Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/Evan Harrington - Part 16

2656528Once a Week, Series 1, Volume IIEvan Harrington - Part 16
1859-1860George Meredith




You have murdered my brother, Rose Jocelyn!”

“Don’t say so now.”

Such was the interchange between the two that loved the senseless youth, as he was being lifted into the carriage.

Lady Jocelyn sat upright in her saddle, giving directions about what was to be done with Evan and the mare, impartially.

“Stunned, and a good deal shaken, I suppose; Lymport’s knees are terribly cut,” she said to Drummond who merely nodded. And Seymour remarked, “Fifty guineas knocked off her value!” One added “Nothing worse, I should think;” and another, “A little damage inside, perhaps.” Difficult to say whether they spoke of Evan or the brute.

No violent outcries; no reproaches cast on the cold-blooded coquette; no exclamations on the heroism of her brother! They could absolutely spare a thought for the animal! And Evan had risked his life for this, and might die unpitied. The Countess diversified her grief with a deadly bitterness against the heartless Jocelyn.

Oh, if Evan die! will it punish Rose sufficiently?

Andrew expressed emotion, but not of a kind the Countess liked a relative to be seen exhibiting; for in emotion worthy Andrew betrayed to her his origin offensively.

“Go away and puke if you must,” she said, clipping poor Andrew’s word about his “dear boy.” She could not help speaking in that way—he was so vulgar. A word of sympathy from Lady Jocelyn might have saved her from the sourness into which her many conflicting passions were resolving; and might also have saved her ladyship from the rancour she had sown in the daughter of the great Mel by her selection of epithets to characterise him.

Will it punish Rose at all, if Evan dies?

Rose saw that she was looked at. How could the Countess tell that Rose envied her the joy of holding Evan in the carriage there? Rose, to judge by her face, was as calm as glass. Not so well seen through, however. Mrs. Evremonde rode beside her, whose fingers she caught, and twined her own with them tightly once for a fleeting instant. Mrs. Evremonde wanted no further confession of her state.

Then Rose said to her mother, “Mamma, may I ride to have the doctor ready?”

Ordinarily, Rose would have clapped heel to her horse the moment the thought came. She waited for the permission, and flew off at a galop, waving back Laxley, who was for joining her.

“Franks will be a little rusty about the mare,” the Countess heard Lady Jocelyn say; and Harry just then stooped his head to the carriage, and said, in his blunt fashion, “After all, it won’t show much.”

“We are not cattle!” exclaimed the frenzied Countess, louder than she intended. Alas! it was almost a democratic outcry they made her guilty of; but she was driven past patience. And as a further provocation, Evan would open his eyes. She laid her handkerchief over them with loving delicacy, remembering in a flash that her own face had been all the while exposed to Mr. George Uploft; and then the terrors of his presence at Beckley Court came upon her, and the fact that she had not for the last ten minutes been the serene Countess de Saldar; and she quite hated Andrew, for vulgarity in others evoked vulgarity in her, which was the reason why she ranked vulgarity as the chief of the deadly sins. Her countenance for Harry and all the others save poor Andrew was soon the placid heaven-confiding sister’s again; not before Lady Jocelyn had found cause to observe to Drummond:

“Your Countess don’t ruffle well.”

But a lady who is at war with two or three of the facts of Providence, and yet will have Providence for her ally, can hardly ruffle well.

Do not imagine that the Countess’s love for her brother was hollow. She was assured when she came up to the spot where he fell, that there was no danger; he had but dislocated his shoulder, and bruised his head a little. Hearing this, she rose out of her clamorous heart, and seized the opportunity for a small burst of melodrama. Unhappily, Lady Jocelyn, who gave the tone to the rest, was a Spartan in matters of this sort; and as she would have seen those dearest to her bear the luck of the field, she could see others. When the call for active help reached her, you beheld a different woman.

The demonstrativeness the Countess thirsted for was afforded her by Juley Bonner, and in a measure by her sister Caroline, who loved Evan passionately. The latter was in riding attire, about to mount to ride and meet them, accompanied by the Duke. Caroline had hastily tied up her hair; a rich golden brown lump of it hung round her cheek; her limpid eyes and anxiously-nerved brows impressed the Countess wonderfully as she ran down the steps and bent her fine well-filled bust forward to ask the first hurried question.

The Countess patted her shoulder. “Safe, dear,” she said aloud, as one who would not make much of it. And in a whisper, “You look superb.”

I must charge it to Caroline’s beauty under the ducal radiance, that a stream of sweet feelings entering into the Countess, made her forget to tell her sister that George Uploft was by. Caroline had not been abroad, and her skin was not olive-hued; she was a beauty, and a majestic figure, little altered since the day when the wooden marine marched her out of Lymport.

