Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Evan Harrington - Part 24
EVAN HARRINGTON; or, HE WOULD BE A GENTLEMAN.
BY GEORGE MEREDITH.
CHAPTER XXX.THE BATTLE OF THE BULL-DOGS. PART I.
At the south-western extremity of the park, with a view extending over wide meadows and troubled mill-waters, yellow barn-roofs and weather-gray old farm-walls, two grassy mounds threw their slopes to the margin of the stream. Here the bull-dogs held revel. The hollow between the slopes was crowned by a bending birch, which rose three-stemmed from the root, and hung a noiseless green shower over the basin of green it shadowed. Beneath it the interminable growl sounded pleasantly; softly shot the sparkle of the twisting water, and you might dream things half fulfilled. Knots of fern were about, but the mounds were firm grass, evidently well rolled, and with an eye to airy feet. Olympus one eminence was called, Parnassus the other. Olympus a little overlooked Parnassus, but Parnassus was broader and altogether better adapted for the games of the Muses. Round the edges of both there was a well-trimmed bush of laurel, obscuring only the feet of the dancers from the observing gods. For on Olympus the elders reclined. Great efforts had occasionally been made to dispossess and unseat them, and their security depended mainly on a hump in the middle of the mound which defied the dance.
Watteau-like groups were already couched in the shade. There were ladies of all sorts: town-bred and country-bred: farmers’ daughters and daughters of peers: for this pic-nic, as Lady Jocelyn, disgusting the Countess, would call it, was in reality a fête champêtre, given annually, to which the fair offspring of the superior tenants were invited—the brothers and fathers coming to fetch them in the evening. It struck the eye of the Countess de Saldar that Olympus would be a fitting throne for her, and a point whence her shafts might fly without fear of a return. Like another illustrious General at Salamanca, she directed a detachment to take possession of the height. Courtly Sir John Loring ran up at once, and gave the diplomatist an opportunity to thank her flatteringly for gaining them two minutes to themselves. Sir John waved his handkerchief in triumph, welcoming them under an awning where carpets and cushions were spread, and whence the Countess could eye the field. She was dressed ravishingly; slightly in a foreign style, the bodice being peaked at the waist, as was then the Portuguese persuasion. The neck, too, was deliciously veiled with fine lace—and thoroughly veiled, for it was a feature the Countess did not care to expose to the vulgar daylight. Off her gentle shoulders, as it were some fringe of cloud blown by the breeze this sweet lady opened her bosom to, curled a lovely black lace scarf: not Caroline’s. If she laughed, the tinge of mourning lent her laughter new charms. If she sighed, the exuberant array of her apparel bade the spectator be of good cheer. Was she witty, men surrendered reason and adored her. Only when she entered the majestic mood and assumed the languors of greatness and recited musky anecdotes of her intimacy with it, only then did mankind, as represented at Beckley Court, open an internal eye and reflect that it was wonderful in a tailor’s daughter. And she felt that mankind did so reflect. Her instincts did not deceive her. She knew not how much was known; in the depths of her heart she kept the struggling fear that possibly all might be known; and succeeding in this, she said to herself that probably nothing was known after all. George Uploft, Miss Carrington, and Rose were the three she abhorred. Partly to be out of their way, and to be out of the way of chance shots (for she had heard names of people coming that reminded her of Dubbins’s, where, in past days, there had been on one awful occasion a terrific discovery made), the Countess selected Olympus for her station. It was her last day, and she determined to be happy. Doubtless, she was making a retreat, but have not illustrious Generals snatched victory from their pursuers? Fair, then, sweet, and full of grace, the Countess moved. As the restless shifting of colours to her motions was the constant interchange of her semi-sorrowful manner and ready archness. Sir John almost capered to please her, and the diplomatist in talking to her forgot his diplomacy and the craft of his tongue.
It was the last day also of Caroline and the Duke. The Countess clung to Caroline and the Duke more than to Evan and Rose. She could see the first couple walking under an avenue of limes, and near them Mr. John Raikes, as if in ambush. Twice they passed him, and twice he doffed his hat and did homage.
“A most singular creature!” exclaimed the Countess. “It is my constant marvel where my brother discovered such a curiosity. Do notice him.”
