Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/Evan Harrington - Part 12

Illustrated by Charles Keene.


Part 11Part 13

EVAN HARRINGTON; or, HE WOULD BE A GENTLEMAN.

BY GEORGE MEREDITH.

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CHAPTER XVI.LEADS TO A SMALL SKIRMISH BETWEEN ROSE AND EVAN.

Lady Jocelyn belonged properly to that order which the Sultans and the Roxalanas of earth combine to exclude from their little games, under the designation of blues, or strong-minded women: a kind, if genuine, the least dangerous and staunchest of the sex, as poor fellows learn when the flippant and the frail fair have made mummies of them. She had the frankness of her daughter, the same direct eyes and firm step: a face without shadows, though no longer bright with youth. It must be charged to her as one of the errors of her strong mind, that she believed friendship practicable between men and women, young or old. She knew the world pretty well, and was not amazed by extraordinary accidents; but as she herself continued to be an example of her faith, we must presume it natural that her delusion should cling to her. She welcomed Evan as her daughter’s friend, walked halfway across the room to meet him on his introduction to her, and with the simple words, “I have heard of you,” let him see that he stood upon his merits in her house. The young man’s spirit caught something of hers even in their first interview, and at once mounted to that level. Unconsciously he felt that she took, and would take, him for what he was, and he rose to his worth in the society she presided over. A youth like Evan could not perceive that in loving this lady’s daughter, and accepting the place she offered him, he was guilty of a breach of confidence; or reflect that her entire absence of suspicion imposed upon him a corresponding honesty towards her. He fell into a blindness. Without dreaming for a moment that she designed to encourage his passion for Rose, he yet beheld himself in the light she had cast on him; and, received as her daughter’s friend, it seemed to him not so utterly monstrous that he might be her daughter’s lover. A haughty, a grand, or a too familiar manner, would have kept his eyes more clear to his true condition. Lady Jocelyn spoke to his secret nature, and eclipsed in his mind the outward aspects with which it was warring. To her he was a gallant young man, a fit companion for Rose, and when she and Sir Franks said and showed him that they were glad to know him, his heart swam in a flood of happiness they little suspected.

This was another of the many forms of intoxication to which circumstances subjected the poor lover. In Fallowfield, among impertinent young men, Evan’s pride proclaimed him a tailor. At Beckley Court, acted on by one genuine soul, he forgot it, and felt elate in his manhood. The shades of Tailordom dispersed like fog before the full south-west breeze. When I say he forgot it, the fact was present enough to him, but it became an outward fact: he had ceased to feel it within him. It was not a portion of his being, hard as Mrs. Mel had struck to fix it. Consequently, though he was in a far worse plight than when he parted with Rose on board the Jocasta, he felt much less of an impostor now. This may have been partly because he had had his struggle with the Demogorgon the Countess had painted to him in such frightful colours, and found him human after all; but it was mainly owing to the hearty welcome Lady Jocelyn had extended to him as the friend of Rose.

Loving Rose, he nevertheless allowed his love no tender liberties. The eyes of a lover are not his own; but his hands and lips are, till such time as they are claimed. The sun must smile on us with peculiar warmth to woo us forth utterly—pluck our hearts out. Rose smiled on many. She smiled on Drummond Forth, Ferdinand Laxley, William Harvey, and her brother Harry; and she had the same eyes for all ages. Once, previous to the arrival of the latter three, there was a change in her look, or Evan fancied it. They were going to ride out together, and Evan, coming to his horse on the gravel walk, saw her talking with Drummond Forth. He mounted, awaiting her, and either from a slight twinge of jealousy, or to mark her dainty tread with her riding-habit drawn above her heels, he could not help turning his head occasionally. She listened to Drummond with attention, but presently broke from him, crying: “It’s an absurdity. Speak to them yourself—I shall not.”