The Countess stepped from the carriage to go and cherish Juliana’s petulant distress; for that unhealthy little body was stamping with impatience to have the story told to her, to burst into fits of pathos; and while Seymour and Harry assisted Evan to descend, trying to laugh off the pain he endured, Caroline stood by, soothing him with words and tender looks.

Lady Jocelyn passed him, and took his hand, saying, “Not killed this time!”

“At your ladyship’s service to-morrow,” he replied, and his hand was kindly squeezed.

“My darling Evan, you will not ride again?” Caroline cried, kissing him on the steps; and the Duke watched the operation, and the Countess observed the Duke.

That Providence should select her sweetest moments to deal her wounds, was cruel; but the Countess just then distinctly heard Mr. George Uploft ask Miss Carrington: “Is that lady a Harrington?”

“You perceive a likeness?” was the answer.

Mr. George went “Whew!—tit—tit—tit!” with the profound expression of a very slow mind.

The scene was quickly over. There was barely an hour for the ladies to dress for dinner. Leaving Evan in the doctor’s hands, and telling Caroline to dress in her room, the Countess met Rose, and gratified her vindictiveness, while she furthered her projects, by saying:

Not till my brother is quite convalescent will it be advisable that you should visit him. I am compelled to think of him entirely now. In his present state he is not fit to be played with.”

Rose, steadfastly eyeing her, seemed to swallow down something in her throat, and said:

“I will obey you, Countess. I hoped you would allow me to nurse him.”

“Quiet above all things, Rose Jocelyn!” returned the Countess, with the suavity of a governess, who must be civil in her sourness. “If you would not complete this morning’s achievement—stay away.”

The Countess declined to see that Rose’s lip quivered. She saw an unpleasantness in the bottom of her eyes; and now that her brother’s decease was not even remotely to be apprehended, she herself determined to punish the cold, unimpressionable coquette of a girl. Before returning to Caroline, she had five minutes conversation with Juliana, which fully determined her to continue the campaign at Beckley Court, commence decisive movements, and not to retreat, though fifty George Uplofts menaced her. Consequently, having dismissed Conning on a message to Harry Jocelyn to ask him for a list of the names of the new people they were to meet that day at dinner, she said to Caroline:

“My dear, I think it will be incumbent on us to depart very quickly.”

Much to the Countess’s chagrin and astonishment, Caroline replied:

“I shall hardly be sorry.”

“Not sorry! Why, what now, dear one? Is it true, then, that a flagellated female kisses the rod? Are you so eager for a repetition of Strike?

Caroline, with some hesitation, related to her more than the Countess had ventured to petition for in her prayers.

“Oh! how exceedingly generous?” the latter exclaimed. “How very refreshing to think that there are nobles in your England as romantic, as courteous, as delicate as our own foreign ones. But his Grace is quite an exceptional nobleman. Are you not touched, dearest Carry?”

Caroline pensively glanced at the reflection of her beautiful arm in the glass, and sighed, pushing back the hair from her temples.

“But, for mercy’s sake!” resumed the Countess, in alarm at the sigh, “do not be too—too touched. Do, pray, preserve your wits. You weep! Caroline, Caroline! O my goodness; it is just five-and-twenty minutes to the first dinner bell, and you are crying! For God’s sake, think of your face! Are you going to be a Gorgon? And you show the marks twice as long as any other, you fair women. Squinnying like this! Caroline, for your Louisa’s sake, do not!”

Hissing which, half-angrily and half with entreaty, the Countess dropped on her knees. Caroline’s fit of tears subsided. The eldest of the sisters, she was the kindest, the fairest, the weakest.

“Not,” said the blandishing Countess, when Caroline’s face was clearer, “not that my best of Carrys does not look delicious in her shower. Cry, with your hair down, and you would subdue any male creature on two legs. And that reminds me of that most audacious Marquis de Remilla. He saw a dirty drab of a fruit-girl crying in Lisbon streets one day, as he was riding in the carriage of the Duchesse de Col da Rosta, and her husband and dueña, and he had a letter for her—the Duchesse. They loved! How deliver the letter? ‘Save me!’ he cried to the Duchesse, catching her hand, and pressing his heart, as if very sick. The Duchesse felt the paper—turned her hand over on her knee, and he withdrew his. What does my Carry think was the excuse he tendered the Duke? This—and this gives you some idea of the wonderful audacity of those dear Portuguese—that he—he must precipitate himself and marry any woman he saw weep, and be her slave for the term of his natural life, unless another woman’s hand at the same moment restrained him! There!” and the Countess’s eyes shone brightly.

“How excessively imbecile!” Caroline remarked, hitherto a passive listener to these Lusitanian contes.

