Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/Evan Harrington - Part 9
EVAN HARRINGTON; or, HE WOULD BE A GENTLEMAN.
BY GEORGE MEREDITH.
CHAPTER XIII.THE MATCH OF FALLOWFIELD AGAINST BECKLEY.
The dramatic proportions to which ale will exalt the sentiments within us, and our delivery of them, are apt to dwindle and shrink even below the natural elevation when we look back on them from the hither shore of the river of sleep—in other words, wake in the morning: and it was with no very self-satisfied emotions that Evan, dressing by the full light of day, reviewed his share in the events of the preceding night. Why, since he had accepted his fate, should he pretend to judge the conduct of people his superiors in rank? And where was the necessity for him to thrust the fact of his being that abhorred social pariah down the throats of an assembly of worthy good fellows? The answer was, that he had not accepted his fate: that he considered himself as good a gentleman as any man living, and was in absolute hostility with the prejudices of society. That was the state of the case; but the evaporation of ale in his brain caused him to view his actions from the humble extreme of that delightful liquor, of which the spirit had flown and the corpse remained.
Having revived his system with soda-water, and finding no sign of his antagonist below, Mr. Raikes, to disperse the sceptical dimples on his friend’s face, alluded during breakfast to a determination he had formed to go forth and show on the cricket-field.
“For, you know,” Jack observed, “they can’t have any objection to fight me."
Evan, slightly colouring, answered: “Why, you said up-stairs, you thought fighting duels disgraceful folly.”
“So it is, so it is; everybody knows that,” returned Jack; “but what can a gentleman do?”
“That’s decisive,” said Evan.
“What can a gentleman do?” Jack reiterated.
“Be a disgraceful fool, I suppose,” said Evan: and Jack went on with his breakfast, as if to be such occasionally was the distinguished fate of a gentleman, of which others, not so happy in their birth, might well be envious.
Mr. Raikes could not help betraying that he bore in mind the main incidents of the festival over-night; for when he had inquired who it might be that had reduced his friend to wear mourning, and heard that it was his father (spoken by Evan with a quiet sigh), Mr. Raikes tapped an egg, and his flexible brows exhibited a whole Bar of contending arguments within. More than for the love of pleasure, Mr. Raikes had spent his money to be taken for a gentleman. He naturally thought highly of the position, having bought it. But Mr. Raikes appreciated a capital fellow, and felt warmly to Evan, who, moreover, was feeding him. To put Evan in countenance, he said, with genial facetiousness, that was meant to mark his generous humility:
“And I, Harrington, I mourn my hat. He is old—I mourn him yet living. The presence of crape on him signifies—he ne’er shall have a gloss again! Nay, more—for thus doth veritable sorrow serve us—it conceals one or two striking defects, my friend! I say, my family would be rather astonished to see me in this travesty—in this most strange attire, eh?”
The latter sentence was uttered indirectly for the benefit of the landlady, who now stood smiling in the room, wishing them good morning, and hoping they had slept well. She handed to Evan his purse, telling him she had taken it last night, thinking it safer for the time being in her pocket; and that the chairman of the feast paid for all in the Green Dragon up to twelve that day, he having been born between the hours, and liking to make certain: and that every year he did the same; and was a seemingly rough old gentleman, but as soft-hearted as a chicken. His name must positively not be inquired, she said; to be thankful to him was to depart, asking no questions.
“And with a dart in the bosom from those eyes—those eyes!” cried Jack, shaking his head at the landlady’s resistless charms.
“I hope you was not one of the gentlemen who came and disturbed us last night, sir?” she turned on him sharply.
Jack dallied with the imputation, but denied his guilt.
“No; it wasn’t your voice,” continued the landlady. “A parcel of young puppies, calling themselves gentlemen! I know him. It’s that young Mr. Laxley: and he the nephew of a Bishop, and one of the Honourables! And then the poor gals get the blame. I call it a shame, I do. There’s that poor young creature up-stairs—somebody’s victim she is: and nobody’s to suffer but herself, the little fool!”
“Yes,” said Jack. “Ah! we regret these things in after life!” and he looked as if he had many gentlemanly burdens of the kind on his conscience.
“It’s a wonder, to my mind,” remarked the landlady, when she had placidly surveyed Mr. Raikes, “how young gals can let some of you men-folk mislead ’em.”
“It is a wonder,” said Jack; “but pray don’t be pathetic, ma’am—I can’t stand it.”
The landlady turned from him huffily, and addressed Evan: “The old gentleman is gone, sir. He slept on a chair, breakfasted, and was off before eight. He left word, as the child was born on his birthnight, he’d provide for it, and pay the mother’s bill, unless you claimed the right. I’m afraid he suspected—what I never, never—no! but by what I’ve seen of you—never will believe. For you, I’d say, must be a gentleman, whatever your company. She asks one favour of you, sir:—for you to go and let her speak to you once before you go away for good. She’s asleep now, and mustn’t be disturbed. Will you do it, by and by? Please to comfort the poor creature, sir.”