On the ride that day, she began prattling of this and that with the careless glee that became her well, and then sank into a reverie. Between whiles her eyes had raised tumults in Evan’s breast by dropping on him in a sort of questioning way, as if she wished him to speak, or wished to fathom something she would rather have unspoken. Ere they had finished their ride, she tossed off what burden may have been on her mind as lightly as a stray lock from her shoulders. He thought that the singular look recurred afterwards. It charmed him too much for him to speculate on it.

The Countess’s opportune ally, the gout which had reduced the Hon. Melville Jocelyn’s right hand to a state of uselessness, served her with her brother equally: for, having volunteered his services to the invalided diplomatist, it excused his stay at Beckley Court to himself, and was a mask to his intimacy with Rose, besides earning him the thanks of the family. Harry Jocelyn, released from the wing of the Countess, came straight to him and in a rough kind of way begged Evan to overlook his rudeness.

“You took us all in at Fallowfield, except Drummond,” he said. “Drummond would have it you were joking. I see it now. And you’re a confoundedly clever fellow into the bargain, or you wouldn’t be quill-driving for Uncle Mel. Don’t be uppish about it—will you?”

“You have nothing to fear on that point,” said Evan. With which promise the peace was signed between them. Drummond and William Harvey were cordial, and just laughed over the incident. Laxley, however, held aloof. His retention of ideas once formed befitted his rank and station.

Some trifling qualms attended Evan’s labours with the diplomatist; but these were merely occasioned by the iteration of a particular phrase. Mr. Goren, an enthusiastic tailor, had now and then thrown out to Evan stirring hints of an invention he claimed: the discovery of a Balance in Breeches: apparently the philosopher’s stone of the tailor craft, a secret that should ensure harmony of outline to the person and an indubitable accommodation to the most difficult legs.

Since Adam’s expulsion, it seemed, the tailors of this wilderness had been in search of it. But like the doctors of this wilderness, their science knew no specific: like the Babylonian workmen smitten with confusion of tongues, they had but one word in common, and that word was “cut.” Mr. Goren contended that to cut was not the key of the science: but to find a Balance was. An artistic admirer of the frame of man, Mr. Goren was not wanting in veneration for the individual who had arisen to do it justice. He spoke of his Balance with supreme self-appreciation. Nor less so the Honourable Melville, who professed to have discovered the Balance of Power, at home and abroad. It was a capital Balance, but inferior to Mr. Goren’s. The latter gentleman guaranteed a Balance with motion: whereas one step not only upset the Honourable Melville’s, but shattered the limbs of Europe. Let us admit that it is easier to fit a man’s legs, than to compress expansive empires.

Evan enjoyed the doctoring of kingdoms quite as well as the diplomatist. It suited the latent grandeur of soul inherited by him from the great Mel. He liked to prop Austria and arrest the Czar, and keep a watchful eye on France; but the Honourable Melville’s deep-mouthed phrase conjured up to him a pair of colossal legs imperiously demanding their Balance likewise. At first the image scared him. In time he was enabled to smile it into phantom vagueness. The diplomatist diplomatically informed him that it might happen the labours he had undertaken might be neither more nor less than education for a profession he might have to follow. Out of this, an ardent imagination, with the Countess de Saldar for an interpreter, might construe a promise of some sort. Evan soon had high hopes. What though his name blazed on a shop-front? The sun might yet illumine him to honour!

Where a young man is getting into delicate relations with a young woman, the more of his sex the better—they serve as a blind; and the Countess hailed fresh arrivals warmly. There was Sir John Loring, Dorothy’s father, who had married the eldest of the daughters of Lord Elburne. A widower, handsome, and a flirt, he capitulated to the Countess instantly, and was played off against the provincial Don Juan, who had reached that point with her when youths of his description make bashful confidences of their successes, and receive delicious chidings for their naughtiness—rebukes which give immeasurable rebounds. Then came Mr. Gordon Graine, with his daughter, Miss Jenny Graine, an early friend of Rose’s, and numerous others. For the present, Miss Isabella Current need only be chronicled among the visitors: further—a sprightly maid fifty years old, without a wrinkle to show for it—the Aunt Bel of fifty houses where there were young women and little boys. Aunt Bel had quick wit and capital anecdotes, and tripped them out aptly on a sparkling tongue with exquisite instinct for climax and when to strike for a laugh. No sooner had she entered the hall than she announced the proximate arrival of the Duke of Belfield at her heels, and it was known that his Grace was as sure to follow as her little dog, who was far better paid for his devotion.