It was the first sign she had yet given of her late intercourse with a positive Duke, and the Countess felt it, and drew back. No more anecdotes for Caroline, to whom she quietly said:

“You are very English, dear!”

“But now, the Duke—his Grace,” she went on, “how did he inaugurate?”

“I spoke to him of Evan’s position. God forgive me!—I said that was the cause of my looks being sad.”

“You could have thought of nothing better,” interposed the Countess. “Yes?”

“He said if he might clear them he should be happy.”

“In exquisite language, Carry, of course!”

“No; just as others talk.”

“Hum!” went the Countess, and issued again brightly from a cloud of reflection, with the remark: “It was to seem business-like—the commerciality of the English mind. To the point—I know. Well, you perceive, my sweetest, that Evan’s interests are in your hands. You dare not quit the field. In one week, I fondly trust, he will be secure. What more did his Grace say? May we not be the repository of such delicious secrecies?”

Caroline gave tremulous indications about the lips, and the Countess jumped to the bell and rang it, for they were too near dinner for the trace of a single tear to be permitted. The bell and the appearance of Conning effectually checked the flood.

While speaking to her sister the Countess had hesitated to mention George Uploft’s name, hoping that, as he had no dinner suit, he would not stop to dinner that day, and would fall to the charge of Lady Roseley once more. Conning, however, brought in a sheet of paper on which the names of the guests were written out by Harry, a daily piece of service he performed for the captivating dame, and George Uploft’s name was in the list.

“We will do the rest, Conning—retire,” she said, and then folding Caroline in her arms, murmured, the moment they were alone; “Will my Carry dress her hair plain to-day for the love of her Louisa?”

“Goodness! what a request!” exclaimed Caroline, throwing back her head to see if her Louisa could be serious.

“Most inexplicable—is it not? Will she do it?”

“Flat, dear? It makes a fright of me.”

“Possibly. May I beg it?”

“But why, dearest, why? If I only knew why!”

“For the love of your Louy.”

“Plain along the temples?”

“And a knot behind.”

“And a band along the forehead?”

“Gems, if they meet your favour.”

“But my cheek-bones, Louisa?”

“They are not too prominent, Carry.”

“Curls relieve them.”

“The change will relieve the curls, dear one.”

Caroline looked in the glass, at the Countess, as polished a reflector, and fell into a chair. Her hair was accustomed to roll across her shoulders in heavy curls. The Duke would find a change of the sort singular. She should not at all know herself with her hair done differently: and for a lovely woman to be transformed to a fright is hard to bear in solitude, or in imagination.

“Really!” she petitioned.

“Really—yes, or no?” added the Countess.

“So unaccountable a whim!” Caroline looked in the glass dolefully, and pulled up her thick locks from one cheek, letting them fall on the instant.

“She will?” breathed the Countess.

“I really cannot,” said Caroline with vehemence.

The Countess burst into laughter, replying: “My poor child! it is not my whim—it is your obligation. George Uploft dines here to-day. Now do you divine it? Disguise is imperative for you.”

Mrs. Strike, gazing in her sister’s face, answered slowly, “George?​——​But how will you meet him?” she hurriedly asked.

“I have met him,” rejoined the Countess boldly. “I defy him to know me. I brazen him! You with your hair in my style are equally safe. You see there is no choice. Pooh! contemptible puppy!”

“But I never,”—Caroline was going to say she never could face him. “I will not dine. I will nurse Evan.”

“You have faced him, my dear,” said the Countess, “and you are to change your head-dress simply to throw him off his scent.”

As she spoke the Countess tripped about, nodding her head like a girl. Triumph in the sense of her power over all she came in contact with, rather elated the lady.

Do you see why she worked her sister in this roundabout fashion? She would not tell her George Uploft was in the house till she was sure he intended to stay, for fear of frightening her. When the necessity became apparent, she put it under the pretext of a whim in order to see how far Caroline, whose weak compliance she could count on, and whose reticence concerning the Duke annoyed her, would submit to it to please her sister; and if she rebelled positively, why to be sure it was the Duke she dreaded to shock: and, therefore, the Duke had a peculiar hold on her: and, therefore, the Countess might reckon that she would do more than she pleased to confess to remain with the Duke, and was manageable in that quarter. All this she learnt without asking. I need not add, that Caroline sighingly did her bidding.

“We must all be victims in our turn, Carry,” said the Countess. “Evan’s prospects—it may be, Silva’s restoration—depends upon your hair being dressed plain to-day. Reflect on that!”

Poor Caroline obeyed; but she was capable of reflecting only that her face was unnaturally lean and strange to her.

