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Title: Rhoda Fleming — Volume 3
Author: Meredith, George
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Rhoda Fleming — Volume 3" ***

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RHODA FLEMING

By George Meredith



BOOK 3


XXI.      GIVES A GLIMPSE OF WHAT POOR VILLANIES THE STORY CONTAINS
XXII.     EDWARD TAKES HIS COURSE
XXIII.    MAJOR PERCY WARING
XXIV.     WARBEACH VILLAGE CHURCH
XXV.      OF THE FEARFUL TEMPTATION WHICH CAME UPON ANTHONY HACKBUT, AND
          OF HIS MEETING WITH DAHLIA
XXVI.     IN THE PARK
XXVII.    CONTAINS A STUDY OF A FOOL IN TROUBLE
XXVIII.   EDWARD'S LETTER
XXIX.     FURTHERMORE OF THE FOOL



CHAPTER XXI

Mrs. Boulby's ears had not deceived her; it had been a bet: and the day
would have gone disastrously with Robert, if Mrs. Lovell had not won her
bet.  What was heroism to Warbeach, appeared very outrageous
blackguardism up at Fairly.  It was there believed by the gentlemen,
though rather against evidence, that the man was a sturdy ruffian, and an
infuriated sot.  The first suggestion was to drag him before the
magistrates; but against this Algernon protested, declaring his readiness
to defend himself, with so vehement a magnanimity, that it was clearly
seen the man had a claim on him.  Lord Elling, however, when he was told
of these systematic assaults upon one of his guests, announced his
resolve to bring the law into operation.  Algernon heard it as the knell
to his visit.

He was too happy, to go away willingly; and the great Jew City of London
was exceedingly hot for him at that period; but to stay and risk an
exposure of his extinct military career, was not possible.  In his
despair, he took Mrs. Lovell entirely into his confidence; in doing
which, he only filled up the outlines of what she already knew concerning
Edward.  He was too useful to the lady for her to afford to let him go.
No other youth called her "angel" for listening complacently to strange
stories of men and their dilemmas; no one fetched and carried for her
like Algernon; and she was a woman who cherished dog-like adoration, and
could not part with it.  She had also the will to reward it.

At her intercession, Robert was spared an introduction to the
magistrates.  She made light of his misdemeanours, assuring everybody
that so splendid a horseman deserved to be dealt with differently from
other offenders.  The gentlemen who waited upon Farmer Eccles went in
obedience to her orders.

Then came the scene on Ditley Marsh, described to that assembly at the
Pilot, by Stephen Bilton, when she perceived that Robert was manageable
in silken trammels, and made a bet that she would show him tamed.  She
won her bet, and saved the gentlemen from soiling their hands, for which
they had conceived a pressing necessity, and they thanked her, and paid
their money over to Algernon, whom she constituted her treasurer.  She
was called "the man-tamer," gracefully acknowledging the compliment.
Colonel Barclay, the moustachioed horseman, who had spoken the few words
to Robert in passing, now remarked that there was an end of the military
profession.

"I surrender my sword," he said gallantly.

Another declared that ladies would now act in lieu of causing an appeal
to arms.

"Similia similibus, &c.," said Edward. "They can, apparently, cure what
they originate."

"Ah, the poor sex!" Mrs. Lovell sighed.  "When we bring the millennium to
you, I believe you will still have a word against Eve."

The whole parade back to the stables was marked by pretty speeches.

"By Jove! but he ought to have gone down on his knees, like a horse when
you've tamed him," said Lord Suckling, the young guardsman.

"I would mark a distinction between a horse and a brave man, Lord
Suckling," said the lady; and such was Mrs. Lovell's dignity when an
allusion to Robert was forced on her, and her wit and ease were so
admirable, that none of those who rode with her thought of sitting in
judgement on her conduct.  Women can make for themselves new spheres, new
laws, if they will assume their right to be eccentric as an
unquestionable thing, and always reserve a season for showing forth like
the conventional women of society.

The evening was Mrs. Lovell's time for this important re-establishment of
her position; and many a silly youth who had sailed pleasantly with her
all the day, was wrecked when he tried to carry on the topics where she
reigned the lady of the drawing-room.  Moreover, not being eccentric from
vanity, but simply to accommodate what had once been her tastes, and were
now her necessities, she avoided slang, and all the insignia of
eccentricity.

Thus she mastered the secret of keeping the young men respectfully
enthusiastic; so that their irrepressible praises did not (as is usual
when these are in acclamation) drag her to their level; and the female
world, with which she was perfectly feminine, and as silkenly insipid
every evening of her life as was needed to restore her reputation,
admitted that she belonged to it, which is everything to an adventurous
spirit of that sex: indeed, the sole secure basis of operations.

You are aware that men's faith in a woman whom her sisters
discountenance, and partially repudiate, is uneasy, however deeply they
may be charmed.  On the other hand, she maybe guilty of prodigious
oddities without much disturbing their reverence, while she is in the
feminine circle.

But what fatal breath was it coming from Mrs. Lovell that was always
inflaming men to mutual animosity?  What encouragement had she given to
Algernon, that Lord Suckling should be jealous of him?  And what to Lord
Suckling, that Algernon should loathe the sight of the young lord?  And
why was each desirous of showing his manhood in combat before an eminent
peacemaker?

Edward laughed--"Ah-ha!" and rubbed his hands as at a special
confirmation of his prophecy, when Algernon came into his room and said,
"I shall fight that fellow Suckling.  Hang me if I can stand his
impudence!  I want to have a shot at a man of my own set, just to let
Peggy Lovell see!  I know what she thinks."

"Just to let Mrs. Lovell see!" Edward echoed.  "She has seen it lots of
times, my dear Algy.  Come; this looks lively.  I was sure she would soon
be sick of the water-gruel of peace."

"I tell you she's got nothing to do with it, Ned.  Don't be confoundedly
unjust.  She didn't tell me to go and seek him.  How can she help his
whispering to her?  And then she looks over at me, and I swear I'm not
going to be defended by a woman.  She must fancy I haven't got the pluck
of a flea.  I know what her idea of young fellows is.  Why, she said to
me, when Suckling went off from her, the other day, "These are our
Guards."  I shall fight him."

"Do," said Edward.

"Will you take a challenge?"

"I'm a lawyer, Mr. Mars."

"You won't take a challenge for a friend, when he's insulted?"

"I reply again, I am a lawyer.  But this is what I'll do, if you like.
I'll go to Mrs. Lovely and inform her that it is your desire to gain her
esteem by fighting with pistols.  That will accomplish the purpose you
seek.  It will possibly disappoint her, for she will have to stop the
affair; but women are born to be disappointed--they want so much."

"I'll fight him some way or other," said Algernon, glowering; and then
his face became bright: "I say, didn't she manage that business
beautifully this morning?  Not another woman in the world could have done
it."

"Oh, Una and the Lion!  Mrs. Valentine and Orson!  Did you bet with the
rest?" his cousin asked.

"I lost my tenner; but what's that!"

"There will be an additional five to hand over to the man Sedgett.
What's that!"

"No, hang it!" Algernon shouted.

"You've paid your ten for the shadow cheerfully.  Pay your five for the
substance."

"Do you mean to say that Sedgett--" Algernon stared.

"Miracles, if you come to examine them, Algy, have generally had a
pathway prepared for them; and the miracle of the power of female
persuasion exhibited this morning was not quite independent of the
preliminary agency of a scoundrel."

"So that's why you didn't bet."  Algernon signified the opening of his
intelligence with his eyelids, pronouncing "by jingos" and "by Joves," to
ease the sudden rush of ideas within him.  "You might have let me into
the secret, Ned.  I'd lose any number of tens to Peggy Lovell, but a
fellow don't like to be in the dark."

"Except, Algy, that when you carry light, you're a general illuminator.
Let the matter drop.  Sedgett has saved you from annoyance.  Take him his
five pounds."

"Annoyance be hanged, my good Ned!" Algernon was aroused to reply.  "I
don't complain, and I've done my best to stand in front of you; and as
you've settled the fellow, I say nothing; but, between us two, who's the
guilty party, and who's the victim?"

"Didn't he tell you he had you in his power?"

"I don't remember that he did."

"Well, I heard him.  The sturdy cur refused to be bribed, so there was
only one way of quieting him; and you see what a thrashing does for that
sort of beast.  I, Algy, never abandon a friend; mark that.  Take the
five pounds to Sedgett."

Algernon strode about the room.  "First of all, you stick me up in a
theatre, so that I'm seen with a girl; and then you get behind me, and
let me be pelted," he began grumbling.  "And ask a fellow for money, who
hasn't a farthing!  I shan't literally have a farthing till that horse
'Templemore' runs; and then, by George! I'll pay my debts.  Jews are
awful things!"

"How much do you require at present?" said Edward, provoking his appetite
for a loan.

"Oh, fifty--that is, just now.  More like a thousand when I get to town.
And where it's to come from! but never mind.  'Pon my soul, I pity the
fox I run down here.  I feel I'm exactly in his case in London.  However,
if I can do you any service, Ned--"

Edward laughed.  "You might have done me the service of not excusing
yourself to the squire when he came here, in such a way as to implicate
me."

"But I was so tremendously badgered, Ned."

"You had a sort of gratification in letting the squire crow over his
brother.  And he did crow for a time."

"On my honour, Ned, as to crowing! he went away cursing at me.  Peggy
Lovell managed it somehow for you.  I was really awfully badgered."

"Yes; but you know what a man my father is.  He hasn't the squire's
philosophy in those affairs."

"'Pon my soul, Mr. Ned, I never guessed it before; but I rather fancy you
got clear with Sir Billy the banker by washing in my basin--eh, did you?"

Edward looked straight at his cousin, saying, "You deserved worse than
that.  You were treacherous.  You proved you were not to be trusted; and
yet, you see, I trust you.  Call it my folly.  Of course (and I don't
mind telling you) I used my wits to turn the point of the attack.  I may
be what they call unscrupulous when I'm surprised.  I have to look to
money as well as you; and if my father thought it went in a--what he
considers--wrong direction, the source would be choked by paternal
morality.  You betrayed me.  Listen."

"I tell you, Ned, I merely said to my governor--"

"Listen to me.  You betrayed me.  I defended myself; that is, I've
managed so that I may still be of service to you.  It was a near shave;
but you now see the value of having a character with one's father.  Just
open my writing-desk there, and toss out the cheque-book.  I confess I
can't see why you should have objected--but let that pass.  How much do
you want?  Fifty?  Say forty-five, and five I'll give you to pay to
Sedgett--making fifty.  Eighty before, and fifty--one hundred and thirty.
Write that you owe me that sum, on a piece of paper.  I can't see why you
should wish to appear so uncommonly virtuous."