Evan consented. I am afraid also it was the landlady’s flattering speech made him, without reckoning his means, add that the young mother and her child must be considered under his care, and their expenses charged to him. The landlady was obliged to think him a wealthy as well as a noble youth, and admiringly curtsied.
Mr. John Raikes and Mr. Evan Harrington then strolled into the air, and through a long court-yard, with brewhouse and dairy on each side, and a pleasant smell of baking bread, and dogs winking in the sun, cats at the corners of doors, satisfied with life, and turkeys parading, and fowls, strutting cocks, that overset the dignity of Mr. Raikes by awakening his imitative propensities. Certain white-capped women, who were washing in a tub, laughed, and one observed: “He’s for all the world like the little bantam cock stickin’ ’self up in a crow against the Spaniar’.” And this, and the landlady’s marked deference to Evan, induced Mr. Raikes contemptuously to glance at our national blindness to the true diamond, and worship of the mere plumes in which a person is dressed.
“Strip a man of them—they don’t know you,” said Jack, despondently.
“You ought to carry about your baby-linen, stamped ‘gentleman born,’” said Evan.
Jack returned: “It’s all very well for you to joke, but—” his tardy delicacy stopped him.
They passed a pretty flower-garden, and entering a smooth-shorn meadow, beheld the downs beautifully clear under sunlight and slowly-sailing images of cloud. At the foot of the downs, on a plain of grass, stood a white booth topped by a flag, which signalled that on that spot Fallowfield and Beckley were contending.
“A singular old gentleman! A very singular old gentleman, that!” Jack observed, following an idea that had been occupying him. “We did wrong to miss him. We ought to have waylaid him in the morning. Never miss a chance, Harrington.”
“What chance?” Evan inquired.
“Those old gentlemen are very odd,” Jack pursued: “very strange. He wouldn’t have judged me by my attire. Admetus’ flocks I guard, yet am a god! Dress is nothing to those old cocks. He’s an eccentric. I know it; I can see it. He’s a corrective of Cudford, who is abhorrent to my soul. To give you an instance, now, of what those old boys will do—I remember my father taking me, when I was quite a youngster, to a tavern he frequented, and we met one night just such an old fellow as this; and the waiter told us afterwards that he noticed me particularly. He thought me a very remarkable boy—predicted great things. For some reason or other my father never took me there again. I remember our having a Welsh rarebit there for supper, and when the waiter last night mentioned a rarebit, ’gad, he started up before me. I gave chase into my early youth. However, my father never took me to meet the old fellow again. I believe it lost me a fortune.”
Evan’s thoughts were leaping to the cricket-field, or he would have condoled with Mr. Raikes for a loss that evidently afflicted him still, and of which he was doubtless frequently reminded on occasions when, in a bad hat, he gazed on a glittering company from afar.
“Shall we go over and look at them?” Evan asked, after watching the distant scene wistfully.
“Hem! I don’t know,” Jack replied. “The fact is, my hat is a burden in the staring crowd. A hat like this should counsel solitude. Oh!” he fired up, “if you think I’m afraid, come along. Upon my honour!”
Evan, who had been smiling at him, laughed, and led the way.
Now it must be told that the lady’s-maid of Mrs. Andrew Cogglesby, borrowed temporarily by the Countess de Saldar for service at Beckley Court, had slept in charge of the Countess’s boxes at the Green Dragon: the Countess having told her, with the candour of high-born dames to their attendants, that it would save expense; and that, besides, Admiral Combleman, whom she was going to see, or Sir Perkins Ripley (her father’s old friend), whom she should visit if Admiral Combleman was not at his mansion—both were likely to have full houses, and she could not take them by storm. An arrangement which left her upwards of twelve hours’ liberty, seemed highly proper to Maria Conning, this lady’s-maid, a very demure young person. She was at her bed-room window, as Evan passed up the court-yard of the inn, and recognised him immediately. “Can it be him they mean that’s the low tradesman?” was Maria’s mysterious exclamation. She examined the pair, and added: “Oh, no. It must be the tall one they’ve mistook for the small one. But Mr. Harrington ought not to demean himself by keeping company with such, and my lady should know of it.”
My lady, alighting from the Lymport coach, did know of it, within a few minutes after Evan had quitted the Green Dragon, and turned pale, as high-born dames naturally do when they hear of a relative’s disregard of the company he keeps.
“A tailor, my lady!” said scornful Maria; and the Countess jumped and complained of a pin. “How did you hear of this, Conning?” she presently asked with composure.
“Oh, my lady, he was tipsy last night, and kept swearing out loud he was a gentleman.”