The sisters tended and arranged one another, taking care to push their mourning a month or two a-head: and the Countess animadverted on the vulgar mind of Lady Jocelyn, who would allow a “gentleman to sit down at a gentlewoman’s table, in full company, in pronounced undress:” and Caroline utterly miserable, would pretend that she wore a mask and kept grimacing as they do who are not accustomed to paint on the cheeks, till the Countess checked her by telling her she should ask her for that before the Duke.

After a visit to Evan, the sisters sailed together into the drawing-room.

“Uniformity is sometimes a gain,” murmured the Countess, as they were parting in the middle of the room. She saw that their fine figures, and profiles, and resemblance in contrast, produced an effect. The Duke wore one of those calmly intent looks by which men show they are aware of change in the heavens they study, and are too devout worshippers to presume to disapprove. Mr. George was standing by Miss Carrington, and he also watched Mrs. Strike. To bewilder him yet more the Countess persisted in fixing her eyes upon his heterodox apparel, and Mr. George became conscious and uneasy. Miss Carrington had to address her question to him twice before he heard. Melville Jocelyn, Sir John Loring, Sir Franks, and Hamilton surrounded the Countess, and told her what they had decided on with regard to the Election during the day; for Melville was warm in his assertion that they would not talk to the Countess five minutes without getting a hint worth having.

“Call to us that man who is habited like a groom,” said the Countess, indicating Mr. George. “I presume he is in his right place up here?”

“Whew—take care, Countess—our best man. He’s good for a dozen,” said Hamilton.

Mr. George was brought over and introduced to the Countess de Saldar.

“So the oldest tory in the county is a fox?” she said, in allusion to the hunt. Never did Caroline Strike admire her sister’s fearful genius more than at that moment.

Mr. George ducked and rolled his hand over his chin, with “ah-um!” and the like, ended by a dry laugh.

“Are you our support, Mr. Uploft?”

“Tory interest, ma-um—my lady.”

“And are you staunch and may be trusted?”

’Pon my honour, I think I have that reputation.”

“And you would not betray us if we give you any secrets? Say ’Pon my honour,’ again. You launch it out so courageously.”

The men laughed, though they could not see what the Countess was driving at. She had for two minutes spoken as she spoke when a girl, and George entirely off his guard and unsuspicious—looked unenlightened. If he knew, there were hints enough for him in her words. If he remained blind, they might pass as air. The appearance of the butler cut short his protestation as to his powers of secresy.

The Countess dismissed him.

“You will be taken into our confidence when we require you.” And she resumed her foreign air in a most elaborate and overwhelming bow.

She was now perfectly satisfied that she was safe from Mr. George, and, as she thoroughly detested the youthful squire, she chose to propagate a laugh at him by saying, with the utmost languor and clearness of voice, as they descended the stairs:

“After all, a very clever fox may be a very dull dog—don’t you think?”

Gentlemen in front of her, and behind, heard it, and at Mr. George’s expense her reputation rose.

Thus the genius of this born general prompted her to adopt the principle in tactics—boldly to strike when you are in the dark as to your enemy’s movements.


You must know, if you would form an estimate of the Countess’s heroic impudence, that a rumour was current in Lymport that the fair and well-developed Louisa Harrington, in her sixteenth year, did advisedly, and with the intention of rendering the term indefinite, entrust her guileless person to Mr. George Uploft’s honourable charge. The rumour, unflavoured by absolute malignity, was such; and it went on to say, that the sublime Mel, alive to the honour of his family, followed the fugitives with a pistol, and with a horsewhip, that he might chastise the offender according to the degree of his offence. It was certain that he had not used the pistol: it was said that he had used the whip. The details of the interview between Mel and Mr. George were numerous, but at the same time various. Some declared that he put a pistol to Mr. George’s ear, and under pressure of that persuader got him into the presence of a clergyman, when he turned sulky; and when the pistol was again produced, the ceremony would have been performed, had not the outraged Church cried out for help. Some vowed that Mr. George had referred all questions implying a difference between himself and Mel to their mutual fists for decision. At any rate, Mr. George turned up in Fallowfield subsequently; the fair Louisa, unhurt and with a quiet mind, in Lymport; and this amount of truth the rumours can be reduced to—that Louisa and Mr. George had been acquainted. Rumour and gossip know how to build: they always have some solid foundation, however small.

Upwards of twelve years had run since Louisa went to the wife of the brewer—a period quite long enough for Mr. George to forget anyone in; and she was altogether a different creature; and as it was true that Mr. George was a dull one, she was, after the test she had put him to, justified in hoping that Mel’s progeny might pass unchallenged anywhere out of Lymport. So, with Mr. George facing her at table, the Countess sat down, determined to eat and be happy.

