Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/Evan Harrington - Part 18

Illustrated by Charles Keene.


Part 17Part 19

EVAN HARRINGTON; or, HE WOULD BE A GENTLEMAN.

BY GEORGE MEREDITH.

Evan Harrington - 21 - Raikes Makes an Appearance.png

CHAPTER XXIV.CHRONICLES THE RETURN OF MR. RAIKES.

There is a peculiar reptile whose stroke is said to deprive men of motion. On the day after the great Mel had stalked the dinner-table of Beckley Court, several of the guests were sensible of the effect of this creature’s mysterious touch, without knowing what it was that paralysed them. Drummond Forth had fully planned to go to Lymport. He had special reasons for making investigations with regard to the great Mel. Harry, who was fond of Drummond, offered to accompany him, and Laxley, for the sake of a diversion, fell into the scheme. Mr. George Uploft was also to be of the party, and promised them fun. But when the time came to start, not one could be induced to move: Laxley was pressingly engaged by Rose; Harry showed the rope the Countess held him by; Mr. George made a singular face, and seriously advised Drummond to give up the project.

“Don’t rub that woman the wrong way,” he said, in a private colloquy they had. “By Jingo, she’s a Tartar. She was as a gal, and she isn’t changed, Lou Harrington. Fancy now: she knew me, and she faced me out, and made me think her a stranger! Gad, I’m glad I didn’t speak to the others. Lord’s sake, keep it quiet. Don’t rouse that woman, now, if you want to keep a whole skin.”

Drummond laughed at his extreme earnestness in cautioning him, and appeared to enjoy his dread of the Countess. Mr. George would not tell how he had been induced to change his mind. He repeated his advice with a very emphatic shrug of the shoulder.

“You seem afraid of her,” said Drummond.

“I am. I ain’t ashamed to confess it. She’s a regular viper, my boy!” said Mr. George. “She and I once were pretty thick—least said soonest mended, you know. I offended her. Wasn’t quite up to her mark—a tailor’s daughter, you know. Gad, if she didn’t set an Irish Dragoon Captain on me!—I went about in danger of my life. The fellow began to twist his damned black moustaches the moment he clapped eyes on me—bullied me till, upon my soul, I was almost ready to fight him! Oh, she was a little tripping Tartar of a bantam hen then. She’s grown since she’s been countessed, and does it peacocky. Now, I give you fair warning, you know. She’s more than any man’s match.”

“I dare say I shall think the same when she has beaten me,” quoth cynical Drummond, and immediately went and gave orders for his horse to be saddled, thinking that he would tread on the head of the viper.

But shortly before the hour of his departure, Mrs. Evremonde summoned him to her, and showed him a slip of paper, on which was written, in an uncouth small hand:

“Madam: a friend warns you that your husband is coming here. Deep interest in your welfare is the cause of an anonymous communication. The writer wishes only to warn you in time.”

Mrs. Evremonde told Drummond that she had received it from one of the servants when leaving the breakfast-room. Beyond the fact that a man on horseback had handed it to a little boy, who had delivered it over to the footman, Drummond could learn nothing. Of course, all thought of the journey to Lymport was abandoned. If but to excogitate a motive for the origin of the document, Drummond was forced to remain; and now he had it, and now he lost it again; and as he was wandering about in his maze, the Countess met him with a “Good morning, Mr. Forth. Have I impeded your expedition by taking my friend Mr. Harry to cavalier me to-day?”

Drummond smilingly assured her that she had not in any way disarranged his projects, and passed with so absorbed a brow that the Countess could afford to turn her head and inspect him, without fear that he would surprise her in the act. Knocking the pearly edge of her fan on her teeth, she eyed him under her joined black lashes, and deliberately read his thoughts in the mere shape of his back and shoulders. She read him through and through, and was unconscious of the effective attitude she stood in for the space of two full minutes, and even then it required one of our unhappy sex to recall her. This was Harry Jocelyn.

“My friend,” she said to him, with a melancholy smile, “my one friend here!”

Harry went through the form of kissing her hand, which he had been taught, and practised cunningly as the first step of the ladder.

“I say, you looked so handsome, standing as you did just now,” he remarked; and she could see how far beneath her that effective attitude had precipitated the youth.

“Ah!” she sighed, walking on, with the step of majesty in exile.