“That man? Raikes?” said the diplomatist. “Do you know he is our rival? Harry wanted an excuse for another bottle last night, and proposed the Member for Fallowfield. Up got Mr. Raikes and returned thanks.”
“Yes?” the Countess negligently interjected in a way she had caught from Lady Jocelyn.
“Cogglesby’s nominee, apparently.”
“I know it all,” said the Countess. “We need have no apprehension. He is docile. My brother-in-law’s brother, you see, is most eccentric. We can manage him best through this Mr. Raikes, for a personal application would be ruin. He quite detests our family, and indeed all the aristocracy.”
Melville’s mouth pursed, and he looked very grave.
Sir John remarked: “He seems like a monkey just turned into a man.”
“And doubtful about his tail,” added the Countess.
The image was tolerably correct, but other causes were at the bottom of the air worn by Mr. John Raikes. The Countess had obtained an invitation for him, with instructions that he should come early, and he had followed them so implicitly that the curricle was flinging dust on the hedges between Fallowfield and Beckley but an hour or two after the chariot of Apollo had mounted the heavens, and Mr. Raikes presented himself at the breakfast table. Fortunately for him the Countess was there. After the repast she introduced him to the Duke: and he bowed to the Duke, and the Duke bowed to him: and now, to instance the peculiar justness in the mind of Mr. Raikes, he, though he worshipped a coronet and would gladly have recalled the feudal times to a corrupt land, could not help thinking that his bow had beaten the Duke’s, and was better. He would rather not have thought so, for it upset his preconceptions and threatened a revolution in his ideas. For this reason he followed the Duke, and tried, if possible, to correct, or at least chasten the impressions he had of possessing a glaring advantage over the nobleman. The Duke’s second bow did not, Mr. Raikes sadly judged, retrieve the character of his first; his final bow was a mere nod. “Well!” Mr. Raikes reflected, “if this is your Duke, why, egad! for figure and style my friend Harrington beats him hollow.” And Mr. Raikes thought he knew who could conduct a conversation with superior dignity and neatness. The torchlight of a delusion was extinguished in him, but he did not wander long in that gloomy cavernous darkness of the disenchanted, as many of us do, and as Evan had done, when after a week at Beckley Court he began to examine of what stuff his brilliant father, the great Mel, was composed. On the contrary, as the light of the Duke dwindled, Mr. Raikes gained in lustre. “In fact,” he said, “there’s nothing but the title wanting.” He was by this time on a level with the Duke.
Olympus had been held in possession by the Countess about half an hour, when Lady Jocelyn mounted it, quite unconscious that she was scaling a fortified point. The Countess herself fired off the first gun at her.
“It has been so extremely delightful up alone here, Lady Jocelyn: to look at everybody below! I hope many will not intrude on us!”
“None but the dowagers who have breath to get up,” replied her ladyship, panting. “By the way, Countess, you hardly belong to us yet. You dance?”
“Indeed, I do not.”
“Oh, then you are in your right place. A dowager is a woman who doesn’t dance: and her male attendant is—what is he? We will call him a fogy.”
Lady Jocelyn directed a smile at Melville and Sir John, who both protested that it was an honour to be the Countess’s fogy.
Rose now joined them, with Laxley morally dragged in her wake.
“Another dowager and fogy!” cried the Countess, musically. “Do you not dance, my child?”
“Not till the music strikes up,” rejoined Rose. “I suppose we shall have to eat first.”
“That is the Hamlet of the pic-nic play, I believe,” said her mother.
“Of course you dance, don’t you Countess?” Rose inquired, for the sake of amiable conversation.
The Countess’s head signified: “Oh, no! quite out of the question:” she held up a little bit of her mournful draperies, adding: “Besides, you, dear child, know your company, and can select; I do not, and cannot do so. I understand we have a most varied assembly!”
Rose shut her eyes, and then looked at her mother. Lady Jocelyn’s face was undisturbed; but while her eyes were still upon the Countess, she drew her head gently back, imperceptibly. If anything, she was admiring the lady; but Rose could be no placid philosophic spectator of what was to her a horrible assumption and hypocrisy. For the sake of him she loved, she had swallowed a nauseous cup bravely. The Countess was too much for her. She felt sick to think of being allied to this person. She had a shuddering desire to run into the ranks of the world, and hide her head from multitudinous hootings. With a pang of envy she saw her friend Jenny walking by the side of William Harvey, happy, untried, unoffending: full of hope, and without any bitter draughts to swallow!
