fibbes, this is how we’ll act--the station’s not ten
minutes’ walk from the house, and the mail-train stops there about
12.50. There’s a luggage-train comes by about three in the mornin’
that would bring us back quite handy, and we should have plenty of
time to finish off handsome, and so be home to breakfast. Take another
drain, Mr. Fibbes: talking’s dry work.”

Mr. Fibbes seemed to think the same of listening, and acquiesced with
great good-will.

Tom Blacke got up, opened the door to see no one was eaves-dropping,
peeped into the cupboard, and into a red-curtained snuggery off the
bar, commanded by a small window in the room he now occupied; and
having satisfied himself that both were empty, proceeded to unfold his
plans.

“We’ll leave the trap behind us this turn, Mr. Fibbes. We can carry
all _we_ shall want; there’s my light valise and the blue bag will
hold everything; we shan’t take anything that’s very hot, nor yet very
heavy. You mind to put on the green spectacles, just for the journey,
and I’ll be the man with the prospectuses, the same as before, for the
station-master’s a smart chap, and maybe he’ll know me again.”

“I mustn’t forget the jemmy,” grunted Mr. Fibbes.

“The jemmy!” replied Tom, in a tone of injured feeling; “what’s the
use of the jemmy? This ain’t a rough job, Mr. Fibbes; you seem to take
no pride in your profession! No, no; you just put the centre-bit in
your coat-pocket for a precaution, and leave the rest to me. The
back-scullery’s our place; it’s got a regular sash window, and opens
with a common hasp; there’s a shutter, too, but I see a cobweb across
it when I was there, and I think maybe they sometimes forget to fasten
it. So you and me we alights at the station as though to walk into
Bubbleton, then we come quietly up to the house, takes a bit of brown
paper and treacle, and so breaks a pane in that scullery window
without a chink of noise, then in goes a hand to unhasp it, and you
and me, Mr. Fibbes, we walks in without a hinvitation. Now, look you
here,” and Tom produced his chart of the interior, “we goes quietly
into the butler’s room--he’s safe to be at Bubbleton, because it’s a
theatre night--we takes a piece out of the cupboard with a
centre-bit--none of your noisy jemmies--and we stows away the plate in
the blue bag; then we creeps along the passage, and so up the
back-stairs there” (pointing to the plan with his finger) “into the
drawing-room; and here, Mr. Fibbes, I shall want your assistance, in
case of haccidents. Ye see one of the ladies she sleeps above the
drawing-room, and ladies is mostly light sleepers. Now, from what I’ve
heard tell of this one--the governess she was--she’s as likely as not
to come down if she hears any disturbance. She might know _me_, for
she’s seen me along of my missus in Grosvenor Square. If she should
walk in--. Take another drain, Mr. Fibbes--what’s that noise?” broke
off Tom, abruptly, his white face beaded with perspiration, and his
lip working in guilty trepidation.

“Noise? there’s no noise,” replied his confederate, looking doggedly
up to him, though a strange light shone too in his bloodshot eyes; “if
she _should_ walk in, what then?”

“Why, run the long knife into her,” hissed out the less daring
villain; “it makes no noise, and she’ll tell no tales.”

“Share and share alike, and it’s a bargain,” said Mr. Fibbes, dashing
his great hand heavily down on the table. “D----n me, Tom, you’re a
deep ’un; you put me in front in that last job, and so help me I didn’t
clear five pounds. I’ll have none of these games this turn, and if I
_have_ to whip out the ‘bread-winner,’ I’ll be allowed something
handsome over and above, see if I won’t.”

“Of course, Mr. Fibbes,” replied Tom, “honour amongst gentlemen. You
understand the plan now, I think, or would you like me to go over it
once more?”

“Bother the plan,” remarked Mr. Fibbes, who was a man of action rather
than a man of science; “let’s have another quartern and be off--why,
it’s getting dark now.”

“Easy,” said Tom, “we’ll just call at my place for the instruments,
and so walk on to the station. It’s a nice fresh night for a jaunt
into the country; but what a thing it is when gentlemen can combine
business with pleasure!”

Mr. Fibbes grunted a hoarse laugh of approbation, and, having finished
their gin, these two worthy members of society walked off, arm-in-arm,
on their nefarious expedition. It is needless to say that
Newton-Hollows was the house for which they were bound. General Bounce
and his unconscious family, resting peacefully and securely as usual,
were to be robbed, and, if any resistance arose, were to be murdered
before daylight, and this because Tom Blacke, being, as he said,
connected with them by marriage, and having received many acts of
kindness from the warm-hearted old General, had obtained a sufficient
knowledge of the inside of his dwelling and the habits of his
household to make a descent upon his property with every prospect of
success. After a vehement discussion with Mr. Fibbes, who was
extremely anxious to travel first class, and whose aristocratic
prejudices were so shocked when he found his confederate would by no
means consent to this imprudent arrangement, that he nearly threw up
the job altogether, the worthy couple stowed themselves away in a
roomy compartment of the second class, and were soon steaming along
from the lights of London, into the dark, broken masses of the cool,
fresh country.

Though, in this instance, the power of steam seemed friendly to the
purpose of these two finished ruffians, they could not divest
themselves of certain superstitious misgivings, which probably they
would not have entertained had they been bounding along on two
free-going horses, like the gentlemen highwaymen of the olden time,
or even bowling merrily down the road in the light spring-cart, and
behind the “varmint” bay mare that made the pride of a cracksman in
the early part of the present century. But the rail! there was a deal
of insecurity about the rail. That electric telegraph, too, was the
devil. At every station they almost expected to see the face of some
too well-known detective glaring in behind the station-master’s lamp,
and to hear the unwelcome though civil greeting with which he would
request the favour of their company. Then might he not be even now in
the next carriage, separated from them by that half-inch of woodwork?
Mr. Fibbes scowled as he contemplated the possibility of such
proximity, and clutched more than once at the long knife. Still they
sped on, uninterrupted; half the journey was already satisfactorily
performed. A succession of respectable good-humoured second-class
passengers got in and out, and handed their bundles and pattens and
umbrellas across the two housebreakers, and entered into conversation
with them, and thought the dark smaller man a vastly accommodating
person, and his morose companion a stout well-to-do grazier coming
home from Smithfield, judging of them just as we cannot help judging
of our temporary companions, particularly when travelling, and making
probably no worse shots than we all do in these fancy biographies _à
la minute_. But there was a man in the next carriage to the two
professionals who puzzled everybody. A stout fellow he was, with a
shiny hat, but no power on earth could get him to utter a syllable.
Some thought he was dumb, and some made sure he was drunk.



CHAPTER XXV

“DULCE DOMUM”

     HALF-ENGAGED--THE GREEN-EYED MONSTER--SELF-SACRIFICE--“DINNER’S
     ON THE TABLE”--“THE MEMENTO MORI”--AN ADVOCATE FOR MATRIMONY--A
     FAIR GOOD-NIGHT


We must return to Newton-Hollows, now mellowing in the last tints of
fading autumn, its dahlias already cut off by the morning frosts, its
well-kept gravel-walks, despite the gardener and his staff, strewed
here and there with the withered leaves of the declining year. A light
mist, rising in smoke-wreaths from the sward, anticipates the early
twilight of the shortening day, and the fire burning brightly in the
library is none the less acceptable for its contrast to the gathering
shades of out-of-doors, which seem to stalk nearer and nearer to the
unshuttered windows.

Blanche has just come in, fresh and blooming, from an errand of mercy
amongst the poor in the adjoining village. Her bonnet is even now
hanging on her arm, and her long clustering hair is damp and limp with
the dews of evening. Is that a tear clinging to her eyelashes? or is
it only the moisture of heaven caught as it fell, and prisoned in
those silken meshes? Blanche is often in tears now, and loves to be
alone. She and Mary ride and walk together as usual, but the
unreserved confidence that used to exist between them is gone. It has
been dying a natural death ever since the former paid her memorable
visit at Frank Hardingstone’s hotel; and though it has flickered up
again with an expiring flash or two, it is now finally extinct. Our
young lady has aged much since her thoughtless days of only last
spring. Pique, disappointment, anxiety, and self-communing have been
doing their work silently and surely, shading the fair young brow,
indeed, but at the same time tempering and mellowing the careless,
buoyant heart. Blanche has begun to find that life is not all _couleur
de rose_, even for the young, and the lesson has not been without its
usual salutary effect. Though no longer the wealthy heiress--and, to
do her justice, she seldom dwells upon that as a misfortune--she is
beginning to feel that she too has a part to act on the stage of life,
or rather that, no longer acting the vain part of every-day frivolity,
she has a _reality_ to fulfil. So she is never so happy now as when
busying herself about her poor people, her decrepit old women, and her
little ragged children, to whom she does acts of unassuming kindness,
in the performance of which she forgets her own annoyances and
heart-burnings, though her woman nature is as yet but half-trained,
and she has occasional fits of despondency and bursts of reactionary
sorrow, which make her very unhappy for the time. Blanche has had a
fresh grievance, too, for the last few days, connected, of all things
in the world, with Cousin Charlie’s return--that return which was to
have been such a jubilee of rejoicing, and which she now almost dreads
to look forward to. The girl feels as if she had lost her
self-respect, and turn which way she will, the sting ever rankles in
her breast, ever reminds her of what she chooses to consider her
degradation. The fact is, she has sustained an interview with Uncle
Baldwin in the formidable study; and the General, who is not given to
beat about the bush when he has an object in view, has developed to
her, in as few words as possible, his projects for her future welfare,
and proposed to her, point blank, that on her cousin’s return from
abroad she should marry him forthwith. Blanche, as in nature bound,
made sundry hesitating objections, all of which her uncle chose to
consider as mere maiden modesty, _de rigueur_ on such an occasion; and
as Blanche could not say she _didn’t like him_, and as Uncle Baldwin
had always been so kind, in fact, a second father to her, and made
such a point of it, and it would prevent Charlie going back to those
horrid Kaffirs, and was to make them all so happy, and, above all, had
been her dearest mother’s wish--why, the girl gave in, as girls often
do on the most important topic of their lives, paralysed, as it would
seem, by the amount of the stake at issue, and yielded a sort of
conditional half-promise, which, notwithstanding the bursts of
applause that it met with from the General, the instant it passed her
lips, she would have given worlds to be able to recall. But there was
another consideration, buried deep in Blanche’s little heart, which,
although she would have been very angry to be told so, although she
would not allow it even to herself, had far more weight in inducing
her to listen favourably to these advances on the part of her
unconscious cousin, than all the General’s skilful sophistry and
affectionate eloquence; and this was a feeling which, as it is the
usual accompaniment of love, resembles that epidemic in so far that,
where it rages most fiercely, it is invariably most stoutly denied.
Men take it freely enough, and when under its influence commit sundry
absurdities, which, if they make “angels weep,” certainly make their
fellow-mortals laugh, and of which they have generally the grace to be
heartily ashamed; but with women, as we believe its seeds are never
altogether dormant in those gentle beings, so its virulence, when
unchecked, pervades their whole system, and one of its commonest and
least startling effects is that species of moral suicide which is best
described by the vulgar adage of “cutting off one’s nose to spite
one’s face,” and which produces that most incomprehensible of all
vagaries termed “marrying out of pique.”

Now we need hardly say, that we have written in vain “for that dull
elf who cannot picture to himself” how Blanche Kettering, from her
very pinafore days, had been over head and ears in love with Frank
Hardingstone: not a very sufficient reason, it may be said, for
consenting to marry some one else; but yet a natural consequence of
that inverted state of feelings we have described above, which under
the name of jealousy is capable of more extravagant feats than this.
And of whom was pretty Blanche jealous? Why, of her own fast friend
and dearest associate, the peerless Mary Delaval! The more she thought
over the characters of the two, so suited to each other in every
possible way--which very similarity Blanche was not philosopher enough
to perceive was an insuperable obstacle to any tenderer feeling than
respect--the more she considered their corresponding strength of mind
and hardihood of spirit, their equally high standard of worth and
elevation of sentiment--the more she reflected on the opinions she had
heard each of them express (the bass notes of that moral duet had sunk
deep into her heart)--the more she thought over that memorable day,
when, at a word from Mary, and at a moment’s notice, Frank had started
for South Africa, without so much as coming to wish her (Blanche)
good-bye--the more her heart sank within her as she linked those two
commanding figures in the halo of love, blurred even to her mental
vision by the tears which filled her eyes as she contemplated the bare
idea of such a union. Blanche had long struggled against this feeling;
she had hoped against hope, as she firmly believed, rather than give
Frank Hardingstone up; but now she would deceive herself no more; he
was actually corresponding with Mrs. Delaval, which, to say the least
of it, she must confess was very indelicate. This was the second
letter Mary had received from him. Why had he written to Mary from the
Cape? It was surely very strange; and Mary had never offered to show
her either of the letters--of course she would rather die than _ask_
to see them. Poor Blanche! little do you guess the cause of your
friend’s unusual reserve as regarded these important missives. Mary
Delaval, quickened by her own experience of a hopeless love, saw it
all--saw that her high-minded, manly correspondent was devoted heart
and soul to Blanche; and she pitied him, even as she pitied herself,
for a misplaced attachment. But it was not for _her_, of all people,
to do aught that might shake Blanche’s affection for Cousin
Charlie--_she_ could not be so selfish, so traitorous, as to lend her
assistance to anything, however slight, that might in the most remote
manner wean Blanche from her cousin, and leave him free. So Mary,
treasuring the letter, as containing oft-repeated mention of the
beloved name, placed it in her bosom, but did not volunteer to show a
single line of it to a living soul. Therefore is Blanche desponding
and unhappy; therefore, as gloomy thoughts sweep like shadows across
her mind, the tears gather in her eyes, as she leans her head upon the
marble chimney-piece, and sorrows all alone in the deepening twilight.