A man with the education and tastes of a young country squire, is not likely to know much of the character of women; and of the marvellous power they have of throwing a veil of oblivion between themselves and what they don’t want to remember, few men know much. Mr. George had thought, when he saw Mrs. Strike leaning to Evan, and heard she was a Harrington, that she was rather like the Lymport family; but the reappearance of Mrs. Strike, the attention of the Duke of Belfield to her, and the splendid tactics of the Countess, which had extinguished every thought in the thought of himself, drove Lymport out of his mind.

There were some dinner-guests at the table—people of Fallowfield, Beckley, and Bodley. The Countess had the diplomatist on one side, the Duke on the other. Caroline was under the charge of Sir Franks. The Countess, almost revelling in her position opposite Mr. George, was ambitious to lead the conversation, and commenced, smiling at Melville:

“We are to be spared politics to-day? I think politics and cookery do not assimilate.”

“I’m afraid you won’t teach the true Briton to agree with you,” said Melville, shaking his head over the sums involved by this British propensity.

“No,” said Sir John. “Election dinners are a part of the Constitution,” and Andrew laughed: “They make Radicals pay as well as Tories, so it’s pretty square.”

The topic was taken up, flagged, fell, and was taken up again. And then Harry Jocelyn said:

“I say, have you worked the flags yet? The great Mel must have his flags.”

The flags were in the hands of ladies, and ladies would look to the rosettes, he was told.

Then a lady of the name of Barrington laughed lightly, and said:

“Only pray, my dear Harry, don’t call your uncle the ‘Great Mel’ at the election.”

“Oh! very well,” quoth Harry: “why not?”

“You’ll get him laughed at—that’s all.”

“Oh! well, then, I won’t,” said Harry, whose wits were attracted by the Countess’s visage.

Mrs. Barrington turned to Seymour, her neighbour, and resumed:

“He really would be laughed at. There was a tailor—he was called the Great Mel—and he tried to stand for Fallowfield once. I believe he had the support of Squire Uploft—George’s uncle—and others. They must have done it for fun! Of course he did not get so far as the hustings; but I believe he had flags, and principles, and all sorts of things worked ready. He certainly canvassed.”

“A tailor—canvassed—for Parliament?” remarked an old Dowager, the mother of Squire Copping. “My! what are we coming to next?”

“He deserved to get in,” quoth Aunt Bel: “After having his principles worked ready, to eject the man was infamous.”

Amazed at the mine she had sprung, the Countess sat through it, lamenting the misery of owning a notorious father.

Bowing over wine with the Duke, she tried another theme, while still, like a pertinacious cracker, the Great Mel kept banging up and down the table.

“We are to have a feast in the open air, I hear. What you call pic-nic.”

The Duke believed there was a project of the sort.

“How exquisitely they do those things in Portugal! I suppose there would be no scandal in my telling something now. At least we are out of Court-jurisdiction.”

“Scandal of the Court!” exclaimed his Grace, in mock horror.

“The option is yours to listen. The Queen, when young, was sweetly pretty; a divine complexion; and a habit of smiling on everybody. I presume that the young Habral, son of the first magistrate of Lisbon, was also smiled on. Most innocently, I would swear! But it operated on the wretched youth! He spent all his fortune in the purchase and decoration of a fairy villa, bordering on the Val das Rosas, where the Court enjoyed its rustic festivities, and one day a storm! all the ladies hurried their young mistress to the house where the young Habral had been awaiting her for ages. None so polished as he! Musicians started up, the floors were ready, and torches beneath them!—there was a feast of exquisite wines and viands sparkling. Quite enchantment. The girl-Queen was in ecstacies. She deigned a dance with the young Habral, and then all sat down to supper; and in the middle of it came the cry of Fire! The Queen shrieked; the flames were seen all around; and if the arms of the young Habral were opened to save her, or perish, could she cast a thought on Royalty, and refuse? The Queen was saved, the villa was burnt: the young Habral was ruined, but, if I know a Portuguese, he was happy till he died, and well remunerated! For he had held a Queen to his heart! So that was a pic-nic!”

The Duke slightly inclined his head.

“Vrai Portughez derrendo,” he said. “They tell a similar story in Spain, of one of the Queens—I forget her name. The difference between us and your Peninsula cavaliers is, that we would do as much for uncrowned ladies.”

“Ah! your Grace!” The Countess swam in the pleasure of a nobleman’s compliment.

“What’s that story?” interposed Aunt Bel.

An outline of it was given her. Thank heaven, the table was now rid of the great Mel. For how could he have any, the remotest relation with Queens and Peninsula pic-nics? You shall hear.

Lady Jocelyn happened to catch a word or two of the story.

