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Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Evan Harrington - Part 21

EVAN HARRINGTON; or, HE WOULD BE A GENTLEMAN.

BY GEORGE MEREDITH.

Evan Harrington - 24 - Telling Her Mother.png

CHAPTER XXVII.EXHIBITS ROSE’S GENERALSHIP; EVAN’S PERFORMANCE ON THE SECOND FIDDLE; AND THE WRETCHEDNESS OF THE COUNTESS.

We left Rose and Evan on their way to Lady Jocelyn. At the library-door Rose turned to him, and with her chin archly lifted sideways, said:

“I know what you feel; you feel foolish.”

Now the sense of honour, and of the necessity of acting the part it imposes on him, may be very strong in a young man; but certainly, as a rule, the sense of ridicule is more poignant, and Evan was suffering horrid pangs. We none of us like to play second fiddle. To play second fiddle to a woman is an abomination to us all. But to have to perform upon that instrument to the darling of our hearts—would we not rather die? nay, almost rather end the duet precipitately and with violence. Evan, when he passed Drummond into the house, and quietly returned his gaze, endured the first shock of this strange feeling. There could be no doubt that he was playing second fiddle to Rose. And what was he about to do? Oh, horror! to stand like a criminal, and say, or worse, have said for him, things to tip the ears with fire! To tell the young lady’s mother that he had won her daughter’s love, and meant—what did he mean? He knew not. Alas! he was second fiddle; he could only mean what she meant. Evan loved Rose deeply and completely, but noble manhood was strong in him. You may sneer at us if you please, ladies. We have been educated in a theory, that when you lead off with the bow, the order of Nature is reversed, and it is no wonder, therefore, that, having stript us of one attribute, our fine feathers moult, and the majestic cock-like march which distinguishes us degenerates. You unsex us, if I may dare to say so. Ceasing to be men, what are we? If we are to please you rightly, always allow us to play First.

Poor Evan did feel foolish. Whether Rose saw it in his walk, or had a loving feminine intuition of it, and was aware of the golden rule I have just laid down, we need not inquire. She hit the fact, and he could only stammer, and bid her open the door.

“No,” she said, after a slight hesitation, “it will be better that I should speak to mama alone, I see. Walk out on the lawn, dear, and wait for me. And if you meet Drummond, don’t be angry with him. Drummond is very fond of me, and of course I shall teach him to be fond of you. He only thinks . . . what is not true, because he does not know you. I do thoroughly, and there, you see, I give you my hand.”

Evan drew the dear hand humbly to his lips. Rose then nodded meaningly, and let her eyes dwell on him, and went in to her mother to open the battle.

Could it be that a flame had sprung up in those grey eyes latterly? Once they were like morning before sunrise. How soft and warm and tenderly transparent they could now be! Assuredly she loved him. And he, beloved by the noblest girl ever fashioned, why should he hang his head, and shrink at the thought of human faces, like a wretch doomed to the pillory? He visioned her last glance, and lightning emotions of pride and happiness flashed through his veins. The generous, brave heart! Yes, with her hand in his, he could stand at bay—meet any fate. Evan accepted Rose because he believed in her love, and judged it by the strength of his own; her sacrifice of her position he accepted, because in his soul he knew he should have done no less. He mounted to the level of her nobleness, and losing nothing of the beauty of what she did, it was not so strange to him.

Still there was the baleful reflection that he was second fiddle to his beloved. No harmony came of it in his mind. How could he take an initiative? He walked forth on the lawn, where a group had gathered under the shade of a maple, consisting of Drummond Forth, Mrs. Evremonde, Mrs. Shorne, Mr. George Uploft, Seymour Jocelyn, and Ferdinand Laxley. A little apart Juliana Bonner was walking with Miss Carrington. Juliana, when she saw him, left her companion, and passing him swiftly, said, “Follow me presently into the conservatory.”

Evan strolled near the group, and bowed to Mrs. Shorne, whom he had not seen that morning.

The lady’s acknowledgment of his salute was constrained, and but a shade on the side of recognition. They were silent till he was out of earshot. He noticed that his second approach produced the same effect. In the conservatory Juliana was awaiting him.