“And this is the day I thought I was to have been so happy,” thinks
poor Blanche--“the day I have been looking forward to ever since we
heard Charlie was coming home. Ah! I wish I could meet him now as I
used to do in the happy days when we knew nothing about marrying and
money and family arrangements. And poor Charlie, after all his
sufferings!--Uncle Baldwin says it will break his heart if I don’t
marry him. And dear mamma, if she had lived, she would have been so
glad to see it all settled! And so I suppose it _must_ be; and then
Mr. Hardingstone will very likely marry _her_, and everybody will be
happy and contented but _me_. Ah! well, there must always be some one
sacrificed; and I suppose I must be the victim this time; but it _is_
hard to give up all my hope, all my sunshine--to have no future any
more. Yes; I hear the autumn wind sighing round the house. I am not
yet twenty; and it will be all autumn to me for the rest of my life.
Oh, it _is_ hard--very hard!” and Blanche pressed her brow against the
chimney-piece and wept bitterly.

“Blanche, dearest Blanche, what is it?” whispered a gentle voice close
beside her, and she felt Mary Delaval’s arm passed caressingly round
her waist. Blanche started up, and checked her tears. She could have
borne anything but this. She could not endure to be consoled by her
triumphant rival. “Nothing,” she replied, withdrawing herself almost
rudely from the encircling arm--“nothing; I’m only tired and nervous,
waiting for these people. I think I’ll go and dress, for it’s getting
late; and--I think--I think I’ll go by myself, Mrs. Delaval,” said
Blanche; and she hurried away, leaving Mary surprised and hurt at the
first unkind words she had ever heard from Blanche’s lips. “Anything
but that,” said the girl as she walked up-stairs, swelling with
indignation; “anything but that _she_ should come and _triumph_ over
me.” And she banged her door angrily; and Mary, in the drawing-room,
heard it, and was grieved.

_Triumph_, indeed!--was that poor pale face one of _triumph_? Were
those deep eyes, hollowing day by day; that sad brow, on which care
seemed visibly to rest, as a cloud rests upon the hill, and softens
even while it darkens--were these the outward signs of satisfied
affection and _triumphant_ love? Blanche, Blanche, you think yourself
very unhappy; but little do you know the struggle going on in the
bosom of that faithful friend with whom you are now so unjustly at
variance. Little do you guess that she has torn the one only image,
the fulfilment of the ideal of a lifetime, from her heart, and vowed
to worship it no more; and prayed that the very thought which made the
sunshine of her existence might pass away; and all for you. So it is
in life: we make a sacrifice which costs us nothing; we give that
which perhaps we are all well satisfied to get rid of; and the world
says, “How noble! how generous! how disinterested!” or we yield up the
one dear hope that has cheered us all our journey; we consent to
travel the rest of the way in darkness and dreariness and listless
despair, and the world thinks us only stupid and disagreeable; those
who look below the surface perhaps suggest that we are bilious; and
the one for whom we have made all this ruin, for whose well-being and
security we are stretched helpless, exhausted, bleeding by the way,
thanks us blandly at the most, and takes it much as a matter of
course, and passes by, very likely, on the other side.

But “fight who will and die who may,” the outward world goes on much
the same notwithstanding. The clock goes round, and dinner-time
arrives; and whatever may be the sorrow brooded over and locked up in
the inner life, we dress for dinner when the time comes, and look in
the glass and dry our eyes, and have a glass of sherry after our soup;
and the tyrant Custom, and the motley jester Society, bid us sit
between them; and this woos from us a vapid smile, and that lays his
iron hand upon our brow and dares us to stir; and we are all the
better for the hypocrisy and the restraint.

Thus, although the ringing of the door-bell that announced the
long-expected arrival of the guests from Africa vibrated through the
very hearts of the ladies in their dressing-rooms, even as it vibrated
through the ground-floors and offices of Newton-Hollows, we are not to
suppose that it crumpled a fold of muslin or moved a single ringlet
out of its place with its agitating summons. Below-stairs, indeed, the
old butler settled himself hastily into his coat, and rushed to the
door with as hearty a welcome for the travellers as if it had been his
own house; whilst from a gallery that overlooked the hall divers
lighted candles might be seen glancing, and pretty faces looking down
from beneath smart caps, all eager to get a glimpse at Cousin Charlie,
whose wounds and exploits had made him a second Roland in the
estimation of these admiring damsels; while sundry exclamations might
have been overheard, as, “Which is him?” “That’s Master Charles, him
in the pea-jacket.” “Lor’, how thin he’s growed!” and, “Well, he’s a
genteel figure, let alone those ’orrid moustaches,” from the upper
housemaid, who was a new acquisition since Charlie’s departure, and
having once been engaged to a journeyman glazier, thought herself a
judge of young men. But the General had rushed from his den in the
meantime, half-dressed as he was, and had pulled Charlie into the
well-lighted drawing-room, and had shaken Frank Hardingstone a hundred
times by the hand, and was never tired of reiterating his welcome, and
his delight at seeing them both once more.

“God bless you, Frank!” exclaimed the General for the twelfth time, as
he fidgeted about the room in braces and shirt-sleeves. “What! you’ve
brought him back safe and well? D----n me, sir (God forgive me for
swearing), I tell you I’ll _never_ forget it. Zounds, don’t tell me!
Brought him back, sir, like a resurrectionist! I never thought to see
this day, sir--I tell ye--Gratitude! how d’ye mean? And you, Charlie,
my trump of a boy--thanked in Orders--General Orders, by all the gods
of war! Ah, I hadn’t lectured you over the old port for nothing. You
took ’em in flank, the rascals. _In flank_, or I’ll eat ’em. Don’t
tell _me_; couldn’t be done otherwise. Lads! lads! it’s too much: you
make me feel like a child again. What?” and the old General’s eyes
began to overflow with the fulness at his heart; so he relapsed into a
state of unusual gruffness, and stirred the fire fiercely to conceal
his emotion; and finally hurried them off to dress. “None of your
licentious camp habits here, Charlie. Dine to a minute, you dog! I
trust you’ll find your room comfortable, Frank, my boy. I saw to the
fire myself not half-an-hour ago. What? Ring for what you _want_, and
my servants will bring you what they _have_.” So the old gentleman
toddled off to finish his own personal adornment, and the guests, with
beating hearts, well concealed from each other, proceeded to dispatch
theirs as quickly as might be.

If ever there was a banquet that to all appearance should have been
one of triumphant hilarity, it was the sumptuous dinner to which our
party sat down that day in the bright, warm, cheerful dining-room at
Newton-Hollows. Notwithstanding Lady Mount Helicon’s sneers, no man
understood better than the General that process which is
conventionally called “doing things well.” The servants glided about
noiselessly as if shod with velvet--the doors were never left open,
still less closed with a bang--no bumps and thumps of tray-corners
against projecting wood-work disturbed the conversation, to irritate
the host while they alarmed his guests. Nor as the different courses
made their appearance, did a gush of cold air accompany them from
below-stairs, tainted but not warmed by the odours borne with it from
the kitchen. The soup was as hot as the plates, the champagne iced to
a turn, even as the haunch was roasted. Glasses were filled
noiselessly by the butler, as a matter of course (by the way, an
immense pull for the ladies), and everything was handed to everybody
at the instant it was wanted, and this, to our humble ideas, is no
mean auxiliary to the general success of an entertainment. The old
Roman _bon vivant_ evidently knew a thing or two about dinner-giving
(he called them suppers), or he would not have so dilated on the
necessity of attention to trifles, _vilibus in scopis_, _in mappis_,
etc. The General, too, understood these details thoroughly, and
therefore it was disrespectful youth voted _nem. con._ that
Newton-Hollows was “a rare shop at feeding time,” and that “old
Bounce, if he was rather a bore out hunting, was nevertheless the boy
to dine with, and no mistake!”

“The boy,” however, on this occasion seemed to have all the hilarity
of the meeting to himself. Of the four individuals that constituted
his party, each was acting a part, each had set a guard upon his and
her lips, and was originating broken, disjointed sentences, vainly
endeavouring to form a matter-of-course unrestrained conversation.
The ladies were even more reserved than the gentlemen. Blanche was
thinking how brown and handsome Frank looked after his voyage--so much
more manly than her cousin--and wondering why he should say so little
to _her_, and yet pay no attention whatever to Mary. That lady again
was full of tender alarms and anxieties about Cousin Charlie, his
wasted figure, and his frequent cough, and gulping down the tears she
could scarcely repress, as she glanced ever and anon at his glittering
eye and emaciated face. “Perhaps,” she thought, “he will never live
after all to be Blanche’s husband.” A thrill shot through her at the
thought that then he would indeed be all her own: but if this was joy,
good faith! it was a joy near akin to tears. As for Frank, he was more
in love than ever. Nor indeed is this to be wondered at. If a
gentleman having voluntarily surrendered himself to that epidemic,
which, like the measles, we must all go through sooner or later, and
which, like that indisposition of childhood, is prone to cure itself
by its own progress--if a gentleman, then, having undergone a
favourable eruption, and, at the very crisis of his disorder, shall
voluntarily absent himself from his charmer, to return from a
sea-voyage amongst rough companions, and contemplate her for the first
time, attired in all the brilliancy of dinner costume, and further
embellished by the favourable disposition of light, which sets off
such entertainments, and which is generally considered highly
conducive to female beauty, he need not be surprised to find that he
is less a rational being than ever, or that the disease for which
absence is considered so unfailing a cure should come out with
redoubled virulence under such an interruption of that salutary
course. But Frank, though in love, was also disappointed. His hopes
had risen most unreasonably since Charlie’s disclosures on the evening
preceding their memorable shipwreck. He had indulged in such
day-dreams as, for a sensible man--which, to do him justice, he
generally was--were the acme of absurdity; and now because Blanche had
neither thrown herself into his arms when they met--a feat, indeed,
she could hardly have conveniently accomplished, “dinner” being
announced at that interesting moment--nor had spoken to him more than
she could possibly help--for which reserve she likewise had excellent
reasons, the principal one being that she could by no means trust her
voice--our philosophic gentleman was disappointed, forsooth, and
consequently hurt, and the least thing sulky. Charlie, again, though
more at ease in his mind than the others, was tired and exhausted: he
was always tired now towards the evening; and although rejoiced to be
once more at home, once more gazing his fill on the only face he had
ever much cared to look at--an indulgence that partook, he knew not
why, of the nature of a stolen pleasure--yet his satisfaction was of
that inward kind which does not betray itself by outward signs of
mirth, but which, more particularly in failing health, flows on in a
deep silent current, that to the superficial observer has all the
appearance of apathy and cold, selfish carelessness.

But the General was in his glory. Fond of eating and drinking himself,
his delight was to see his friends eat and drink too; and as he urged
on his guests the different good things for both purposes that smoked
on the table or sparkled on the sideboard, he monopolised the
conversation with the same zest that he demolished a considerable
share of the entertainment.

“Charlie, you eat nothing, my boy,” said the General: “that haunch was
roasted a turn too much; let me give you a bit of the grouse. Zounds!
we must fatten you up here--what? commissariat disgraceful at the
Cape! ’Gad, sir, we wouldn’t stand it in India. I broke three
commissaries myself in the Deccan, because there was no soda-water in
camp--fact, I pledge you my honour, Mrs. Delaval. I don’t believe
Charlie’s had a morsel to eat since he went into training for the
steeple-chase.”

“You wouldn’t have said so if you’d seen him getting well at Fort
Beaufort,” remarked Frank, rousing himself from his fit of
abstraction; “his voracity was perfectly frightful! I wish you could
have seen him, Miss Kettering, in a black skull-cap, as thin as a
thread-paper, on crutches, asking every ten minutes what o’clock it
was, dreading to die of starvation between two o’clock dinner and five
o’clock tea; you never beheld anything so thin and so hungry.”