“What the deuce is the matter with everybody to-day?” cried Harry. “I’m hanged if I can make it out. There’s the Carrington, as you call her, I met her with such a pair of eyes, and old George looking as if he’d been licked, at her heels; and there’s Drummond and his lady fair moping about the lawn, and my mother positively getting excited—there’s a miracle! and Juley’s sharpening her nails for somebody, and if Ferdinand don’t look out, your brother ’ll be walking off with Rosey—that’s my opinion.”

“Indeed,” said the Countess. “You really think so?”

“Well, they come it pretty strong together.”

“And what constitutes the ‘come it strong,’ Mr. Harry?”

“Hold of hands, you know,” the young gentleman indicated.

“Alas, then! must not we be more discreet?”

“Oh! but it’s different. With young people one knows what that means.”

“Deus!” exclaimed the Countess, tossing her head weariedly, and Harry perceived his slip, and down he went again.

What wonder that a youth in such training should consent to fetch and carry, to listen and relate, to play the spy and know no more of his office than that it gave him astonishing thrills of satisfaction, and now and then a secret sweet reward?

The Countess had sealed Miss Carrington’s mouth by one of her most dexterous strokes. On leaving the dinner-table over-night, and seeing that Caroline’s attack would preclude their instant retreat, the gallant Countess turned at bay. A word aside to Mr. George Uploft, and then the Countess took a chair by Miss Carrington. She did all the conversation, and supplied all the smiles to it, and when a lady has to do that she is justified in striking, and striking hard, for to abandon the pretence of sweetness is a gross insult from one woman to another.

The Countess, then, led circuitously but with all the ease in the world to the story of a Portuguese lady, of a marvellous beauty, and who was deeply enamoured of the Chevalier Miguel de Rasadio, and engaged to be married to him: but, alas for her! in the insolence of her happiness she wantonly made an enemy in the person of a most unoffending lady, and she repented it. While sketching the admirable Chevalier, the Countess drew a telling portrait of Mr. George Uploft, and gratified her humour and her wrath at once by strong truth to nature in the description and animated encomiums on the individual. The Portuguese lady, too, a little resembled Miss Carrington, in spite of her marvellous beauty. And it was odd that Miss Carrington should give a sudden start and a horrified glance at the Countess just when the Countess was pathetically relating the proceeding taken by the revengeful lady on the beautiful betrothed of the Chevalier Miguel de Rasadio: which proceeding was nothing other than to bring to the Chevalier’s knowledge that his beauty had a defect concealed by her apparel, and that the specks in his fruit were not one, or two, but, Oh! And the dreadful sequel to the story the Countess could not tell: preferring ingeniously to throw a tragic veil over it. Miss Carrington went early to bed that night.

The courage that mounteth with occasion was eminently the attribute of the Countess de Saldar. After that dreadful dinner she (since the weaknesses of great generals should not be altogether ignored), did pray for flight and total obscurity, but Caroline could not be left in her hysteric state, and now that she really perceived that Evan was progressing and on the point of sealing his chance, the devoted lady resolved to hold her ground. Besides, there was the pic-nic. The Countess had one dress she had not yet appeared in, and it was for the picnic she kept it. That small motives are at the bottom of many illustrious actions is a modern discovery; but I shall not adopt the modern principle of magnifying the small motive till it overshadows my noble heroine. I remember that the small motive is only to be seen by being borne into the range of my vision by a powerful microscope; and if I do more than see—if I carry on my reflections by the aid of the glass, I arrive at conclusions that must be false. Men who dwarf human nature do this. The gods are juster. The Countess, though she wished to remain for the pic-nic, and felt warm in anticipation of the homage to her new dress, was still a gallant general and a devoted sister, and if she said to herself, “Come what may, I will stay for that pic-nic, and they shall not brow-beat me out of it,” it is that trifling pleasures are noisiest about the heart of human nature: not that they govern us absolutely. There is mob-rule in minds as in communities, but the Countess had her appetites in excellent drill. This pic-nic surrendered, represented to her defeat in all its ignominy. The largest longest-headed of schemes ask occasionally for something substantial and immediate. So the Countess stipulated with Providence for the pic-nic. It was a point to be passed: “Thorough flood, thorough fire.”