“It is not to give you roses I called you here, Mr. Harrington,” she said.

“Not if I beg one?” he responded.

“Ah! but you do not want them from . . . . It depends on the person.”

“Pluck this,” said Evan, pointing to a white rose.

She put her fingers to the stem.

“What folly!” she cried, and turned from it.

“Are you afraid that I shall compromise you?” asked Evan.

“You care for me too little for that.”

“My dear Miss Bonner!”

“How long did you know Rose before you called her by her Christian name?”

Evan really could not remember, and was beginning to wonder what he had been called there for. The little lady had feverish eyes and fingers, and seemed to be burning to speak, but afraid.

“I thought you had gone,” she dropped her voice, “without wishing me good bye.”

“I certainly should not do that, Miss Bonner.”

“Formal!” she exclaimed, half to herself. “Miss Bonner thanks you. Do you think I wish you to stay? No friend of yours would wish it. You do not know the selfishness—brutal!—of these people of birth, as they call it.”

“I have met with nothing but kindness here,” said Evan.

“Then go while you can feel that,” she answered; “for it cannot last another hour. Here is the rose.” She broke it from the stem and handed it to him. “You may wear that, and they are not so likely to call you an adventurer, and names of that sort. I am hardly considered a lady by them.”

An adventurer! The full meaning of the phrase struck Evan’s senses when he was alone. Miss Bonner knew something of his condition, evidently. Perhaps it was generally known, and perhaps it was thought that he had come to win Rose for his worldly advantage! The idea was overwhelmingly new to him. Upstarted self-love in arms. He would renounce her.

It is no insignificant contest when love has to crush self-love utterly. At moments it can be done. Love has divine moments. There are times also when Love draws part of his being from self-love, and can find no support without it.

But how could he renounce her, when she came forth to him, smiling, speaking freshly and lightly, and with the colour on her cheeks which showed that she had done her part? How could he retract a step?

“I have told mama, Evan. That’s over. She heard it first from me.”

“And she?”

“Dear Evan, if you are going to be sensitive, I’ll run away. You that fear no danger, and are the bravest man I ever knew! I think you are really trembling. She will speak to papa, and then-and then, I suppose, they will both ask you whether you intend to give me up, or no. I’m afraid you’ll do the former.”

“Your mother—Lady Jocelyn listened to you, Rose? You told her all?”

“Every bit.”

“And what does she think of me?”

“Thinks you very handsome and astonishing, and me very idiotic and natural, and that there is a great deal of bother in the world, and that my noble relations will lay the blame of it on her. No, dear, not all that: but she talked very sensibly to me, and kindly. You know she is called a philosopher: nobody knows how deep-hearted she is, though. My mother is true as steel. I can’t separate the kindness from the sense, or I would tell you all she said. When I say, kindness, I don’t mean any ‘Oh, my child,’ and tears, and kisses, and maundering, you know. You mustn’t mind her thinking me a little fool. You want to know what she thinks you? She said nothing to hurt you, Evan, and we have gained ground so far, and now we’ll go and face our enemies. Uncle Mel expects to hear about your appointment, in a day or two, and——

“Oh, Rose!” Evan burst out.

“What is it?”

“Why must I owe everything to you?”

“Why, dear? Why, because, if you do, it’s very much better than your owing it to anybody else. Proud again?”

Not proud: only second fiddle.

“You know, dear Evan, when two people love, there is no such thing as owing between them.”

“Rose, I have been thinking. It is not too late. I love you, God knows! I did in Portugal: I do now—more and more. But—— Oh, my bright angel!” he ended the sentence in his breast.

“Well? but—what?”

Evan sounded down the meaning of his “but.” Stripped of the usual heroics, it was, “what will be thought of me?” not a small matter to any of us. He caught a distant glimpse of the little bit of bare selfishness, and shrunk from it.

“Too late,” cried Rose. “The battle has commenced now, and, Mr. Harrington, I will lean on your arm, and be led to my dear friends yonder. Do they think that I am going to put on a mask to please them? Not for anybody! What they are to know they may as well know at once.”

