Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Evan Harrington - Part 29
EVAN HARRINGTON; or, HE WOULD BE A GENTLEMAN.
BY GEORGE MEREDITH.
CHAPTER XXXVI.BEFORE BREAKFAST.
Cold through the night the dark-fringed stream had whispered under Evan’s eyes, and the night breeze voiced “Fool, fool!” to him, not without a distant echo in his heart. By symbols and sensations he knew that Rose was lost to him. There was no moon: the water seemed aimless, passing on carelessly to oblivion. Now and then the trees stirred and talked, or a noise was heard from the pastures. He had slain the life that lived in them, and the great glory they were to bring forth, and the end to which all things moved. Had less than the loss of Rose been involved, the young man might have found himself looking out on a world beneath notice, and have been sighing for one more worthy of his clouded excellence: but the immense misery present to him in the contemplation of Rose’s sad restrained contempt, saved him from the silly elation which is the last, and generally successful, struggle of human nature in those who can so far master it to commit a sacrifice. The loss of that brave high young soul—Rose, who had lifted him out of the mire with her own white hands: Rose, the image of all that he worshipped: Rose, so closely wedded to him that to be cut away from her was to fall like pallid clay from the soaring spirit: surely he was stunned and senseless when he went to utter the words to her mother! Now that he was awake and could feel his self-inflicted pain, he marvelled at his rashness and foolishness, as perhaps numerous mangled warriors have done for a time, when the battle-field was cool, and they were weak, and the uproar of their jarred nerves has beset them, lying uncherished.
By degrees he grew aware of a little consolatory touch, like the point of a needle, in his consciousness. Laxley would certainly insult him! In that case he would not refuse to fight him. The darkness broke and revealed this happy prospect, and Evan held to it an hour, and could hardly reject it when better thoughts conquered. For would it not be sweet to make the strength of his arm respected? He took a stick, and ran his eye musingly along the length, trifling with it grimly. The great Mel had been his son’s instructor in the chivalrous science of fence, and a maitre d’armes in Portugal had given him polish. In Mel’s time duels with swords were occasionally fought, and Evan looked on the sword as the weapon of combat. Face to face with his adversary—what then was birth or position? Action!—action!—he sighed for it, as I have done since I came to know that his history must be morally developed. A glow of bitter pleasure exalted him when, after hot passages, and parryings and thrusts, he had disarmed Ferdinand Laxley, and bestowing on him his life, said: “Accept this worthy gift of the son of a tailor!” and he wiped his sword, haply bound up his wrist, and stalked off the ground, the vindicator of man’s natural dignity. And then he turned upon himself with laughter, discovering a most wholesome power, barely to be suspected in him yet; but of all the children of glittering Mel and his solid mate, Evan was the best mixed compound of his parents.
He put the stick back in its corner and eyed his wrist, as if he had really just gone through the pretty scene he had just laughed at. It was nigh upon reality, for it suggested the employment of a handkerchief, and he went to a place and drew forth one that had the stain of his blood on it, and the name of Rose at one end. The beloved name was half-blotted by the dull red mark, and at that sight a strange tenderness took hold of Evan. His passions became dead and of old date. This, then, would be his for-ever! Love, for whom earth had been too small, crept exultingly into a nut-shell. He clasped the treasure on his breast, and saw a life beyond his parting with her.
Strengthened thus, he wrote by the morning light to Laxley. The letter was brief, and said simply that the act of which Laxley had been accused, Evan Harrington was responsible for. The latter expressed regret that Laxley should have fallen under a false charge, and, at the same time, indicated that if Laxley considered himself personally aggrieved, the writer was at his disposal.
A messenger had now to be found to convey it to the village-inn. Footmen were stirring about the house, and one meeting Evan close by his door, observed with demure grin, that he could not find the gentleman’s nether-garments. The gentleman, it appeared, was Mr. John Raikes, who, according to report, had been furnished with a bed at the house, because of a discovery, made at a late period over-night, that farther the gentleman could not go. Evan found him sleeping soundly. How much the poor youth wanted a friend! Fortune had given him instead a born buffoon; and it is perhaps the greatest evil of a position like Evan’s, that with cultured feelings you are likely to meet with none to know you. Society does not mix well in money-pecking spheres. Here, however, was John Raikes, and Evan had to make the best of him.
“Eh?” yawned Jack, awakened; “I was dreaming I was Napoleon Bonaparte’s right-hand man.”