Aunt Bel now came tripping up gaily.
“Take the alternative, douairière or demoiselle?” cried Lady Jocelyn. “We must have a sharp distinction, or Olympus will be mobbed.”
“Entre les deux, s’il vous plait,” responded Aunt Bel. “Rose, hurry down and leaven the mass. I see ten girls in a bunch. It’s shocking. Ferdinand, pray disperse yourself. Why is it, Emily, that we are always in excess at pic-nics? Is man dying out?”
“From what I can see,” remarked Lady Jocelyn, “Harry will be lost to his species unless some one quickly relieves him. He’s already half eaten up by the Conley girls. Countess, isn’t it your duty to rescue him?”
The Countess bowed, and murmured to Sir John:
“I fear my fascinations, Lady Jocelyn, may not compete with those fresh young persons.”
“Ha! ha! ‘fresh young persons,’” laughed Sir John: for the ladies in question were romping boisterously with Mr. Harry.
The Countess inquired for the names and condition of the ladies, and was told that they sprang from Farmer Conley, a well-to-do son of the soil, who farmed about a couple of thousand acres between Fallowfield and Beckley, and bore a good reputation at the county bank.
“But I do think,” observed the Countess, “it must indeed be pernicious for any youth to associate with that class of woman. A deterioration of manners!”
Rose looked at her mother again. She thought: “Those girls would scorn to marry a tradesman’s son!”
The feeling grew in Rose that the Countess lowered and degraded her. Her mother’s calm contemplation of the lady was more distressing than if she had expressed the contempt Rose was certain, according to her young ideas, Lady Jocelyn must hold.
Now the Countess had been considering that she would like to have a word or two with Mr. Harry, and kissing her fingers to the occupants of Olympus, and fixing her fancy on the diverse thoughts of the ladies and gentlemen, deduced from a rapturous or critical contemplation of her figure from behind, she descended the slope.
Was it going to be a happy day? The well-imagined opinions of the gentleman on her attire and style, made her lean to the affirmative; but Rose’s demure behaviour and something—something would come across her hopes. She had, as she now said to herself, stopped for the pic-nic, mainly to give Caroline a last opportunity of binding the duke to visit the Cogglesby saloons in London. Let Caroline cleverly contrive this, as she might, without any compromise, and the stay at Beckley Court would be a great gain. Yes, Caroline was still with the duke; they were talking earnestly. The Countess breathed a short appeal to Providence that Caroline might not prove a fool. Over night she had said to Caroline: “Do not be so English. Can one not enjoy friendship with a nobleman without wounding one’s conscience or breaking with the world? My dear, the duke visiting you, you cow that infamous Strike of yours. He will be utterly obsequious! I am not telling you to pass the line. The contrary. But we continentals have our grievous reputation because we dare to meet as intellectual beings, and defy the imputation that ladies and gentlemen are no better than animals.”
It sounded very lofty to Caroline, who accepting its sincerity, replied:
“I cannot do things by halves. I cannot live a life of deceit. A life of misery—not deceit!”
Whereupon, pitying her poor English nature, the Countess gave her advice, and this advice she now implored her familiars to instruct or compel Caroline to follow.
The Countess’s garment was plucked at. She beheld little Dorothy Loring glancing up at her with the roguish timidity of her years.
“May I come with you?” asked the little maid, and went off into a prattle: “I spent that five shillings—I bought a shilling’s worth of sweet stuff, and nine penn’orth of twine, and a shilling for small wax candles to light in my room when I’m going to bed, because I like plenty of light by the looking-glass always, and they do make the room so hot! My Jane declared she almost fainted, but I burnt them out! Then I only had very little left for a horse to mount my doll on; and I wasn’t going to get a screw, so I went to papa, and he gave me five shillings. And, oh, do you know, Rose can’t bear me to be with you. Jealousy, I suppose, for you’re very agreeable. And, do you know, your mama is coming to-day? I’ve got a papa and no mama, and you’ve got a mama and no papa. Isn’t it funny? But I don’t think so much of it, as you’re grown up. Oh, I’m quite sure she is coming, because I heard Harry telling Juley she was, and Juley said it would be so gratifying to you.”