In vain poor Andrew Cogglesby, to whom the dinner had been torture, and who was beginning to see the position they stood in at Beckley, begged to be allowed to take them away, or to go alone. The Countess laughed him into submission. As a consequence of her audacious spirits she grew more charming and more natural, and the humour that she possessed, but which, like her other faculties, was usually subordinate to her plans, gave spontaneous bursts throughout the day, and delighted her courtiers. Nor did the men at all dislike the difference of her manner with them, and with the ladies. I may observe that a woman who shows a marked depression in the presence of her own sex will be thought very superior by ours; that is, supposing she is clever and agreeable. Manhood distinguishes what flatters it. A lady approaches. “We must be proper,” says the Countess, and her hearty laugh dies with suddenness and is succeeded by a gravity almost superhuman. And the Countess can look a profound merriment with perfect sedateness when there appears to be an equivoque in company. Finely secret are her glances, as if under every eye-lash there lurked the shade of a meaning. What she meant was not so clear. All this was going on, and Lady Jocelyn was simply amused, and sat as at a play.

“She seems to have stepped out of a book of French memoirs,” said her ladyship. “La vie galante et dévote—voila la Comtesse.”

In contradistinction to the other ladies, she did not detest the Countess because she could not like her.

“Where’s the harm in her?” she asked. “She doesn’t damage the men, that I can see. And a person you can laugh at and with, is inexhaustible.”

“And how long is she to stay here?” Mrs. Shorne inquired. Mrs. Melville remarking: “Her visit appears to be inexhaustible.”

Mrs. Melville was a specimen of the arrant British wife,—inflexible in her own virtue, and never certain of her husband’s when he was out of her sight: a noble being (Heaven preserve the breed!), but somewhat wanting in confidence and Christianity.

“I suppose she’ll stay till the Election business is over,” said Lady Jocelyn.

The Countess had just driven with Melville to Fallowfield in Caroline’s black lace shawl.

“Upwards of four weeks longer!” Mrs. Melville interjected.

Lady Jocelyn chuckled.

Miss Carrington was present. She had been formerly sharp in her condemnation of the Countess—her affectedness, her euphuism, and her vulgarity. Now she did not say a word, though she might have done it with impunity.

“I suppose, Emily, you see what Rose is about?” said Mrs. Melville. “I should not have thought it advisable to have that young man here, myself. I think I let you know that.”

“One young man’s as good as another,” responded her ladyship. “I’ve my doubts of the one that’s much better. I fancy Rose is as good a judge by this time as you or I.”

Mrs. Melville made an effort or two to open Lady Jocelyn’s eyes, and then relapsed into the confident serenity inspired by evil prognostications.

“But there really does seem some infatuation about these people!” exclaimed Mrs. Shorne, turning to Miss Current. “Can you understand it? The Duke, my dear! Things seem to be going on in the house, that really!—and so openly.”

“That’s one virtue,” said Miss Current, with her imperturbable metallic voice, and face like a cold clear northern sky. “Things done in secret throw on the outsiders the onus of raising a scandal.”

“You don’t believe, then?” suggested Mrs. Shorne.

Miss Current replied: “I always wait for a thing to happen first.”

“But haven’t you seen, my dear?”

“I never see anything, my dear.”

“Then you must be blind, my dear.”

“On the contrary, that’s how I keep my sight, my dear.”

“I don’t understand you,” said Mrs. Shorne.

“It’s a part of the science of optics, and requires study,” said Miss Current.

Neither with the worldly nor the unworldly woman could the ladies do anything. But they were soon to have their triumph.

A delicious morning had followed the lovely night. The stream flowed under Evan’s eyes, like something in a lower sphere, now. His passion took him up, as if a genie had lifted him into air, and showed him the world on a palm of a hand; and yet, as he dressed by the window, little chinks in the garden wall, and nectarines under their shiny leaves, and the white walks of the garden, were stamped on his hot brain accurately and lastingly. Ruth upon the lips of Rose: that voice of living constancy made music to him everywhere. “Thy God shall be my God.” He had heard it all through the night. He had not yet broken the tender charm sufficiently to think that he must tell her the sacrifice she would have to make. When partly he did, the first excuse he clutched at was, that he had only kissed her on the forehead. A brother might do as much; and he would be her brother, her guardian. Behold, Rose met him descending the stairs, and, taking his hand, sang, unabashed by the tell-tale colour coming over her face, a stave of a little Portuguese air that they had both been fond of in Portugal; and he, listening to it, and looking in her eyes, saw that his feelings in the old time had been hers, and the thought made his love irrevocable.