“I want you to be mine for half-an-hour,” said Evan.
Without replying, the distinguished officer jumped out of bed at a bound, mounted a chair, and peered on tip-toe over the top, from which, with a glance of self-congratulation, he pulled the missing piece of apparel, sighed dejectedly as he descended, while he exclaimed:
“Safe! but no distinction can compensate a man for this state of intolerable suspicion of everybody. I assure you, Harrington, I wouldn’t be Napoleon himself—and I have always been his peculiar admirer—to live and be afraid of my valet! I believe it will develop cancer sooner or later in me. I feel singular pains already. Last night, after crowning champagne with ale, which produced a sort of French Revolution in my interior—by the way, that must have made me dream of Napoleon!—last night, with my lower members in revolt against my head, I had to sit and cogitate for hours on a hiding-place for these—call them what you will. Depend upon it, Harrington, this world is no such funny affair as we fancy.”
“Then it is true that you could let a man play pranks on you,” said Evan. “I took it for one of your jokes.”
“Just as I can’t believe that you’re a tailor,” returned Jack. “It’s not a bit more extraordinary.”
“But, Jack, if you cause yourself to be contemptible——”
“Contemptible!” cried Jack. “This is not the tone I like. Contemptible! why, it’s my eccentricity among my equals. If I dread the profane vulgar, that only proves that I’m above them. Odi, &c. Besides, Achilles had his weak point, and egad, it was when he faced about! By Jingo! I wish I’d had that idea yesterday. I should have behaved better.”
Evan could see that Jack was beginning to rely desperately on his humour.
“Come,” he said, “be a man to-day. Throw off your motley. When I met you that night so oddly, you had been acting like a worthy fellow,—trying to earn your bread in the best way you could——”
“And precisely because I met you, of all men, I’ve been going round and round ever since,” said Jack. “A clown or pantaloon would have given me balance. Say no more. You couldn’t help it. We met because we were the two extremes.”
Sighing, “What a jolly old inn!” Mr. Raikes rolled himself over in the sheets and gave two or three snug jolts indicative of his determination to be comfortable while he could.
“Do you intend to carry on this folly, Jack?”
“Say, sacrifice,” was the answer. “I feel it as much as you possibly could, Mr. Harrington. Hear the facts.” Jack turned round again. “Why did I consent to this absurdity? Because of my ambition. That old fellow, whom I took to be a clerk of Messrs. Grist, said: ‘You want to cut a figure in the world—you’re armed now.’ A sort of Fortunatus’s joke. It was his way of launching me. But did he think I intended this for more than a lift? I his puppet? He, sir, was my tool! Well, I came. All my efforts were strained to shorten the period of penance. I had the best linen, and put on captivating manners. I should undoubtedly have won some girl of station, and cast off my engagement like an old suit, but just mark!—now mark how Fortune tricks us! After the pic-nic yesterday, the domestics of the house came to clear away, and the band being there, I stopped them and bade them tune up, and at the same time seizing the maid Wheedle, away we flew. We danced, we whirled, we twirled. Ale upon this! My head was lost. ‘Why don’t it last for ever?’ says I. ‘I wish it did,’ says she. The naïveté enraptured me. ‘Oooo!” I cried, hugging her; and then, you know, there was no course open to a man of honour but to offer marriage and make a lady of her. I proposed; she accepted me, and here I am, eternally tied to this accurst insignia, if I’m to keep my promise! Isn’t that a sacrifice, friend H.? There’s no course open to me. The poor girl is madly in love. She called me a ‘rattle!’ As a gentleman, I cannot recede—ha! ha! I must carry on my suit! I must be tied to tin! Think I’m merry, if you like, but I doubt an thou’dst be capable of sacrifice so vast! I doubt it indeed!”
Evan got up and burst into laughter at this burlesque of himself. Telling Jack the service he required of him, and receiving a groaning assurance that the letter should, without loss of time, be delivered in proper style, the egotist, as Jack heartily thought him, fell behind his knitted brows, and, after musing abstractedly, went forth to light upon his fate.