She looked in Evan’s face.

“Do you hesitate?”

He felt the contrast between his own and hers; between the niggard spirit of the beggarly receiver, and the high bloom of the exalted giver. Nevertheless, he loved her too well not to share much of her nature, and wedding it suddenly, he said:

“Rose; tell me, now. If you were to see the place where I was born, could you love me still?”

“Yes, Evan.”

“If you were to hear me spoken of with contempt——

“Who dares?” cried Rose. “Never to me!”

“Contempt of what I spring from, Rose. Names used . . . . Names are used . . . .

“Tush!—names!” said Rose, reddening. “How cowardly that is! Have you finished? Oh, faint heart! I suppose I’m not a fair lady, or you wouldn’t have won me. Now, come. Remember, Evan, I conceal nothing; and if anything makes you wretched here, do think how I love you.”

In his own firm belief he had said everything to arrest her in her course, and been silenced by transcendant logic. She thought the same.

Leaning on his arm, Rose made up to the conclave under the maple.

The voices hushed as they approached.

“Capital weather,” said Rose. “Does Harry come back from London to-morrow—does anybody know?”

“Not awaah,” Laxley was heard to reply.

Rose had not relinquished Evan’s arm. She clung to it ostentatiously, with her right hand stuck in her side.

“Do you find support necessary?” inquired Mrs. Shorne.

“No, aunt,” Rose answered, immoveably.

“Singular habit!” Mrs. Shorne interjected.

“No habit at all, aunt. A whim.”

“More suitable for public assemblies, I should think.”

“Depends almost entirely upon the gentleman; doesn’t it, aunt?”

Anger at her niece’s impertinence provoked the riposte:

“Yes, upon its being a gentleman.”

Mrs. Shorne spoke under her breath, but there was an uneasy movement through the company after she had spoken. Seymour Jocelyn screwed his moustache: Mr. George Uploft tugged at his waistcoat: Laxley grimaced: and the ladies exchanged glances: all very quietly and of the lightest kind—a mere ruffle of the surface. It was enough for Evan.

“I want to speak a word to you, Rose,” said Mrs. Shorne.

“With the greatest pleasure, my dear aunt:” and Rose walked after her.

“My dear Rose,” Mrs. Shorne commenced, “your conduct requires that I should really talk to you most seriously. You are probably not aware of what you are doing. Nobody likes ease and natural familiarity more than I do. I am persuaded it is nothing but your innocence. You are young to the world’s ways, and perhaps a little too headstrong, and vain.”

“Conceited and wilful,” added Rose.

“If you like the words better. But I must say—I do not wish to trouble your father—you know he cannot bear worry—but I must say, that if you do not listen to me, he must be spoken to.”

“Why not mama?”

“I should naturally select my brother first. No doubt you understand me.”

“Any distant allusion to Mr. Harrington?”

“Pertness will not avail you, Rose.”

“So you want me to do secretly what I am doing openly?”

“You must and shall remember you are a Jocelyn, Rose.”

“Only half, my dear aunt.”

“And by birth a lady, Rose.”

“And I ought to look under my eyes, and blush, and shrink, whenever I come near a gentleman, aunt!”

“Ah! my dear. No doubt you will do what is most telling. Since you have spoken of this Mr. Harrington, I must inform you that I have it on certain authority from two or three sources, that he is the son of a small shopkeeper at Lymport.”

Mrs. Shorne watched the effect she had produced.

“Indeed, aunt?” cried Rose. “And do you know this to be true?”

“So when you talk of gentlemen, Rose, please be careful whom you include.”

“I mustn’t include poor Mr. Harrington? Then my grandpapa Bonner is out of the list, and such numbers of good, worthy men?”

Mrs. Shorne understood the hit at the defunct manufacturer. She said: “You must most distinctly give me your promise, while this young adventurer remains here—I think it will not be long—not to be compromising yourself further, as you now do. Or—indeed I must—I shall let your parents perceive that such conduct is ruin to a young girl in your position, and certainly you will be sent to Elburne House for the winter.”