Algernon scribbled the written acknowledgment, which he despised himself
for giving, and the receiver for taking, but was always ready to give for
the money, and said, as he put the cheque in his purse: "It was this
infernal fellow completely upset me.  If you were worried by a bull-dog,
by Jove, Ned, you'd lose your coolness.  He bothered my head off.  Ask me
now, and I'll do anything on earth for you.  My back's broad.  Sir Billy
can't think worse of me than he does.  Do you want to break positively
with that pretty rival to Peggy L.?  I've got a scheme to relieve you, my
poor old Ned, and make everybody happy.  I'll lay the foundations of a
fresh and brilliant reputation for myself."

Algernon took a chair.  Edward was fathoms deep in his book.

The former continued: "I'd touch on the money-question last, with any
other fellow than you; but you always know that money's the hinge, and
nothing else lifts a man out of a scrape.  It costs a stiff pull on your
banker, and that reminds me, you couldn't go to Sir Billy for it; you'd
have to draw in advance, by degrees anyhow, look here:--There are lots of
young farmers who want to emigrate and want wives and money.  I know one.
It's no use going into particulars, but it's worth thinking over.  Life
is made up of mutual help, Ned.  You can help another fellow better than
yourself.  As for me, when I'm in a hobble, I give you my word of honour,
I'm just like a baby, and haven't an idea at my own disposal.  The same
with others.  You can't manage without somebody's assistance.  What do
you say, old boy?"

Edward raised his head from his book.  "Some views of life deduced from
your private experience?" he observed; and Algernon cursed at book-worms,
who would never take hints, and left him.

But when he was by himself, Edward pitched his book upon the floor and
sat reflecting.  The sweat started on his forehead.  He was compelled to
look into his black volume and study it.  His desire was to act humanely
and generously; but the question inevitably recurred: "How can I utterly
dash my prospects in the world?"  It would be impossible to bring Dahlia
to great houses; and he liked great houses and the charm of mixing among
delicately-bred women.  On the other hand, lawyers have married beneath
them--married cooks, housemaids, governesses, and so forth.  And what has
a lawyer to do with a dainty lady, who will constantly distract him with
finicking civilities and speculations in unprofitable regions?  What he
does want is a woman amiable as a surface of parchment, serviceable as
his inkstand; one who will be like the wig in which he closes his
forensic term, disreputable from overwear, but suited to the purpose.

"Ah! if I meant to be nothing but a lawyer!"  Edward stopped the flow of
this current in Dahlia's favour.  His passion for her was silent.  Was it
dead?  It was certainly silent.  Since Robert had come down to play his
wild game of persecution at Fairly, the simple idea of Dahlia had been
Edward's fever.  He detested brute force, with a finely-witted man's full
loathing; and Dahlia's obnoxious champion had grown to be associated in
his mind with Dahlia.  He swept them both from his recollection
abhorrently, for in his recollection he could not divorce them.  He
pretended to suppose that Dahlia, whose only reproach to him was her
suffering, participated in the scheme to worry him.  He could even forget
her beauty--forget all, save the unholy fetters binding him.  She seemed
to imprison him in bare walls.  He meditated on her character.  She had
no strength.  She was timid, comfort-loving, fond of luxury, credulous,
preposterously conventional; that is, desirous more than the ordinary run
of women of being hedged about and guarded by ceremonies--"mere
ceremonies," said Edward, forgetting the notion he entertained of women
not so protected.  But it may be, that in playing the part of fool and
coward, we cease to be mindful of the absolute necessity for sheltering
the weak from that monstrous allied army, the cowards and the fools.  He
admitted even to himself that he had deceived her, at the same time
denouncing her unheard-of capacity of belief, which had placed him in a
miserable hobble, and that was the truth.

Now, men confessing themselves in a miserable hobble, and knowing they
are guilty of the state of things lamented by them, intend to drown that
part of their nature which disturbs them by its outcry.  The submission
to a tangle that could be cut through instantaneously by any exertion of
a noble will, convicts them.  They had better not confide, even to their
secret hearts, that they are afflicted by their conscience and the
generosity of their sentiments, for it will be only to say that these
high qualities are on the failing side.  Their inclination, under the
circumstances, is generally base, and no less a counsellor than
uncorrupted common sense, when they are in such a hobble, will sometimes
advise them to be base.  But, in admitting the plea which common sense
puts forward on their behalf, we may fairly ask them to be masculine in
their baseness.  Or, in other words, since they must be selfish, let them
be so without the poltroonery of selfishness.  Edward's wish was to be
perfectly just, as far as he could be now--just to himself as well; for
how was he to prove of worth and aid to any one depending on him, if he
stood crippled?  Just, also, to his family; to his possible posterity;
and just to Dahlia.  His task was to reconcile the variety of justness
due upon all sides.  The struggle, we will assume, was severe, for he
thought so; he thought of going to Dahlia and speaking the word of
separation; of going to her family and stating his offence, without
personal exculpation; thus masculine in baseness, he was in idea; but
poltroonery triumphed, the picture of himself facing his sin and its
victims dismayed him, and his struggle ended in his considering as to the
fit employment of one thousand pounds in his possession, the remainder of
a small legacy, hitherto much cherished.

A day later, Mrs. Lovell said to him: "Have you heard of that unfortunate
young man?  I am told that he lies in great danger from a blow on the
back of his head.  He looked ill when I saw him, and however mad he may
be, I'm sorry harm should have come to one who is really brave.  Gentle
means are surely best.  It is so with horses, it must be so with men.  As
to women, I don't pretend to unriddle them."

"Gentle means are decidedly best," said Edward, perceiving that her
little dog Algy had carried news to her, and that she was setting herself
to fathom him.  "You gave an eminent example of it yesterday.  I was so
sure of the result that I didn't bet against you."

"Why not have backed me?"

The hard young legal face withstood the attack of her soft blue eyes, out
of which a thousand needles flew, seeking a weak point in the mask.

"The compliment was, to incite you to a superhuman effort."

"Then why not pay the compliment?"

"I never pay compliments to transparent merit; I do not hold candles to
lamps."

"True," said she.

"And as gentle means are so admirable, it would be as well to stop
incision and imbruing between those two boys."

"Which?" she asked innocently.

"Suckling and Algy."

"Is it possible?  They are such boys."

"Exactly of the kind to do it.  Don't you know?" and Edward explained
elaborately and cruelly the character of the boys who rushed into
conflicts.  Colour deep as evening red confused her cheeks, and she
said, "We must stop them."

"Alas!" he shook his head; "if it's not too late."

"It never is too late."

"Perhaps not, when the embodiment of gentle means is so determined."

"Come; I believe they are in the billiard room now, and you shall see,"
she said.

The pair were found in the billiard room, even as a pair of terriers that
remember a bone.  Mrs. Lovell proposed a game, and offered herself for
partner to Lord Suckling.

"Till total defeat do us part," the young nobleman acquiesced; and total
defeat befell them.  During the play of the balls, Mrs. Lovell threw a
jealous intentness of observation upon all the strokes made by Algernon;
saying nothing, but just looking at him when he did a successful thing.
She winked at some quiet stately betting that went on between him and
Lord Suckling.

They were at first preternaturally polite and formal toward one another;
by degrees, the influence at work upon them was manifested in a thaw of
their stiff demeanour, and they fell into curt dialogues, which Mrs.
Lovell gave herself no concern to encourage too early.

Edward saw, and was astonished himself to feel that she had ceased to
breathe that fatal inciting breath, which made men vindictively emulous
of her favour, and mad to match themselves for a claim to the chief
smile.  No perceptible change was displayed.  She was Mrs. Lovell still;
vivacious and soft; flame-coloured, with the arrowy eyelashes; a pleasant
companion, who did not play the woman obtrusively among men, and show a
thirst for homage.  All the difference appeared to be, that there was an
absence as of some evil spiritual emanation.

And here a thought crossed him--one of the memorable little evanescent
thoughts which sway us by our chance weakness; "Does she think me wanting
in physical courage?"

Now, though the difference between them had been owing to a scornful
remark that she had permitted herself to utter, on his refusal to accept
a quarrel with one of her numerous satellites, his knowledge of her
worship of brains, and his pride in his possession of the burdensome
weight, had quite precluded his guessing that she might haply suppose him
to be deficient in personal bravery.  He was astounded by the reflection
that she had thus misjudged him.  It was distracting; sober-thoughted as
he was by nature.  He watched the fair simplicity of her new manner with
a jealous eye.  Her management of the two youths was exquisite; but to
him, Edward, she had never condescended to show herself thus mediating
and amiable.  Why?  Clearly, because she conceived that he had no virile
fire in his composition.  Did the detestable little devil think silly
duelling a display of valour? Did the fair seraph think him anything less
than a man?

How beautifully hung the yellow loop of her hair as she leaned over the
board!  How gracious she was and like a Goddess with these boys, as he
called them!  She rallied her partner, not letting him forget that he had
the honour of being her partner; while she appeared envious of Algernon's
skill, and talked to both and got them upon common topics, and laughed,
and was like a fair English flower of womanhood; nothing deadly.

"There, Algy; you have beaten us.  I don't think I'll have Lord Suckling
for my partner any more," she said, putting up her wand, and pouting.

"You don't bear malice?" said Algernon, revived.

"There is my hand.  Now you must play a game alone with Lord Suckling,
and beat him; mind you beat him, or it will redound to my discredit."

With which, she and Edward left them.

"Algy was a little crestfallen, and no wonder," she said.  "He is soon
set up again.  They will be good friends now."

"Isn't it odd, that they should be ready to risk their lives for
trifles?"

Thus Edward tempted her to discuss the subject which he had in his mind.

She felt intuitively the trap in his voice.

"Ah, yes," she replied; "it must be because they know their lives are not
precious."

So utterly at her mercy had he fallen, that her pronunciation of that
word "precious" carried a severe sting to him, and it was not spoken with
peculiar emphasis; on the contrary, she wished to indicate that she was
of his way of thinking, as regarded this decayed method of settling
disputes.  He turned to leave her.

"You go to your Adeline, I presume," she said.

"Ah! that reminds me.  I have never thanked you."

"For my good services? such as they are.  Sir William will be very happy,
and it was for him, a little more than for you, that I went out of my way
to be a matchmaker."

"It was her character, of course, that struck you as being so eminently
suited to mine."

"Can I tell what is the character of a girl?  She is mild and shy, and
extremely gentle.  In all probability she has a passion for battles and
bloodshed.  I judged from your father's point of view.  She has money,
and you are to have money; and the union of money and money is supposed
to be a good thing.  And besides, you are variable, and off to-morrow
what you are on to-day; is it not so? and heiresses are never jilted.
Colonel Barclay is only awaiting your retirement.  Le roi est mort; vive
le roi!  Heiresses may cry it like kingdoms."

"I thought," said Edward, meaningly, "the colonel had better taste."

"Do you not know that my friends are my friends because they are not
allowed to dream they will do anything else?  If they are taken poorly, I
commend them to a sea-voyage--Africa, the North-West Passage, the source
of the Nile.  Men with their vanity wounded may discover wonders!  They
return friendly as before, whether they have done the Geographical
Society a service or not.  That is, they generally do."

"Then I begin to fancy I must try those latitudes."

"Oh! you are my relative."