“Why,” said she, “that’s English! Franks, you remember the ballet divertissement they improvised at the Bodley race-ball, when the magnificent footman fired a curtain and caught up Lady Roseley, and carried her—”

“Heaven knows where!” cried Sir Franks. “I remember it perfectly. It was said that the magnificent footman did it on purpose to have that pleasure.”

“Ay, of course,” Hamilton took him up. “They talked of prosecuting the magnificent footman.”

“Ay,” followed Seymour, “and nobody could tell where the magnificent footman bolted. He vanished into thin air.”

“Ay, of course,” Melville struck in; “and the magic enveloped the lady for some time.”

At this point Mr. George Uploft gave a horse laugh. He jerked in his seat excitedly.

“Bodley race-ball!” he cried; and looking at Lady Jocelyn: “Was your ladyship there, then? Why—ha! ha! why, you have seen the Great Mel, then! That tremendous footman was old Mel himself!”

Lady Jocelyn struck both her hands on the table, and rested her large grey eyes, full of humorous surprise, on Mr. George.

There was a pause, and then the ladies and gentlemen laughed.

“Yes,” Mr. George went on, “that was old Mel. I’ll swear to him.”

“And that’s how it began?” murmured Lady Jocelyn.

Mr. George nodded at his plate discreetly.

“Well,” said Lady Jocelyn, leaning back and lifting her face upward in the discursive fulness of her fancy, “I feel I am not robbed. Il y a des miracles, et j'en ai vus! One’s life seems more perfect when one has seen what nature can do. The fellow was stupendous! I conceive him present. Who’ll fire a house for me? Is it my deficiency of attraction, or a total dearth of gallant snobs?”

The Countess was drowned. The muscles of her smiles were horribly stiff and painful. Caroline was getting pale. Could it be accident that thus resuscitated Mel, their father, and would not let the dead man die? Was not malice at the bottom of it? The Countess, though she hated Mr. George infinitely, was clear-headed enough to see that Providence alone was trying her. No glances were exchanged between him and Laxley, or Drummond.

Again Mel returned to his peace, and again he had to come forth.

“Who was this singular man you were speaking about just now?” Mrs. Evremonde asked.

Lady Jocelyn answered her: “The light of his age. The embodied protest against our social prejudice. Combine—say, Mirabeau and Alcibiades, and the result is the Lymport Tailor:—he measures your husband in the morning: in the evening he makes love to you, through a series of pantomimic transformations. He was a colossal Adonis, and I’m sorry he’s dead!”

“But did the man get into society?” said Mrs. Evremonde. “How did he manage that?”

“Yes, indeed! and what sort of a society!” the dowager Copping interjected. “None but bachelor-tables, I can assure you. Oh! I remember him. They talked of fetching him to Dox Hall. I said, No, thank you, Tom; this isn’t your Vauxhall.”

“A sharp retort,” said Lady Jocelyn, “a most conclusive rhyme; but you’re mistaken. Many families were glad to see him, I hear. And he only consented to be treated like a footman when he dressed like one. The fellow had some capital points. He fought two or three duels, and behaved like a man. Franks wouldn’t have him here, or I would have received him. I hear that, as a conteur, he was inimitable. In short, he was a robust Brummel, and the Regent of low life.”

This should have been Mel’s final epitaph.

Unhappily, Mrs. Melville would remark, in her mincing manner, that the idea of the admission of a tailor into society seemed very unnatural; and Aunt Bel confessed, that her experience did not comprehend it.

“As to that,” said Lady Jocelyn, “phenomena are unnatural. The rules of society are lightened by the exceptions. What I like in this Mel is, that though he was a snob and an impostor, he could still make himself respected by his betters. He was honest, so far; he acknowledged his tastes, which were those of Franks, Melville, Seymour, and George—the tastes of a gentleman. I prefer him infinitely to your cowardly democrat, who barks for what he can’t get, and is generally beastly. In fact, I’m not sure that I haven’t a secret passion for the great tailor.”

“After all, old Mel wasn’t so bad,” Mr. George Uploft chimed in. “Granted a tailor—you didn’t see a bit of it at table. I’ve known him taken for a lord. And when he once got hold of you, you couldn’t give him up. The Squire met him first in the coach, one winter. He took him for a Russian nobleman—didn’t find out what he was for a month or so. Says Mel, ‘Yes, I make clothes. You find the notion unpleasant; guess how disagreeable it is to me.’ The old Squire laughed, and was glad to have him at Croftlands as often as he chose to come. Old Mel and I used to spar sometimes; but he’s gone, and I should like to shake his fists again.”