The dinners at Beckley Court had hitherto been rather languid to those who were not intriguing or mixing young love with the repast. Miss Current was an admirable neutral, sent, as the Countess fervently believed, by Providence. Till now the Countess had drawn upon her own resources to amuse the company, and she had been obliged to restrain herself from doing it with that unctuous feeling for rank which warmed her Portuguese sketches in low society and among her sisters. She retired before Miss Current and formed audience, glad of a relief to her inventive labour. While Miss Current and her ephemeræ lightly skimmed the surface of human life, the Countess worked in the depths. Vanities, passions, prejudices, beneath the surface gave her full employment. How naturally poor Juliana Bonner was moved to mistake Evan’s compassion for a stronger sentiment! The Countess eagerly assisted Providence to shuffle the company into their proper places. Harry Jocelyn was moodily happy, but good; greatly improved in the eyes of his grandmama Bonner, who attributed the change to the Countess, and partly forgave her the sinful consent to the conditions of her love-match with the foreign Count which his penitent wife had privately confessed to that strict Churchwoman.

“Thank Heaven that you have no children,” Mrs. Bonner had said; and the Countess humbly replied: “It is indeed my remorseful consolation!”

“Who knows that it is not your punishment?” added Mrs. Bonner; the Countess weeping.

She went and attended morning prayers in Mrs. Bonner’s apartments, alone with the old lady. “To make up for lost time in Catholic Portugal!” she explained it to the household.

On the morning after Miss Current had come to shape the party, most of the inmates of Beckley Court being at breakfast, Rose gave a lead to the conversation.

“Aunt Bel! I want to ask you something. We’ve been making bets about you. Now, answer honestly, we’re all friends. Why did you refuse all your offers?”

“Quite simple, child,” replied the unabashed ex-beauty. “A matter of taste. I liked twenty shillings better than a sovereign.”

Rose looked puzzled, but the men laughed, and Rose exclaimed:

“Now I see! How stupid I am! You mean, you may have friends when you are not married. Well, I think that’s the wisest, after all. You don’t lose them, do you? Pray, Mr. Evan, are you thinking Aunt Bel might still alter her mind for somebody, if she knew his value?”

“I was presuming to hope there might be a place vacant among the twenty,” said Evan, slightly bowing to both. “Am I pardoned?”

“I like you!” returned Aunt Bel, nodding at him. “Where do you come from? A young man who’ll let himself go for small coin’s a jewel worth knowing.”

“Where do I come from?” drawled Laxley, who had been tapping an egg with a dreary expression.

“You, Ferdinand Laxley!” said Aunt Bel. “How terribly you despise our curiosity!”

“Aunt Bel spoke to Mr. Harrington,” said Rose, pettishly.

“Asked him where he came from,” Laxley continued his drawl. “He didn’t answer, so I thought it polite for somebody to.”

“Your solitary exhibition of politeness tempts me to thank you expressly,” said Evan, with a two-edged smile.

Rose gave Evan one of her bright looks, and then called the attention of Ferdinand Laxley to the fact that he had lost a particular bet made among them.

“What bet?” asked Laxley. “About the profession?”

“A stream of colour shot over Rose’s face. Her eyes flew nervously from Laxley to Evan, and then to Drummond. Laxley appeared pleased as a man who has made a witty sally: Evan was outwardly calm, while Drummond replied to the mute appeal of Rose, by saying:

“Yes; we’ve all lost. But who could hit it? The lady admits no sovereign in our sex.”