He scarcely knew that he had uttered "Margaret."

She replied to it frankly, "Yes, Cousin Ned.  You have made the voyage,
you see, and have come back friends with me.  The variability of opals!
Ah! Sir John, you join us in season.  We were talking of opals.  Is the
opal a gem that stands to represent women?"

Sir John Capes smoothed his knuckles with silken palms, and with
courteous antique grin, responded, "It is a gem I would never dare to
offer to a lady's acceptance."

"It is by repute unlucky; so you never can have done so.

"Exquisite!" exclaimed the veteran in smiles, "if what you deign to imply
were only true!"

They entered the drawing-room among the ladies.

Edward whispered in Mrs. Lovell's ear, "He is in need of the voyage."

"He is very near it," she answered in the same key, and swam into general
conversation.

Her cold wit, Satanic as the gleam of it struck through his mind, gave
him a throb of desire to gain possession of her, and crush her.



CHAPTER XXII

The writing of a letter to Dahlia had previously been attempted and
abandoned as a sickening task.  Like an idle boy with his holiday
imposition, Edward shelved it among the nightmares, saying, "How can I
sit down and lie to her!" and thinking that silence would prepare her
bosom for the coming truth.

Silence is commonly the slow poison used by those who mean to murder
love.  There is nothing violent about it; no shock is given; Hope is not
abruptly strangled, but merely dreams of evil, and fights with gradually
stifling shadows.  When the last convulsions come they are not terrific;
the frame has been weakened for dissolution; love dies like natural
decay.  It seems the kindest way of doing a cruel thing.  But Dahlia
wrote, crying out her agony at the torture.  Possibly your nervously
organized natures require a modification of the method.

Edward now found himself able to conduct a correspondence.  He despatched
the following:--

     "My Dear Dahlia,--Of course I cannot expect you to be aware of the
     bewildering occupations of a country house, where a man has
     literally not five minutes' time to call his own; so I pass by your
     reproaches.  My father has gone at last.  He has manifested an
     extraordinary liking for my society, and I am to join him elsewhere
     --perhaps run over to Paris (your city)--but at present for a few
     days I am my own master, and the first thing I do is to attend to
     your demands: not to write 'two lines,' but to give you a good long
     letter.

     "What on earth makes you fancy me unwell?  You know I am never
     unwell.  And as to your nursing me--when has there ever been any
     need for it?

     "You must positively learn patience.  I have been absent a week or
     so, and you talk of coming down here and haunting the house!  Such
     ghosts as you meet with strange treatment when they go about
     unprotected, let me give you warning.  You have my full permission
     to walk out in the Parks for exercise.  I think you are bound to do
     it, for your health's sake.

     "Pray discontinue that talk about the alteration in your looks.  You
     must learn that you are no longer a child.  Cease to write like a
     child.  If people stare at you, as you say, you are very well aware
     it is not because you are becoming plain.  You do not mean it, I
     know; but there is a disingenuousness in remarks of this sort that
     is to me exceedingly distasteful.  Avoid the shadow of hypocrisy.
     Women are subject to it--and it is quite innocent, no doubt.  I
     won't lecture you.

     "My cousin Algernon is here with me.  He has not spoken of your
     sister.  Your fears in that direction are quite unnecessary.  He is
     attached to a female cousin of ours, a very handsome person, witty,
     and highly sensible, who dresses as well as the lady you talk about
     having seen one day in Wrexby Church.  Her lady's-maid is a
     Frenchwoman, which accounts for it.  You have not forgotten the
     boulevards?

     "I wish you to go on with your lessons in French.  Educate yourself,
     and you will rise superior to these distressing complaints.  I
     recommend you to read the newspapers daily.  Buy nice picture-books,
     if the papers are too matter-of-fact for you.  By looking eternally
     inward, you teach yourself to fret, and the consequence is, or will
     be, that you wither.  No constitution can stand it.  All the ladies
     here take an interest in Parliamentary affairs.  They can talk to
     men upon men's themes.  It is impossible to explain to you how
     wearisome an everlasting nursery prattle becomes.  The idea that men
     ought never to tire of it is founded on some queer belief that they
     are not mortal.

     "Parliament opens in February.  My father wishes me to stand for
     Selborough.  If he or some one will do the talking to the tradesmen,
     and provide the beer and the bribes, I have no objection.  In that
     case my Law goes to the winds.  I'm bound to make a show of
     obedience, for he has scarcely got over my summer's trip.  He holds
     me a prisoner to him for heaven knows how long--it may be months.

     "As for the heiress whom he has here to make a match for me, he and
     I must have a pitched battle about her by and by.  At present my
     purse insists upon my not offending him.  When will old men
     understand young ones?  I burn your letters, and beg you to follow
     the example.  Old letters are the dreariest ghosts in the world, and
     you cannot keep more treacherous rubbish in your possession.  A
     discovery would exactly ruin me.

     "Your purchase of a black-velvet bonnet with pink ribands, was very
     suitable.  Or did you write 'blue' ribands?  But your complexion can
     bear anything.

     "You talk of being annoyed when you walk out.  Remember, that no
     woman who knows at all how to conduct herself need for one moment
     suffer annoyance.

     "What is the 'feeling' you speak of?  I cannot conceive any
     'feeling' that should make you helpless when you consider that you
     are insulted.  There are women who have natural dignity, and women
     who have none.

     "You ask the names of the gentlemen here:--Lord Carey, Lord Wippern
     (both leave to-morrow), Sir John Capes, Colonel Barclay, Lord
     Suckling.  The ladies:--Mrs. Gosling, Miss Gosling, Lady Carey.
     Mrs. Anybody--to any extent.

     "They pluck hen's feathers all day and half the night.  I see them
     out, and make my bow to the next batch of visitors, and then I don't
     know where I am.

     "Read poetry, if it makes up for my absence, as you say.  Repeat it
     aloud, minding the pulsation of feet.  Go to the theatre now and
     then, and take your landlady with you.  If she's a cat, fit one of
     your dresses on the servant-girl, and take her.  You only want a
     companion--a dummy will do.  Take a box and sit behind the curtain,
     back to the audience.

     "I wrote to my wine-merchant to send Champagne and Sherry.  I hope
     he did: the Champagne in pints and half-pints; if not, return them
     instantly.  I know how Economy, sitting solitary, poor thing, would
     not dare to let the froth of a whole pint bottle fly out.

     "Be an obedient girl and please me.

                    "Your stern tutor,

                         "Edward the First."

He read this epistle twice over to satisfy himself that it was a warm
effusion, and not too tender; and it satisfied him.  By a stretch of
imagination, he could feel that it represented him to her as in a higher
atmosphere, considerate for her, and not so intimate that she could deem
her spirit to be sharing it.  Another dose of silence succeeded this
discreet administration of speech.

Dahlia replied with letter upon letter; blindly impassioned, and again
singularly cold; but with no reproaches.  She was studying, she said.
Her head ached a little; only a little.  She walked; she read poetry; she
begged him to pardon her for not drinking wine.  She was glad that he
burnt her letters, which were so foolish that if she could have the
courage to look at them after they were written, they would never be
sent.  He was slightly revolted by one exclamation: "How ambitious you
are!"

"Because I cannot sit down for life in a London lodging-house!" he
thought, and eyed her distantly as a poor good creature who had already
accepted her distinctive residence in another sphere than his.  From such
a perception of her humanity, it was natural that his livelier sense of
it should diminish.  He felt that he had awakened; and he shook her off.

And now he set to work to subdue Mrs. Lovell.  His own subjugation was
the first fruit of his effort.  It was quite unacknowledged by him: but
when two are at this game, the question arises--"Which can live without
the other?" and horrid pangs smote him to hear her telling musically of
the places she was journeying to, the men she would see, and the chances
of their meeting again before he was married to the heiress Adeline.

"I have yet to learn that I am engaged to her," he said.  Mrs. Lovell
gave him a fixed look,--

"She has a half-brother."

He stepped away in a fury.

"Devil!" he muttered, absolutely muttered it, knowing that he fooled and
frowned like a stage-hero in stagey heroics.  "You think to hound me into
this brutal stupidity of fighting, do you?  Upon my honour," he added in
his natural manner, "I believe she does, though!"

But the look became his companion.  It touched and called up great vanity
in his breast, and not till then could he placably confront the look.  He
tried a course of reading.  Every morning he was down in the library,
looking old in an arm-chair over his book; an intent abstracted figure.

Mrs. Lovell would enter and eye him carelessly; utter little commonplaces
and go forth.  The silly words struck on his brain.  The book seemed
hollow; sounded hollow as he shut it.  This woman breathed of active
striving life.  She was a spur to black energies; a plumed glory;
impulsive to chivalry.  Everything she said and did held men in scales,
and approved or rejected them.

Intoxication followed this new conception of her.  He lost altogether his
right judgement; even the cooler after-thoughts were lost.  What sort of
man had Harry been, her first husband?  A dashing soldier, a quarrelsome
duellist, a dull dog.  But, dull to her?  She, at least, was reverential
to the memory of him.

She lisped now and then of "my husband," very prettily, and with intense
provocation; and yet she worshipped brains.  Evidently she thirsted for
that rare union of brains and bravery in a man, and would never surrender
till she had discovered it.  Perhaps she fancied it did not exist.  It
might be that she took Edward as the type of brains, and Harry of
bravery, and supposed that the two qualities were not to be had actually
in conjunction.

Her admiration of his (Edward's) wit, therefore, only strengthened the
idea she entertained of his deficiency in that other companion manly
virtue.

Edward must have been possessed, for he ground his teeth villanously in
supposing himself the victim of this outrageous suspicion.  And how to
prove it false?  How to prove it false in a civilized age, among sober-
living men and women, with whom the violent assertion of bravery would
certainly imperil his claim to brains?  His head was like a stew-pan over
the fire, bubbling endlessly.

He railed at her to Algernon, and astonished the youth, who thought them
in a fair way to make an alliance.  "Milk and capsicums," he called her,
and compared her to bloody mustard-haired Saxon Queens of history, and
was childishly spiteful.  And Mrs. Lovell had it all reported to her, as
he was-quite aware.

"The woman seeking for an anomaly wants a master."

With this pompous aphorism, he finished his reading of the fair Enigma.

Words big in the mouth serve their turn when there is no way of
satisfying the intelligence.

To be her master, however, one must not begin by writhing as her slave.

The attempt to read an inscrutable woman allows her to dominate us too
commandingly.  So the lordly mind takes her in a hard grasp, cracks the
shell, and drawing forth the kernel, says, "This was all the puzzle."

Doubtless it is the fate which women like Mrs. Lovell provoke.  The truth
was, that she could read a character when it was under her eyes; but its
yesterday and to-morrow were a blank.  She had no imaginative hold on
anything.  For which reason she was always requiring tangible signs of
virtues that she esteemed.