Blanche laughed her old merry laugh; and Charlie, stealing a look at
Mary Delaval, saw her eyes were full of tears. How his heart leapt
within him, and how a chill seemed to gather round it the moment
after, and curdle his very life-blood, as the possibility flashed
across him, that even now it might be _too late_. Too late!--he was
but twenty-one, yet something warned him that his was no secure
tenure, that there might be truth in the startling suspicion that had
of late obtruded itself like a death’s head on his moments of
enjoyment--that the world might be no world for him when autumn again
shed her leaves, and the browning copses and cleared fields brought
back the merry field-sports he loved so well. No more football--no
more cricket--no more panting excitement and rosy out-of-doors
exertion--no more sharp gun-shot ringing through the woodland, nor
hound making music in the dale, nor airy steed careering after the
pack, fleeting noiselessly o’er the upland. And though these were
hard, bitter hard to leave, ’twas harder still to give up the opening
dream of ambition, the budding promise of manhood; and harder, harder
than all, the first glowing reality of woman’s love. It is well to
perish with trust unshaken in that glorious myth; to sleep before that
too is discovered to be a dream. But Charlie shook off these moments
of despondency with the elasticity of his age and character. In that
bright, luxurious room, with those friendly faces around him,
encircled by beauty, wealth, and refinement, death seemed
_impossible_. Have we never felt thus wrapped in security ourselves;
and when some “silver cord has been loosed--some golden bowl broken”
from amongst our own immediate associates, have we not felt almost
angry at the unmannerly visitor who intrudes thus without knocking,
and pauses not to wipe his shoes for Turkey carpet more than sanded
floor? “_Pauperum tabernas regumque turres_,” he has the _entrée_ of
them all.

The General was a little disappointed with his guests, when, on the
retirement of the ladies, a magnum of undeniable claret exhaled its
aroma for their immediate benefit, and he found it did not by any
means disappear with that military rapidity to which he was accustomed
in his younger days. Charlie’s cough was a sufficient excuse for his
abstemiousness; and Frank Hardingstone, though he could drink a
bucketful on occasion, would not open his lips on compulsion; so the
General found himself in consequence obliged to grapple with the giant
almost single-handed. This, to do him justice, he undertook with
considerable _gusto_, and by the time he had got to the bottom of his
measure, had arrived at that buoyant state in which gentlemen are more
prone to broach such matters of business as they may think it
expedient to undertake, than to explain clearly the method by which
their desired ends can most readily be attained. Accordingly, when
Frank and Charlie rose to join the ladies in the drawing-room, our old
soldier called the latter back to the fire-place, and filling himself
a large bumper of sherry as an orthodox conclusion to the whole, bid
his nephew sit down again for five minutes, and have a little quiet
conversation on a subject which should not be too long postponed.
“Just three words, Charlie,” said the General, sipping his sherry;
“won’t you have a whitewash, my boy? Three hundred and sixty-five more
glasses in the year, you know. You won’t? Well, Charlie, I’m right
glad to see you back again. To-morrow I must go over everything with
you as regards money matters. Frank has told you all about the will.
What? Zounds! it was very singular--I confess I expected it all
along.” The General was one of those truest of prophets whose
predictions are reserved until the fulfilment of events. Finding that
Charlie took this extraordinary instance of foresight very coolly, he
proceeded, as he thought, to beat about the bush in a most skilful
manner.

“Well, Charlie, and how d’ye think we’re all looking, eh? Wear well
and struggle on, don’t we? I’ve taken pretty good care of your cousin
for you, my boy, during your absence. How d’ye think she’s looking,
eh?”

Charlie, who had not thought about it at all, answered, “Very well.”

And the General filled himself another glass of sherry and went
on--“By Jove, Charlie, I congratulate you on _that_, eh? Shake hands,
my lad. Zounds! we’ll drink Blanche’s health. Now I’ve put everything
_en train_. We can have the lawyers down at a moment’s notice.
Blanche’s _things_, to be sure, will have to be got; women can’t do
without such a quantity of clothes. Why, when Rummagee Bang’s widow
was burnt--however, that’s neither here nor there. Now tell me,
Charlie, when do you think it ought to come off?”

“My dear uncle, I can’t think what you’re talking about,” replied
Charlie, trying to look as if he didn’t understand; “I don’t see what
I’ve got to do with Blanche’s things.”

“Talking of?” resumed the General, “why, the wedding, to be sure. What
else should I be talking of? You’re quite prepared, I suppose. I’ve
arranged it all with Blanche; she cried and all that, but _I_ know the
sex, Charlie, and _I_ could see--zounds, sir! she’s _de_-lighted.
Never was such an arrangement--keeps all the money together, fulfils
everyone’s intentions. What?--and then it’s been such a long
attachment, ever since you were both children, corals and long
petticoats. Petticoats! How d’ye mean?”

“But, Uncle Baldwin,” pleaded Charlie, with some difficulty getting in
a word edgeways, “don’t you think all this is somewhat premature?”

“Premature! what the devil?” replied the General--“zounds, sir! not at
all premature; quite the contrary, been put off too long, in fact.
Never mind, better late than never. These things should be done out of
hand. Why, sir, when I was at Cheltenham in ’25, the very year of that
claret, by the way,” pointing to the empty magnum, “there was a
handsome widow wanted to marry me at twelve hours’ notice. Did I ever
tell you how I got off, Charlie? ’Gad, sir, Mulligatawney, of the
Civil Service, got me out of the town in a return hearse; but even
death couldn’t part us, my boy--zounds! she followed me to Bath, and I
was laid up on the second-floor of the York House with the scarlet
fever--_the scarlet fever!_ and I was as well as you are--till we
starved her out; and when they said I was disfigured for life she gave
in.” The General chuckled till the tears came into his eyes; then,
recollecting his moral was somewhat anti-matrimonial, checked himself
into supernatural gravity, and resumed on the other tack. “But
marriage is a respectable state, Charlie; there’s nothing like it, so
Mulligatawney tells me, to sober a man. Marriage, Charlie,” said the
General, oracularly, with a solemn shake of the head, “marriage is
like that empty decanter. It comes in sparkling and blushing, like
sunrise on a May morning. What?--You draw the cork, and the first
glass is heaven upon earth--that’s the honeymoon; then you fill
another--same flavour, but not quite equal to the first. Never mind,
try again; so you keep sipping and sipping, to analyse, if you can,
the real taste of the beverage, and before you satisfy yourself you
come to the end of the bottle; then, sir, when you get to the bottom
you can see through it, and you find how empty it is! Not that I mean
exactly that,” said the General, again catching himself up, as he
found that his metaphor, having taken a wrong turn, had led to a
somewhat unexpected conclusion. “But we can’t stop here all night,”
added he; “so tell me, my boy, when I may begin to send out
invitations for the breakfast.”

Charlie blushed up all over his emaciated face, as he replied, pulling
vehemently at his moustaches, “Why, uncle, it’s best to be explicit,
and I like to be straightforward about everything, so I may as well
tell you at once, I--I’m hardly prepared to marry--in fact, I’m rather
adverse to it--in short,” said Charlie, gaining courage as he went on,
“I’ve no immediate idea of marrying at all, and, with all my respect
and brotherly affection for her, certainly not Blanche.”

“_Certainly not Blanche!_” repeated the General, in something between
a shriek and a moan. “_Certainly not Blanche!_--and why, in the name
of all that’s de--de--disgusting? _Certainly not Blanche!_ Zounds! I
see it all now; you’ve got a _black wife_--don’t deny it!--a black
wife and a swarm of piebald picaninnies. Oh dear! oh dear! that I
should live to see this day--I shall never get over it--it’s killing
me now;----, I feel it here, sir, in the pit of my stomach! I’ll go to
bed,” he vociferated, untying his neckcloth on the spot; “I’ll go to
bed this instant, and never get up again!” With which lugubrious
threat the General, regardless of Charlie’s protestations and
remonstrances, did in effect stump furiously off to his den, whence
his dressing-room bell was forthwith heard pealing with alarming
violence; nor did he appear any more that evening, leaving the
gentlemen to drag out a weary sitting, still at cross purposes, each
in the society of her he loved best in the world.



CHAPTER XXVI

“EUDÆMON”

     NIGHT-WALKERS--A “NICE JOB”--CLEARING THE PLATE-BASKET--JUST IN
     TIME--DRUM-HEAD COURT-MARTIAL--FIRST LOVE--A RAT BEHIND THE
     ARRAS--ON THE TRAIL--AN EFFECTUAL OPIATE


It was a soft dark night--such a night as is peculiar to our temperate
climate towards the close of autumn. There was no moon, and not a star
to be seen, yet was it not _pitch_ dark, save under the gigantic trees
or in the close shrubberies that surrounded Newton-Hollows. A man
could see about ten yards before him, and one bound on an evil errand,
by cat-like vigilance and circumspection, might have made out the
figure of an honest man at that distance, and remained himself unseen.
The night-wind sighed gently through the half-stripped hedges; and the
fragrance of the few remaining autumnal flowers floated lightly on the
breeze. It was a beautiful night for the purpose. “Quite
providential,” Mr. Fibbes said, as, clad in a long great-coat, he
stumbled up the dark lane that led from Newton station to General
Bounce’s residence. His companion made no answer; Tom Blacke was
pre-occupied and nervous. It may be that the stillness of the hour,
the soothing tendency of all around him, brought back too painfully
the innocent days of the past--it may be that he contemplated with
some misgivings the hazardous undertaking of the immediate future. Mr.
Fibbes, however, allowed no such gloomy reflections to influence his
spirits, and the pair proceeded in silence, save where the latter,
stumbling in some unseen rut, anathematised the slovenly finish of
“these here country roads,” and sighed for the gas-lit pavement of
his beloved London. Once Tom halted, grasping his comrade’s arm with a
low “Hush!” and whispering in his ear, “that there was a step behind
them, walking when they walked, and stopping when they stopped.”

“Hecho,” replied Mr. Fibbes, accounting for the phenomenon by natural
causes, but prefixing a superfluous aspirate to the name of the
invisible nymph. “Hecho,” said he; “I’ve often knowed it
so--’specially at night. But, Tom, what’s up, man? blessed if you
ain’t a-shakin’ all over,--have a drain, man, have a drain!” and the
never-failing remedy was forthwith produced in a goodly case-bottle
from the great-coat pocket. Nor did the doctor neglect his own
prescription, and much refreshed the twain proceeded on their way. A
slight difficulty occurred in scaling the park-railings, Mr. Fibbes
affirming with many oaths that nothing but his weight and the age of
his nether garments saved him from being impaled there for life; and
the tremendous disturbance occasioned by a panic-stricken
cock-pheasant compelled a halt of several minutes’ duration, lest the
inmates of the Hall should have been aroused by the vociferous
rooster. All was at length still--the church clock at Guyville chimed
the half-hour after one. The night grew more cloudy, and the wind died
away into a low, moaning whisper. The pair stole across the lawn, like
two foul shades returning to the nether world. A heavy foot-mark
crushed Blanche’s last pet geranium into the mould. Tom shook like an
aspen leaf, much to the covert indignation of Mr. Fibbes, and they
reached the scullery window unheard and unsuspected.