“So you’ve been betting about me?” said Aunt Bel. “I’ll settle the dispute. Let him who guessed ‘Latin’ pocket the stakes, and, if I guess him, let him hand them over to me.”

“Excellent!” cried Rose. “One did guess ‘Latin,’ Aunt Bel. Now, tell us which one it was.”

“Not you, my dear. You guessed ‘temper.

“Oh! you dreadful Aunt Bel!”

“Let me see,” said Aunt Bel, seriously. “A young man would not marry a woman with Latin, but would not guess it the impediment. Gentlemen moderately aged are mad enough to slip their heads under any yoke, but see the obstruction—— It was a man of forty guessed ‘Latin.’ I request the Hon. Hamilton Everard Jocelyn to confirm it.”

Amid laughter and exclamations Hamilton confessed himself the man who had guessed Latin to be the cause of Miss Current’s remaining an old maid; Rose, crying: “You really are too clever, Aunt Bel!”

A divergence to other themes ensued, and then Miss Jenny Graine said: “Isn’t Juley learning Latin? I should like to join her while I’m here.”

“And so should I,” responded Rose. “My friend Evan is teaching her during the intervals of his arduous diplomatic labours. Will you take us into your class, Evan?”

“Don’t be silly girls,” interposed Aunt Bel. “Do you want to graduate for my state with your eyes open?”

Evan objected his poor qualifications as a tutor, and Aunt Bel remarked, that if Juley learnt Latin at all, she should have regular instruction.

“I am quite satisfied,” said Juley, quietly.

“Of course you are,” Rose snubbed her cousin. “So would anybody be. But mama really was talking of a tutor for Juley, if she could find one. There’s a school at Bodley, but that’s too far for one of the men to come over.”

A school at Bodley, thought Evan, and his probationary years at the Cudford Establishment uprose before him, and therewith, for the first time, since his residence at Beckley, the figure of Mr. John Raikes.

“There’s a friend of mine,” he said, aloud, “I think if Lady Jocelyn does wish Miss Bonner to learn Latin thoroughly, he would do very well for the groundwork, and would be glad of the employment. He is very poor.”

“If he’s poor and a friend of yours, Evan, we’ll have him,” said Rose: “We’ll ride and fetch him.”

“Yes,” added Miss Carrington, “that must be quite sufficient qualification.”

Juliana was not gazing gratefully at Evan for his proposal.

Rose asked the name of Evan’s friend.

“His name is Raikes,” answered Evan. “I don’t know where he is now. He may be at Fallowfield. If Lady Jocelyn pleases, I will ride over to-day and see.”

“My dear Evan!” cried Rose, “you don’t mean that absurd figure we saw on the cricket-field?” She burst out laughing. “Oh! what fun it will be! Let us have him here by all means.”

“I shall certainly not bring him to be laughed at,” said Evan.

“I will remember he is your friend,” Rose returned, demurely; and again laughed, as she related to Jenny Graine the comic appearance Mr. Raikes had presented.

Laxley waited for a pause, and then said: “I have met this Mr. Raikes. As a friend of the family, I should protest against his admission here in any office whatever—into the upper part of the house, at least. He is not a gentleman.”

“We don’t want teachers to be gentlemen,” observed Rose.

“This fellow is the reverse,” Laxley pronounced, and desired Harry to confirm it; but Harry took a gulp of coffee.

“Oblige me by recollecting that I have called him a friend of mine,” said Evan.

Rose murmured to him: “Pray forgive me! I forgot.” Laxley hummed something about “taste.” Aunt Bel led from the theme by a lively anecdote.

After breakfast, the party broke into knots, and canvassed Laxley’s behaviour to Evan, which was generally condemned. Rose met the young men strolling on the lawn; and, with her usual bluntness, accused Laxley of wishing to insult her friend.