Rose lifted her hands, crying: “Ye Gods!—as Harry says. But I’m very much obliged to you, my dear aunt. Concerning Mr. Harrington, wonderfully obliged. Son of a small——! Is it a t-t-tailor, aunt?”

“It is—I have heard.”

“And that is much worse. Cloth is viler than cotton! And don’t they call these creatures sn-snips? Some word of that sort?”

“It makes little difference what they are called.”

“Well, aunt, I sincerely thank you. As this subject seems to interest you, go and see mama, now. She can tell you a great deal more; and, if you want her authority, come back to me.”

Rose then left her aunt in a state of extreme indignation. It was a clever move to send Mrs. Shorne to Lady Jocelyn. They were antagonistic, and rational as Lady Jocelyn was, and with her passions under control, she was unlikely to side with Mrs. Shorne.

Now Rose had fought against herself, and had, as she thought, conquered. In Portugal Evan’s half insinuations had given her small suspicions, which the scene on board the Jocasta had half confirmed: and since she came to communicate with her own mind, she bore the attack of all that rose against him, bit by bit. She had not been too blind to see the unpleasantness of the fresh facts revealed to her. They did not change her; on the contrary, drew her to him faster—and she thought she had completely conquered whatever could rise against him. But when Juliana Bonner told her that day that Evan was not only the son of the thing, but the thing himself, and that his name could be seen any day in Lymport, and that he had come from the shop to Beckley, poor Rosey had a sick feeling that almost sank her. For a moment she looked back wildly to the doors of retreat. Her eyes had to feed on Evan, she had to taste some of the luxury of love, before she could gain composure, and then her arrogance towards those she called her enemies did not quite return.

“In that letter you told me all—all—all, Evan?”

“Yes, all—religiously.”

“Oh, why did I miss it!”

“Would it give you pleasure?”

She feared to speak, being tender as a mother to his sensitiveness. The expressive action of her eyebrows sufficed. She could not bear concealment, or doubt, or a shadow of dishonesty; and he, gaining force of soul to join with hers, took her hands and related the contents of the letter fully. She was pale when he had finished. It was some time before she was able to get free from the trammels of prejudice, but when she did, she did without reserve, saying: “Evan, there is no man who would have done so much.” and he was told that he was better loved than ever. These little exaltations and generosities bind lovers tightly. He accepted the credit she gave him, and at that we need not wonder. It helped him further to accept herself, otherwise could he—with his name known to be on a shop-front—have aspired to her still? But, as an unexampled man, princely in soul, as he felt, why, he might kneel to Rose Jocelyn. So they listened to one another, and blinded the world by putting bandages on their eyes, after the fashion of little boys and girls.

Meantime the fair being who had brought these two from the ends of the social scale into this happy tangle, the beneficent Countess, was wretched. When you are in the enemy’s country you are dependent on the activity and zeal of your spies and scouts, and the best of these—Polly Wheedle, to wit—had proved defective, recalcitrant even. And because a letter had been lost in her room! as the Countess exclaimed to herself, though Polly gave her no reasons. The Countess had, therefore, to rely chiefly upon personal observation, upon her intuitions, upon her sensations in the proximity of the people to whom she was opposed; and from these she gathered that she was, to use the word which seemed fitting to her, betrayed. Still to be sweet, still to smile and to amuse,—still to give her zealous attention to the business of the diplomatist’s election, still to go through her church-services devoutly, required heroism; she was equal to it, for she had remarkable courage; but it was hard to feel no longer one with Providence. Had not Providence suggested Sir Abraham to her? killed him off at the right moment in aid of her? And now Providence had turned, and the assistance she had formerly received from that Power, and given thanks for so profusely, was the cause of her terror. It was absolutely as if she had been borrowing from an abhorred Jew, and were called upon to pay fifty-fold interest!

“Evan!” she writes in a gasp to Harriet. “We must pack up and depart. Abandon everything. He has disgraced us all, and ruined himself. The greater his punishment, the greater the mercy to him. Impossible that we can stay for the pic-nic. we are known, dear. Think of my position one day in this house! Particulars when I embrace you. I dare not trust a letter here. If Evan had confided in me! He is impenetrable. He will be low all his life, and I refuse any more to sully myself in attempting to lift him. For Silva’s sake I must positively break the connection. Heaven knows what I have done for this boy, and will support me in the feeling that I have done enough. My conscience at least is safe.”