The thirst for the shows of valour and wit was insane with her; but she
asked for nothing that she herself did not give in abundance, and with
beauty super-added.  Her propensity to bet sprang of her passion for
combat; she was not greedy of money, or reckless in using it; but a
difference of opinion arising, her instinct forcibly prompted her to back
her own.  If the stake was the risk of a lover's life, she was ready to
put down the stake, and would have marvelled contemptuously at the lover
complaining.  "Sheep! sheep!" she thought of those who dared not fight,
and had a wavering tendency to affix the epithet to those who simply did
not fight.

Withal, Mrs. Lovell was a sensible person; clearheaded and shrewd;
logical, too, more than the run of her sex: I may say, profoundly
practical.  So much so, that she systematically reserved the after-years
for enlightenment upon two or three doubts of herself, which struck her
in the calm of her spirit, from time to time.

"France," Edward called her, in one of their colloquies.

It was an illuminating title.  She liked the French (though no one was
keener for the honour of her own country in opposition to them), she
liked their splendid boyishness, their unequalled devotion, their
merciless intellects; the oneness of the nation when the sword is bare
and pointing to chivalrous enterprise.

She liked their fine varnish of sentiment, which appears so much on the
surface that Englishmen suppose it to have nowhere any depth; as if the
outer coating must necessarily exhaust the stock, or as if what is at the
source of our being can never be made visible.

She had her imagination of them as of a streaming banner in the jaws of
storm, with snows among the cloud-rents and lightning in the chasms:--
which image may be accounted for by the fact that when a girl she had in
adoration kissed the feet of Napoleon, the giant of the later ghosts of
history.

It was a princely compliment.  She received it curtseying, and disarmed
the intended irony.  In reply, she called him "Great Britain."  I regret
to say that he stood less proudly for his nation.  Indeed, he flushed.
He remembered articles girding at the policy of peace at any price, and
half felt that Mrs. Lovell had meant to crown him with a Quaker's hat.
His title fell speedily into disuse; but, "Yes, France," and "No,
France," continued, his effort being to fix the epithet to frivolous
allusions, from which her ingenuity rescued it honourably.

Had she ever been in love?  He asked her the question.  She stabbed him
with so straightforward an affirmative that he could not conceal the
wound.

"Have I not been married?" she said.

He began to experience the fretful craving to see the antecedents of the
torturing woman spread out before him.  He conceived a passion for her
girlhood.  He begged for portraits of her as a girl.  She showed him the
portrait of Harry Lovell in a locket.  He held the locket between his
fingers.  Dead Harry was kept very warm.  Could brains ever touch her
emotions as bravery had done?

"Where are the brains I boast of?" he groaned, in the midst of these
sensational extravagances.

The lull of action was soon to be disturbed.  A letter was brought to
him.

He opened it and read--

     "Mr. Edward Blancove,--When you rode by me under Fairly Park, I did
     not know you.  I can give you a medical certificate that since then
     I have been in the doctor's hands.  I know you now.  I call upon you
     to meet me, with what weapons you like best, to prove that you are
     not a midnight assassin.  The place shall be where you choose to
     appoint.  If you decline I will make you publicly acknowledge what
     you have done.  If you answer, that I am not a gentleman and you are
     one, I say that you have attacked me in the dark, when I was on
     horseback, and you are now my equal, if I like to think so.  You
     will not talk about the law after that night.  The man you employed
     I may punish or I may leave, though he struck the blow.  But I will
     meet you.  To-morrow, a friend of mine, who is a major in the army,
     will be down here, and will call on you from me; or on any friend of
     yours you are pleased to name.  I will not let you escape.  Whether
     I shall face a guilty man in you, God knows; but I know I have a
     right to call upon you to face me.

                    "I am, Sir,
                         "Yours truly,

                              "Robert Eccles."

Edward's face grew signally white over the contents of this unprecedented
challenge.  The letter had been brought in to him at the breakfast table.
"Read it, read it," said Mrs. Lovell, seeing him put it by; and he had
read it with her eyes on him.

The man seemed to him a man of claws, who clutched like a demon.  Would
nothing quiet him?  Edward thought of bribes for the sake of peace; but a
second glance at the letter assured his sagacious mind that bribes were
powerless in this man's case; neither bribes nor sticks were of service.
Departure from Fairly would avail as little: the tenacious devil would
follow him to London; and what was worse, as a hound from Dahlia's family
he was now on the right scent, and appeared to know that he was.  How was
a scandal to be avoided?  By leaving Fairly instantly for any place on
earth, he could not avoid leaving the man behind; and if the man saw Mrs.
Lovell again, her instincts as a woman of her class were not to be
trusted.  As likely as not she would side with the ruffian; that is, she
would think he had been wronged--perhaps think that he ought to have been
met.  There is the democratic virus secret in every woman; it was
predominant in Mrs. Lovell, according to Edward's observation of the
lady.  The rights of individual manhood were, as he angrily perceived,
likely to be recognized by her spirit, if only they were stoutly
asserted; and that in defiance of station, of reason, of all the ideas
inculcated by education and society.

"I believe she'll expect me to fight him," he exclaimed.  At least, he
knew she would despise him if he avoided the brutal challenge without
some show of dignity.

On rising from the table, he drew Algernon aside.  It was an insufferable
thought that he was compelled to take his brainless cousin into his
confidence, even to the extent of soliciting his counsel, but there was
no help for it.  In vain Edward asked himself why he had been such an
idiot as to stain his hands with the affair at all.  He attributed it to
his regard for Algernon.  Having commonly the sway of his passions, he
was in the habit of forgetting that he ever lost control of them; and the
fierce black mood, engendered by Robert's audacious persecution, had
passed from his memory, though it was now recalled in full force.

"See what a mess you drag a man into," he said.

Algernon read a line of the letter.  "Oh, confound this infernal fellow!"
he shouted, in sickly wonderment; and snapped sharp, "drag you into the
mess?  Upon my honour, your coolness, Ned, is the biggest part about you,
if it isn't the best."

Edward's grip fixed on him, for they were only just out of earshot of
Mrs. Lovell.  They went upstairs, and Algernon read the letter through.

"'Midnight assassin,'" he repeated; "by Jove! how beastly that sounds.
It's a lie that you attacked him in the dark, Ned--eh?"

"I did not attack him at all," said Edward.  "He behaved like a ruffian
to you, and deserved shooting like a mad dog."

"Did you, though," Algernon persisted in questioning, despite his
cousin's manifest shyness of the subject "did you really go out with that
man Sedgett, and stop this fellow on horseback?  He speaks of a blow.
You didn't strike him, did you, Ned?  I mean, not a hit, except in
self-defence?"

Edward bit his lip, and shot a level reflective side-look, peculiar to
him when meditating.  He wished his cousin to propose that Mrs. Lovell
should see the letter.  He felt that by consulting with her, he could
bring her to apprehend the common sense of the position, and be so far
responsible for what he might do, that she would not dare to let her
heart be rebellious toward him subsequently.  If he himself went to her
it would look too much like pleading for her intercession.  The subtle
directness of the woman's spirit had to be guarded against at every
point.

He replied to Algernon,--

"What I did was on your behalf.  Oblige me by not interrogating me.  I
give you my positive assurance that I encouraged no unmanly assault on
him."

"That'll do, that'll do," said Algernon, eager not to hear more, lest
there should come an explanation of what he had heard.  "Of course, then,
this fellow has no right--the devil's in him!  If we could only make him
murder Sedgett and get hanged for it!  He's got a friend who's a major in
the army?  Oh, come, I say; this is pitching it too stiff.  I shall
insist upon seeing his commission.  Really, Ned, I can't advise.  I'll
stand by you, that you may be sure of--stand by you; but what the deuce
to say to help you!  Go before the magistrate....  Get Lord Elling to
issue a warrant to prevent a breach of the peace.  No; that won't do.
This quack of a major in the army's to call to-morrow.  I don't mind, if
he shows his credentials all clear, amusing him in any manner he likes.
I can't see the best scheme.  Hang it, Ned, it's very hard upon me to ask
me to do the thinking.  I always go to Peggy Lovell when I'm bothered.
There--Mrs. Lovell!  Mistress Lovell!  Madame! my Princess Lovell, if you
want me to pronounce respectable titles to her name.  You're too proud to
ask a woman to help you, ain't you, Ned?"

"No," said Edward, mildly.  "In some cases their wits are keen enough.
One doesn't like to drag her into such a business."

"Hm," went Algernon.  "I don't think she's so innocent of it as you
fancy."

"She's very clever," said Edward.

"She's awfully clever!" cried Algernon.  He paused to give room for more
praises of her, and then pursued:

"She's so kind.  That's what you don't credit her for.  I'll go and
consult her, if positively you don't mind.  Trust her for keeping it
quiet.  Come, Ned, she's sure to hit upon the right thing.  May I go?"

"It's your affair, more than mine," said Edward.

"Have it so, if you like," returned the good-natured fellow.  "It's worth
while consulting her, just to see how neatly she'll take it.  Bless your
heart, she won't know a bit more than you want her to know.  I'm off to
her now."  He carried away the letter.

Edward's own practical judgement would have advised his instantly sending
a short reply to Robert, explaining that he was simply in conversation
with the man Sedgett, when Robert, the old enemy of the latter, rode by,
and, that while regretting Sedgett's proceedings, he could not be held
accountable for them.  But it was useless to think of acting in
accordance with his reason.  Mrs. Lovell was queen, and sat in reason's
place.  It was absolutely necessary to conciliate her approbation of his
conduct in this dilemma, by submitting to the decided unpleasantness of
talking with her on a subject that fevered him, and of allowing her to
suppose he required the help of her sagacity.  Such was the humiliation
imposed upon him.  Further than this he had nothing to fear, for no woman
could fail to be overborne by the masculine force of his brain in an
argument.  The humiliation was bad enough, and half tempted him to think
that his old dream of working as a hard student, with fair and gentle
Dahlia ministering to his comforts, and too happy to call herself his,
was best.  Was it not, after one particular step had been taken, the
manliest life he could have shaped out?  Or did he imagine it so at this
moment, because he was a coward, and because pride, and vanity, and
ferocity alternately had to screw him up to meet the consequences of his
acts, instead of the great heart?

If a coward, Dahlia was his home, his refuge, his sanctuary.  Mrs. Lovell
was perdition and its scorching fires to a man with a taint of cowardice
in him.

Whatever he was, Edward's vanity would not permit him to acknowledge
himself that.  Still, he did not call on his heart to play inspiriting
music.  His ideas turned to subterfuge.  His aim was to keep the good
opinion of Mrs. Lovell while he quieted Robert; and he entered
straightway upon that very perilous course, the attempt, for the sake of
winning her, to bewilder and deceive a woman's instincts.