But a dread of meeting had seized both Rose and Evan. She had exhausted her first sincerity of unbelief in her interview with Juliana: and he had begun to consider what he could say to her. More than the three words “I did it,” would not be possible; and if she made him repeat them, facing her truthful eyes, would he be man enough to strike her bared heart twice? And, ah! the sullen brute he must seem, standing before her dumb, hearing her sigh, seeing her wretched effort not to show how unwillingly her kind spirit despised him. The reason for the act—she would ask for that! Rose would not be so philosophic as her mother. She would grasp at every chance to excuse the deed. He cried out against his scheming sister in an agony, and while he did so, encountered Miss Carrington and Miss Bonner in deep converse. Juliana pinched her arm, whereupon Miss Carrington said: “You look merry this morning, Mr. Harrington:” for he was unawares smiling at the image of himself in the mirror of John Raikes. That smile, transformed to a chuckling grimace, travelled to Rose before they met.
Why did she not come to him?
A soft voice at his elbow made his blood stop. It was Caroline. She kissed him, answering his greeting: “Is it good morning?”
“Certainly,” said he. “By the way, don’t forget that the coach leaves early.”
“My darling Evan! you make me so happy. For it was really a mistaken sense of honour. For what can at all excuse a falsehood, you know, Evan!”
Caroline took his arm, and led him into the sun, watching his face at times. Presently she said: “I want just to be assured that you thought more wisely than when you left us last night.”
“More wisely?” Evan turned to her with a playful smile.
“My dear brother! you did not do what you said you would do?”
“Have you ever known me not do what I said I would do?”
“Evan! Good Heaven! you did it? Then how can you remain here an instant? Oh, no, no!—say no, darling!”
“Where is Louisa?” he inquired.
“She is in her room. She will never appear at breakfast, if she knows this.”
“Perhaps more solitude would do her good,” said Evan.
“Remember, if this should prove true, think how you punish her!”
On that point Evan had his own opinion.
“Well, I shall never have to punish you in this way, my love,” he said fondly, and Caroline dropped her eyelids.
“Don’t think that I am blaming her,” he added, trying to feel as honestly as he spoke. “I was mad to come here. I see it all now. Let us keep to our place. We are all the same before God till we disgrace ourselves.”
Possibly with that sense of shame which some young people have who are not professors of sounding sentences, or affected by missionary zeal, when they venture to breathe the holy name, Evan blushed, and walked on humbly silent. Caroline murmured: “Yes, yes! oh, brother!” and her figure drew to him as if for protection. Pale she looked up.
“Shall you always love me, Evan?”
“Whom else have I to love?”
“But always—always? Under any circumstances?”
“More and more, dear. I always have, and shall. I look to you now. I have no home but in your heart now.”
She was agitated, and he spoke warmly to calm her.
The throb of deep emotion rang in her rich voice. “I will live any life to be worthy of your love, Evan,” and she wept.
To him they were words and tears without a history.
Nothing further passed between them. Caroline went to the Countess: Evan waited for Rose. The sun was getting high. The face of the stream glowed like metal. Why did she not come? She believed him guilty from the mouth of another? If so, there was something less for him to lose. And now the sacrifice he had made did whisper a tale of moral magnificence in his ears: feelings that were not his noblest stood up exalted. He waited till the warm meadow-breath floating past told that the day had settled into heat, and then he waited no more, but quietly walked into the house with the strength of one who had conquered more than human scorn.
CHAPTER XXXVII. THE RETREAT FROM BECKLEY.
Never would the Countess believe that brother of hers, idiot as by nature he might be, and heir to unnumbered epithets, would so far forget what she had done for him, as to drag her through the mud for nothing: and so she told Caroline again and again, vehemently.
It was about ten minutes before the time for descending to the breakfast-table. She was dressed, and sat before the glass, smoothing her hair, and applying the contents of a pot of cold cream to her forehead between whiles. With perfect sincerity she repeated that she could not believe it. She had only trusted Evan once since their visit to Beckley; and that this once he should, when treated as a man, turn traitor to their common interests, and prove himself an utter baby, was a piece of nonsense her great intelligence indignantly rejected.
“Then, if true,” she answered Caroline’s assurances finally,” “if true, he is not his father’s son!”
By which it may be seen that she had indeed taken refuge in the Castle of Negation against the whole army of facts.
“He is acting, Carry. He is acting the ideas of his ridiculous empty noddle!”
“No,” said Caroline, mournfully, “he is not. I have never known Evan to lie.”
“Then you must forget the whipping he once had from his mother—little dolt! little selfish pig! He obtains his reputation entirely from his abominable selfishness, and then stands tall, and asks us to admire him. He bursts with vanity. But if you lend your credence to it, Carry, how, in the name of goodness, are you to appear at the breakfast?”