Rose, now that she had given her heart, had no idea of concealment. She would have denied nothing to her aunts: she was ready to confide it to her mother. Was she not proud of the man she loved? When Evan’s hand touched hers, she retained it, and smiled up at him frankly, as it were to make him glad in her gladness. If before others his eyes brought the blood to her cheeks, she would perhaps drop her eyelids an instant, and then glance quickly level again to reassure him. And who would have thought that this boisterous, boyish creature had such depths of eye! Cold, did they call her? Let others think her cold. The tender knowledge of her—the throbbing secret they held in common sung at his heart like a passionate nightingale. Rose, too, sat as if through the clatter of silly talk she at times heard a faint far music. She made no confidante, but she attempted no mystery. Evan should have risen to the height of the noble girl. Alas! the dearer and sweeter her bearing became, the more conscious he was of the dead weight he was dragging.

He was on the lawn with Rose, when a footman came and handed him a card. He read it, and asked Rose if Mr. Raikes should be shown out to them. Rose nodded.

“The gentleman wishes a private interview, sir,” said the footman.

Evan hurried to welcome Jack, not so much from kindness as to mask any preliminary eccentricities he might be guilty of, and to give him a few necessary instructions.

The voice of Mr. Raikes was resonant in the hall.

I thank you, no: her ladyship’s fair favour
Another day I’ll seek to win, but now
Let all men know I am on friendship’s mission.
Laugh’st thou, vile slave?”

It is possible that the presence of three or four of the male domestics somehow suggested the gallery to theatrical Jack. Undignified as it was, he was acting to the footmen of Beckley Court; his cheek was inflated; he stood as one whose calves are shining to the footlights. Evan, sick with disgust, approached him while he was declaiming,

“I tell thee, wretch, that friendship
More is than homage to sweet womankind.
It is the social cement. Damon, erst,
And, as the lawyers say, ‘with him another,’
These twain have friendship made; these twain
Ye see revived. What ho! a Harrington!”

As it was not easy to feel affright at the tragic emphasis and strutting frowns of this very small gentleman, the audience testified their sense of his merits by meeting his condescension half way, and sniggering. One especially tall footman gazed placidly at the performer, and said “Bravo.” He had seen London. Another, whose powder vainly attempted to conceal the shock head of the newly caught rustic, ventured to remark to his loftier comrade, “What’s a affarandship? I ent been to the sea.” Taken as a comment on the delivery of Mr. Raikes, it was not so bad.

Jack waved his hand to Evan, and was for continuing; but the latter pulled him violently into the dining-room, and crying, “Are you mad? are you drunk?” spun him clean round with an angry twist. Mr. Raikes spun himself back composedly.

“Now,” said Evan, “you will undertake instantly to behave decently and quietly, or I shall kick you out of the house.”

“Sir,” returned Jack, “your language is unseemly, sir,—most unseemly. But you are acting under a delusion, my friend, and I forgive you. For in this breast fair Magnanimity is charioteer!—or, doth sit enthroned! metre’s good in either case. Oh, I understand your meaning, my poor boy. In other days no one so aloof, so concentrated, in the presence of the serving-brood as myself. But I happen to be above all petty considerations of that sort now. The great who stoop are like angelic bodies, which, mixed with earth, base earth so elevate, and suffer no defilement. Va! an independent gentleman is one of the great to the plush gentry, I take it?”

Laughing at his friend’s mystification, Mr. Raikes fell into a chair, muttering of extreme haste and not a minute to lose. He was portentously attired. A magnificent frill of fine cambric swayed loosely over a gold-spotted satin waistcoat, and his coat and pantaloons were of the newest cut of the period. He remained for some time perfectly still, gazing up at Evan while the latter questioned him, and letting loose an occasional “ha! ha!” and “ho!” of amusement and derision. Then he got up, and settled his hat by the looking-glass. Jauntily shaking it, he came and stood before Evan, saying:

“A truce to this. You’re an excellent fellow, and I stand by you. Enough that in the solar beams of Luck I shine conspicuous. It’s no use asking me for prose. Hanged if I can keep upon my toes. I feel light,—I soar. And you, who talk of self-restraint. Why, I only show this before you. To the world, I am a statue,—a petrifaction. Gravely I smile as Fortune’s natural heir. And I’m not a lackered monkey, Mr. Harrington. Probably you require facts? Look yonder. That conveyance is called a curricle. You will observe two young gentlemen seated there. They, sir,—do not dispute my possession of it, or of my senses. Likewise, you will observe a gaudy person of the other sex, happily of an age to defy imputations. To her a tale appends. She was crying your name over Fallowfield this morning: ‘Mr. Evan Harrington has run away from his mother.’ In rushed Friendship, or, in other words, John Raikes. ‘Woman! what means this horrid clamour?’ Of course she objects to being called woman. ‘Man, then, clad in the garments of deception!’ says I. That doesn’t please her. ‘Oh, that my Wishaw were by to defend me!’ ‘What,’ says I, ‘have you married a sneeze?’ Lord, you never heard a thing take so! How the ostler laughed! I hear the echoes still. However, it ended in my driving her to Beckley; and as we journeyed, doubtful of the way, we met a carriage, and full short I stopped, and did inquire—but you like prose, old boy. I asked the road to Beckley Court—the bourne of heiresses that want the plucking. The gentleman—a regular nob—was pointing it, when up starts Woman, and addresses the lady sitting by him, as ‘Sweet creature, how I rejoice in meeting you! I come straight from your mother.’ Thereat the lady did, methought, turn pale. By the way, she was rather like you, Harrington. Such a spanker! If I could captivate her! What do you think she replied. And such a voice—and eyes! Oh, sugar and treacle, and candied lemon-peel! But these are base comparisons, that give you no idea of her. She’s a duchess! ‘Pray,’ says she to me, ‘drive as fast as you can to the Asylum;’ and her coachman whipped his horses, and Woman falls hang up against me, and cries, ‘Oh, you horrid impidence! oh, I never!’ and a mass of vulgarity and madness, kicking her feet almost in fits. Fects!—aha! ‘Let’s sneeze,’ said I aside, thinking to console her by filling her imagination with the notion of her husband. ‘A Wishaw,’ we all went. She got worse. She abused your family, Harrington,—said you had all been robbing Mr. Wishaw. ‘A fondness for snuff, ma'am,’ says I, ‘is no shame and no disgrace.’ I stood up for you manfully. There she sits. She won’t come in, and I must drive her back. Now say, am I your friend or not—ha!

When he had finished his tale Mr. Raikes retired to the looking-glass, to which his final question was addressed, and something satisfactory resulting from it in his mind, he asked:

“Shall I be introduced to the family now?”

“No,” said Evan. “You must decidedly wait till you are cooler.”

“Very well, very well,” returned Jack indifferently. “I have press of business.”

“Sit and explain what you have been doing,” continued Evan, whose head was really whirling at Jack’s strange fortune.

Mr. Raikes objected that he had not a moment, and must be off: his country called him.

“I’ll make my bow to-morrow, and do the devoirs, Harrington. Any Dukes or Duchesses in the House?”

“Yes; so be on your guard.”

Mr. Raikes tapped his hat cheerfully.

“By the way, I presented that letter,” he remarked, and thrusting a bundle of notes into Evan’s hand: “There you are. It’s rather a pleasant country here,” he pursued negligently. “Good hunting, I doubt not. A southerly wind and a cloudy sky—yoicks, hark away, and tally-ho. I must have a suit ready. Good-bye, Harrington. Expect me to-morrow. Explanations deferred. Ta-ta.”

While Evan was untying the bundle, and gradually apprehending the fact that it was money he felt, Mr. Raikes turned on his heel, and bade the menials in the hall show him forth. He found Miss Bonner at the gate talking to Mrs. Wishaw, who seeing a young lady pass had suddenly been taken ill, and had consented to the administration of wine and water. His friends subsequently told him that Mrs. Wishaw had continued to abuse the Harrington family to Miss Bonner, and had entered into a great deal of the history of the family.

The hours flew past. Evan held in his pocket the price of his bondage to Tailordom, whilst he was every instant sealing his assumption of the character of Gentleman. He was of dull brain, and it had not yet dawned on him that he might possibly be tailor and gentleman in one: but events were moving to task him. As an instance of the power of Love, it may be related that not even the fact of his holding the money of his eccentric benefactor, nor the astounding revolution in the affairs of his friend Jack, dwelt on his mind half so much as the lighted edge of a mound of cloud against a grand sunset seen by him the day when his heart, bursting with deep desire, had been half prophetic of the happy night; or half so much as the little Portuguese Medinha sung by Rose: or those sweet solemn words of Ruth: words that conjured up his darling standing among piled sheaves in autumn fields, under stars sorrowful, but firm, brilliant, everlasting.