CHAPTER XXIII

Over a fire in one of the upper sitting-rooms of the Pilot Inn, Robert
sat with his friend, the beloved friend of whom he used to speak to
Dahlia and Rhoda, too proudly not to seem betraying the weaker point of
pride.  This friend had accepted the title from a private soldier of his
regiment; to be capable of doing which, a man must be both officer and
gentleman in a sterner and less liberal sense than is expressed by that
everlasting phrase in the mouth of the military parrot.  Major Percy
Waring, the son of a clergyman, was a working soldier, a slayer, if you
will, from pure love of the profession of arms, and all the while the
sweetest and gentlest of men.  I call him a working soldier in opposition
to the parading soldier, the, coxcomb in uniform, the hero by accident,
and the martial boys of wealth and station, who are of the army of
England.  He studied war when the trumpet slumbered, and had no place but
in the field when it sounded.  To him the honour of England was as a babe
in his arms: he hugged it like a mother.  He knew the military history of
every regiment in the service.  Disasters even of old date brought groans
from him.  This enthusiastic face was singularly soft when the large dark
eyes were set musing.  The cast of it being such, sometimes in speaking
of a happy play of artillery upon congregated masses, an odd effect was
produced.  Ordinarily, the clear features were reflective almost to
sadness, in the absence of animation; but an exulting energy for action
would now and then light them up.  Hilarity of spirit did not belong to
him.  He was, nevertheless, a cheerful talker, as could be seen in the
glad ear given to him by Robert.  Between them it was "Robert" and
"Percy."  Robert had rescued him from drowning on the East Anglian shore,
and the friendship which ensued was one chief reason for Robert's
quitting the post of trooper and buying himself out.  It was against
Percy's advice, who wanted to purchase a commission for him; but the
humbler man had the sturdy scruples of his rank regarding money, and his
romantic illusions being dispersed by an experience of the absolute
class-distinctions in the service, Robert; that he might prevent his
friend from violating them, made use of his aunt's legacy to obtain
release.  Since that date they had not met; but their friendship was
fast.  Percy had recently paid a visit to Queen Anne's Farm, where he had
seen Rhoda and heard of Robert's departure.  Knowing Robert's birthplace,
he had come on to Warbeach, and had seen Jonathan Eccles, who referred
him to Mrs. Boulby, licenced seller of brandy, if he wished to enjoy an
interview with Robert Eccles.

"The old man sent up regularly every day to inquire how his son was
faring on the road to the next world," said Robert, laughing.  "He's
tough old English oak.  I'm just to him what I appear at the time.  It's
better having him like that than one of your jerky fathers, who seem to
belong to the stage of a theatre.  Everybody respects my old dad, and I
can laugh at what he thinks of me.  I've only to let him know I've served
an apprenticeship in farming, and can make use of some of his ideas-
-sound! every one of 'em; every one of 'em sound!  And that I say of my
own father."

"Why don't you tell him?" Percy asked.

"I want to forget all about Kent and drown the county," said Robert.
"And I'm going to, as far as my memory's concerned."

Percy waited for some seconds.  He comprehended perfectly this state of
wilfulness in an uneducated sensitive man.

"She has a steadfast look in her face, Robert.  She doesn't look as if
she trifled.  I've really never seen a finer, franker girl in my life, if
faces are to be trusted."

"It's t' other way.  There's no trifling in her case.  She's frank.  She
fires at you point blank."

"You never mentioned her in your letters to me, Robert."

"No.  I had a suspicion from the first I was going to be a fool about the
girl."

Percy struck his hand.

"You didn't do quite right."

"Do you say that?"

Robert silenced him with this question, for there was a woman in Percy's
antecedent history.

The subject being dismissed, they talked more freely.  Robert related the
tale of Dahlia, and of his doings at Fairly.

"Oh! we agree," he said, noting a curious smile that Percy could not
smooth out of sight.  "I know it was odd conduct.  I do respect my
superiors; but, believe me or not, Percy, injury done to a girl makes me
mad, and I can't hold back; and she's the sister of the girl you saw.  By
heaven! if it weren't for my head getting blind now when my blood boils,
I've the mind to walk straight up to the house and screw the secret out
of one of them.  What I say is--Is there a God up aloft?  Then, he sees
all, and society is vapour, and while I feel the spirit in me to do it, I
go straight at my aim."

"If, at the same time, there's no brandy in you," said Percy, "which
would stop your seeing clear or going straight."

The suggestion was a cruel shock.  Robert nodded.  "That's true.  I
suppose it's my bad education that won't let me keep cool.  I'm ashamed
of myself after it.  I shout and thunder, and the end of it is, I go away
and think about the same of Robert Eccles that I've frightened other
people into thinking.  Perhaps you'll think me to blame in this case?
One of those Mr. Blancoves--not the one you've heard of--struck me on the
field before a lady.  I bore it.  It was part of what I'd gone out to
meet.  I was riding home late at night, and he stood at the corner of the
lane, with an old enemy of mine, and a sad cur that is!  Sedgett's his
name--Nic, the Christian part of it.  There'd just come a sharp snowfall
from the north, and the moonlight shot over the flying edge of the
rear-cloud; and I saw Sedgett with a stick in his hand; but the gentleman
had no stick.  I'll give Mr. Edward Blancove credit for not meaning to be
active in a dastardly assault.

"But why was he in consultation with my enemy?  And he let my enemy--by
the way, Percy, you dislike that sort of talk of 'my enemy,' I know.  You
like it put plain and simple: but down in these old parts again, I catch
at old habits; and I'm always a worse man when I haven't seen you for a
time.  Sedgett, say.  Sedgett, as I passed, made a sweep at my horse's
knees, and took them a little over the fetlock.  The beast reared.  While
I was holding on he swung a blow at me, and took me here."

Robert touched his head.  "I dropped like a horse-chestnut from the tree.
When I recovered, I was lying in the lane.  I think I was there flat,
face to the ground, for half an hour, quite sensible, looking at the
pretty colour of my blood on the snow.  The horse was gone.  I just
managed to reel along to this place, where there's always a home for me.
Now, will you believe it possible?  I went out next day: I saw Mr. Edward
Blancove, and I might have seen a baby and felt the same to it.  I didn't
know him a bit.  Yesterday morning your letter was sent up from Sutton
farm.  Somehow, the moment I'd read it, I remembered his face.  I sent
him word there was a matter to be settled between us.  You think I was
wrong?"

Major Waring had set a deliberately calculating eye on him.

"I want to hear more," he said.

"You think I have no claim to challenge a man in his position?"

"Answer me first, Robert.  You think this Mr. Blancove helped, or
instigated this man Sedgett in his attack upon you?"

"I haven't a doubt that he did."

"It's not plain evidence."

"It's good circumstantial evidence."

"At any rate, you are perhaps justified in thinking him capable of this:
though the rule is, to believe nothing against a gentleman until it is
flatly proved--when we drum him out of the ranks.  But, if you can fancy
it true, would you put yourself upon an equal footing with him?"

"I would," said Robert.

"Then you accept his code of morals."

"That's too shrewd for me: but men who preach against duelling, or any
kind of man-to-man in hot earnest, always fence in that way."

"I detest duelling," Major Waring remarked.  "I don't like a system that
permits knaves and fools to exercise a claim to imperil the lives of
useful men.  Let me observe, that I am not a preacher against it.  I
think you know my opinions; and they are not quite those of the English
magistrate, and other mild persons who are wrathful at the practice upon
any pretence.  Keep to the other discussion.  You challenge a man--you
admit him your equal.  But why do I argue with you?  I know your mind as
well as my own.  You have some other idea in the background."

"I feel that he's the guilty man," said Robert.

"You feel called upon to punish him."

"No.  Wait: he will not fight; but I have him and I'll hold him.  I feel
he's the man who has injured this girl, by every witness of facts that I
can bring together; and as for the other young fellow I led such a dog's
life down here, I could beg his pardon.  This one's eye met mine.  I saw
it wouldn't have stopped short of murder--opportunity given.  Why?
Because I pressed on the right spring.  I'm like a woman in seeing some
things.  He shall repent.  By--!  Slap me on the face, Percy.  I've taken
to brandy and to swearing.  Damn the girl who made me forget good
lessons!  Bless her heart, I mean.  She saw you, did she?  Did she colour
when she heard your name?"

"Very much," said Major Waring.

"Was dressed in--?"

"Black, with a crimson ribbon round the collar."

Robert waved the image from his eyes.

"I'm not going to dream of her.  Peace, and babies, and farming, and
pride in myself with a woman by my side--there!  You've seen her--all
that's gone.  I might as well ask the East wind to blow West.  Her face
is set the other way.  Of course, the nature and value of a man is shown
by how he takes this sort of pain; and hark at me!  I'm yelling.  I
thought I was cured.  I looked up into the eyes of a lady ten times
sweeter--when?--somewhen!  I've lost dates.  But here's the girl at me
again.  She cuddles into me--slips her hand into my breast and tugs at
strings there.  I can't help talking to you about her, now we've got over
the first step.  I'll soon give it up.

"She wore a red ribbon?  If it had been Spring, you'd have seen roses.
Oh! what a stanch heart that girl has.  Where she sets it, mind!  Her
life where that creature sets her heart!  But, for me, not a penny of
comfort!  Now for a whole week of her, day and night, in that black dress
with the coloured ribbon.  On she goes: walking to church; sitting at
table; looking out of the window!

"Will you believe I thought those thick eyebrows of hers ugly once--a
tremendous long time ago.  Yes; but what eyes she has under them!  And if
she looks tender, one corner of her mouth goes quivering; and the eyes
are steady, so that it looks like some wonderful bit of mercy.

"I think of that true-hearted creature praying and longing for her
sister, and fearing there's shame--that's why she hates me.  I wouldn't
say I was certain her sister had not fallen into a pit.  I couldn't.  I
was an idiot.  I thought I wouldn't be a hypocrite.  I might have said I
believed as she did.  There she stood ready to be taken--ready to have
given herself to me, if I had only spoken a word!  It was a moment of
heaven, and God the Father could not give it to me twice  The chance has
gone.

"Oh! what a miserable mad dog I am to gabble on in this way.--Come in!
come in, mother."

Mrs. Boulby entered, with soft footsteps, bearing a letter.

"From the Park," she said, and commenced chiding Robert gently, to
establish her right to do it with solemnity.

"He will talk, sir.  He's one o' them that either they talk or they hang
silent, and no middle way will they take; and the doctor's their foe, and
health they despise; and since this cruel blow, obstinacy do seem to have
been knocked like a nail into his head so fast, persuasion have not a
atom o' power over him."

"There must be talking when friends meet, ma'am," said Major Waring.

"Ah!" returned the widow, "if it wouldn't be all on one side."

"I've done now, mother," said Robert.

Mrs. Boulby retired, and Robert opened the letter.

It ran thus:--

     "Sir, I am glad you have done me the favour of addressing me
     temperately, so that I am permitted to clear myself of an unjust and
     most unpleasant imputation.  I will, if you please, see you, or your
     friend; to whom perhaps I shall better be able to certify how
     unfounded is the charge you bring against me.  I will call upon you
     at the Pilot Inn, where I hear that you are staying; or, if you
     prefer it, I will attend to any appointment you may choose to direct
     elsewhere.  But it must be immediate, as the term of my residence in
     this neighbourhood is limited.

                              "I am,
                                   "Sir,
                              "Yours obediently,

                                        "Edward Blancove."