“I was going to ask you whether you would come,” said Caroline, coldly.
“If I can get my hair to lie flat by any means at all, of course!” returned the Countess. “This dreadful horrid country pomade! Why did we not bring a larger stock of the Andalusian Regenerator? Upon my honour, my dear, you use a most enormous quantity; I must really tell you that.”
Conning here entered to say that Mr. Evan had given orders for the boxes to be packed and everything got ready to depart by half-past eleven o’clock, when the fly would call for them and convey them to Fallowfield in time to meet the coach for London.
The Countess turned her head round to Caroline like an astonished automaton.
“Given orders!” she interjected.
“I have very little to get ready,” remarked Caroline.
“Be so good as to wait outside the door one instant,” said the Countess to Conning, with particular urbanity.
Conning heard a great deal of vigorous whispering within, and when summoned to re-appear, a note was handed her to convey to Mr. Harrington immediately. He was on the lawn; read it, and wrote back three hasty lines in pencil.
“Louisa. You have my commands to quit this house, at the hour named, this day. You will go with me. E. H.”
Conning was again requested to wait outside the Countess’s door. She was the bearer of another note. Evan read it likewise; tore it up, and said that there was no answer.
The Castle of Negation held out no longer. Ruthless battalions poured over the walls, blew up the Countess’s propriety, made frightful ravages in her complexion. Down fell her hair.
“You cannot possibly go to breakfast,” said Caroline.
“I must! I must!” cried the Countess. “Why, my dear, if he has done it—wretched creature! don’t you perceive that, by withholding our presences, we become implicated with him?” And the Countess, from a burst of frenzy, put this practical question so shrewdly, that Caroline’s wits succumbed to her.
“But he has not done it; he is acting!” she pursued, restraining her precious tears for higher purposes, as only true heroines can. “Thinks to frighten me into submission!”
“Do you not think Evan is right in wishing us to leave, after—after—” Caroline humbly suggested.
“Say, before my venerable friend has departed this life,” the Countess took her up. “No, I do not. If he is a fool, I am not. No, Carry: I do not jump into ditches for nothing. I will have something tangible for all that I have endured. We are now tailors in this place, remember. If that stigma is affixed to us, let us at least be remunerated for it. Come.”
Caroline’s own hard struggle demanded all her strength: yet she appeared to hesitate. “You will surely not disobey Evan, Louisa?”
“Disobey?” The Countess amazedly dislocated the syllables. “Why, the boy will be telling you next that he will not permit the Duke to visit you! Just your English order of mind, that cannot—brutes!—conceive of friendship between high-born men and beautiful women. Beautiful as you truly are, Carry, five years more will tell on you. But perhaps my dearest is in a hurry to return to her Maxwell? At least he thwacks well!”
Caroline’s arm was taken. The Countess loved an occasional rhyme when a point was to be made, and went off nodding and tripping till the time for stateliness arrived, near the breakfast-room door. She indeed was acting. At the bottom of her heart there was a dismal rage of passions: hatred of those who would or might look tailor in her face: terrors concerning the possible re-visitation of the vengeful Sir Abraham: dread of Evan and the effort to despise him: the shocks of many conflicting elements. Above it all her countenance was calmly, sadly sweet: even as you may behold some majestic lighthouse glimmering over the tumult of a midnight sea.
An unusual assemblage honoured the breakfast that morning. The news of Mrs. Bonner’s health was more favourable. How delighted was the Countess to hear that! Mrs. Bonner was the only firm ground she stood on there, and after receiving and giving gentle salutes, she talked of Mrs. Bonner, and her night-watch by the sick-bed, in a spirit of doleful hope. This passed off the moments till she could settle herself to study faces. Decidedly, every lady present looked glum, with the single exception of Miss Current. Evan was by Lady Jocelyn’s side. Her ladyship spoke to him; but the Countess observed that no one else did. To herself, however, the gentlemen were as attentive as ever. Evan sat three chairs distant from her.
If the traitor expected his sister to share in his disgrace, by noticing him, he was in error. On the contrary, the Countess joined the conspiracy to exclude him, and would stop a mild laugh if perchance he looked up. Presently Rose entered. She said “Good morning” to one or two, and glided into a seat.