“Tipsy!” the Countess murmured in terror. She had heard of inaccessible truths brought to light by the magic wand of alcohol. Was Evan intoxicated, and his dreadful secret unlocked last night?
“And who may have told you of this, Conning?” she asked.
Maria plunged into one of the boxes, and was understood to say that nobody in particular had told her, but that among other flying matters it had come to her ears.
“My brother is Charity itself,” sighed the Countess. “He welcomes high or low.”
“Yes, but, my lady, a tailor!” Maria repeated, and the Countess, agreeing with her scorn as she did, could have killed her. At least she would have liked to have run a bodkin into her, and made her scream. In her position she could not always be Charity itself: nor is this the required character for a high-born dame: so she rarely affected it.
“Order a fly; discover the direction Mr. Harrington has taken; spare me further remarks,” she said; and Maria humbly flitted from her presence.
When she was gone, the Countess covered her with her hands. “Even this creature would despise us!” she exclaimed.
The young lady encountered by Mr. Raikes on the road to Fallowfield, was wrong in saying that Beckley would be seen out before the shades of evening caught up the ball. Not one, but two men of Beckley—the last two—carried out their bats, cheered handsomely by both parties. The wickets pitched in the morning, they carried them in again, and plaudits renewed proved that their fame had not slumbered. To stand before a field, thoroughly aware that every successful stroke you make is adding to the hoards of applause in store for you—is a joy to your friends, an exasperation to your foes;—I call this an exciting situation, and one as proud as a man may desire. Then again, the two last men of an eleven are twins: they hold one life between them; so that he who dies extinguishes the other. Your faculties are stirred to their depths. You become engaged in the noblest of rivalries: in defending your own, you fight for your comrade’s existence. You are assured that the dread of shame, if not emulation, is making him equally wary and alert.
Behold, then, the two bold men of Beckley fighting to preserve one life. Under the shadow of the downs they stand, beneath a glorious day, and before a gallant company. For there are ladies in carriages here, there are cavaliers; good county names may be pointed out. The sons of first-rate families are in the two elevens, mingled with yeomen and whoever can best do the business. Fallowfield and Beckley, without regard to rank, have drawn upon their muscle and science. One of the bold men of Beckley at the wickets is Nick Frim, son of the gamekeeper at Beckley Court; the other is young Tom Copping, son of Squire Copping, of Dox Hall, in the parish of Beckley. Last year, you must know, Fallowfield beat. That is why Nick Frim, a renowned out-hitter, good to finish a score brilliantly with a pair of threes, has taken to blocking, and Mr. Tom cuts with caution, though he loves to steal his runs, and is usually dismissed by his remarkable cunning.
The field was ringing at a stroke of Nick Frim’s, who had lashed out in his old familiar style at last, and the heavens heard of it, when Evan came into the circle of spectators. Nick and Tom were stretching from post to post, might and main. A splendid four was scored. The field took breath with the heroes; and presume not to doubt that heroes they are. It is good to win glory for your country; it is also good to win glory for your village. A Member of Parliament, Sir George Lowton, notes this emphatically, from the statesman’s eminence, to a group of gentlemen on horseback round a carriage wherein a couple of fair ladies reclined.
“They didn’t shout more at the news of the Battle of Waterloo. Now this is our peculiarity, this absence of extreme centralisation. It must be encouraged. Local jealousies, local rivalries, local triumphs—these are the strength of the kingdom.”
“If you mean to say that cricket ’s a——” the old squire speaking (Squire Uploft of Fallowfield) remembered the saving presences, and coughed—“good thing, I’m one with ye, Sir George. Encouraged, egad! They don’t want much of that here. Give some of your lean London straws a strip o’ clean grass and a bit o’ liberty, and you’ll do ’em a service.”
“What a beautiful hit!” exclaimed one of the ladies, languidly watching the ascent of the ball.
“Beautiful, d’ye call it?” muttered the squire.
The ball, indeed, was dropping straight into the hands of the long-hit-off. Instantly a thunder rolled. But it was Beckley that took the joyful treble—Fallowfield the deeply-cursing bass. The long-hit-off, he who never was known to miss a catch—butter-fingered beast!—he has let the ball slip through his fingers.
Are there gods in the air? Fred Linnington, the unfortunate of Fallowfield, with a whole year of unhappy recollection haunting him in prospect, ere he can retrieve his character—Fred, if he does not accuse the powers of the sky, protests that he cannot understand it, which means the same. Fallowfield’s defeat—should such be the result of the contest—he knows now will be laid at his door. Five men who have bowled at the indomitable Beckleyans think the same. Albeit they are Britons, it abashes them. They are not the men they were. Their bowling is as the bowling of babies; and see! Nick, who gave the catch, and pretends he did it out of commiseration for Fallowfield, the ball has flown from his bat sheer over the booth. If they don’t add six to the score, it will be the fault of their legs. But no: they rest content with a fiver. Yet more they mean to do, and cherish their wind. Success does not turn the heads of these Britons, as it would of your frivolous foreigners.