Major Waning read the lines with a critical attention.

"It seems fair and open," was his remark.

"Here," Robert struck his breast, "here's what answers him.  What shall I
do?  Shall I tell him to come?"

"Write to say that your friend will meet him at a stated place."

Robert saw his prey escaping.  "I'm not to see him?"

"No.  The decent is the right way in such cases.  You must leave it to
me.  This will be the proper method between gentlemen."

"It appears to my idea," said Robert, "that gentlemen are always,
somehow, stopped from taking the straight-ahead measure."

"You," Percy rejoined, "are like a civilian before a fortress.  Either he
finds it so easy that he can walk into it, or he gives it up in despair
as unassailable.  You have followed your own devices, and what have you
accomplished?"

"He will lie to you smoothly."

"Smoothly or not, if I discover that he has spoken falsely, he is
answerable to me."

"To me, Percy."

"No; to me.  He can elude you; and will be acquitted by the general
verdict.  But when he becomes answerable to me, his honour, in the
conventional, which is here the practical, sense, is at stake, and I have
him."

"I see that.  Yes; he can refuse to fight me," Robert sighed.  "Hey,
Lord! it's a heavy world when we come to methods.  But will you, Percy,
will you put it to him at the end of your fist--'Did you deceive the
girl, and do you know where the girl now is?'  Why, great heaven! we only
ask to know where she is.  She may have been murdered.  She's hidden from
her family.  Let him confess, and let him go."

Major Waring shook his head.  "You see like a woman perhaps, Robert.  You
certainly talk like a woman.  I will state your suspicions.  When I have
done so, I am bound to accept his reply.  If we discover it to have been
false, I have my remedy."

"Won't you perceive, that it isn't my object to punish him by and by, but
to tear the secret out of him on the spot--now--instantly," Robert cried.

"I perceive your object, and you have experienced some of the results of
your system.  It's the primitive action of an appeal to the god of
combats, that is exploded in these days.  You have no course but to take
his word."

"She said"--Robert struck his knee--"she said I should have the girl's
address.  She said she would see her.  She pledged that to me.  I'm
speaking of the lady up at Fairly.  Come! things get clearer.  If she
knows where Dahlia is, who told her?  This Mr. Algernon--not Edward
Blancove--was seen with Dahlia in a box at the Playhouse.  He was there
with Dahlia, yet I don't think him the guilty man.  There's a finger of
light upon that other."

"Who is this lady?" Major Waring asked, with lifted eyebrows.

"Mrs. Lovell."

At the name, Major Waring sat stricken.

"Lovell!" he repeated, under his breath.  "Lovell!  Was she ever in
India?"

"I don't know, indeed."

"Is she a widow?"

"Ay; that I've heard."

"Describe her."

Robert entered upon the task with a dozen headlong exclamations, and very
justly concluded by saying that he could give no idea of her; but his
friend apparently had gleaned sufficient.

Major Waring's face was touched by a strange pallor, and his smile had
vanished.  He ran his fingers through his hair, clutching it in a knot,
as he sat eyeing the red chasm in the fire, where the light of old days
and wild memories hangs as in a crumbling world.

Robert was aware of there being a sadness in Percy's life, and that he
had loved a woman and awakened from his passion.  Her name was unknown to
him.  In that matter, his natural delicacy and his deference to Percy had
always checked him from sounding the subject closely.  He might be, as he
had said, keen as a woman where his own instincts were in action; but
they were ineffective in guessing at the cause for Percy's sudden
depression.

"She said--this lady, Mrs. Lovell, whoever she may be--she said you
should have the girl's address:--gave you that pledge of her word?" Percy
spoke, half meditating.  "How did this happen?  When did you see her?"

Robert related the incident of his meeting with her, and her effort to be
a peacemaker, but made no allusion to Mrs. Boulby's tale of the bet.

"A peacemaker!" Percy interjected.  "She rides well?"

"Best horsewoman I ever saw in my life," was Robert's ready answer.

Major Waring brushed at his forehead, as in impatience of thought.

"You must write two letters: one to this Mrs. Lovell.  Say, you are
about to leave the place, and remind her of her promise.  It's
incomprehensible; but never mind.  Write that first.  Then to the man.
Say that your friend--by the way, this Mrs. Lovell has small hands, has
she?  I mean, peculiarly small?  Did you notice, or not?  I may know her.
Never mind.  Write to the man.  Say--don't write down my name--say that I
will meet him."  Percy spoke on as in a dream.  "Appoint any place and
hour.  To-morrow at ten, down by the river--the bridge.  Write briefly.
Thank him for his offer to afford you explanations.  Don't argue it with
me any more.  Write both the letters straight off."

His back was to Robert as he uttered the injunction.  Robert took pen and
paper, and did as he was bidden, with all the punctilious obedience of a
man who consents perforce to see a better scheme abandoned.

One effect of the equality existing between these two of diverse rank in
life and perfect delicacy of heart, was, that the moment Percy assumed
the lead, Robert never disputed it.  Muttering simply that he was
incapable of writing except when he was in a passion, he managed to
produce what, in Percy's eyes, were satisfactory epistles, though Robert
had horrible misgivings in regard to his letter to Mrs. Lovell--the
wording of it, the cast of the sentences, even down to the character of
the handwriting.  These missives were despatched immediately.

"You are sure she said that?" Major Waring inquired more than once during
the afternoon, and Robert assured him that Mrs. Lovell had given him her
word.  He grew very positive, and put it on his honour that she had said
it.

"You may have heard incorrectly."

"I've got the words burning inside me," said Robert.

They walked together, before dark, to Sutton Farm, but Jonathan Eccles
was abroad in his fields, and their welcome was from Mistress Anne, whom
Major Waring had not power to melt; the moment he began speaking praise
of Robert, she closed her mouth tight and crossed her wrists meekly.

"I see," said Major Waring, as they left the farm, "your aunt is of the
godly who have no forgiveness."

"I'm afraid so," cried Robert.  "Cold blood never will come to an
understanding with hot blood, and the old lady's is like frozen milk.
She's right in her way, I dare say.  I don't blame her.  Her piety's
right enough, take it as you find it."

Mrs. Boulby had a sagacious notion that gentlemen always dined well every
day of their lives, and claimed that much from Providence as their due.
She had exerted herself to spread a neat little repast for Major Waring,
and waited on the friends herself; grieving considerably to observe that
the major failed in his duty as a gentleman, as far as the relish of
eating was concerned.

"But," she said below at her bar, "he smokes the beautifullest--smelling
cigars, and drinks coffee made in his own way.  He's very particular."
Which was reckoned to be in Major Waring's favour.

The hour was near midnight when she came into the room, bearing another
letter from the Park.  She thumped it on the table, ruffling and making
that pretence at the controlling of her bosom which precedes a feminine
storm.  Her indignation was caused by a communication delivered by Dick
Curtis, in the parlour underneath, to the effect that Nicodemus Sedgett
was not to be heard of in the neighbourhood.

Robert laughed at her, and called her Hebrew woman--eye-for-eye and
tooth-for-tooth woman.

"Leave real rascals to the Lord above, mother.  He's safe to punish them.
They've stepped outside the chances.  That's my idea.  I wouldn't go out
of my way to kick them--not I!  It's the half-and-half villains we've got
to dispose of.  They're the mischief, old lady."

Percy, however, asked some questions about Sedgett, and seemed to think
his disappearance singular.  He had been examining the handwriting of the
superscription to the letter.  His face was flushed as he tossed it for
Robert to open.  Mrs. Boulby dropped her departing curtsey, and Robert
read out, with odd pauses and puzzled emphasis:

     "Mrs. Lovell has received the letter which Mr. Robert Eccles has
     addressed to her, and regrets that a misconception should have
     arisen from anything that was uttered during their interview.  The
     allusions are obscure, and Mrs. Lovell can only remark, that she is
     pained if she at all misled Mr. Eccles in what she either spoke or
     promised.  She is not aware that she can be of any service to him.
     Should such an occasion present itself, Mr. Eccles may rest assured
     that she will not fail to avail herself of it, and do her utmost to
     redeem a pledge to which he has apparently attached a meaning she
     can in no way account for or comprehend."

When Robert had finished, "It's like a female lawyer," he said.  "That
woman speaking, and that woman writing, they're two different creatures--
upon my soul, they are!  Quick, sharp, to the point, when she speaks; and
read this!  Can I venture to say of a lady, she's a liar?"

"Perhaps you had better not," said Major Waring, who took the letter in
his hand and seemed to study it.  After which he transferred it to his
pocket.

"To-morrow?  To-morrow's Sunday," he observed.  "We will go to church
to-morrow."  His eyes glittered.

"Why, I'm hardly in the mood," Robert protested.  "I haven't had the
habit latterly."

"Keep up the habit," said Percy.  "It's a good thing for men like you."

"But what sort of a fellow am I to be showing myself there among all the
people who've been talking about me--and the people up at Fairly!" Robert
burst out in horror of the prospect.  "I shall be a sight among the
people.  Percy, upon my honour, I don't think I well can.  I'll read the
Bible at home if you like."

"No; you'll do penance," said Major Waring.

"Are you meaning it?"

"The penance will be ten times greater on my part, believe me."

Robert fancied him to be referring to some idea of mocking the
interposition of religion.

"Then we'll go to Upton Church," he said.  "I don't mind it at Upton."

"I intend to go to the church attended by 'The Family,' as we say in our
parts; and you must come with me to Warbeach."

Clasping one hand across his forehead, Robert cried, "You couldn't ask me
to do a thing I hate so much.  Go, and sit, and look sheepish, and sing
hymns with the people I've been badgering; and everybody seeing me!  How
can it be anything to you like what it is to me?"

"You have only to take my word for it that it is, and far more," said
Major Waring, sinking his voice.  "Come; it won't do you any harm to make
an appointment to meet your conscience now and then.  You will never be
ruled by reason, and your feelings have to teach you what you learn.  At
any rate, it's my request."

This terminated the colloquy upon that topic.  Robert looked forward to a
penitential Sabbath-day.

"She is a widow still," thought Major Waring, as he stood alone in his
bed-room, and, drawing aside the curtains of his window, looked up at the
white moon.



CHAPTER XXIV

When the sun takes to shining in winter, and the Southwest to blowing,
the corners of the earth cannot hide from him--the mornings are like
halls full of light.  Robert had spent his hopes upon a wet day that
would have kept the congregation sparse and the guests at Fairly absent
from public devotions.

He perceived at once that he was doomed to be under everybody's eyes when
he walked down the aisle, for everybody would attend the service on such
a morning as this.

Already he had met his conscience, in so far as that he shunned asking
Percy again what was the reason for their going to church, and he had not
the courage to petition to go in the afternoon instead of the morning.

The question, "Are you ashamed of yourself, then?" sang in his ears as a
retort ready made.

There was no help for it; so he set about assisting his ingenuity to make
the best appearance possible--brushing his hat and coat with
extraordinary care.