“Gently, now!” Why does Tom shake so, and even Mr. Fibbes, with his
bull strength and iron nerves, feel so ill at ease, so willing even
now to go back a guiltless trespasser, and leave the job undone? But
no--it has been boasted of in anticipation at their flash resorts;
what would the professionals think? Why, the very detectives would
sneer to learn that “Leary Tom” and “the Battersea Big ’un” had been
frightened at their own shadows, and after a long journey into
the country had returned bootyless to London, the sleepers
undisturbed--the “crib uncracked.” “Gently, again!”--a jackdaw on the
roof brings their hearts into their mouths; were it not for the
case-bottle they would “drop it” even now. Another pause, and Mr.
Fibbes, summoning all his energies, proceeds to act. Gently and
stealthily he produces the brown paper, and the treacle with which it
is to be smeared. Lightly he applies it to the selected pane, Tom
turning the dark-lantern deftly on the job. How ghastly the white face
on which a chance ray happens to gleam! Warily--gradually--the heavy
hand presses harder, harder still, and the glass gives way; but the
faithful treacle absorbs every stray fragment, and not a particle
reaches the ground either without or within. Fortune favours the
rogues; the shutters have not been put up. They are in for it now, and
both gather confidence, Mr. Fibbes assuming the initiative. A large
dirty hand gropes through the broken pane, and the hasp of the window
is moved cautiously back; but with all their care it gives a slight
click, and again they pause and listen with beating hearts. “The
grease,” whispers Mr. Fibbes to his confederate, and the sashes being
plentifully smeared with that application, the window opens
noiselessly to the top. Admittance thus gained to the body of the
place, our housebreakers are now fairly embarked on their enterprise.
Their shoes are pulled off and stowed away in their pockets. The
centre-bit is got in readiness, and Mr. Fibbes feels the edge of his
long knife with a grim sense of dogged, bloodthirsty resolution. All
is, however, in their favour. The scullery door is left open, and they
reach the passage on the ground-floor without the slightest noise or
hindrance. And here we may remark for the benefit of those who are
affected by nervous apprehensions of their houses being “burglariously
entered and their property feloniously abstracted,” to use the
beautiful language of the law--that there is no precautionary measure
better worth observing than that of carefully locking _on the outside_
the door of every room on the ground-floor, and leaving the key in the
lock. There are three things, it is said, of which the housebreaker
has a professional horror--a little dog loose, an infant unweaned, and
a sick person _in extremis_. The first is an abomination seldom
permitted where there is anything worth stealing; the second, a
misfortune which Nature kindly suffers only to exist at considerable
intervals; the third, a calamity to which we may hope not to be
subjected _very_ often in a lifetime. In the absence, then, of these
unwelcome defences, every door secured as above makes an additional
fortification against the enemy. The thief having perhaps effected a
skilful and elaborate entrance into your dining-room, where he finds
no booty but an extinguished lamp and a volume of family prayers, must
commit a fresh burglary before he can reach your study, or wherever
you keep your small stock of ready money for household expenses; and
though he came in at the window, reversing the usual order of things
with an unwelcome visitor, he finds it no easy matter to get out at
the door. The probability is he will hardly work through three solid
inches of mahogany, for he cannot conveniently pick the lock, if the
key is left in it, without some little noise. Thus (although to the
damage of your upholstery) you get an additional chance of being
aroused, and a few minutes more time to betake yourself to your
weapons, whether they consist of an unloaded blunderbuss, a
twelve-barrelled revolver (out of order), or a hand-candlestick and a
short brass poker. In the meantime, your _placens uxor_, uttering
piercing shrieks out at the window, alarms the country for miles
round, and, what is more to the purpose, frightens the robber out of
his wits, who decamps incontinently, leaving no further marks of his
visit than a window-frame spoilt, an inkstand or a jar of curry-powder
upset, and a small box of lucifer-matches, his own property, and
seized on by you as the _spolia opima_ of this bloodless victory.

Stealthily, noiselessly, like the tiger on his velvet footfall, our
two ruffians glide along the passage towards the butler’s
sleeping-room, where the plate is kept. Small need have they of the
dark lantern, so accurately have they studied the plan of the house,
so apt are they in their nefarious trade. But they have reckoned
without their host upon that official’s absence at Bubbleton; the late
arrivals from Africa have kept him at home. However, he has been
celebrating their return so cordially that, as far as being aroused
and making an alarm goes, he might as well be a hundred miles off.
They pass the lantern twice or thrice across his sleeping,
open-mouthed face, and Fibbes feels the edge of his knife once more,
with devilish ferocity, ere the centre-bit is brought into play, and a
hole bored in the plate-cupboard, which soon makes the robbers masters
of its contents. That receptacle is emptied, and its treasures
transferred to the blue bag, with astonishing silence and celerity.
The adepts, growing bold with impunity, almost regret the deep
slumbers of the inmates, sufficiently attested by the prolonged snores
resounding from that portion of the basement where the other male
servants repose, and arguing that the jollifications of the evening
have not been confined to the somnolent butler alone: had the garrison
been more on the alert, think the invaders, there would have been more
satisfaction in foiling them, and it would have been a “more
creditable job” altogether. Hush! is that a footfall along the
passage? They stop and listen intently. The kitchen clock ticks loudly
throughout the darkness, but other sound is there none. They resume
their labours. By this time the plate is packed; the great object of
the foray has been attained--melted silver tells no tales--and there
is nothing further to be done than to strip the drawing-room of such
portable articles as are worth the carrying, and so decamp in triumph.
Up the back-stairs they steal. The General hates a door to _slam_, in
which aversion we cordially agree with him; and the green-baize one
communicating with the offices revolves noiselessly on its hinges. So
they glide through without hindrance, and on past that statue the
nudity of which had shocked Tom’s sense of propriety on a previous
occasion. Mr. Fibbes, who is of a facetious humour when under
excitement, seizes the dark-lantern, and turns its glare full upon
this work of art, with a high-seasoned joke. They reach the
drawing-room door; for the space of a minute they listen intently;
prolonged snores from the direction of the General’s apartment pervade
the house; other sounds there are none. Cautiously the lock is turned,
and the door thrown quickly open, that no creaking hinge may betray
them by its moan. A gleam of light well-nigh blinds them, accustomed
to the darkness of the passages through which they have been groping;
and Mr. Fibbes, who enters first, starts back, paralysed for a moment
by the unexpected apparition of a female figure robed in white, and
shining like some unearthly being in the strong light of his lantern
turned full upon the place she occupies. The figure starts up, and
utters a long piercing shriek. There is no time for deliberation; Tom
hisses a frightful oath into his confederate’s ear, and the big
ruffian gripes Blanche’s white throat in one hand, whilst the other
gropes in his dress for the long knife. Already the blade quivers
aloft in the candle-light. Crash!--a terrific blow levels the villain
to the floor. Tom, turning madly to escape, finds himself in the
powerful grasp of Frank Hardingstone, who shakes him as a terrier
would shake a rat--Frank’s extremely airy costume being highly
favourable to such muscular exertions. Bells peal all over the house;
lights are seen glancing along the passages; female voices rise shrill
and high, in scream and sob and voluble inquiry. Charlie and Mary
Delaval meet on the stairs, and he only exclaims, “What is it? Thank
God, _you_ are safe!” The General rushes tumultuously down in a scanty
cotton garment, disclosing the greater portion of a pair of extremely
sturdy supporters, and in which, crowned with a red nightcap, and
armed moreover with a short brass poker, he presents the appearance of
some ancient Roman of “the baser sort,” inciting his brother-plebeians
to an agrarian tumult. “Guard, turn out!” shouts the General, in a
voice of thunder. “Murder, thieves! Let me get at ’em; _only let me
get at ’em_!” And he bursts into the drawing-room, where he beholds
Frank still shaking Tom Blacke, who is by this time nearly strangled;
Blanche in a “dead faint” on the sofa; Mr. Fibbes’ huge body extended
senseless on the floor, and standing over him, apparently ready to
knock him to shivers again the very instant he should show the
slightest symptom of vitality, our old friend, rough, honest,
undaunted Hairblower!

       *       *       *       *       *

“Drum-head court-martial!” exclaimed the General, as he struggled
hastily into a somewhat warmer costume than that which he had worn
during the brunt of the action--“drum-head court-martial at three in
the morning. Zounds! I only wish I was in India, I’d have ’em hanged
in front of the house before breakfast-time. Frank--hollo!--march the
prisoners into my study, under escort, my boy, and be d----d to them.
No, I will _not_ swear,” and the General took his place at his
study-table, with all the pomp and circumstance of a district
court-martial, as the hapless housebreakers, with their arms pinioned
behind them, and guarded by the whole male strength of the
establishment, were paraded before him, Hairblower bringing up the
rear, and keeping his eye steadily fixed on Mr. Fibbes, as if only
watching his opportunity for an insubordinate movement on the part of
that individual to knock him down again. Mr. Fibbes maintained a
dogged silence throughout; save once, when he muttered a complimentary
remark, containing the figurative expression, “white-livered son of a
----,” supposed to be explanatory of the state of prostration in which
he saw his fellow-prisoner. Tom Blacke was utterly unnerved; he cried,
and shook, and staggered like a man with the palsy, and would have
gone down on his knees to the General, had he not been forcibly held
up by the two tall footmen, who seemed to mistrust even the slightest
movement as preparatory to a fresh outbreak of ferocity. “This once,”
pleaded the wretched coward, “forgive me this once, General, for the
sake of my poor wife--Miss Blanche’s maid she was, sir--only this
once, and I’ll confess all--the forgery and everything--you might
transport me for life, but you won’t be hard upon me, General--this
job wasn’t my doing, ’twas him that set me on it; ’twas his plan, I’ll
swear,” pointing to Mr. Fibbes, whose countenance was expressive of
intense contempt and disgust. “Well,” muttered that gentleman, as if
this was indeed a climax, “well, I am ----,” something which he
certainly was _not_, however much the mode of life he affected might
eventually lead to such a consummation. “Forgery!” exclaimed the
General, “what? Zounds! here’s something of importance! swear him--no,
he’s on his trial--take his words down in writing--forgery
indeed!--here’s a pretty discovery!” As Blacke became more composed,
out it all came--how his wife had forged Mrs. Kettering’s name, and
obtained the legacy, and got the will proved, through that knowledge
of the law which he was always ready to turn to evil account--the
whole confession, which was indeed full and satisfactory, for he was
frightened into telling the truth, closing with another earnest appeal
for mercy, and another denunciation of his dogged confederate.

The General was in raptures--Blanche was an heiress once more--even
Charlie’s contumacious refusal to be married against his will was now
a matter of secondary importance. In his delight he would have let
both the rogues go, and pledged himself not to prosecute them, had
Frank Hardingstone not reminded him that the duty he owed to civilised
society would hardly admit of such injudicious lenity; so the
prisoners were marched off, still under a numerous and voluble escort,
and carefully locked into a coal-house, whence, it is needless to
observe, they made an easy escape within two hours, when their
temporary gaolers, after beer all round, returned to their repose--nor
should we omit to mention that they were retaken by the London police
within five days, and eventually transported--Mr. Fibbes for fourteen
years, and Tom Blacke, in consideration of divers little matters that
came up against him, for the term of his natural life.

But in the meantime, the General, his guests, and servants, returned
to their respective couches. Blanche, after the administration of such
restoratives as ladies alone understand, was put to bed by Mary
Delaval, who would not leave her till she saw her sink into a quiet
refreshing slumber--then the governess too sought her room, and oh!
what a happy heart she carried with her to her rest. “Thank God, _you_
are safe!” It was but five words--yet what depths of joy and hope and
tenderness that short sentence opened up--what a different world it
was now--true, they were far apart as ever in reality, but she felt
that in the bright realms of fancy they were linked in a bond that
could never be forgotten--“yes, he loved her.” ’Twas _his cousin’s_
scream that had disturbed him in his chamber; ’twas _his cousin_, his
betrothed wife, as she had once thought, who was in peril and
distress; yet in all the hurry and confusion of the moment, _she_, the
poor governess, was uppermost in his thoughts. “Thank God!” he said,
“_you_ are safe!”--yes, he loved her, he loved her, and he was hers
for evermore. They would never be united in the material world; other
duties, other affections would supplant her in his outer life, his
every-day existence--but when the cloud of sorrow overshadowed
him--when joy more than common flooded him in its golden light--when a
strain of music, or a gleam of sunshine, or the song of a bird, or the
ripple of a stream touched his higher nature--whenever the springs of
feeling gushed up in his inmost heart, then would her image rise to
vindicate its sovereignty over its spiritual being--then would she
claim him and possess him as her own, her _very_ own. First love is a
fatal illusion--the plant may never come into full bloom--it may
blossom but to be cut down--it may be nipped by bitter frosts or rent
by the blustering gale--it may be trodden into the dirt by rude feet,
and covered by grass mould, or spotted by the slime of trailing
reptiles. For years it may be buried and forgotten, yet when the south
wind breathes its fragrance over earth, when the gentle rain descends
from heaven, its fibres will again put forth their leaves; from its
burial-place the meek plant will again raise its head above the
surface, and its perfume will steal over the senses like a sigh from
Paradise. So thought Mary with regard to that superstition. To do them
justice, women in general cling with wonderful tenacity to this
article of their faith. Poor things! they seldom have it in their
power to observe it practically, but their adoration in theory for the
holiness and inviolability of first love is all the more disinterested
and edifying. So Mary lay awake for hours in an ecstasy of happiness,
and when she did close her eyes what wonder that her dreams, take
whatever shape they would at first, invariably resolved themselves
into a circle of merry-makers, and in the middle a figure on its knees
before her, with fair, upturned face, and tender, smiling lips,
whispering, “Thank God, _you_ are safe!”