A bribe and a message relieved the Countess of Dorothy’s attendance on her.
What did this mean? Were people so base as to be guilty of hideous plots in this house? Her mother coming! The Countess’s blood turned deadly chill. Had it been her father she would not have feared, but her mother was so vilely plain of speech; she never opened her mouth save to deliver facts: which was to the Countess the sign of atrocious vulgarity.
But her mother had written to say she would wait for Evan in Fallowfield! The Countess grasped at straws. Did Dorothy hear that? And if Harry and Juliana spoke of her mother, what did that mean? That she was hunted and must stand at bay!
“Oh, papa! papa! why did you marry a Dawley!” she exclaimed, plunging to what was, in her idea, the root of the evil.
She had no time for outcries and lamentations. It dawned on her that this was to be a day of battle. Where was Harry? Still in the midst of the Conley throng, apparently pooh-poohing something, to judge by the twist of his mouth.
The Countess delicately signed for him to approach her. The extreme delicacy of the signal was at least an excuse for Harry to perceive nothing. It was renewed, and Harry burst into a fit of laughter at some fun of one of the Conley girls. The Countess passed on, and met Juliana pacing by herself near the lower gates of the park. She wished only to see how Juliana behaved. The girl looked perfectly trustful, as much so as when the Countess was pouring in her ears the tales of Evan’s growing but bashful affection for her.
“He will soon be here,” whispered the Countess. “Has he told you he will come by this entrance?”
“No,” replied Juliana.
“You do not look well, sweet child.”
“I was thinking that you did not, Countess.”
“Oh, indeed, yes! All our visitors have by this time arrived, I presume?”
“They come all day.”
The Countess hastened away from one who, when roused, could be almost as clever as herself, and again stood in meditation near the joyful Harry. This time she did not signal so discreetly. Harry could not but see it, and the Conley girls accused him of cruelty to the beautiful dame, which novel idea stung Harry with delight, and he held out to indulge in it a little longer. His back was half turned, and as he talked noisily he could not observe the serene and resolute march of the Countess towards him. The youth gaped when he found his arm taken prisoner by the insertion of a small deliciously-gloved and perfumed hand through it.
“I must claim you for a few moments,” said the Countess, and took the startled Conley girls one and all in her beautiful smile of excuse.
“Why do you compromise me thus, sir?”
These astounding words were spoken out of the hearing of the Conley girls.
“Compromise you!” muttered Harry.
Masterly was the skill with which the Countess contrived to speak angrily and as an injured woman, while she wore an indifferent social countenance.
“I repeat compromise me. No, Mr. Harry Jocelyn, you are not the jackanapes you try to make people think you: you understand me.”
The Countess might accuse him, but Harry never had the ambition to make people think him that: his natural tendency was the reverse: and he objected to the application of the word jackanapes to himself, and was ready to contest the fact of people having that opinion at all. However, all he did was to repeat: “Compromise!”
“Is not open unkindness to me compromising me?”
“How?” asked Harry.
“Would you dare to do it to a strange lady? Would you have the impudence to attempt it with any woman here but me? No, I am innocent; I know that; it is my consolation; I have resisted you, but you by this cowardly behaviour place me—and my reputation, which is more—at your mercy. Noble behaviour, Mr. Harry Jocelyn! I shall remember my young English gentleman.”
The view was totally new to Harry.
“I really had no idea of compromising you,” he said. “Upon my honour, I can’t see how I did it now!”
“Oblige me by walking less in the neighbourhood of those fat-faced glaring farm-girls,” the Countess spoke under her breath; “and don’t look as if you were being whipped. The art of it is evident—you are but carrying on the game.—Listen. If you permit yourself to exhibit an unkindness to me, you show to any man who is a judge, and to every woman, that there has been something between us. You know my innocence—yes! but you must punish me for having resisted you thus long.”