Then Mr. George told the “Bath” story, and episodes in Mel’s career as Marquis; and while he held the ear of the table, Rose, who had not spoken a word, and had scarcely eaten a morsel during dinner, studied the sisters with serious eyes. Only when she turned them from the Countess to Mrs. Strike, they were softened by a shadowy drooping of the eyelids, as if for some reason she deeply pitied that lady.

Next to Rose sat Drummond, with a face expressive of cynical enjoyment. He devoted uncommon attention to the Countess, whom he usually shunned and overlooked. He invited her to exchange bows over wine, in the fashion of that day, and the Countess went through the performance with finished grace and ease. Poor Andrew had all the time been brushing back his hair, and making strange deprecatory sounds in his throat, like a man who felt bound to assure everybody at table he was perfectly happy and comfortable.

“Material enough for a Sartoriad,” said Drummond to Lady Jocelyn.

“Excellent. Pray write it forthwith, Drummond,” replied her ladyship; and as they exchanged talk unintelligible to the Countess, this lady observed to the Duke:

“It is a relief to have buried that subject.”

The Duke smiled, raising an eyebrow; but the persecuted Countess perceived she had been much too hasty when Drummond added,

“I’ll make a journey to Lymport in a day or two, and master his history.”

“Do,” said her ladyship; and flourishing her hand, ‘I sing the Prince of Snobs!

“Oh, if it’s about old Mel, I’ll sing you material enough,” said Mr. George. “There! you talk of it’s being unnatural, his dining out at respectable tables. Why, I believe—upon my honour, I believe it’s a fact—he’s supped and thrown dice with the Regent.”

Lady Jocelyn clapped her hands. “A noble culmination, Drummond! The man’s an Epic!”

“Well, I think old Mel was equal to it,” Mr. George pursued. “He gave me pretty broad hints; and this is how it was, if it really happened, you know. Old Mel had a friend; some say he was more. Well, that was a fellow, a great gambler. I dare say you’ve heard of him—Burley Bennet—him that won Ryelands Park of one of the royal dukes—died worth upwards of £100,000; and old Mel swore he ought to have had it, and would if he hadn’t somehow offended him. He left the money to Admiral Harrington, and he was a relation of Mel’s.”

“But are we then utterly mixed up with tailors?” exclaimed Mrs. Barrington.

“Well, those are the facts,” said Mr. George.

The wine made the young squire talkative. It is my belief that his suspicions were not awake at that moment, and that, like any other young country squire, having got a subject he could talk on, he did not care to discontinue it. The Countess was past the effort to attempt to stop him. She had work enough to keep her smile in the right place.

Every dinner may be said to have its special topic, just as every age has its marked reputation. They are put up twice or thrice, and have to contend with minor lights, and to swallow them, and then they command the tongues of men and flow uninterruptedly. So it was with the Great Mel upon this occasion. Curiosity was aroused about him. Aunt Bel agreed with Lady Jocelyn, that she would have liked to have known the mighty tailor. Mrs. Shorne but very imperceptibly protested against the notion, and from one to another it ran. His Grace of Belfield expressed positive approval of Mel as one of the old school.

“Si ce n'est pas le gentilhomme, au moins, c'est le gentilhomme manqué,” said Lady Jocelyn. “He is to be regretted, Duke. You are right. The stuff was in him, but the Fates were unkind. I stretch out my hand to the pauvre diable.”

“I think one learns more from the mock magnifico than from anything else,” observed his Grace.

“When the lion saw the donkey in his own royal skin,” said Aunt Bel, “add the rhyme at your discretion—he was a wiser lion, that’s all.”

“And the ape that strives to copy one—he’s an animal of judgment,” said Lady Jocelyn. “We will be tolerant to the tailor, and the Countess must not set us down as a nation of shopkeepers—philosophically tolerant.”

The Countess started, and ran a little broken “Oh!” affably out of her throat, dipped her lips to her table-napkin, and resumed her smile.

“Yes,” pursued her ladyship; “old Mel stamps the age gone by. The gallant adventurer tied to his shop! Alternate footman and marquis, out of the intermediate tailor! Isn’t there something fine in his buffoon imitation of the real thing? I feel already that old Mel belongs to me. Where is the great man buried? Where have they set the funeral brass that holds his mighty ashes?”

Lady Jocelyn’s humour was fully entered into by the men. The women smiled vacantly, and had a common thought that it was ill-bred of her to hold forth in that way at table, and unfeminine of any woman to speak continuously anywhere—except, perhaps, in bed.

“Oh, come!” cried Mr. George, who saw his own subject snapped away from him by sheer cleverness; “old Mel wasn’t only a buffoon, my lady, you know. Old Mel had his qualities. He was as much a ‘no-nonsense’ fellow, in his way, as a magistrate, or a minister.”

“Or a king, or a constable,” Aunt Bel helped his illustration.