Like many illustrious generals, the Countess had, for the hour, lost heart. We find her, however, the next day, writing:

“Oh! Harriet! what trials for sisterly affection! Can I possibly—weather the gale, as the old L— sailors used to say? It is dreadful. I fear I am, by duty bound to stop on.—Little Bonner thinks Evan quite a duke’s son,—has been speaking to her grandmama, and to-day, this morning, the venerable old lady quite as much as gave me to understand that an union between our brother and her son’s child would sweetly gratify her, and help her to go to her rest in peace. Can I chase that spark of comfort from one so truly pious? Dearest Juliana! I have anticipated Evan’s feeling for her, and so she thinks his conduct cold. Indeed, I told her, point blank, he loved her. That, you know, is different from saying dying of love, which would have been an untruth. But, Evan, of course! No getting him! Should Juliana ever reproach me, I can assure the child that any man is in love with any woman—which is really the case. It is, you dear humdrum! what the dictionary calls ‘nascent.’ I never liked the word, but it stands for a fact, though I would rather have had it ‘sweet scent.

The Countess here exhibits the weakness of a self-educated intelligence. She does not comprehend the joys of scholarship in her employment of Latinisms. It will be pardoned to her by those who perceive the profound piece of feminine discernment which precedes it.

“I do think I shall now have courage to stay out the pic-nic,” she continues. “I really do not think all is known. Very little can be known, or I am sure I could not feel as I do. It would burn me up. George Up—— does not dare; and his most beautiful lady-love had far better not. Mr. Forth may repent his whispers. But, Oh! what Evan may do! Rose is almost detestable. Manners, my dear? Totally deficient!

“An ally has just come. Evan’s good fortune is most miraculous. His low friend turns out to be a young Fortunatus; very original, sparkling, and in my hands to be made much of. I do think he will—for he is most zealous—he will counteract that hateful Mr. Forth, who may soon have work enough. Mr. Raikes (Evan’s friend) met a mad captain in Fallowfield! Dear Mr. Raikes is ready to say anything; not from love of falsehood, but because he is ready to think it. He has confessed to me that Evan told him! Louisa de Saldar has changed his opinion, and much impressed this eccentric young gentleman. Do you know any young girl who wants a fortune, and would be grateful?

“Dearest! I have decided on the pic-nic. Let your conscience be clear, and Providence cannot be against you. So I feel. Mr. Parsley spoke very beautifully to that purpose last Sunday in the morning service. A little too much through his nose, perhaps; but the poor young man’s nose is a great organ, and we will not cast it in his teeth more than nature has done. I said so to my diplomatist, who was amused. Oh! what principle we women require in the thorny walk of life. I can show you a letter when we meet that will astonish humdrum. Not so diplomatic as the writer thought! Mrs. Melville (sweet woman!) must continue to practise civility; for a woman who is a wife, my dear, in verity she lives in a glass house, and let her fling no stones. ‘Let him who is without sin.’ How beautiful that Christian sentiment! I hope I shall be pardoned, but it always seems to me that what we have to endure is infinitely worse than any other suffering, for you find no comfort for the children of T——s in scripture, nor any defence of their dreadful position. Robbers, thieves, Magdalens! but, no! the unfortunate offspring of that class are not even mentioned: at least, in my most diligent perusal of the Scriptures, I never lighted upon any remote allusion; and we know the Jews did wear clothing. Outcasts, verily! And Evan, could go, and write—but I have no patience with him. He is the blind tool of his mother, and anybody’s puppet.”

The letter concludes, with horrid emphasis:

“The Madre in Beckley! Has sent for Evan from a low public-house! I have intercepted the messenger. Evan closeted with Sir Franks. Andrew’s horrible old brother with Lady Jocelyn. The whole house, from garret to kitchen, full of whispers!”

A prayer to Providence closes the communication.