That Evan was under Lady Jocelyn’s protection soon became generally apparent, and also that her ladyship was angry: an exhibition so rare with her that it was the more remarked. Rose could see that she was a culprit in her mother’s eyes. She glanced from Evan to her. Lady Jocelyn’s mouth shut hard. The girl’s senses then perceived the something that was afloat at the table; she thought with a pang of horror: “Has Juliana told?” Juliana smiled on her; but the aspect of Mrs. Shorne, and of Miss Carrington, spoke for their knowledge of that which must henceforth be the perpetual reproof to her headstrong youth.
“At what hour do you leave us?” said Lady Jocelyn to Evan.
“When I leave the table, madam. The fly will call for my sisters at half-past eleven.”
“There is no necessity for you to start in advance?”
“I am going over to see my mother, madam.”
Rose burned to speak to him now. Oh! why had she delayed! Why had she swerved from her good rule of open, instant, explanations? But Evan’s heart was stern to his love. Not only had she, by not coming, shown her doubt of him,—she had betrayed him!
Between the Countess, Melville, Sir John, and the Duke, an animated dialogue was going on, over which Miss Current played like a lively iris. They could not part with the Countess. Melville said he should be left stranded, and numerous pretty things were uttered by other gentlemen: by the women not a word. Glancing from certain of them lingeringly to her admirers, the Countess smiled her thanks, and then Andrew, pressed to remain, said he was willing and happy, and so forth; and it seemed that her admirers had prevailed over her reluctance, for the Countess ended her little protests with a vanquished bow. Then there was a gradual rising from table. Evan pressed Lady Jocelyn’s hand, and turning from her bent his head to Sir Franks, who, without offering an exchange of cordialities, said, at arm’s length: “Good-bye, sir.” Melville also gave him that greeting stiffly. Harry was perceived to rush to the other end of the room in quest of a fly, apparently. Poor Caroline’s heart ached for her brother, to see him standing there in the shadow of many faces. But he was not left to stand alone. Andrew quitted the circle of Sir John, Seymour Jocelyn, Mr. George Uploft and others, and linked his arm to Evan’s. Rose had gone. While Evan looked for her despairingly to say his last word and hear her voice once more, Sir Franks said to his wife:
“See that Rose keeps up-stairs.”
“I wan’t to speak to her,” was her ladyship’s answer, and she moved to the door.
Evan made way for her, bowing.
“You will be ready at half-past eleven, Louisa,” he said with calm distinctness, and passed from that purgatory.
Now honest Andrew attributed the treatment Evan met with to the exposure of yesterday. He was frantic with democratic disgust.
“Why the devil don’t they serve me like that, eh? ’Cause I got a few coppers! There, Van! I’m a man of peace; but if you’ll call any man of ’em out I’ll stand your second—’pon my soul, I will. They must be cowards, so there isn’t much to fear. Confound the fellows, I tell ’em every day I’m the son of a cobbler, and egad, they grow civiller. What do they mean? Are cobblers ranked over tailors?”
“Perhaps that’s it,” said Evan.
“Hang your gentlemen!” Andrew cried.
“Let us have breakfast first,” uttered a melancholy voice near them, in the passage.
“Jack!” said Evan. “Where have you been?”
“I didn’t know the breakfast-room,” Jack returned, “and the fact is, my spirits are so down, I couldn’t muster up courage to ask one of the footmen. I delivered your letter. Nothing hostile took place. I bowed fiercely to let him know what he might expect. That generally stops it. You see, I talk prose. I shall never talk anything else!”
Andrew re-commenced his jests of yesterday with Jack. The latter bore them patiently, as one who had endured worse.
“She has rejected me!” he whispered to Evan. “Talk of ingratitude of women! Ten minutes ago I met her. She perked her eyebrows at me!—tried to run away. ‘Miss Wheedle!’ I said. ‘If you please, I’d rather not,’ says she. To cut it short, the sacrifice I made to her was the cause. It’s all over the house. She gave the most excruciating hint. Those low-born females are so horribly indelicate. I stood confounded. To-morrow I shall wear an independent pair—’gad, a rhyme! I’d borrow of you, but your legs are too long. I’m in earnest.”
Commending his new humour, Evan persuaded him to breakfast immediately, and hunger being one of Jack’s solitary incitements to a sensible course of conduct, the disconsolate gentleman followed its dictates.
“Go with him, Andrew,” said Evan. “He is here as my friend, and may be made uncomfortable.”