And now small boys (who represent the Press here) spread out from the marking-booth, announcing foremost, and in larger type, as it were, quite in Press style, their opinion—which is, that Fallowfield will get a jolly good hiding; and vociferating that Beckley is seventy-nine ahead, and that Nick Frim, the favourite of the field, has scored fifty-one to his own cheek. The boys are boys of both villages: but they are British boys—they adore prowess. The Fallowfield boys wish that Nick Frim would come and live on their side; the boys of Beckley rejoice in possessing him. Nick is the wicket-keeper of the Beckley eleven: long-limbed, wiry, keen of eye. His fault as a batsman is, that he will be a slashing hitter. He is too sensible of the joys of a grand spanking hit. A short life and a merry one, has hitherto been his motto.
But there were reasons for Nick’s rare display of skill. That woman may have the credit due to her (and, as there never was a contest of which she did not sit at the springs, so is she the source of all superhuman efforts exhibited by men), be it told that Polly Wheedle is on the field; Polly, one of the upper housemaids of Beckley Court; Polly, eagerly courted by Fred Linnington, humbly desired by Nick Frim—a pert and blooming maiden—who, while her suitors combat hotly for an undivided smile, improves her holiday by instilling similar unselfish aspirations into the breasts of others.
Between his enjoyment of society and the melancholy it engendered in his mind by reflecting on him the age and decrepitude of his hat, Mr. John Raikes was doubtful of his happiness for some time. But, as his taste for happiness was sharp, he, with a great instinct amounting almost to genius in its pursuit, resolved to extinguish his suspicion by acting the perfectly happy man. To do this, it was necessary that he should have listeners: Evan was not enough, and was besides unsympathetic. He had not responded to Jack’s cordial assurances of his friendship “in spite of anything,” uttered before they came into the field.
Mr. Raikes tried two or three groups. There is danger, when you are forcing a merry countenance before the mirror presented to you by your kind, that your features, unless severely practised, will enlarge beyond the artistic limits and degenerate to a grimace. Evan (hardly a fair judge, perhaps) considered the loud remarks of Mr. Raikes on popular pastimes, and the expression of his approval of popular sports, his determination to uphold them, his extreme desire to see the day when all the lower orders would have relaxation once a week, and his unaffected willingness to stoop to join their sports, exaggerated, and, in contrast with his attire, incongruous. He allowed Mr. Raikes but a few minutes in one spot. He was probably too much absorbed in himself to see and admire the sublime endeavour of the imagination of Mr. Raikes to soar beyond his hat.
Heat and lustre were now poured from the sky, on whose soft blue a fleet of clouds sailed heavily. Nick Frim was very wonderful, no doubt. He deserved that the gods should recline on those gold-edged cushions above, and lean over to observe him. Nevertheless the ladies were beginning to ask when Nick Frim would be out. The small boys alone preserved their enthusiasm for Nick. As usual, the men took a middle position. Their’s was the pleasure of critics, which, being founded on the judgment, lasts long, and is without disappointment at the close. It was sufficient that the ladies should lend the inspiration of their bonnets to this fine match. Their presence on the field is another beautiful instance of the generous yielding of the sex simply to grace our amusement, and their acute perception of the part they have to play.
Mr. Raikes was rather shy of them at first. But his acting rarely failed to deceive himself; he began to feel himself the perfectly happy man he impersonated, and where there were ladies Jack went, and talked of days when he had creditably handled a bat, and of a renown in the annals of Cricket cut short by mysterious calamity. The foolish fellow did not know that they care not a straw for cricketing fame. Jack’s gaiety presently forsook him as quickly as it had come. Instead of remonstrating at Evan’s restlessness, it was he who now dragged Evan from spot to spot. He spoke low and nervously. By-and-by he caught hold of Evan’s arm, and breathed in an awful voice, the words:
“Oh, are we?” said Evan carelessly. “See, there are your friends of last night.”
Laxley and Harry Jocelyn were seen addressing Miss Wheedle, who apparently had plenty of answers for them, and answers of a kind that encouraged her sheepish natural courtiers (whom the pair of youthful gentlemen entirely overlooked) to snigger and seem at their ease.
“Will you go over and show?” said Evan.
Mr. Raikes glanced from a corner of his eye, and returned, with tragic emphasis and brevity:
“We’re watched. I shall bolt.”
“Very well,” said Evan. “Go to the inn. I’ll come to you in an hour or so, and then we’ll walk on to London, if you like.”
“Bailiffs do take fellows in the country,” murmured Jack. “They’ve an extraordinary scent. I fancied them among my audience when I appeared on the boards. That’s what upset me, I think. Is it much past twelve o’clock?”