It is now high time that we should explain by what fortunate train of
circumstances Hairblower and Blanche should have met at that critical
moment, when the astonished girl found herself in the grasp of a
ruffian, who but for the timely intervention of the seaman’s arm,
would in all probability have murdered her on the spot. Her champion’s
own account of his proceeding was so intermixed with professional
terms and peculiar phrases, which in his vocabulary possessed an
entirely different meaning from that which is found attached to them
in Johnson’s Dictionary, or any other standard authority on the
English language, that we prefer giving it in our own words, merely
observing that the whole robbery and rescue was a proceeding which he
designated “special,” and should, indeed, be considered, so he said,
“a circumstance from beginning to end.” Hairblower, then, having
transacted his fishing affairs with his “governor,” as he called him,
in which interview, we have since been informed, the “governor,” a
shrewd, hard-headed man of business, got very much the better of the
seaman; and having failed in his intention of making a ceremonious
call on his foreign friends, “the True-blues,” who were then making a
tour of the provinces, was irresistibly impelled by a species of
morbid curiosity to revisit the scene of his former misfortunes. So he
actually turned into the very public-house where he had been robbed on
his previous visit to London; and finding no one there but the
bar-maid (a late acquisition), very quietly had his dinner and drank
his beer in the small snuggery of the bar, which we have mentioned as
being lighted by a window from the identical room in which Tom Blacke
and Mr. Fibbes were in the habit of holding their nefarious
consultations. The seaman had paid for his liquor, and was in the act
of departing--in fact, the girl thought he had already gone, when the
two housebreakers entered the door, and Hairblower, resisting his
first impulse, which was to do battle on the spot with the twain, “one
down, t’other come on,” shrank back unobserved into the little room he
had been occupying, and taking off his shoes, concealed himself behind
an old-fashioned chest that stood against the wall. His first idea was
to remain in hiding till the two worthies should have arrived at the
height of their jollification, and then, bursting in upon their
banquet, to administer to each what he termed “his allowance.” The
conversation, however, which he overheard was of such a nature as to
modify considerably this desire for immediate blows, and when the
horrid method of silencing the alarm likely to be raised by some
female watcher was discussed in cold blood as a matter of regular
business, the listener’s hair stood on end as he resolved, come what
might, to prevent this deliberate and inhuman murder.

But Hairblower was completely in the dark still as to the “where” and
the “when” of the intended burglary. He could not therefore warn the
inmates, nor had he time to inform the police. He could but watch the
plotters, lie still, and listen. Little thought Tom Blacke, when he
looked outside the door and peeped through the red-curtained window,
as he imagined to make all safe, that the avenger in the shape of his
old sailor friend was within five yards of him; little thought Mr.
Fibbes, in his acoustic speculations about “Hecho,” that in this
instance hers was a substantial frame dogging his every footstep, a
strong heavy arm ready and willing to strike him to the earth. They
thought they were secure at least of all _outside_ the house, and they
took their measures accordingly.

But honest Hairblower enjoyed one of those enviable organisations to
which fear seems positively unknown, and when he reflected that, in
his ignorance of where they were bound and when their plot was to be
ripe, his only chance was never to let the ruffians out of his sight
till he could place them in safe custody, it seemed to him the most
natural thing in the world, alone and unarmed, to dog the footsteps of
two desperate men, one of whom was an acknowledged murderer. He
followed them accordingly from the house; he waited on the opposite
side of the street whilst they got their implements from Tom’s
lodgings; he arrived at the station twenty yards behind them, stole up
and heard them take tickets to “Newton,” took a similar one himself,
and sat down in the very next carriage to them, with the collar of his
pea-jacket pulled high over his face, and a guard placed upon his
lips, lest his old acquaintance should by any means overhear and
recognise his voice. As he journeyed down, he thought over every
possible plan by which he could frustrate the robbery. If he gave them
into custody with the railway people, he could prove nothing; they
were two to one; they would not hesitate to swear black was white, and
they might easily turn the tables upon him, and perhaps succeed in
transferring him to durance vile instead of themselves. If he asked
for assistance from a fellow-passenger (and there was one stout-made
countryman in whom Hairblower was sorely tempted to confide) he would
probably not be believed, or at any rate the explanation and
consequent watching would be very likely to place the ruffians on
their guard. No, he would do it all himself. He could rely on his own
stout heart and powerful frame; he would hunt them to the world’s end.
At Newton station great caution was necessary. He remained in the
train till they had left the platform, then nimbly jumped out as it
was on the point of starting, and delivering up his ticket, got clear
of the building in time to distinguish their footsteps stealing up the
lane not fifty yards ahead of him. This distance he cautiously
diminished. Like most sailors, he could see pretty well in the dark,
and was used to going barefoot, so taking his shoes off once more, he
had no difficulty in keeping within earshot of the chase. At last they
reached the house; Hairblower no more knew whose it was than the man
in the moon; but he had determined, as soon as they were all safe
inside, to make a dash at Tom Blacke, knock him senseless, close with
Fibbes, and alarm the inmates; thus, he thought, they will be taken in
the fact. Had he known his dear Miss Blanche was in jeopardy, perhaps
he might not have been so cool. Fortunately, sailors are so used to
every sort of difficulty that it is next to impossible to put one
wrong, and Hairblower managed to creep through the scullery window
nearly as deftly as either of the professionals, with whom proficiency
in such exercises is a necessary part of their trade. Whilst they
robbed the butler’s pantry he stood behind the door; but the moment,
he thought, had not yet arrived. In that small room, he calculated, he
had hardly space to “tackle” with them properly, and with admirable
coolness waited a better opportunity, and followed them up-stairs. As
they entered the drawing-room he was close upon them; and had it not
been that he was as much startled as Fibbes himself at the apparition
of “Miss Blanche,” his arm would have been raised an instant sooner,
and might perhaps have saved that young lady a fainting-fit, as it did
save her life. As he turned to seize Tom Blacke he beheld him in the
grasp of Mr. Hardingstone, and then Hairblower felt indeed that he
could have encountered a host; but by this time the house was alarmed,
and further violence unnecessary.

Now, although we are aware that it is not customary for well-nurtured
damsels to sit with lighted candles in drawing-rooms at an hour when
the rest of the family have retired to rest, yet allowances must be
made for such as have the misfortune to be in love. This was Blanche’s
case, and being unable to sleep, she wisely slipped on her
dressing-gown, and stole down-stairs for the purpose of getting the
last new novel, then lying on the drawing-room table, and
administering it as the never-failing soporific. When there, she found
the room so much more comfortable than her own, that she lit the
candles and sat quietly down to read, till disturbed by what she
thought at the moment a frightful apparition. Her delight at
recognising Hairblower when she came to her senses was only equalled
by the enthusiasm of that formidable auxiliary himself, who with
difficulty refrained from embracing her on the spot, a mode of worship
in which Frank Hardingstone would willingly have joined. That
gentleman, we have reason to think, was in love too; at least, on the
night in question he was restless and fidgety, and courted slumber in
vain. Then he heard a door open, and got up and put on a few clothes,
and then he fancied he distinguished a stealthy footfall in the
passage below; so he too left his room, and arrived on the scene of
action in the nick of time. How the disturbance of that night
influenced the destiny of several of the party it is not now necessary
to state, nor can we tell what Frank saw, heard, or felt, to induce
him the following morning to send to Bubbleton for his horses, and to
make such arrangements as argued his intention of protracting his
visit at Newton-Hollows during some considerable portion of the
hunting-season. We are satisfied, however, although she did not say
so, that this arrangement was by no means unwelcome to Blanche
Kettering.



CHAPTER XXVII

FLOOD AND FIELD

     A FAMILY PARTY--A HUNTING MORNING!--HAND-AND-GLOVE--GONE
     AWAY!--NEVER MORE--FOLLOW-MY-LEADER


It was the last day of the Old Year, and he seemed to have resolved on
making a peaceful ending, such as the thirty-first of December seldom
vouchsafes in any climate but our own. Thoroughly English, too, was
the party assembled round the breakfast-table at Newton-Hollows, from
the red face of the old butler struggling in with the hissing urn, to
the corresponding colour of Frank Hardingstone’s coat, betokening that
he meant to enjoy our national sport of fox-hunting. Blanche was
already down, looking charming in a riding-habit, as all pretty women
do; and Mary’s quiet face showed more animation than usual, perhaps in
consequence of an arrangement which was broached, apparently not for
the first time.

“I am _so_ glad we persuaded him not to ride,” observed Blanche,
appealing as usual to Mr. Hardingstone; “he will _not_ take care of
that cough--men are such bad patients! Now with Mary to drive him in
the pony-carriage, he can keep himself well wrapped up, and the air
will do him good.”

“Undoubtedly,” replied Frank, “Mrs. Delaval must take good care of her
patient” (Mary looked as if she _rather_ thought she would); “and I
shall be completely at your service, Miss Kettering; you know I am
_not_ an enthusiast about hunting, like Charlie.”

“Oh, I shall do very well with old Thomas and Uncle Baldwin, if he can
only keep up with me,” replied Blanche; “so I won’t ask you to stay
with _me_.”

Frank seemed to think this would be no great sacrifice; but, as she
spoke, the subject of their conversation entered the breakfast-room,
and took his place as usual at Mrs. Delaval’s side. Poor Charlie! he
looked thinner than ever, and the cough, though not so violent, was
every day more and more frequent. To be sure his eye was bright, and
his colour at times brilliant; everybody seemed to think he was
better, save the Bubbleton doctors, and they never would give an
opinion one way or the other.

“So Haphazard is to be disappointed of his gallop again,” complained
Charlie, as he stretched his wasted hand for his tea-cup. “I have had
quite enough of being nursed, Blanche, even by you. I really think I
might ride him, just to see them find. I could get off if I felt
tired, you know.”

“Get off when the hounds are running!” replied Blanche, “not you. Now
be a good boy just this once, Charlie. Mary has promised to drive you
in my pony-carriage with Scrub: she says you shall see everything if
you’ll only trust yourself with her; and nobody will take such care of
you as Mary, I know,” added she, rather mischievously. Charlie made no
further objections, and Mrs. Delaval kept her eyes immovably fixed on
the pattern of her tea-cup.

“Late, of course--servants always are late, except for dinner.
Charlie, my boy, how are ye this morning? You’ve got no breakfast.
Zounds! why is everything cold? Blanche, my sweet girl, ring all the
bells, and kick that old fool into next week, if he don’t bring hot
mutton-chops instanter. I can’t stay a moment. I must be off to
Snaffles, or he’ll make some cursed mistake. It’s very singular that
nobody ever understands my directions,” said the General, bustling
into the room in a state of more than usual ferment, as is generally
the case with occasional sportsmen on a hunting-morning. The General
had been up since daybreak, but had not yet succeeded in snatching a
quiet five minutes for his own breakfast; and even now, as he fussed
about in a short green coat and high Napoleon boots, it seemed
doubtful whether he would settle down to his meal, or be off on
another visit to the stables, for the further confusion of the
unfortunate Snaffles. Hunger carried it for the moment, but the
trampling of hoofs and grinding of wheels on the sweep at the
front-door soon drew our party to the window, from which Blanche’s
eyes were delighted by the appearance of her favourite Water King, his
fine coat glistening in the morning sun, his long thin tail whisking
about as usual, and his rounded form seen in all its beauty under the
unmounted side-saddle. “Isn’t he a darling?” exclaimed Blanche from
the window, as the horse stepped proudly round to the door, pointing
his small ears and glancing in every direction as though looking for
his mistress. Old Thomas on a steady brown; Frank’s two hunters,
well-bred, weight-carrying animals; the General’s black cob, and the
little pony-carriage, completed the cavalcade, which was at length got
into marching order, not without much difficulty and the issue of
several contradictory orders from Uncle Baldwin, who, what with his
anxiety about Blanche’s mounting and his care that Charlie should be
properly wrapped up, to say nothing of his directions to every one
concerning that undiscoverable passage, “the shortest way,” was
already in a white heat, and altogether in a state quite the reverse
of what we should suppose anticipatory of a day’s _pleasure_.

However, Blanche was in the saddle at last, and pacing quietly on with
Frank by her side. The General, too, was mounted, but by no means as
yet under way--so much had to be impressed on the butler in case of
the Field stopping to luncheon; so much on Snaffles, who remained at
home, about sundry brood mares in the paddocks, all in an interesting
situation; so much on the keepers, who neglected the earth-stopping
generally; and so _very_ much on the bailiff, who invariably appeared
at the last moment, that had it not been for the determination evinced
by the black cob, his master would have remained at the front-door
till dinner-time; that animal, however, a resolute Roman-nosed
conveyance, seeing his stable companions rapidly deserting him, and
rejoicing moreover in a stiff neck and perfectly callous mouth, made
no more ado, but took the bit between his teeth, and lowering his head
to the well-known angle of insubordination, rushed doggedly to the
front, bearing the General rapidly past the pony-carriage in a manner
more ludicrous than dignified. Charlie was in fits. Even quiet Mrs.
Delaval laughed outright; and this simple incident, perhaps, made
their drive far more lively--we will not say more agreeable--than it
would otherwise have been, inasmuch as they had started in solemn
silence; and, like all couples who feel that they are more to each
other than either dares to confess, they might have remained
unwillingly mute during the precious hours, from sheer inability to
talk upon any topic but one, and a nervous dread of entering on that
one lest an explanation should at once dispel the dream that had been
the happiness of their lives. Now, however, they chatted gaily enough;
and certainly if ever there was a situation calculated to raise the
spirits of mortals, it was that in which our young lancer and his
lady-love found themselves, on their way to Crop Hill, that
thirty-first of December--a drive never afterwards to be effaced from
the memory of the gentle charioteer. It was one of those beautiful
balmy mornings that (when we get them) make an English winter more
delightful than that of any other country in the world. It can only be
described by the expression which it brought to every one’s lips,
“What a hunting morning!” There had been heavy rain in the night, and
the freshened pastures seemed actually to smile in the sun, as ever
and anon he shone out with chastened beams over copse and meadow and
upland; the very hedges, leafless though they were, seemed to breathe
the fragrance of spring; mid-winter as it was, Nature seemed to be not
dead, but sweetly sleeping; the robin hopped merrily from twig to
twig; the magpie jerked and chattered, and flew before the
pony-carriage, lighting now on this side of the lane, now on that, now
disturbing its mate, now soaring away over the high thick hedge
towards the distant wood. As they emerged into a line of fair open
pastures from which their view, unchecked by fence on either side,
swept over a rich green vale, dotted with cattle and clothed with
hedge-row trees, they caught sight of their mounted friends cantering
merrily along the grass ahead of them, Blanche’s habit fluttering in
the soft, light breeze, her cavalier’s red coat and shining
stirrup-irons glistening in the sun, and the General bumping steadily
behind them on the high-stepping black cob, who, albeit usually an
animal of imperturbable sobriety, had contracted a fatal passion for
the chase, which on occasions like the present put him into a state of
rebellious excitement that lasted throughout the day, and produced a
sad reaction in the stable on the morrow.