“I speak to him—do I not?” said Laxley. “What would you have more? I admit the obligation of speaking to him when I meet him in your house. Out of it—that’s another matter.”

“But what is the cause for your conduct to him, Ferdinand?”

“By Jove!” cried Harry, “I wonder he puts up with it: I wouldn’t. I’d have a shot with you, my boy.”

“Extremely honoured,” said Laxley. “But neither you nor I care to fight tailors.”

“Tailors!” exclaimed Rose, indignantly. There was a sharp twitch in her body, as if she had been stung or struck.

“Look here, Rose,” said Laxley; “I meet him, he insults me, and to get out of the consequences tells me he’s the son of a tailor, and a tailor himself; knowing that it ties my hands. Very well, he puts himself hors de combat to save his bones. Let him unsay it, and choose whether he’ll apologise or not, and I’ll treat him accordingly. At present I’m not bound to do more than respect the house I find he has somehow got admission to.”

“It’s clear it was that other fellow,” said Harry, casting a side-glance up at the Countess’s window.

Rose looked straight at Laxley, and abruptly turned on her heel.

In the afternoon, Lady Jocelyn sent a message to Evan that she wished to see him. Rose was with her mother. Lady Jocelyn had only to say, that, if he thought his friend a suitable tutor for Miss Bonner, they would be happy to give him the office at Beckley Court. Glad to befriend poor Jack, Evan gave the needful assurances, and was requested to go and fetch him forthwith. When he left the room, Rose marched out silently beside him.

“Will you ride over with me, Rose?” he said, though scarcely anxious that she should see Mr. Raikes immediately.

The singular sharpness of her refusal astonished him none the less.

“Thank you, no; I would rather not.”

A lover is ever ready to suspect that water has been thrown on the fire that burns for him in the bosom of his darling. Sudden as the change was, it was very decided. His sensitive ears were pained by the absence of his Christian name, which her lips had lavishly made sweet to him.

He stopped in his walk.

“You spoke of riding to Fallowfield. Is it possible you don’t want me to bring my friend here? There’s time to prevent it. One intrusion is enough.”

Judged by the Countess de Saldar, the behaviour of this well-born English maid was anything but well-bred. She absolutely shrugged her shoulders and marched a-head of him into the conservatory, where she began smelling at flowers and plucking off sere leaves.

In such cases a young man always follows; as her womanly instinct must have told her, for she expressed no surprise when she heard his voice two minutes afterwards.

“Rose! what have I done?”

“Nothing at all,” she said, sweeping her eyes over his a moment, and resting them on the plants.

“I must have uttered something that has displeased you?”

“No.”

Brief negatives are not reassuring to a lover’s uneasy mind.

“I beg you—be frank with me, Rose!”

A flame of the vanished fire shone in her face, but subsided, and she shook her head darkly.

“Have you any objection to my friend?”

Her fingers grew petulant with an orange-leaf. Eyeing a spot on it, she said, hesitatingly:

“Any friend of yours I am sure I should like to help. But—but I wish you wouldn’t associate with that—that kind of friend. It gives people all sorts of suspicions.”

Evan drew a sharp breath.

The voices of Master Alec and Miss Dorothy were heard shouting on the lawn. Alec gave Dorothy the slip and approached the conservatory on tip-toe, holding his hand out behind him to enjoin silence and secrecy. The pair could witness the scene through the glass before Evan spoke.

“What suspicions?” he asked, sternly.

Rose looked up, as if the harshness of his tone pleased her.

“Do you like red roses best, or white?” was her answer, moving to a couple of trees in pots.

“Can’t make up your mind?” she continued, and plucked both a white and red rose, saying:

“There! choose your colour by-and-by, and ask Juley to sew the one you choose in your button hole.”

She laid the roses in his hand, and walked away. She must have known that there was a burden of speech on his tongue. She saw him move to follow her, but this time she did not linger, and it may be inferred that she wished to hear no more.