Percy got him to point out the spot designated for the meeting, and
telling him to wait in the Warbeach churchyard, or within sight of it,
strolled off in the direction of the river.  His simple neatness and
quiet gentlemanly air abashed Robert, and lured him from his intense
conception of abstract right and wrong, which had hitherto encouraged and
incited him, so that he became more than ever crestfallen at the prospect
of meeting the eyes of the church people, and with the trembling
sensitiveness of a woman who weighs the merits of a lover when passion is
having one of its fatal pauses, he looked at himself, and compared
himself with the class of persons he had outraged, and tried to think
better of himself, and to justify himself, and sturdily reject
comparisons.  They would not be beaten back.  His enemies had never
suggested them, but they were forced on him by the aspect of his friend.

Any man who takes the law into his own hands, and chooses to stand
against what is conventionally deemed fitting:--against the world, as we
say, is open to these moods of degrading humility.  Robert waited for the
sound of the bells with the emotions of a common culprit.  Could he have
been driven to the church and deposited suddenly in his pew, his mind
would have been easier.

It was the walking there, the walking down the aisle, the sense of his
being the fellow who had matched himself against those well-attired
gentlemen, which entirely confused him.  And not exactly for his own
sake--for Percy's partly.  He sickened at the thought of being seen by
Major Waring's side.  His best suit and his hat were good enough, as far
as they went, only he did not feel that he wore them--he could not divine
how it was--with a proper air, an air of signal comfort.  In fact, the
graceful negligence of an English gentleman's manner had been
unexpectedly revealed to him; and it was strange, he reflected, that
Percy never appeared to observe how deficient he was, and could still
treat him as an equal, call him by his Christian name, and not object to
be seen with him in public.

Robert did not think at the same time that illness had impoverished his
blood.  Your sensational beings must keep a strong and a good flow of
blood in their veins to be always on a level with the occasion which they
provoke.  He remembered wonderingly that he had used to be easy in gait
and ready of wit when walking from Queen Anne's Farm to Wrexby village
church.  Why was he a different creature now?  He could not answer the
question.

Two or three of his Warbeach acquaintances passed him in the lanes.  They
gave him good day, and spoke kindly, and with pleasant friendly looks.

Their impression when they left him was that he was growing proud.

The jolly butcher of Warbeach, who had a hearty affection for him,
insisted upon clapping his hand, and showing him to Mrs. Billing, and
showing their two young ones to Robert.  With a kiss to the children, and
a nod, Robert let them pass.

Here and there, he was hailed by young fellows who wore their hats on one
side, and jaunty-fashioned coats--Sunday being their own bright day of
exhibition.  He took no notice of the greetings.

He tried to feel an interest in the robins and twittering wrens, and
called to mind verses about little birds, and kept repeating them, behind
a face that chilled every friendly man who knew him.

Moody the boat-builder asked him, with a stare, if he was going to
church, and on Robert's replying that perhaps he was, said "I'm dashed!"
and it was especially discouraging to one in Robert's condition.

Further to inspirit him, he met Jonathan Eccles, who put the same
question to him, and getting the same answer, turned sharp round and
walked homeward.

Robert had a great feeling of relief when the bells were silent, and
sauntered with a superior composure round the holly and laurel bushes
concealing the church.  Not once did he ponder on the meeting between
Major Waring and Mr. Edward Blancove, until he beheld the former standing
alone by the churchyard gate, and then he thought more of the empty
churchyard and the absence of carriages, proclaiming the dreadful
admonition that he must immediately consider as to the best way of
comporting himself before an observant and censorious congregation.

Major Waring remarked, "You are late."

"Have I kept you waiting?" said Robert.

"Not long.  They are reading the lessons."

"Is it full inside?"

"I dare say it is."

"You have seen him, I suppose?"

"Oh yes; I have seen him."

Percy was short in his speech, and pale as Robert had never seen him
before.  He requested hastily to be told the situation of Lord Elling's
pew.

"Don't you think of going into the gallery?" said Robert, but received no
answer, and with an inward moan of "Good God!  they'll think I've come
here in a sort of repentance," he found himself walking down the aisle;
and presently, to his amazement, settled in front of the Fairly pew, and
with his eyes on Mrs. Lovell.

What was the matter with her?  Was she ill?  Robert forgot his own
tribulation in an instant.  Her face was like marble, and as she stood
with the prayer-book in her hand, her head swayed over it: her lips made
a faint effort at smiling, and she sat quietly down, and was concealed.
Algernon and Sir John Capes were in the pew beside her, as well as Lady
Elling, who, with a backward-turned hand and disregarding countenance,
reached out her smelling-bottle.

"Is this because she fancies I know of her having made a bet of me?"
thought Robert, and it was not his vanity prompted the supposition,
though his vanity was awakened by it.  "Or is she ashamed of her
falsehood?" he thought again, and forgave her at the sight of her sweet
pale face.  The singing of the hymns made her evident suffering seem holy
as a martyr's.  He scarce had the power to conduct himself reverently, so
intense was his longing to show her his sympathy.

"That is Mrs. Lovell--did you see her just now?" he whispered.

"Ah?" said Major Waring.

"I'm afraid she has fainted."

"Possibly."

But Mrs. Lovell had not fainted.  She rose when the time for rising came
again, and fixing her eyes with a grave devotional collectedness upon the
vicar at his reading-desk, looked quite mistress of herself--but mistress
of herself only when she kept them so fixed.  When they moved, it was as
if they had relinquished some pillar of support, and they wavered; livid
shades chased her face, like the rain-clouds on a grey lake-water.  Some
one fronting her weighed on her eyelids.  This was evident.  Robert
thought her a miracle of beauty.  She was in colour like days he had
noted thoughtfully: days with purple storm, and with golden horizon
edges.  She had on a bonnet of black velvet, with a delicate array of
white lace, that was not suffered to disturb the contrast to her warm
yellow hair.  Her little gloved hands were both holding the book; at
times she perused it, or, the oppression becoming unendurable, turned her
gaze toward the corner of the chancel, and thence once more to her book.
Robert rejected all idea of his being in any way the cause of her strange
perturbation.  He cast a glance at his friend.  He had begun to nourish a
slight suspicion; but it was too slight to bear up against Percy's
self-possession; for, as he understood the story, Percy had been the
sufferer, and the lady had escaped without a wound.  How, then, if such
were the case, would she be showing emotion thus deep, while he stood
before her with perfect self-command?

Robert believed that if he might look upon that adorable face for many
days together, he could thrust Rhoda's from his memory.  The sermon was
not long enough for him; and he was angry with Percy for rising before
there was any movement for departure in the Fairly pew.  In the doorway
of the church Percy took his arm, and asked him to point out the family
tombstone.  They stood by it, when Lady Elling and Mrs. Lovell came forth
and walked to the carriage, receiving respectful salutes from the people
of Warbeach.

"How lovely she is!" said Robert.

"Do you think her handsome?" said Major Waring.

"I can't understand such a creature dying."  Robert stepped over an open
grave.

The expression of Percy's eyes was bitter.

"I should imagine she thinks it just as impossible."

The Warbeach villagers waited for Lady Elling's carriage to roll away,
and with a last glance at Robert, they too went off in gossiping groups.
Robert's penance was over, and he could not refrain from asking what good
his coming to church had done.

"I can't assist you," said Percy.  "By the way, Mr. Blancove denies
everything.  He thinks you mad.  He promises, now that you have adopted
reasonable measures, to speak to his cousin, and help, as far as he can,
to discover the address you are in search of."

"That's all?" cried Robert.

"That is all."

"Then where am I a bit farther than when I began?"

"You are only at the head of another road, and a better one."

"Oh, why do I ever give up trusting to my right hand--" Robert muttered.

But the evening brought a note to him from Algernon Blancove.  It
contained a dignified condemnation of Robert's previous insane behaviour,
and closed by giving Dahlia's address in London.

"How on earth was this brought about?" Robert now questioned.

"It's singular, is it not?" said Major blaring; "but if you want a dog to
follow you, you don't pull it by the collar; and if you want a potato
from the earth, you plant the potato before you begin digging.  You are a
soldier by instinct, my good Robert: your first appeal is to force.  I,
you see, am a civilian: I invariably try the milder methods.  Do you
start for London tonight?  I remain.  I wish to look at the
neighbourhood."

Robert postponed his journey to the morrow, partly in dread of his
approaching interview with Dahlia, but chiefly to continue a little
longer by the side of him whose gracious friendship gladdened his life.
They paid a second visit to Sutton Farm.  Robert doggedly refused to let
a word be said to his father about his having taken to farming, and
Jonathan listened to all Major Waring said of his son like a man
deferential to the accomplishment of speaking, but too far off to hear
more than a chance word.  He talked, in reply, quite cheerfully of the
weather and the state of the ground; observed that the soil was a
perpetual study, but he knew something of horses and dogs, and
Yorkshiremen were like Jews in the trouble they took to over-reach in a
bargain.  "Walloping men is poor work, if you come to compare it with
walloping Nature," he said, and explained that, according to his opinion,
"to best a man at buying and selling was as wholesome an occupation as
frowzlin' along the gutters for parings and strays."  He himself
preferred to go to the heart of things: "Nature makes you rich, if your
object is to do the same for her.  Yorkshire fellows never think except
of making theirselves rich by fattening on your blood, like sheep-ticks."
In fine, Jonathan spoke sensibly, and abused Yorkshire, without
hesitating to confess that a certain Yorkshireman, against whom he had
matched his wits in a purchase of horseflesh, had given him a lively
recollection of the encounter.

Percy asked him what he thought of his country.  "I'll tell you," said
Jonathan; "Englishmen's business is to go to war with the elements, and
so long as we fight them, we're in the right academy for learnin' how the
game goes.  Our vulnerability commences when we think we'll sit down and
eat the fruits, and if I don't see signs o' that, set me mole-tunnelling.
Self-indulgence is the ruin of our time."

This was the closest remark he made to his relations with Robert, who
informed him that he was going to London on the following day.  Jonathan
shook his hand heartily, without troubling himself about any inquiries.

"There's so much of that old man in me," said Robert, when Percy praised
him, on their return, "that I daren't call him a Prince of an old boy:
and never a spot of rancour in his soul.  Have a claim on him--and
there's your seat at his table: take and offend him--there's your seat
still.  Eat and drink, but you don't get near his heart.  I'll surprise
him some day.  He fancies he's past surprises."

"Well," said Percy, "you're younger than I am, and may think the future
belongs to you."