“That’s the best fellow in England,” said Charlie, as he pointed out
his friend to his companion. “I shall be glad when it’s settled, Mrs.
Delaval, as _I_ know it soon will be.” Mary thought they were on
tender ground, and applied herself diligently to her driving without
producing any great increase of pace on the part of philosophical
Scrub. “Ah!” said Charlie, and his voice trembled as he spoke, “I’ve
envied Frank all my life, and I envy him more than ever now.”

“You _do_?” replied Mary, glancing quickly at him, while her heart for
the moment seemed to stand still.

“Not his bride, Mrs. Delaval,” replied Charlie, “for his bride you’ll
see she will be. No, no; I’m very fond of Blanche, but not in that
way.” Mary was blushing crimson, and it was surprising what a deal of
driving that little pony required as Charlie proceeded. “But I envy
him all he has that I can never have again--health, strength, all that
makes life enjoyable--all that was once mine, but that I feel I have
now lost for ever.”

“Don’t say so,” replied Mary, though her rising tears almost choked
her utterance, “don’t say so. With care and good advice, and all of
_us_ to nurse you, oh, you must, you _shall_ get well;” but even as
she spoke she felt a sad foreboding at her heart. Charlie caught her
glance, though it was almost instantly averted, and he proceeded as if
half to himself--

“I could bear it well enough if I was like Frank in one respect, if I
knew my life was bound to another’s, and that other the one I cared
most for in the world. I could struggle on for _her_ sake; but no, I
shall leave none such behind _me_, and perhaps it is better.”

“Do you think we are so heartless?” she burst forth; “do you think we
can part with you without a murmur? With _you_, for whom we have
watched and prayed and longed all those dreary months; dreary indeed
whilst you were----” Mary stopped short. She felt she had said too
much, but it was Charlie’s turn to blush now. His breath came quick
and short; the boy dared not look the woman in the face, but he put
his hand into his bosom and drew out a glove--a white kid glove it was
formerly, now sadly soiled and discoloured, for a gallant heart had
been beating against it many a long month--but with a rim of velvet
round the wrist; there was no doubt of its identity, nor of the fair
hand it once had fitted. Charlie drew it out and pressed it to his
lips. She turned on him one swimming glance. They understood each
other; the moment had at length arrived when--

“_Gently_, Ravager! back, hounds, back!”--and the loud crack of a
hunting-whip disturbed their romantic _tête-à-tête_ at this critical
moment, and announced the proximity of that well-known pack
denominated the Hark-holloa Hounds, trotting gently on towards the
place of meeting, and rapidly overtaking the pony-carriage and its
pre-occupied inmates. The noble impulse of equine emulation, usually
dormant in the shaggy form of Scrub, was now aroused by the inspiring
influence of the passing pageant, and the clean, dainty-looking,
motley-coloured pack; the neat, well-appointed servants in their
bright scarlet coats and glossy velvet caps; the well-bred,
well-groomed, hunting-looking horses they bestrode stepping airily
along, jingling their bits, and snorting to the morning breeze. All
these objects raised the mettle of Blanche’s quiet pony, and Mary had
now enough to do in earnest, as he tugged at the reins and drew them
rapidly on in rear of the pack towards a slight elevation in the
distance crowned by a windmill, and rejoicing in the dignified title
of Crop Hill. A renewal of the tender subject was impossible, for as
they neared the trysting-place the plot thickened rapidly, and
sportsman after sportsman cantering by on his covert-hack had a bow
for Mrs. Delaval, and a word to exchange with Charlie; now
congratulating him on his return, now condoling with him for his
inability to ride, now cordially hoping that he will soon be in the
saddle, with an inquiry after the welfare of the celebrated Haphazard.
Charlie’s spirits rose as they proceeded, and ere they reached the
windmill he was a boy again.

“Yoi, over there!” holloaed the huntsman, standing in his stirrups and
waving the willing pack into the cover, a patch of sunny gorse lying
on the south side of the hill, and commanding a vale of large green
pastures that to contemplate alone brought the light into Charlie’s
eye.

“This way,” said the General, sidling and piaffing and coming tail
first towards the pony-carriage, for the double purpose of placing it
in a favourable position for viewing the proceedings, and of
exhibiting his own horsemanship before the eyes of Mrs. Delaval. The
General was under the impression that if there was one thing in which
more than another he excelled, it was the art of _manège_ equitation,
and perhaps on an animal less self-willed than the black cob he might
have been a very Bellerophon, but certainly at the present juncture he
jerked, and fumed, and kicked, and wiped his brows in anything but a
graceful mode of progression.

“This way,” said he, after a violent effort which brought the cob
broadside on across Scrub, whose recognition, however, his excited
friend disdained to acknowledge.

“From the brow of this hill you can see for miles. If we don’t find
here--how d’ye mean, _don’t_ find here? If there’s no fox in the gorse
I’ll eat this hunting-whip!” eyeing his own iron-handled one as he
spoke. “If you keep along the--(Stand _still_, you brute!)--if you
keep along the brow, Mrs. Delaval--(Zounds! _will_ you stand
still?)--you’ll be able to--Tally-ho! he’s away, d’ye see him, yonder
by the oak! now they have it. Forward! forward!!” Charlie could not
resist a prolonged screech of delight, though he coughed for five
minutes afterwards, and the General went off at score, as eager for a
start as if he had been riding the best horse in England, and bumped,
and thumped, and scuttled, and slid down the hill, towards a friendly
hand-gate, as only an elderly gentleman can, who has survived all his
passions save this one alone! What a scurry there was over the vale
below! Immediately in the foreground a group of foot-people, a keeper
in velveteen, and a labourer with a terrier in his arms, laughed and
gazed and vociferated, and made sundry uncomplimentary remarks on the
sportsmen whose prowess they could so effectually overlook. Lower
down careful grooms on second horses, a steady-going dark-coated
array, had diverged nearly at right angles to the line of chase, and
keeping studiously together, seemed to be holding perseveringly for
some point of their own, well down-wind. At the bottom of the hill, a
horse-breaker, on a four-year-old rearing straight on end, was
endeavouring to make the passage of a white gate that had slammed to,
unpropitiously, just in front of him. As the man had dropped his whip
and did not dare get off, he was likely to remain there some little
time longer. Just in front of him again came the Field, a motley mass
of colours, red predominating--streaming like a flight of wild-fowl,
as they crossed the enclosures, but huddling confusedly together as
often as they reached the fence, under the mistaken notion that there
is safety in numbers.

Amongst them were men of all sorts and ages, ranks, weights, and
sizes--some plying elbows and legs as they shot occasionally to the
front, only to drop back to their native obscurity when the fatal
necessity of jumping should arrive---some holding steadily on,
satisfied to be in good company, with no more idea of where the hounds
were than if they had been in the next county--discreet spirits
breaking the hearts of valorous horses by keeping them back--eager
enthusiasts rapidly finishing their too sorry steeds by urging them
forward--but still one and all convinced that they were distinguishing
themselves by their prowess, and prepared to swear over their wine
that they had been all day in the front rank. To the right of these
might be seen the General in a line of his own, leading him through a
deep ridge and furrow field, in which he laboured like a boat in a
heavy sea--already its inequalities had brought him to a slack rein,
and even at that distance the rider’s heels could be plainly
distinguished in convulsive persuasion.

Five minutes more at that pace would unquestionably reduce the black
cob to a walk. A field farther forward than these, and released from
the turmoil and confusion in their rear, struggled a devoted band, the
forlorn hope of the chase--those adventurous spirits who “mean
riding,” but “don’t know how”--though small in number, great in
hairbreadth ’scapes and thrilling casualties. There a rood and a half
of fence was seen tumbling into a field with a crash like the falling
of a house, followed by a headlong biped describing a parabola in the
air, and closely attended by a huge dark object which resolved itself
into a rolling steed. Farther on again a crashing of rails was heard,
and a reckless pair seen balanced across a strong piece of
field-upholstery, only to subside dully into a fatal ditch gaping to
receive them, not in vain--

    “_Rider and horse in one red burial blent._”

A wisp of scarlet lying motionless on the greensward, and a loose
horse galloping furiously to the front, completed this ill-fated
portion of the panorama, and carried the eye forward to where some
half-dozen detached cavaliers were gradually diminishing till they
looked like red balls bouncing over a billiard-table, as independent
and nearly abreast each sped his own line across the distant fields.
These were indeed the “chosen few”--the deacons of the craft, quick,
quiet, wary, and resolute--they had surmounted all the obstacles of
the commencement, all the struggle for a start, and were now enjoying
their reward. Each man as he took his horse well by the head settled
himself in his saddle, and scanning his ground with keen and practised
eye, crashed through the impervious bullfinch or faced the
uncompromising timber, enjoying a deep thrilling ecstasy totally
incomprehensible to the rational portion of mankind. A Frenchman once
remarked to us, anent this particular form of lunacy, “Monsieur, nous
ne cherchons pas nos émotions, nous Français, à nous casser le cou.”
But deep and stirring were the _émotions_ of our English enthusiasts
as they strained after the fleeting pack, now diminished to a few
white, scattered dots, glancing over the green surface a field ahead
even of these.

“Happy fellows!” exclaimed Charlie, watching the first flight, where
his own place should have been, with straining eyes. “It looks
uncommonly like a run!--but where’s Frank? he ought to be forward with
the hounds. Oh! he’s philandering there on the right with Blanche;”
and Charlie’s mouth drew itself down into an expression of intense
disgust--although in love himself, he could not understand Venus being
allowed to interfere with Diana. “If we keep down this lane,”
exclaimed he, still bending his gaze on the disappearing pack, “we
shall come in upon them again, to a certainty, with this wind.
Wilmington Copse is his point, I’ll lay my life. Go along, Scrub!” and
the pony-carriage was again set in motion, not without flagellation of
Blanche’s favourite, bumping and swaying down an extremely bad road at
the best speed it could muster. Ever and anon the drivers cast a look
over the vale at the fast-disappearing chase, but the excitement was
rapidly subsiding. All the reds had by this time vanished, save one
extremely cautious sportsman in a lane; the more sober colours were
gradually fading into the distance. The horse-breaker was gone, the
keeper in velveteen shouldered his gun, the labourer put down his
terrier, and the pedestrians were lounging home to dinner. After two
miles or so of severe exertion the panting Scrub was again pulled up
at Stoney Cross, a place where four byroads met, commanding an
extensive view of the surrounding country. Mary was almost as keen
about the run as her companion, so catching is excitement,
particularly hunting excitement. “Listen,” said she, intently eyeing
the distance, “can you hear anything?”

“Nothing but Scrub blowing,” replied Charlie; “no, they’re having an
_extraordinary_ run--we shall never see them again!”

Both strained their eyes till they watered. Profound silence reigned
over the landscape, save when the wintry wind moaned softly through
the boughs of some leafless poplars overhead. The sun had disappeared;
a dark grey haze was creeping over the distance; even Nature seemed to
be suffering a reaction after the excitement of the last half-hour,
and Charlie too felt despondent and melancholy; the air was moist and
chill, the sky dark and lowering; it was the last day of the
year--would he ever see another? Must he leave this pleasant world,
pleasant even in the subdued melancholy of winter’s russet garb, and
lie in the damp, cold earth, whilst his friends and comrades were full
of life and hope and energy? The last time--was this indeed the _last
time_ for him of the sport he loved so passionately? No more to back
his gallant steeds, and feel his life-blood thrill as they bounded
beneath him in the real ecstasy of motion; no more to join the jovial
scarlet throng, with bit and bridle ringing round him, and laugh and
jest and cordial greeting passing from lip to lip in that merriest of
merry meetings at the covert side; no more to stand in the deep
fragrant woodland and cheer that chiming music to the echo, sweeter to
him than the very symphony of heaven; and when silence, startling from
its suddenness, succeeded to those maddening sounds, and warned him
they were _away_! others would race with the racing pack, and revel in
the whirlwind of _pace_, glancing over pastures like hawks upon the
wing, but his place would be vacant in the front rank, and he--where
would he be? Hard! hard! now that life was so sweet and sparkling, now
that the cup was crowned with that last drop that bid it brim with
happiness--the consciousness of love. And must it be put untasted by?
Hard--hard, yet perhaps better so!