Harry was staggered. He swore he never had such an idea, and was much too much of a man and a gentleman to behave in that way.—And yet it seemed wonderfully clever! And there was the Countess saying:
“Take your reward, Mr. Harry Jocelyn. You have succeeded, I am your humble slave. I come to you and sue for peace. To save my reputation I endanger myself. This is generous of you.”
“Am I such a clever fellow?” thought the ingenuous young gentleman. “Deuced lucky with women:” he knew that: still a fellow must be wonderfully, miraculously, clever to be able to twist and spin about a woman in that way. He did not object to conceive that he was the fellow to do it. Besides, here was the Countess de Saldar—worth five hundred of the Conley girls—almost at his feet!
Mollified, he said: “Now, didn’t you begin it?”
“Evasion!” was the answer. “It would be such pleasure to you to see a proud woman weep! And if yesterday, persecuted as I am, with dreadful falsehoods abroad respecting me and mine, if yesterday I did seem cold to your great merits, is it generous of you to take this revenge?”
Harry began to scent the double meaning in her words. She gave him no time to grow cool over it. She leaned, half-abandoned, on his arm. Arts feminine and irresistible encompassed him. It was a fatal mistake of Juliana’s to enlist Harry Jocelyn against the Countess de Saldar. He engaged, still without any direct allusion to the real business, to move heaven and earth to undo all that he had done; and the Countess engaged to do—what? more than she intended to fulfil.
Ten minutes later the Countess was alone with Caroline.
“Tie yourself to the duke at the dinner,” she said, in the forcible phrase she could use when necessary. “Don’t let them scheme to separate you. Never mind looks—do it!”
Caroline, however, had her reasons for desiring to maintain appearances. The Countess dashed at her hesitation.
“There is a plot to humiliate us in the most abominable way. The whole family have sworn to make us blush publicly. Publicly blush! They have written to Mama to come, and speak out. Now will you attend to me, Caroline? You do not credit such atrocity? I know it to be true.”
“I never can believe that Rose would do such a thing,” said Caroline. “We can hardly have to endure more than has befallen us already.”
Her speech was pensive, as of one who had matter of her own to ponder over. A swift illumination burst in the Countess’s mind.
“No? Have you, dear, darling Carry? not that I intend that you should! but to-day the duke would be such ineffable support to us. May I deem you have not been too cruel to-day? You dear silly English creature, ‘Duck,’ I used to call you when I was your little Louy. All is not yet lost, but I will save you from the ignominy if I can. I will!—I will!”
Caroline denied nothing—confirmed nothing, just as the Countess had stated nothing. Yet they understood one another perfectly. Women have a subtler language than ours; the veil pertains to them morally as bodily, and they see clearer through it.
The Countess had no time to lose. Wrath was in her heart. She did not lend all her thoughts to self-defence.
Without phrasing a word, or absolutely shaping a thought in her head, she slanted across the sun to Mr. John Raikes, who had taken refreshment, and in obedience to his instinct, notwithstanding his enormous pretensions, had commenced a few preliminary antics.
“Dear Mr. Raikes!” she said, drawing him aside, “not before dinner!”
“I really can’t contain the exuberant flow!” returned that gentleman. “My animal spirits always get the better of me,” he added confidentially.
“Suppose you devote your animal spirits to my service for half an hour?”
“Yours, Countess, from the os frontis to the chine!” was the exuberant rejoinder.
The Countess made a wry mouth.
“Your curricle is in Beckley?”
“Behold!” cried Jack. “Two juveniles, not half so blest as I, do from the seat regard the festive scene o’er yon park-palings. They are there, even Franco and Fred. I’m afraid I promised to get them in at a later period of the day. Which sadly sore my conscience doth disturb! But what is to be done about the curricle, my Countess?”
“Mr. Raikes,” said the Countess, smiling on him fixedly, “you are amusing; but, in addressing me, you must be precise, and above all things accurate. I am not your Countess!”
Mr. Raikes bowed profoundly. “Oh, that I might say ‘my Queen!’”
The Countess replied: “A conviction of your lunacy would prevent my taking offence, though I might wish you enclosed and guarded.”
Without any further exclamations, Mr. Raikes acknowledged a superior.