Evan drew forth his watch.
“Just on the stroke.”
“Then I shall just be in time to stick up something to the old gentleman’s birthday. Perhaps I may meet him! I rather think he noticed me favourably. Who knows? A sprightly half-hour’s conversation might induce him to do odd things. He shall certainly have my address.”
Mr. Raikes, lingering, caught sight of an object, cried “Here he comes: I’m off,” edged through the crowd, over whose heads he tried—standing on tip-toe—to gain a glimpse of his imaginary persecutor, and dodged away.
Evan strolled on. A long success is better when seen at a distance of time, and Nick Frim was beginning to suffer from the monotony of his luck. Fallowfield could do nothing with him. He no longer blocked. He lashed out at every ball, and far flew every ball that was bowled. The critics saw in this return to his old practices, promise of Nick’s approaching extinction. The ladies were growing hot and weary. The little boys gasped on the grass, but like cunning circulators of excitement, spread a report to keep it up, that Nick, on going to his wickets the previous day, had sworn an oath that he would not lay down his bat till he had scored a hundred. So they had still matter to agitate their youthful breasts, and Nick’s gradual building up of tens, and prophecies and speculations as to his chances of completing the hundred, were still vehemently confided to the field, amid a general mopping of faces.
Evan did become aware that a man was following him. The man had not the look of a dreaded official. His countenance was sun-burnt and open, and he was dressed in a countryman’s holiday suit. When Evan met his eyes they showed perplexity. Evan felt he was being examined from head to heel, but by one unaccustomed to his part, and without the courage to decide what he ought consequently to do while a doubt remained, though his inspection was verging towards a certainty in his mind.
At last, somewhat annoyed that the man should continue to dog him wherever he moved, he turned on him and asked him what he wanted?
“Be you a Muster Evv’n Harrington, Esquire?” the man drawled out in the rustic music of inquiry.
“That is my name,” said Evan.
“Ay,” returned the man, “it’s somebody lookin’ like a lord, and has a small friend wi’ shockin’ old hat, and I see ye come out o’ the Green Drag’n this mornin’—I don’t reck’n there’s ere a mistaak, but I likes to make cock sure. Be you been to Poortigal, sir?”
“Yes,” answered Evan, “I have been to Portugal.”
“What’s the name o’ the capital o’ Poortigal, sir?” The man looked immensely shrewd, and nodding his consent at the laughing reply, added:
“And there you was born, sir? You’ll excuse my boldness, but I only does what’s necessary.”
Evan said he was not born there.
“No, not born there. That’s good. Now, sir, did you happen to be born anywheres within smell o’ salt water?”
“Yes,” answered Evan, “I was born by the sea.”
“Not far beyond fifty mile from Fall’field here, sir?”
“All right. Now I’m cock sure,” said the man. “Now, if you’ll have the kindness just to oblige me by——” he sped the words and the instrument jointly at Evan, “takin’ that there letter, I’ll say good-bye, sir, and my work’s done for the day.”
Saying which he left Evan with the letter in his hands.
Evan turned it over curiously. It was addressed to “Evan Harrington, Esquire, T—— of Lymport.”
A voice paralysed his fingers: the clear ringing voice of a young horsewoman, accompanied by a little maid on a pony, who galloped up to the carriage upon which Squire Uploft, Sir George Lowton, Hamilton Jocelyn, and other cavaliers, were in attendance.
“Here I am at last, and Beckley’s in still! How d’ ye do, Lady Roseley. How d’ ye do, Sir George. How d’ ye do, everybody. Your servant, squire! We shall beat you. Harry says we shall soon be a hundred a-head of you. Fancy those boys! they would sleep at Fallowfield last night. How I wish you had made a bet with me, squire.”
“Well, my lass, it’s not too late,” said the squire, detaining her hand.
“Oh, but it wouldn’t be fair now. And I’m not going to be kissed on the field, if you please, squire. Here, Dorry will do instead. Dorry! come and be kissed by the Squire.”
It was Rose, living and glowing; Rose, who was the brilliant young Amazon, smoothing the neck of a mettlesome gray cob. Evan’s heart bounded up to her, but his limbs were motionless.
The squire caught her smaller companion in his arms, and sounded a kiss upon both her cheeks; then settled her in the saddle, and she went to answer some questions of the ladies. She had the same lively eyes as Rose; quick saucy lips, red, and open for prattle. Rolls of auburn hair fell down her back, for being a child she was allowed privileges. To talk as her thoughts came, as well as to wear her hair as it grew, was a special privilege of this young person, on horseback or elsewhere.