“I hear them, I’m certain,” said Mary, raising her taper hand in the
air; “that must be the horn. We shall see the finish after all!”

“Not yet,” cried Charlie, all his melancholy reflections dispelled on
the instant. “See, they’ve checked on the plough yonder. Now they
acknowledge it. Well hunted, my beauties! Look! look! did you see
him?--there, in the middle of that large field, beyond the spinney!”

Mary looked and looked, and at length made out a dark speck stealing
away in the distance too slowly for a crow, too smoothly for a dog;
had she not been told she never would have suspected that minute
object was the fox.

“He’s not killed YET,” observed Charlie; “there’ll be some _grief_
before HE’S in hand! See, he’s pointing straight for the forest--by
Jove! they’ll have to swim the Gushe. What a capital fox!” And now,
once more, the pageant passed in full view of the pony-carriage; but
oh! how altered! Despite the check there were but two men near the
hounds, and even these were a full field behind them (after dinner
they acknowledged to twenty yards); then came one solitary individual
in a cap, who was indeed the huntsman, and who was now riding in the
combined enjoyment of a horse completely exhausted, and a morbid dread
lest the more fortunate twain in his front should press too much on
his treasures--a needless fear, could he but have seen the mode in
which these treasures were increasing the distance between themselves
and their pursuers. Behind him again was a gentleman (clerical)
standing by his horse, apparently investigating his stirrup-irons with
minute interest. He never could be got to explain clearly why he had
stopped at this exciting moment. Gaining gradually upon the latter
came another red-coat, making the most of an extremely slow canter;
and not a soul besides was to be seen on the line of the hounds. What
had become of them all? Where was the Field? Why, pounding down the
very lane in which the pony-carriage had drawn up, pulling and
hustling, and grinning and clattering--coat-tails flying, neck-cloths
streaming, the leaders’ faces bathed in perspiration, the rearward
horsemen plastered with mud, all riding like grim Death, all frantic
with hurry and excitement--the General and his black cob not the least
furious of the throng. Few noticed the carriage, all were intent on
some object in the extreme distance, possibly the bridge at Deep-ford,
inasmuch as the hounds were now pointing straight for the Gushe.

It was quite a relief to watch Frank Hardingstone’s unmoved face as he
cantered quietly by, and smiled and spoke to them, without, however,
relaxing in his vigilant care of Blanche. That young lady looked
prettier than ever--her violet eyes dancing with excitement, and her
long fair curls floating over her riding-habit.

“He’s going to _have_ it,” screamed Charlie, in a state of tumultuous
excitement, as they watched Frank turn away from his charge, and
leaping the fence out of the lane, take a direct line for the calm,
deep, silent river, and consequently for the hounds, who were already
struggling in the stream, throwing their tongues occasionally as they
were swept along by its force, to land considerably lower down than
they had calculated. One of the foremost sportsmen went gallantly in
with them, but his horse was already exhausted, and, after sinking
twice, rider and steed emerged separately on the hither side, glad to
get off with a ducking.

“Blanche, you foolish girl, stop! I desire you to stop!” exclaimed
the General, foaming with excitement, and himself with difficulty
pulling the black cob across the road. But Blanche either would not or
could not stop: Water King’s mettle was excited; he had been following
Frank Hardingstone’s horse all day, and true to his name, he was not
to be deterred by the perils of a swim. Taking the bit between his
teeth, he bounded out of the lane at the spot where his leader had
jumped the fence, and tore away over the level water-meadows,
regardless of the volley of imprecations which the General sent after
him as of the feeble grasp which strove to check him in vain.

Frank meanwhile, all unconscious, sped steadily down to the stream.
Already his cool resolute eye had marked the safest place at which to
land. “If I can only get _out_,” thought Frank, “there’s never much
difficulty about getting _in_.” Already had he gathered his horse well
up on his haunches, turned his stirrup-irons over his saddle-bow,
knotted the thong of his whip to his rein in case of dissolving
partnership on emergency, and sliding quietly down the bank, was
immersed in deep water, laying his weight as much as possible along
his horse’s neck, when a faint scream, a rushing sound close behind
him, and a tremendous splash by his side, made him turn wildly round
and well-nigh pull his unfortunate steed over him in the water. How
shall we describe his sensations at what he saw? Water King plunging
and rearing himself above the surface; Blanche clinging helplessly to
her horse’s neck, her white face glancing on him for an instant with
an expression of ghastly terror; another furious plunge, a faint,
bubbling scream, and the limp skirt of a riding-habit disappearing
beneath the whirling wave. The horror-stricken sportsmen in the lane
saw a lady’s hat floating on the stream some fifty yards lower down.
But assistance was near at hand; twenty men were soon gathered on the
bank. People never know how these things are done. Frank was away from
his horse in an instant; he believes he dived for her twice; but two
minutes had scarcely elapsed before he was hanging over her exhausted
form on the bank, regardless of the surrounding crowd, regardless of
his usual self-command and reserved demeanour, pouring forth the
torrent of his feelings, so long dammed up, in words that were but
little short of madness.

It was fortunate, indeed, that Scrub’s fatigue had prevented the
pony-carriage from going any farther on the line of the crowd, who
were by this time blocking up the narrow passage of Deep-ford Bridge,
as Blanche, despite her wet clothes, was too much exhausted to attempt
riding home, and was accordingly placed by Mary in her own little
equipage. The pony made small difficulty about retracing his steps
towards his stable, and the cavalcade proceeded rapidly to
Newton-Hollows; Frank riding alongside in his dripping garments, with
an expression of unspeakable joy on his manly features never seen
there before or since; Mary praying inwardly with heart-felt
gratitude, and the General sobbing like a child. As they turned in at
the gates, Charlie was the only one of the party who retained his
composure sufficiently to observe, with an expression of deep
interest, “I wish we knew whether they’ve killed their fox.”



CHAPTER XXVIII

“THE SAD SEA WAVE”

     THE HONEYMOON--OUTWARD-BOUND--A FULL REPORT--THE HOPES OF
     SPRING--THE BLIGHT OF AUTUMN--ALL ALONE


And of all places in the world, where did they choose to spend their
honeymoon? Why, at St. Swithin’s; there they had first met--there the
girl had first seen her young ideal of manly perfection--there Frank
had first surrendered the self-control he held so dear. When at the
end of a twenty-seventh chapter the gentleman saves from drowning the
lady after whom he has been hankering through the previous twenty-six,
it is needless to specify how “bride-cake must be the issue.” “Hot
water” after cold is a fair conclusion; so the dressmaker in Old Bond
Street was written to--and the man-of-business came down from
Lincoln’s Inn--and there was a gathering of friends and relatives--a
breakfast to the grandees--a dinner to the tenants--a ball to the
labourers--and the bells of Newton ringing almost without cessation
for eight-and-forty hours--the bridesmaids smiled and sparkled--the
bride wept and trembled--the bridegroom looked like a fool--everything
was strictly orthodox, save the interference of the General, who
wanted to set the clergyman right during the sacred ceremony, and very
properly received a rap over the knuckles from that dignitary, which
was no less than he deserved--the county paper devoted a column and a
half to its description of the ceremony--the _Morning Post_ dismissed
it in three lines under the head of “Fashionable Intelligence”; and so
the knot was tied, and Frank Hardingstone, M., took Blanche
Kettering, N., and they became man and wife.

We must now shift the scene to where we first introduced the
characters of our somewhat lengthened narrative; nor will we, after
the fashion of sundry eminent divines, prolong our “in conclusion” to
an indefinite abusing of the listener’s patience and the Queen’s
English. The honeymoon is over--they never last more than a week
now-a-days--and the relatives of the principal performers have broken
up the _tête-à-tête_, and joined the happy pair at St. Swithin’s. It
is a mild sunny afternoon about the middle of February. At the
sea-side, where there are no bare trees and leafless hedges to destroy
the illusion, it might be midsummer, so soft and balmy is the air, so
bright the beams glinting on the Channel, so hushed and peaceful the
ripple of the ebbing tide; the fishing-boats seem asleep upon the
waters; a large square-rigged vessel looms almost motionless in the
offing; and a group of five persons are congregated about an invalid’s
couch on the beach. As Mary Delaval moves round it to place a cushion
more comfortably at his back, we recognise the delicate features and
waving moustaches of our young lancer. It is indeed the wasted face of
Cousin Charlie, attenuated to an unearthly beauty, and wearing the
calm, gentle expression of those who are ere long to be summoned home.

“Outward-bound,” says a stout seaman-like man, shutting up the glass
with which he has been diligently conning the distant ship.
“Outward-bound, and an Indiaman, as I make her, Miss Blanche; I beg
your pardon.” Hairblower never can call her by her matronly title.

“If that’s an Indiaman, I’ll eat her,” exclaims the General; “don’t
tell me--I should know something of that class of ship at any rate.
Look at her spars! She’s bound for the Baltic; I can take my oath.
Indiaman!--if she’s not a Dutchman, _I am_.”

The General’s appearance indeed gave weight to this assertion. His
stout, short frame enveloped in a jacket and trousers--for, out of
compliment to the locality, he thought it necessary to appear in
nautical costume--possessed that well-filled appearance which custom
has chosen to consider indigenous to the Hollander. The General’s
love-making did not progress very rapidly, but he had still a
hankering to stand well in the opinion of Mrs. Delaval; and when he
considered the care and attention with which she tended poor Charlie,
administering to all his wants and fancies as only a woman can, he
thought that such a wife would indeed be a treasure for an elderly
gentleman who was beginning to experience sundry twinges at the
extremities, reminding him most unpleasantly of good things long since
consumed, and claret bottles emptied in life’s thirsty noon.

“What do _you_ think, darling?” says Blanche, sidling up to her
husband, and placing her arm confidingly within his. Like all
newly-married women she is a little _gauche_, and wears her happiness
with too demonstrative an air, appealing on all occasions to her lord,
and hanging on his every word and look as if there were no one else in
the universe. To do the sex justice, however, this is a fault of which
they are invariably cured in less than a twelvemonth, and radically
too--we cannot call to mind a single instance of a relapse.

“How should I know, my dear?” replies Frank, awaking from deep
thought; “yet stay, may it not be the very ship in which your old
friend D’Orville was to sail?” with a malicious glance at Blanche, who
looked up at him with such an open smile as showed how little
impression the handsome Major’s attentions had ever made on _her_
young heart. “Let me see, what day was he to start? I’ve got his
letter in my pocket.”

“Pocket!--letter!--what? read it!” exclaimed the General--“that will
prove the thing at once--you’ll see she’s a Dutchman.”

Blanche glanced at Mary; and even that grave face brightened into a
smile--while Frank, seating himself on the shingle, drew a letter from
his pocket and began to read.

“Cannot resist--hem--congratulations--hem--blessings in
store--hem--leaving this country for a long absence.” (“Ah! here it
is.”) “As I am going out in command of troops, I shall have the
pleasure of once more rubbing up my seamanship by a voyage round the
Cape. We embark at Gravesend on the --th, and shall probably sail
when the tide suits the following day.” (“’Gad--I believe it is the
Indiaman!”) “Lacquers accompanies me, having got the majority in my
corps, and has become a _great_ soldier--perhaps thanks to your
success in the attack on which I now write to congratulate you.”
(“Here’s a long story about _you_, Blanche--shall I read it?”) Blanche
passed her little hand over his mouth, and Frank proceeded. “As I
shall probably not have another opportunity of writing to my English
friends for four or five months, I will not apologise for the length
of my present epistle, but give you all the news I can to enliven your
honeymoon--a piece of presumption which, I conclude, is like refining
refined gold or painting the lily. London is not very full, although
Parliament has brought its regular quantum of members who stand in awe
of their constituents--no small number in these reformed and reforming
days. _I_ recollect, my dear Frank, though _you_ don’t, when all the
electors for a county met in the Justices’ room, and returned the
Lord-Lieutenant’s nominee with as little discussion as my
orderly-sergeant will make this afternoon when he reports ‘the
officers’ baggage gone on board.’ However, they won’t stand that kind
of thing now. Talking of Parliament, you read Mount Helicon’s speech
on the Tallow question, of course. It quite took the House by storm.
Honourable members expected _something_ from the author of ‘Broadsides
from the Baltic,’ and they were not disappointed. Not a word, however,
taken from that exceedingly clear and voluminous pamphlet; and where
he can have picked up such an additional store of information is a
mystery to every one. The speech, however, has floored his party. Its
whole tone, every sentiment it breathed, was so diametrically opposite
to their policy, that they found themselves at its conclusion without
a leg to stand on. Having selected him for their mouthpiece, they were
furious, and no wonder. What can he be at? We soldiers are
plain-dealing men, and cannot understand all this mining and
counter-mining. His lady-mother, I understand, is still at Bubbleton.
You must have seen something of her in the winter, unless you had only
eyes and ears for one--particularly as I hear she gives out
everywhere that she has refused General Bounce. If your abrupt uncle
is the man I take him for, she never had an opportunity.” (Frank was
here obliged to pause, the General’s delight at this portion of the
letter venting itself in a series of chuckles that threatened to choke
him. It was with difficulty he restrained himself from relating the
whole story of the widow at Cheltenham, as a narrative bearing
irresistibly on the case in point. He swallowed it, however, and Frank
proceeded.) “We never thought her ladyship a great beauty, but they
tell me now she is dreadfully altered--disappointed about her
son--disappointed in her winter campaign--dreadfully sore at the
slights she fancies she has received from the Dinadams, who passing
through Bubbleton on their way to Wassailworth, had no time to return
the visit she paid them at their hotel--and conscious of growing old,
without having done the slightest good in her generation. No wonder
the worn-out fine lady is sick of her wretched world, such as it
is--no wonder she is startled to discover that she has spent a
lifetime of illusions, and never found out the _real_ world after all.
You will smile, my dear Frank, at my moralities, but I do begin to see
things a little clearer than I used; and if I have reason so bitterly
to regret the forty years I have spent in selfish uselessness, what
must be the feelings of threescore years and odd, with the world
slipping from under its feet, the waking moment rapidly approaching,
and the feverish dream leaving not one solid reality behind it--not
one satisfactory reflection to gild the past--not one well-grounded
hope to hold a beacon through the dark cold voyage of the future?”