Early next morning they parted.  Robert was in town by noon.  He lost no
time in hurrying to the Western suburb.  As he neared the house where he
was to believe Dahlia to be residing, he saw a man pass through the
leafless black shrubs by the iron gate; and when he came to the gate
himself the man was at the door.  The door opened and closed on this man.
It was Nicodemus Sedgett, or Robert's eyes did him traitorous service.
He knocked at the door violently, and had to knock a second and a third
time.  Dahlia was denied to him.  He was told that Mrs. Ayrton had lived
there, but had left, and her present address was unknown.  He asked to be
allowed to speak a word to the man who had just entered the house.  No
one had entered for the last two hours, was the reply.  Robert had an
impulse to rush by the stolid little female liar, but Percy's recent
lesson to him acted as a restraint; though, had it been a brawny woman or
a lacquey in his path, he would certainly have followed his natural
counsel.  He turned away, lingering outside till it was dusk and the
bruise on his head gave great throbs, and then he footed desolately
farther and farther from the house.  To combat with evil in his own
country village had seemed a simple thing enough, but it appeared a
superhuman task in giant London.



CHAPTER XXV

It requires, happily, many years of an ordinary man's life to teach him
to believe in the exceeding variety and quantity of things money can buy:
yet, when ingenuous minds have fully comprehended the potent character of
the metal, they are likely enough to suppose that it will buy everything:
after which comes the groaning anxiety to possess it.

This stage of experience is a sublime development in the great souls of
misers.  It is their awakening moment, and it is their first real sense
of a harvest being in their hands.  They have begun under the influence
of the passion for hoarding, which is but a blind passion of the
finger-ends.  The idea that they have got together, bit by bit, a power,
travels slowly up to their heavy brains.  Once let it be grasped,
however, and they clutch a god.  They feed on everybody's hunger for it.
And, let us confess, they have in that a mighty feast.

Anthony Hackbut was not a miser.  He was merely a saving old man.  His
vanity was, to be thought a miser, envied as a miser.  He lived in daily
hearing of the sweet chink of gold, and loved the sound, but with a
poetical love, rather than with the sordid desire to amass gold pieces.
Though a saving old man, he had his comforts; and if they haunted him and
reproached him subsequently, for indulging wayward appetites for herrings
and whelks and other sea-dainties that render up no account to you when
they have disappeared, he put by copper and silver continually, weekly
and monthly, and was master of a sum.

He knew the breadth of this sum with accuracy, and what it would expand
to this day come a year, and probably this day come five years.  He knew
it only too well.  The sum took no grand leaps.  It increased, but did
not seem to multiply.  And he was breathing in the heart of the place, of
all places in the world, where money did multiply.

He was the possessor of twelve hundred pounds, solid, and in haven; that
is, the greater part in the Bank of England, and a portion in Boyne's
Bank.  He had besides a few skirmishing securities, and some such bits of
paper as Algernon had given him in the public-house on that remarkable
night of his visit to the theatre.

These, when the borrowers were defaulters in their payments and pleaded
for an extension of time, inspired him with sentiments of grandeur that
the solid property could not impart.  Nevertheless, the anti-poetical
tendency within him which warred with the poetical, and set him reducing
whatsoever he claimed to plain figures, made it but a fitful hour of
satisfaction.

He had only to fix his mind upon Farmer Fleming's conception of his
wealth, to feel the miserable smallness of what seemed legitimately his
own; and he felt it with so poignant an emotion that at times his fears
of death were excited by the knowledge of a dead man's impotence to
suggest hazy margins in the final exposure of his property.  There it
would lie, dead as himself!  contracted, coffined, contemptible!

What would the farmer think when he came to hear that his brother Tony's
estate was not able to buy up Queen Anne's Farm?--when, in point of fact,
he found that he had all along been the richer man of the two!

Anthony's comfort was in the unfaltering strength of his constitution.
He permitted his estimate of it to hint at the probability of his
outlasting his brother William John, to whom he wished no earthly ill,
but only that he should not live with a mitigated veneration for him.  He
was really nourished by the farmer's gluttonous delight in his supposed
piles of wealth.  Sometimes, for weeks, he had the gift of thinking
himself one of the Bank with which he had been so long connected; and
afterward a wretched reaction set in.

It was then that his touch upon Bank money began to intoxicate him
strangely.  He had at times thousands hugged against his bosom, and his
heart swelled to the money-bags immense.  He was a dispirited, but a
grateful creature, after he had delivered them up.  The delirium came by
fits, as if a devil lurked to surprise him.

"With this money," said the demon, "you might speculate, and in two days
make ten times the amount."

To which Anthony answered: "My character's worth fifty times the amount."

Such was his reply, but he did not think it.  He was honest, and his
honesty had become a habit; but the money was the only thing which acted
on his imagination; his character had attained to no sacred halo, and was
just worth his annual income and the respect of the law for his person.
The money fired his brain!

"Ah! if it was mine!" he sighed.  "If I could call it mine for just forty
or fifty hours!  But it ain't, and I can't."

He fought dogged battles with the tempter, and beat him off again and
again.  One day he made a truce with him by saying that if ever the
farmer should be in town of an afternoon he would steal ten minutes or
so, and make an appointment with him somewhere and show him the
money-bags without a word: let him weigh and eye them: and then the plan
was for Anthony to talk of politics, while the farmer's mind was in a
ferment.

With this arrangement the infernal Power appeared to be content, and
Anthony was temporarily relieved of his trouble.  In other words, the
intermittent fever of a sort of harmless rascality was afflicting this
old creature.  He never entertained the notion of running clear away with
the money entrusted to him.

Whither could an aged man fly?  He thought of foreign places as of spots
that gave him a shivering sense of its being necessary for him to be born
again in nakedness and helplessness, if ever he was to see them and set
foot on them.

London was his home, and clothed him about warmly and honourably, and so
he said to the demon in their next colloquy.

Anthony had become guilty of the imprudence of admitting him to
conferences and arguing with him upon equal terms.  They tell us, that
this is the imprudence of women under temptation; and perhaps Anthony was
pushed to the verge of the abyss from causes somewhat similar to those
which imperil them, and employed the same kind of efforts in his
resistance.

In consequence of this compromise, the demon by degrees took seat at his
breakfast-table, when Mrs. Wicklow, his landlady, could hear Anthony
talking in the tone of voice of one who was pushed to his sturdiest
arguments.  She conceived that the old man's head was softening.

He was making one of his hurried rushes with the porterage of money on an
afternoon in Spring, when a young female plucked at his coat, and his
wrath at offenders against the law kindled in a minute into fury.

"Hands off, minx!" he cried.  "You shall be given in charge.  Where's a
policeman?"

"Uncle!" she said.

"You precious swindler in petticoats!" Anthony fumed.

But he had a queer recollection of her face, and when she repeated
piteously: "Uncle!" he peered at her features, saying,--

"No!" in wonderment, several times.

Her hair was cut like a boy's.  She was in common garments, with a
close-shaped skull-cap and a black straw bonnet on her head; not gloved,
of ill complexion, and with deep dark lines slanting down from the
corners of her eyes.  Yet the inspection convinced him that he beheld
Dahlia, his remembering the niece.  He was amazed; but speedily priceless
trust in his arms, and the wickedness of the streets, he bade her follow
him.  She did so with some difficulty, for he ran, and dodged, and
treated the world as his enemy, suddenly vanished, and appeared again
breathing freely.

"Why, my girl?" he said: "Why, Dahl--Mrs. What's-your-name?  Why, who'd
have known you?  Is that"--he got his eyes close to her hair; "is that
the ladies' fashion now?  'Cause, if it is, our young street scamps has
only got to buy bonnets, and--I say, you don't look the Pomp.  Not as you
used to, Miss Ma'am, I mean--no, that you don't.  Well, what's the news?
How's your husband?"

"Uncle," said Dahlia; "will you, please, let me speak to you somewhere?"

"Ain't we standing together?"

"Oh! pray, out of the crowd!"

"Come home with me, if my lodgings ain't too poor for you," said Anthony.

"Uncle, I can't.  I have been unwell.  I cannot walk far.  Will you take
me to some quiet place?"

"Will you treat me to a cab?" Anthony sneered vehemently.

"I have left off riding, uncle."

"What!  Hulloa!" Anthony sang out.  "Cash is down in the mouth at home,
is it?  Tell me that, now?"

Dahlia dropped her eyelids, and then entreated him once more to conduct
her to a quiet place where they might sit together, away from noise.  She
was very earnest and very sad, not seeming to have much strength.

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

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

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

"A little," Dahlia replied, breathless.

"You have been ill?"

"A little," she said.

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

"Oh! uncle, wait," moaned Dahlia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The shop was empty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Indeed, I cannot say."

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

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

"Well, then, name your Bank."

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

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

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

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

"Yes," she breathed plaintively.

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

"Yes."

"How did he lose it?"

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

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

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

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

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

She shook her head.  "No."

Anthony was down upon her like a hawk.

"Why, he's abroad!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony thumped with his foot conclusively.

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

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

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

Dahlia smiled in a consummate simulation of scorn.

"And your father thinks that's true."

She smiled with an equal simulation of saddest pity.

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

Anthony smacked his hand tight on his open mouth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She bowed her head.

"Poor?"

"He is very poor."

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

Dahlia seemed torn by a new anguish.

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

Dahlia signified vehemently, "No."

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

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

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

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

"You will?"

"Yes."

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

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

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

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

Anthony stared.

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

"That's where he is?"

"Yes."

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

"Yes; some day."

"Didn't I say, Sunday?"

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

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

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

"Where is he?" Anthony asked.

"He's in the country."

Anthony pounced on her, as he had done previously.

"You said to me he was abroad."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"'Seen her?' says he.

"'No,' I says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I ain't ashamed," said Anthony.

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

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

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

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

Anthony turned a rough shoulder on her.

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

"I pray every night," Dahlia answered.

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

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



CHAPTER XXVI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"An acrostic!"

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs. Lovell laughed pleadingly for Algernon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What makes you think so?"

"He took it so awfully cool."

"That may mean the reverse."

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

The lady trifled with her bridle-rein.

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

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

"Madam, you have done me the honour."

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

"In this place?"

"Wherever we may chance to meet."

"I must protest."

"Do not.  The thing is evident."

They rode together silently.

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

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

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

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

"If I defend myself?" he said.

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

"That is supposed to account for my behaviour?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Not in this manner, I can attest."

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

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

Mrs. Lovell slackened her pace.

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

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

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

He spoke earnestly.

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

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

"Percy!" she said.

"Madam?"

"Percy!"

"Margaret?"

"Oh, what an undying day, Percy!"

And then she was speechless.



CHAPTER XXVII

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

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

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

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

"Where's what?"

"Your honour."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"He conducts himself with decency, I hope."

"Why, he's won!"

"Imitate him."

Mrs. Lovell scanned the stalls.

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

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

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

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

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

"Wasn't it for you?"

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

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

The simplicity of his bewilderment made her smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXVIII

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                   "Yours,

                                        "Edward B.

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXIX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Do you like the sight of one?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Gone lame," was the answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sedgett gulped some ale.

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

This was too much.

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

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

"I won't."

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

"I am going back to London."

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

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

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

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

"Jump in," he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Stop!" Algernon shouted to the cabman.

"Drive ahead!" roared Sedgett.

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

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

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

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

The combatants jumped into the road.

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

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

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

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

The man with the pipe came up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He rubbed his little donkey's nose affectionately.

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

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

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

Away the little donkey trotted.



ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

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





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