“Now, I know what you want to ask me, Aunt Shorne. Isn’t it about my papa? He’s not come, and he won’t be able to come for a week.—Glad to be with Cousin Rosey? I should think I am! She’s the nicest girl I ever could suppose. She isn’t a bit spoiled by Portugal; only browned; and she doesn’t care for that; no more do I. I rather like the sun when it doesn’t freckle you. I can’t bear freckles, and I don’t believe in milk for them. People who have them are such a figure. Drummond Forth has them, but he’s a man, and it doesn’t matter for a man to have freckles.—How’s my uncle Mel? Oh, he’s quite well. I mean, he has the gout in one of his fingers, and it’s swollen so, it’s just like a great fat fir-cone! He can’t write a bit, and rests his hand on a table. He wants to have me made to write with my left hand as well as my right. As if I was ever going to have the gout in one of my fingers!”
Sir George Lowton observed to Hamilton Jocelyn, that Melville must take to his tongue now.
“I fancy he will,” said Hamilton. “My father won’t give up his nominee; so I fancy he’ll try Fallowfield. Of course, we go in for the agricultural interest; but there’s a cantankerous old ruffian down here—a brewer, or something—he’s got half the votes at his bidding. We shall see.”
“Dorothy, my dear child, are you not tired?” said Lady Roseley. “You are very hot.”
“Yes, that’s because Rose would tear along the road to get here in time, after we had left those tiresome Copping people, where she had to make a call. ‘What a slow little beast your pony is, Dorry!’—she said that at least twenty times.”
“Oh, you naughty puss!” cried Rose. “Wasn’t it, ‘Rosey, Rosey, I’m sure we shall be too late, and shan’t see a thing: do come along as hard as you can?’”
“I’m sure it was not,” Miss Dorothy retorted, with the large eyes of innocence. “You said you wanted to see Nick Frim keeping the wicket, and Ferdinand Laxley bowl. And, oh! you know something you said about Drummond Forth.”
“Now, shall I tell upon you?” said Rose.
“No, don’t!” hastily replied the little woman, blushing. And the cavaliers laughed out, and the ladies smiled, and Dorothy added: “It isn’t much, after all.”
“Then, come; let’s have it, or I shall be jealous,” said the squire.
“Shall I tell?” Rose asked slily.
“It’s unfair to betray one of your sex, Rose,” remarked the sweetly-smiling lady.
“Yes, Lady Roseley—mayn’t a woman have secrets?” Dorothy put it with great natural earnestness, and they all laughed aloud. “But I know a secret of Rosey’s,” continued Miss Dorothy, “and if she tells upon me, I shall tell upon her.”
“They’re out!” cried Rose, pointing her whip at the wickets. “Good night to Beckley! Tom Copping’s run out.”
Questions as to how it was done passed from mouth to mouth. Questions as to whether it was fair sprang from Tom’s friends, and that a doubt existed was certain: the whole field was seen converging towards the two umpires: Farmer Broadmead for Fallowfield, Master Nat Hodges for Beckley.
“It really is a mercy there’s some change in the game,” said Mrs. Shorne, waving her parasol. “It’s a charming game, but it wants variety—a little. When do you return, Rose?”
“Not for some time,” said Rose, primly. “I like variety very well, but I don’t seek it by running away the moment I’ve come.”
“No, but, my dear,” Mrs. Shorne negligently fanned her face, “you will have to come with us, I fear, when we go. Your uncle accompanies us. I really think the squire will, too; and Mr. Forth is no chaperon. Even you understand that.”
“Oh, I can get an old man—don’t be afraid,” said Rose. “Or must I have an old woman, aunt?”
The lady raised her eyelids slowly on Rose, and thought: “If you were soundly whipped, my little madam, what a good thing it would be for you.” And that good thing Mrs. Shorne was willing to do for Rose. She turned aside, and received the salute of an unmistakeable curate on foot.
“Ah, Mr. Parsley, you lend your countenance to the game, then!”
The curate observed, that sound Churchmen unanimously supported the game.
“Bravo!” cried Rose. “How I like to hear you talk like that, Mr. Parsley. I didn’t think you had so much sense. You and I will have a game together—single-wicket. We must play for something—what shall it be?”
“Oh—for nothing,” the curate vacuously remarked.
“That’s for love, you rogue!” exclaimed the squire. “Come, come, none o’ that, sir!—ha! ha!”
“Oh, very well; we’ll play for love,” said Rose.
“And I’ll hold the stakes, my dear—eh?”
“You dear old naughty squire!—what do you mean?” Rose laughed. But she had all the men surrounding her, and Mrs. Shorne talked of departing.
Why did not Evan bravely march away? Why, he asked himself, had he come on this cricket-field to be made thus miserable? What right had such as he to look on Rose? Consider, however, the young man’s excuses. He could not possibly imagine that a damsel who rode one day to a match, would return on the following day to see it finished: or absolutely know that unseen damsel to be Rose Jocelyn. And if he waited, it was only to hear her sweet voice once again, and go for ever. As far as he could fathom his hopes, they were that Rose would not see him; but the hopes of youth are deep.