“And, now, attend to me,” said the Countess. “Listen: You go yourself, or send your friends instantly to Fallowfield. Bring with you that girl and her child. Stop! there is such a person. Tell her she is to be spoken to about the prospects of the poor infant. I leave that to your inventive genius. Evan wishes her here. Bring her, and should you see the mad captain who behaves so oddly, favour him with a ride. He says he dreams his wife is here, and he will not reveal his name! Suppose it should be my own beloved husband! I am quite anxious ha! ha!”
“That fortunate man is a foreignere!” exclaimed Mr. Raikes.
“Anglicised!—anglicised!” said the Countess. “Will you do this? You know how interested I am in the man. If he is not my husband, some one ought to be!”
“Capital!” cried Jack, “Lord! how that would tell on the stage, ‘Some one ought to be!’”
“Away, and do my hest,” the Countess called to him with the faint peep of a theatrical manner.
It captivated Mr. John Raikes: “Yea, to the letter, though I perish for’t,” he pronounced, departing, and subsequently appending, “Nor yet the damnèd reason can perceive.”
The Countess saw him go up to the palings and hold a communication with his friends Franco and Fred. One took the whip, and after mutual flourishes, drove away from Mr. Raikes.
“Now!” mused the Countess, “if Captain Evremonde should come!” It would break up the pic-nic. Alas! the Countess had surrendered her humble hopes of a day’s pleasure. But if her mother came as well, what a diversion that would be! If her mother came before the Captain, his arrival would cover the retreat; if the Captain preceded her, she would not be noticed. Suppose her mother refrained from coming? In that case it was a pity, but the Jocelyns had brought it on themselves.
This mapping out of consequences followed the Countess’s deeds, and did not inspire them. Her passions sharpened her instincts which produced her actions. The reflections ensued: as in nature the consequences were all seen subsequently! Observe the difference between your male and female generals.
On reflection, too, the Countess praised herself for having done all that could be done. She might have written to her mother: but her absence would have been remarked: her messenger might have been overhauled: and, lastly, Mrs. Mel—“Gorgon of a mother!” the Countess cried out: for Mrs. Mel was like a fate to her. She could remember only two occasions in her whole life when she had been able to manage her mother, and then by lying in such a way as to distress her conscience severely.
“If mama has conceived this idea of coming, nothing will impede her. My prayers will infuriate her!” said the Countess, and she was sure that she had acted both rightly and with wisdom.
She put on her armour of smiles: she plunged into the thick of the enemy. Since they would not allow her to taste human happiness—she had asked but for the pic-nic! a small truce!—since they denied her that, rather than let them triumph by seeing her wretched, she took into her bosom the joy of demons. She lured Mr. George Uploft away from Miss Carrington, and spoke to him strange hints of matrimonial disappointments, looking from time to time at that apprehensive lady, doating on her terrors. And Mr. George seconded her by his clouded face, for he was ashamed not to show that he did not know Louisa Harrington in the Countess de Saldar, and had not the courage to declare that he did. The Countess spoke familiarly, but without any hint of an ancient acquaintance between them. “What a post her husband’s got!” thought Mr. George, not envying the Count. He was wrong: she was an admirable ally. All over the field the Countess went, watching for her mother, praying that if she did come, Providence might prevent her from coming while they were at dinner. How clearly Mrs. Shorne and Mrs. Melville saw her vulgarity now! By the new light of knowledge, how certain they were that they had seen her ungentle training in a dozen different little instances.
“She is not well-bred, cela se voit,” said Lady Jocelyn.
“Bred! it’s the stage! How could such a person be bred?” said Mrs. Shorne.
Accept in the Countess the heroine who is combating class-prejudices, and surely she is pre-eminently noteworthy. True she fights only for her family, and is virtually the champion of the opposing institution misplaced. That does not matter: the fates may have done it purposely: by conquering she establishes a principle. A duke loves her sister, the daughter of the house her brother, and for herself she has many protestations in honour of her charms: nor are they empty ones. She can confound Mrs. Melville, if she pleases to by exposing an adorer to lose a friend. Issuing out of Tailordom, she, a Countess, has done all this; and it were enough to make her glow, did not little evils, and angers, and spites, and alarms, so frightfully beset her.