“Yes, yes,—ha! ha! I’ll follow the poor chap,” said Andrew. “But what is it all about? Louisa won’t go, you know. Has the girl given you up because she saw your mother, Van? I thought it was all right. Why the deuce are you running away?”
“Because I’ve just seen that I ought never to have come, I suppose,” Evan replied, controlling the wretched heaving of his chest.
“But Louisa won’t go, Van.”
“Understand, my dear Andrew, that I know it to be quite imperative. Be ready yourself with Caroline. Louisa will then make her choice. Pray help me in this. We must not stay a minute more than is necessary in this house.”
“It’s an awful duty,” breathed Andrew, after a pause. “I see nothing but hot water at home. Why—but it’s no use asking questions. My love to your mother. I say, Van,—now isn’t Lady Jocelyn a trump?”
“God bless her!” said Evan. And the moisture in Andrew’s eyes affected his own.
“She’s the staunchest piece of woman-goods I ever—— I know a hundred cases of her!”
“I know one, and that’s enough,” said Evan.
Not a sign of Rose! Can love die without its dear farewell on which it feeds, away from the light, dying by bits? In Evan’s heart Love seemed to die, and all the pangs of a death were there as he trod along the gravel and stepped beneath the gates of Beckley Court.
Meantime the gallant Countess was not in any way disposed to retreat on account of Evan’s defection. The behaviour towards him at the breakfast-table proved to her that he had absolutely committed his egregious folly, and as no general can have concert with a fool, she cut him off from her affections resolutely. Her manifest disdain at his last speech, said as much to everybody present. Besides, the lady was in her element here, and compulsion is required to make us relinquish our element. Lady Jocelyn certainly had not expressly begged of her to remain: the Countess told Melville so, who said that if she required such an invitation she should have it, but that a guest to whom they were so much indebted, was bound to spare them these formalities.
“What am I to do?”
The Countess turned piteously to the diplomatist’s wife.
She answered, retiringly: “Indeed I cannot say.”
Upon this, the Countess accepted Melville’s arm, and had some thoughts of punishing the woman.
They were seen parading the lawn. Mr. George Uploft chuckled singularly.
“Just the old style,” he remarked, but corrected the inadvertence with a ‘hem!’ committing himself more shamefully the instant after. “I’ll wager she has the old Dip down on his knee before she cuts.”
“Bet can’t be taken,” observed Sir John Loring. “It requires a spy.”
Harry, however, had heard the remark, and because he wished to speak to her, let us hope, and reproach her for certain things when she chose to be disengaged, he likewise sallied out, being forlorn as a youth whose sweet vanity is much hurt.
The Duke had paired off with Mrs. Strike. The lawn was fair in sunlight where they walked. The air was rich with harvest smells, and the scent of autumnal roses. Caroline was by nature luxurious and soft. The thought of that drilled figure to which she was returning in bondage, may have thrown into bright relief the polished and gracious nobleman who walked by her side, shadowing forth the chances of a splendid freedom. Two lovely tears fell from her eyes. The Duke watched them quietly.
“Do you know they make me jealous?” he said.
Caroline answered him with a faint smile.
“Reassure me, my dear lady, you are not going with your brother this morning?”
“My lord, I have no choice!”
“May I speak to you as your warmest friend? From what I hear, it appears to be right that your brother should not stay. To the best of my ability I will provide for him; but I sincerely desire to disconnect you from those who are unworthy of you. Have you not promised to trust in me? Pray, let me be your guide.”
Caroline replied to the heart of his words: “My lord, I dare not.”
“What has changed you?”
“I am not changed, but awakened,” said Caroline.”
The Duke paced on in silence.
“Pardon me if I comprehend nothing of such a change,” he resumed. “I asked you to sacrifice much; all that I could give in return I offered. Is it the world you fear?”
“What is the world to such as I am, my lord?”
“Can you consider it a duty to deliver yourself bound to that man again?”
“Heaven pardon me, my lord, I think of tha too little!”
The Duke’s next question: “Then what can it be?” stood in his eyes.
“Oh, my lord!” Caroline’s touch quivered on his arm. “Do not suppose me frivolous, ungrateful, or—or cowardly. For myself you have offered more happiness than I could have hoped for. To be allied to one so generous, I could bear anything. Yesterday you had my word: give it to me back to-day!”