Just then a toddling small rustic stopped in front of Evan, and set up a howl for his “fayther.” Evan lifted him high to look over people’s heads, and discover his wandering parent. The urchin, when he had settled to his novel position, surveyed the field, and shouting, “Fayther, fayther! here I bes on top of a gentleman!” made lusty signs, which attracted not his father alone. Rose sang out, “Who can lend me a penny?” Instantly the curate and the squire had a race in their pockets. The curate was first, but Rose favoured the squire, took his money with a nod and a smile, and rode at the little lad, to whom she was saying: “Here, bonny boy, this will buy you—”
She stopped, and coloured.
The child descended rapidly to the ground.
A bow and a few murmured words replied to her.
“Isn’t this just like you, my dear Evan? Shouldn’t I know that whenever I met you, you would be doing something kind? How did you come here? You were on your way to Beckley!”
“To London,” said Evan.
“To London! and not coming over to see me—us?”
Here the little fellow’s father intervened to claim his offspring, and thank the lady and the gentleman; and, with his penny firmly grasped, he who had brought the lady and the gentleman together, was borne off a wealthy human creature.
Before much further could be said between them, the Countess de Saldar drove up.
“My dearest Rose!” and “My dear Countess!” and “Not Louisa, then?” and, “I am very glad to see you!” without attempting the endearing “Louisa”—passed.
The Countess de Saldar then admitted the presence of her brother.
“Think!” said Rose. “He talks of going on straight from here to London.”
“That pretty feminine pout will alone suffice to make him deviate, then,” said the Countess, with her sweetest open slyness. “I am now on the point of accepting your most kind invitation. Our foreign habits allow us to visit—thus early! He will come with me.”
Evan tried to look firm, and speak as he was trying to look. Rose fell to entreaty, and from entreaty rose to command; and in both was utterly fascinating to the poor youth. Luxuriously—while he hesitated and dwelt on this and that faint objection—his spirit drank the delicious changes of her face. To have her face before him but one day seemed so rich a boon to deny himself, that he was beginning to wonder at his constancy in refusal; and now that she spoke to him so pressingly, devoting her guileless eyes to him alone, he forgot a certain envious feeling that had possessed him while she was rattling among the other males—a doubt whether she ever cast a thought on Mr. Evan Harrington.
“Yes: he will come,” cried Rose; “and he shall ride home with me and my friend Drummond; and he shall have my groom’s horse, if he doesn’t mind. Bob can ride home in the cart with Polly, my maid; and he’ll like that, because Polly’s always good fun—when they’re not in love with her. Then, of course, she torments them.”
“Naturally,” said the Countess.
Mr. Evan Harrington’s final objection, based on his not having clothes, and so forth, was met by his foreseeing sister.
“I have your portmanteau packed, in with me, my dear brother; Conning has her feet on it. I divined that I should overtake you.”
Evan felt he was in the toils. After a struggle or two he yielded; and, having yielded, did it with grace. In a moment, and with a power of self-compression equal to that of the adept Countess, he threw off his moodiness as easily as if it had been his Spanish mantle, and assumed a gaiety that made the Countess’s eyes beam rapturously upon him, and was pleasing to Rose, apart from the lead in admiration the Countess had given her—not for the first time. We mortals, the best of us, may be silly sheep in our likes and dislikes: where there is no premeditated or instinctive antagonism, we can be led into warm acknowledgment of merits we have not sounded. This the Countess de Saldar knew right well.
Rose now intimated her wish to perform the ceremony of introduction between her aunt and uncle present, and the visitors to Beckley Court. The Countess smiled, and in the few paces that separated the two groups, whispered her brother: “Miss Jocelyn, my dear.”
The eye-glasses of the Beckley group were dropped with one accord. The ceremony was gone through. The softly-shadowed differences of a grand manner addressed to ladies, and to males, were exquisitely accomplished by the Countess de Saldar.
“Harrington? Harrington?” her quick ear caught on the mouth of squire Uploft, scanning Evan.
Her accent was very foreign, as she said aloud: “We are entirely strangers to your game—your creeckèt. My brother and myself are scarcely English. Nothing save diplomacy are we adepts in!”
“You must be excessively dangerous, madam,” said Sir George, hat in air.
“Even in that, I fear, we are babes and sucklings, and might take many a lesson from you. Will you instruct me in your creeckèt? What are they doing now? It seems very unintelligible—indistinct—is it not?”
Inasmuch as Farmer Broadmead and Master Nat Hodges were surrounded by a clamorous mob, shouting both sides of the case, as if the loudest and longest-winded were sure to wrest a favourable judgment from those two infallible authorities on the laws of cricket, the noble game was certainly in a state of indistinctness.