The sun of the pic-nic system is dinner. Hence philosophers may deduce that the pic-nic is a British invention. There is no doubt that we do not shine at the pic-nic until we reflect the face of dinner. To this, then, all who were not lovers began seriously to look forward, and the advance of an excellent London band, specially hired, to play during the entertainment, gave many of the guests quite a new taste for sweet music; and indeed we all enjoy a thing infinitely more when we see its meaning.
About this time Evan entered the lower park-gates with Andrew. The first object he encountered was Mr. John Raikes in a state of great depression. He explained his case:
“Just look at my frill! No, upon my honour, you know, I’m good-tempered; I pass their bucolic habits, but this is beyond bearing. I was near the palings there, and a fellow calls out: ‘Hi! will you help the lady over?’ Halloa! thinks I, an adventure! However, I advised him to take her round to the gates. The beast burst out laughing. ‘Now, then,’ says he, and I heard a scrambling at the pales, and up came the head of a dog. ‘Oh! the dog first,’ says I. ‘Catch by the ears,’ says he. I did so. ‘Pull,’ says he. ’Gad, pull indeed! The beast gave a spring and came slap on my chest, with his dirty wet muzzle in my neck! I felt instantly it was the death of my frill, but gallant as you know me, I still asked for the lady. ‘If you will please, or an it meet your favour, to extend your hand to me!’ I confess I did just think it rather odd, the idea of a lady coming in that way over the palings: but my curst love of adventure always blinds me. It always misleads my better sense, Harrington. Well, instead of a lady, I see a fellow—he may have been a lineal descendant of Cedric the Saxon. ‘Where’s the lady?’ says I. ‘Lady?’ says he, and stares, and then laughs: ‘Lady! why,’ he jumps over, and points at his beast of a dog, ‘don’t you know a bitch when you see one?’ I was in the most ferocious rage! If he hadn’t been a big burly bully, down he’d have gone. ‘Why didn’t you say what it was?’ I roared. ‘Why,’ says he, ‘the word isn’t considered polite!’ I gave him a cut there. I said: ‘I rejoice to be positively assured that you uphold the laws and forms of civilisation, sir.’ My belief is he didn’t feel it.”
“The thrust sinned in its shrewdness,” remarked Evan, ending a laugh.
“Hem!” went Mr. Raikes, more contentedly: “after all, what are appearances to the man of wit and intellect? Dress, and women will approve you; but I assure you, they much prefer the man of wit in his slouched hat and stockings down. I was introduced to the duke this morning. It is a curious thing that the seduction of a duchess has always been one of my dreams.”
At this Andrew Cogglesby fell into a fit of laughter.
“Your servant,” said Mr. Raikes, turning to him. And then he muttered: “Extraordinary likeness! Good Heavens! Powers!”
From a state of depression, Mr. Raikes changed into one of bewilderment. Evan paid no attention to him, and answered none of his hasty under-toned questions. Just then, as they were on the skirts of the company, the band struck up a lively tune, and quite unconsciously, the legs of Mr. John Raikes, affected, it may be, by supernatural reminiscences, loosely hornpiped. It was but a moment: he remembered himself the next: but in that fatal moment eyes were on him. He never recovered his dignity in Beckley Court.
“What is the joke against poor Jack?” asked Evan of Andrew.
“Never mind, Van. You’ll roar. Old Tom again. We’ll see by-and-by, after the Champagne. He—this young Raikes—ha! ha!—but I can’t tell you.” And Andrew went away to Drummond to whom he was more communicative. Then he went to Melville, and one or two others, and the eyes of many became concentrated on Mr. John Raikes, and it was observed as a singular sign that he was constantly facing about; and flushing the fiercest red. Once he made an effort to get hold of Evan’s arm and drag him away, as one who had an urgent confession to be delivered of, but Evan was talking to Lady Jocelyn and other ladies, and quietly disengaged his arm without even turning to notice the face of his friend. Then the dinner was announced, and men saw the dinner. The Countess went to shake her brother’s hand, and with a very gratulatory visage, said through her half-shut teeth: “If mama appears, rise up and go away with me, before she has time to speak a word.” An instant after, Evan found himself seated between Mrs. Evremonde and one of the Conley girls. The dinner had commenced. The first half of the Battle of the Bull-dogs was as peaceful as any ordinary pic-nic, and promised to the general company as calm a conclusion.