“Or a prince, a poll-parrot, a Perigord-pie,” added Drummond, whose gravity did not prevent Mr. George from seeing that he was laughed at.

“Well, then, now, listen to this,” said Mr. George, leaning his two hands on the table resolutely. Dessert was laid, and, with a full glass beside him, and a pear to peel, he determined to be heard.

The Countess’s eyes went mentally up to the vindictive heavens. She stole a glance at Caroline, and was alarmed at her excessive pallor.

“Now, I know this to be true,” Mr. George began. “When old Mel was alive, he and I had plenty of sparring, and that—but he’s dead, and I’ll do him justice. I spoke of Burley Bennet just now. Now, my lady, old Burley was, I think, Mel’s half-brother, and he came, I know, somewhere out of Drury Lane—one of the courts near the theatre—I don’t know much of London. However, old Mel wouldn’t have that. Nothing less than being born in St. James’s Square would content old Mel, and he must have a marquis for his father. I needn’t be more particular. Before ladies—ahem! But Burley was the shrewd hand of the two. Oh-h-h! such a card! He knew the way to get into company without false pretences. Well, I told you, he had lots more than 100,000l.—some said two—and he gave up Ryelands; never asked for it, though he won it. Consequence was, he commanded the services of somebody pretty high. And it was he got Admiral Harrington made a captain, posted, commodore, admiral, and K.C.B., all in seven years! In the army it’d have been half the time, for the H.R.H. was stronger in that department. Now, I know old Burley promised Mel to leave him his money, and called the admiral an ungrateful dog. He didn’t give Mel much at a time—now and then a twenty-pounder or so—I saw the cheques. And old Mel expected the money, and looked over his daughters like a turkey-cock. Nobody good enough for them. Whacking handsome gals—three! used to be called the Three Graces of Lymport. And one day Burley comes and visits Mel, and sees the girls. And he puts his finger on the eldest, I can tell you. She was a spanker! She was the handsomest gal, I think, ever I saw. For the mother’s a fine woman, and what with the mother, and what with old Mel—”

“We won’t enter into the mysteries of origin,” quoth Lady Jocelyn.

“Exactly, my lady. Oh, your servant, of course. Before ladies. A—— Burley Bennet, I said. Long and short was, he wanted to take her up to London. Says old Mel: ‘London’s a sad place.’ ‘Place to make money,’ says Burley. ‘That’s not work for a young gal,’ says Mel. Long and short was, Burley wanted to take her, and Mel wouldn’t let her go.” Mr. George lowered his tone, and mumbled, “Don’t know how to explain it very well before ladies. What Burley wanted was—it wasn’t quite honourable, you know, though there was a good deal of spangles on it, and whether a real H.R.H., or a Marquis, or a Viscount, I can’t say, but the offer was tempting to a tradesman. ‘No,’ says Mel, like a chap planting his flagstaff and sticking to it. I believe that to get her to go with him, Burley offered to make a will on the spot, and to leave every farthing of his money and property—upon my soul, I believe it to be true—to Mel and his family, if he’d let the gal go. ‘No,’ says Mel. I like the old bird! And Burley got in a rage, and said he’d leave every farthing to the sailor. Says Mel: ‘I’m a poor tradesman; but I have, and I always will have the feelings of a gentleman, and they’re more to me than hard cash, and the honour of my daughter, sir, is dearer to me than my blood. Out of the house!’ cries Mel. And away old Burley went, and left every penny to the sailor that’s now Admiral Harrington, and don’t notice ’em an inch. Now, there!”

All had listened to Mr. George attentively, and he had slurred the apologetic passages, and emphasised the propitiatory “before ladies” in a way to make himself well understood a generation back.

“Bravo, old Mel!” rang the voice of Lady Jocelyn, and a murmur ensued, in the midst of which Rose stood up and hurried round the table to Mrs. Strike, who was seen to rise from her chair; and as she did so, the ill-arranged locks fell from their unnatural restraint down over her shoulders; one great curl half forward to the bosom, and one behind her right ear. Her eyes were wide, her whole face, neck, and fingers, white as marble. The faintest tremour of a frown on her brows, and her shut lips, marked the continuation of some internal struggle, as if with her last conscious force she kept down a flood of tears and a wild outcry which it was death to hold. Sir Franks felt his arm touched, and looked up, and caught her, as Rose approached. The Duke and other gentlemen went to his aid, and as the beautiful woman was borne out white and still as a corpse, the Countess had this dagger plunged in her heart from the mouth of Mr. George, addressing Miss Carrington:

“I swear I didn’t do it on purpose. She’s Carry Harrington, old Mel’s daughter, as sure as she’s flesh and blood.”