The squire came forward to explain, piteously entreated not to expect too much from a woman’s inapprehensive arts, which he plainly promised (under eyes that had melted harder men) he would not. His forbearance and bucolic gallantry were needed, for he had the Countess’s radiant full visage alone. Her senses were dancing in her right ear, which had heard the name of Lady Roseley pronounced, and a voice respond to it from the carriage.
Into what a pit had she suddenly plunged! You ask why she did not drive away as fast as the horses would carry her, and fly the veiled head of Demogorgon obscuring valley and hill and the shining firmament, and threatening to glare destruction on her? You do not know an intriguer. She relinquishes the joys of life for the joys of intrigue. This is her element. The Countess did feel that the heavens were hard on her. She resolved none the less to fight her way to her object; for where so much had conspired to favour her—the decease of the generous Sir Abraham Harrington, of Torquay, and the invitation to Beckley Court—could she believe the heavens in league against her? Did she not nightly pray to them, in all humbleness of body, for the safe issue of her cherished schemes? And in this, how unlike she was to the rest of mankind! She thought so; she relied on her devout observances; they gave her sweet confidence, and the sense of being specially shielded even when specially menaced. Moreover, tell a woman to put back, when she is once clearly launched! Timid as she may be, her light bark bounds to meet the tempest. I speak of women who do launch: they are not numerous, but, to the wise, the minorities are the representatives.
“Indeed, it is an intricate game!” said the Countess, at the conclusion of the squire’s explanation, and leaned over to Mrs. Shorne to ask her if she thoroughly understood it.
“Yes, I suppose I do,” was the reply; “it—rather than the amusement they find in it.” This lady had recovered Mr. Parsley from Rose, but had only succeeded in making the curate unhappy, without satisfying herself.
The Countess gave her the shrug of secret sympathy.
“We must not say so,” she observed aloud, most artlessly, and fixed the Squire with a bewitching smile, under which her heart beat thickly. As her eyes travelled from Mrs. Shorne to the squire, she had marked Lady Roseley looking singularly at Evan, who was mounting the horse of Bob the groom.
“Fine young fellow, that,” said the Squire to Lady Roseley, as Evan rode off with Rose.
“An extremely handsome, well-bred young man,” she answered. Her eyes met the Countess’s, and the Countess, after resting on their surface with an ephemeral pause, murmured: “I must not praise my brother,” and smiled a smile which was meant to mean:” “I think with you, and thank you, and love you for admiring him.”
Had Lady Roseley joined the smile and spoken with animation afterwards, the Countess would have shuddered and had chills of dread. As it was, she was passably content. Lady Roseley slightly dimpled her cheek, for courtesy’s sake, and then looked gravely on the ground. This was no promise; it was even an indication (as the Countess read her), of something beyond suspicion in the lady’s mind; but it was a sign of delicacy, and a sign that her feelings had been touched, from which a truce might be reckoned on, and no betrayal feared.
She heard it said that the match was for honour and glory. A match of two days’ duration under a broiling sun, all for honour and glory! Was it not enough to make her despise the games of men? For something better she played. Her game was for one hundred thousand pounds, the happiness of her brother, and the concealment of a horror. To win a game like that was worth the trouble. Whether she would have continued her efforts, had she known that the name of Evan Harrington was then blazing on a shop-front in Lymport, I cannot tell. The possessor of the name was in love, and did not reflect.
Smiling adieu to the ladies, bowing to the gentlemen, and apprehending all the homage they would pour out to her condescending beauty when she had left them, the Countess’s graceful hand gave the signal for Beckley.
She stopped the coachman ere the wheels had rolled off the muffling turf, to enjoy one glimpse of Evan and Rose riding together, with the little maid on her pony in the rear. How suitable they seemed! how happy! She had brought them together after many difficulties—might it not be? It was surely a thing to be hoped for!
Rose, galloping freshly, was saying to Evan:
“Why did you cut off your moustache?”
He, neck and neck with her, replied: “You complained of it in Portugal.”
And she: “Portugal’s old times now to me—and I always love old times. I’m sorry! And, oh, Evan! did you really do it for me?”
And really, just then, flying through the air, close to the darling of his heart, he had not the courage to spoil that delicious question, but dallying with the lie he looked in her eyes lingeringly.
This picture the Countess contemplated. Close to her carriage two young gentlemen-cricketers were strolling, while Fallowfield gained breath to decide which men to send in first to the wickets.
One of these stood suddenly on tiptoe, and, pointing to the pair on horseback, cried, with the vivacity of astonishment:
“Look there! do you see that? What the deuce is little Rosey doing with the tailor fellow?”
The Countess, though her cheeks were blanched, gazed calmly in Demogorgon’s face, took a mental impression of the speaker, and again signalled for Beckley.