[Illustration: “Frank ... drew a letter from his pocket, and began to
read.”

_Page 376_]

Hairblower, who had been listening attentively with a puzzled
expression of countenance, brightened up considerably at a metaphor
which had reference to his own daily occupations, and muttered
something about “ballast aboard,” and the “anchor apeak”; whilst Mrs.
Delaval stole a longing, lingering look at poor Charlie, who had
closed his eyes as if wearied out and half asleep. Frank read on.

“Tell young Kettering I have many inquiries after his health from his
friends here, amongst others an old fellow-campaigner in Kaffirland
whose tent he shared, and who is full of Kettering’s famous attack in
support of the Rifles. He says it was one of the most dashing things
of the war, and the service can ill afford to lose so gallant an
officer. He sends his own and his terrier’s kindest remembrances.”

Charlie’s eyes opened wide; he did not seem drowsy now. The long
wasted fingers of his right hand closed as if upon the handle of his
sword, and a light stole over his countenance as if the sun had just
gleamed athwart it--the soldier-spirit was stirring in that powerless
frame. He looked handsomer than ever, poor boy, poor boy!

“His admiring well-wisher,” the letter went on to say, “who, by the
way, is one of the best-looking fellows in London, got his promotion
in that very action, and is now on leave, making up for past
privations by every kind of dissipation which the village affords. I
do not see much of him; but dining last night at the ‘Peace and
Plenty,’ he told me that our mutual friend, Sir Ascot, was going to be
married. Mrs. Hardingstone will be amused to hear this. The fortunate
lady is a Miss Deeper, who threw over young Cashley, as in duty bound,
for the baronet. Laurel, too, has carried off pretty Kate Carmine at
last; they are the poorest couple in Christendom, and the happiest. I
met Sir Bloomer Buttercup yesterday at the ‘Godiva.’ He and
Mulligatawney were, as usual, discussing the matrimonial question; the
latter more ‘Malthusian’ than ever, since Mrs. M. has taken up the
Rapping theory. Sir Bloomer thinks that now he can only pretend to a
widow, but is still determined to marry as soon as his affairs can be
put ‘on a footing.’ We are all of opinion if he waits till then he
will die a bachelor. You are aware I have got my promotion, and am
going out to take the command of one of the smartest regiments in the
service. I trust it will not deteriorate in any way whilst in my
hands. Lacquers unites with me in congratulations and cordial good
wishes to the whole of your party. If Mrs. Delaval is with you,
remember me most kindly to her, and believe me,” etc.

“Well done the Colonel,” said Frank, folding up his letter and putting
it in his pocket. “I never saw a man so changed and so improved.
Blanche, don’t you regret now?--eh?” Blanche laughed, and called him
“a goose”; but Mary applied herself more assiduously than ever to the
invalid’s cushions; and whatever may have been her thoughts, she kept
them most carefully to herself. We can guess, however, that
notwithstanding the many good qualities developing themselves in her
old admirer, she never for an instant thought of comparing him with
that poor helpless boy whom they were now obliged to carry into the
house, lest even the soft evening breeze should strike too chill upon
his lacerated lungs. Next to Mary, however, perhaps none tended the
sufferer with such patience and gentleness as Hairblower--that
worthy’s view of the malady and its cause was peculiar to himself, and
he clung to it with heroic obstinacy. “It all came of making him a
soger,” said the seaman, with a tear running down his weather-beaten
cheek; “goin’ about half-dressed in them monkey-jackets and sleepin’
out o’ nights without a dry thread to bless theirselves--it’s enough
to kill a cat, let alone a gentleman. Now, if he’d had a dry plank
above and below, and a hammock to swing in, and watches to keep all
regular and ship-shape, he’d have lived to be an admiral--see if he
wouldn’t. But he’s better, is Master Charlie, much better, now the
_salt_’s gettin’ into him. Oh, he’ll be well in no time now, will
Master Charlie--not a doubt of it!”

“Not a doubt of it,” echoed the General, the illness of whose
favourite was a sad cause of grief and anxiety, which vented
themselves in a more than customary abruptness and irritation.
“Better? How d’ye mean? Zounds, sir, don’t talk to me of doctors! I
tell ye the lad’s rallying--rallying, sir. What? If that boy’s not
a-horseback in June, I ’ll----” And here the warm-hearted old
General’s courage invariably gave way, and as he thought of the
alternative he would burst into tears, and stump hastily off to hide
his emotion.

There never was such a February as that. Even inland people
congratulated themselves on enjoying at last a _really_ mild winter;
and in such a sheltered, sunshiny situation as St Swithin’s, the
weather would have borne comparison with any boasted climate of the
warm Mediterranean. Like some poor, draggled, pining bird, the invalid
seemed to drink in health and strength from the very sunbeams; and as
he lay full-length upon his couch, drawn as near the waves as the tide
would allow, and basked in the warmth, and inhaled the soft fresh
breezes of the Channel, he looked so composed, so happy--and the
cough, though frequent, became so much less violent, that all agreed
there never was “anything so providential as bringing him down to St.
Swithin’s”--“these illnesses are only fatal when not taken in
time”--“positively it was the very saving of the boy’s life.” But Mary
looked very pale, and shook her head. She seldom spoke much now.

One evening, just at sundown, Charlie begged to speak to Uncle Baldwin
alone. He was lying as usual close to the open window, and as the
breeze fanned his cheek he seemed to drink in its fragrance with a
keener zest than he had shown for days. He felt better and stronger,
too; he was able to sit up, and his voice was steadier and fuller than
it had been since he came home. He spoke almost jestingly of his
present state; but the words of hope which he thought it right to
affect, in consideration of his uncle’s feelings, were belied by the
topic on which he sought an interview.

“Uncle,” said he, “you’ve been a father to me, and I’ve never been
strong enough to thank you till to-day.”

“Stronger, my boy--to be sure you are--virtually, you’re quite well.
Don’t tell----” There was something in Charlie’s smile that checked
the General, and the boy went on--

“Life’s very uncertain, uncle, and if--you know I only say _if_--I
should not get over this business, I want you to arrange two or three
little matters for me. This is a beautiful world, uncle, and a
pleasant one; but I sometimes think I’d rather _not_ live now. I--I
don’t mind going. No, I don’t seem as if I belonged so much to this
earth--I can’t tell why, but I _feel_ it, I’m sure I do. Well, dear
Uncle Baldwin, when I’m _gone_, I want you to give as much of my money
to poor Gingham as will enable her to go out and join her husband in
Australia. I know she wishes it, and I think it would come better from
me than any one. If I get well, I mean to do it myself; but I like to
make sure; and--and--uncle”--a deep blush spread over Charlie’s
face--“all the rest I wish to go to Mrs. Delaval; but don’t let her
find out it’s from me. Promise me, dear Uncle Baldwin--promise me
this.”

The General started. He began to see what he now thought himself very
blind not to have seen long ago, but he promised faithfully enough;
and Charlie, lying back as if a weight had been taken off his mind,
added, with a placid smile, “One thing more, uncle, and I will not
trouble you any more--take care of poor Haphazard, and never let him
run in a steeple-chase again.” The General’s heart was in his eyes,
but he concealed his feelings from the invalid; and this too he
promised, much to Cousin Charlie’s satisfaction, who talked on so
cheerfully, and avowed himself to feel so much better, that when at
last Uncle Baldwin left him he joined the rest of the party more
sanguine than any of them of his ultimate recovery, and vowed “he
could not have believed what the sea-air would do.” “You may sigh,
Mrs. Delaval, and shake your head, but he’s as strong to-day as ever
he was in his life. Lungs!--his lungs are as good as mine. What?--he’s
only outgrown his strength--don’t tell me, the lad’s six feet high.
Why, I saw Globus this very day, and he assures me confidently that he
thinks Charlie will be quite well by the spring.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Spring bloomed into summer and summer faded into autumn. When London
became empty--that is to say, when some thousand or two of its
millions took their departure from the swarm--we went, as is our
custom, to court health and sea-breezes at St. Swithin’s. Though we
follow blindly the example of our kind, rushing tumultuously to
crowded resorts and overflowing watering-places, yet do we love
solitude in the abstract as do most men who have outlived their
digestions, and consequently we were not disappointed to find the day
after our arrival so gusty, gloomy, and disagreeable, that the
fair-weather visitors were compelled to remain indoors, and we had the
beach pretty well to ourselves. There was a thick haze over the
Channel, and a small drizzling rain beat in our face. We may be
peculiar, but we confess we have no objection to a fog, and rather
like a drizzling rain; so we breasted the breeze, and walked boldly
on till we got clear of the town, and keeping steadily along
“high-water mark,” could enjoy our humour of sulking undisturbed.

But one figure shared our solitude--a tall, handsome woman, dressed in
the deepest mourning, short of widow’s weeds, that we ever saw. As we
passed her, she was gazing steadily to seaward, and we caught but one
glimpse of her countenance; yet that face we never have forgotten.
Care had hollowed the eyes and wasted the pale cheek, and streaked the
masses of dark hair with many a silver line, but the deep expression
of holy beauty that sat on those marble features was that of an
angel--some spirit sorrowing for the spirit-band from which it was
parted, and yearning for its home. She was listening intently to the
regular and monotonous gush of the Channel waves as they poured in
their steady measured music, like a requiem for the dead. A
well-beloved voice spoke to her on the sighing breeze, an old familiar
strain was borne upon the rolling waters: she was communing with
another world, and we left her, but not alone.

Mary Delaval has never quitted St. Swithin’s. Marble, wrought to
warlike trophies, blazons in a lengthened inscription the blighted
fame and early death of a blooming warrior, who dragged his sinking
frame hither to gaze upon the shining waters, and so to die. But it is
not in the stately aisle or over the speechless stone that Mary weeps
for her lost hopes, and mourns her buried love. No, she had rather
wander by the lonely shore and listen to the “sad sea waves,” as they
murmur their mournful tale of the unforgotten Past. Day by day, ay,
night by night, she glides about amongst the poor, ever on errands of
mercy--ever eager but for one thing on earth--to do good--to fulfil
her destiny--to die _here_ where _he_ died--and so to go to _him_. By
the bed of sickness, in the abode of misery--ay, in the very den of
vice, if it be but hallowed by grief, that pale sad face is as well
known as the High Church curate’s or the parish doctor’s; but the poor
respect her sorrows; and the rough fishermen, the busy artisans, the
very careless romping children will turn out of the path, and forbear
to intrude upon the presence of the “dark lady,” as she sits looking
wistfully to seaward, or wanders dejectedly along the beach. They seem
to feel that she is _with_ them, but not _of_ them--a sojourner here,
but not for long.

We love to gaze on the blooming merry faces of the young--we
can admire the bright, hopeful girl--the contented, happy
matron--childhood--prime--and old age. All have their beauties, all
reflect more or less vividly the image of their Creator; but never in
mortal features have we seen such a heavenly expression as that borne
by Mary Delaval with her aching heart; deeper than hope, holier than
joy, it hallows those alone whose every tie to lower earth is torn
asunder, whose treasure is not here, whose home is beyond the
grave--of whom Infinite Mercy has said, “Blessed are those that mourn,
for they shall be comforted.”





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