Very curiously the Duke gazed on her, for there was evidence of internal torture across her forehead.
“I may at least beg to know the cause for this request?”
She quelled some throbbing in her bosom. “Yes, my lord.”
He waited, and she said: “There is one whom, if I offended, I could not live. If, now, I followed my wishes, he would lose his faith in the last creature that loves him. He is unhappy. I could bear what is called disgrace, my lord,—I shudder to say it—I could sin against Heaven; but I dare not do what would make him despise me?”
She was trembling violently; yet the nobleman, in his surprise, could not forbear from asking who this person might be, whose influence on her righteous actions was so strong.
“It is my brother, my lord,” she said.
Still more astonished, “Your brother!” the Duke exclaimed. “My dearest lady, I would not wound you; but is not this a delusion? we are so placed that we must speak plainly. Your brother I have reason to feel sure is quite unworthy of you.”
“Unworthy? My brother Evan? Oh, my lord! he is noble,—he is the best of men!”
“And how, between yesterday and to-day, has he changed you?”
“It is that yesterday I did not know him, and to-day I do.”
Her brother, a common tradesman, a man guilty of forgery and the utmost baseness—all but kicked out of the house! The Duke was too delicate to press her further. Moreover, Caroline had emphasised the “yesterday” and “to-day,” showing that the interval which had darkened Evan to everybody else, had illumined him to her. He employed some courtly eloquence, better unrecorded; but if her firm resolution perplexed him, it threw a strange halo round the youth from whom it sprang.
The hour was now eleven, and the Countess thought it full time to retire to her entrenchment in Mrs. Bonner’s chamber. She had great things still to do: vast designs were in her hand awaiting the sanction of Providence. Alas! that little idle promenade was soon to be repented. She had joined her sister, thinking it safer to have her up-stairs till they were quit of Evan. The Duke and the diplomatist loitering in the rear, these two fair women sailed across the lawn, conscious, doubtless, over all their sorrows and schemes, of the freight of beauty they carried.
What meant that gathering on the steps? It was fortuitous, like everything destined to confound us. There stood Lady Jocelyn with Andrew, fretting his pate. Harry leant against a pillar. Miss Carrington, Mrs. Shorne, and Mrs. Melville, supported by Mr. George Uploft, held watchfully by. Juliana, with Master Alec and Miss Dorothy, was in the back-ground.
Why did our General see herself cut off from her stronghold, as by a hostile band? She saw it by that sombre light in Juliana’s eyes, which had shown its ominous gleam whenever disasters were on the point of unfolding.
Turning to Caroline, she said: “Is there a backway?”
“Too late!” Andrew called.
“Come along, Louisa. Just time, and no more. Carry, are you packed?”
This in reality was the first note of the retreat from Beckley; and having blown it, the hideous little trumpeter burst into scarlet perspirations, mumbling to Lady Jocelyn: “Now, my lady, mind you stand by me.”
The Countess walked straight up to him.
“Dear Andrew! this sun is too powerful for you. I beg you withdraw into the shade of the house.”
She was about to help him with all her gentleness.
“Yes, yes. All right, Louisa,” rejoined Andrew. “Come, go and pack. The fly’ll be here, you know—too late for the coach, if you don’t mind, my lass. Ain’t you packed yet?”
The horrible fascination of vulgarity impelled the wretched lady to answer: “Are we herrings?” And then she laughed, but without any accompaniment.
“I am now going to dear Mrs. Bonner,” she said, with a tender glance at Lady Jocelyn.
“My mother is sleeping,” her ladyship remarked.
“Come, Carry, my darling!” cried Andrew.
Caroline looked at her sister. The Countess divined Andrew’s shameful guet-à-pens.
“I was under an engagement to go and canvass this afternoon,” she said.
“Why, my dear Louisa, we’ve settled that in here this morning,” said Andrew. “Old Tom only stuck up a puppet to play with. We’ve knocked him over, and march in victorious—eh, my lady?”
“Oh!” exclaimed the Countess, “if Mr. Raikes shall indeed have listened to my inducements!”
“Deuce a bit of inducements!’ returned Andrew. “The fellow’s ashamed of himself—ha! ha! Now then, Louisa.”
While they talked, Juliana had loosed Dorothy and Alec, and these imps were seen rehearsing a remarkable play, in which the damsel held forth a hand and the cavalier advanced and kissed it a loud smack, being at the same time reproached for his lack of grace.
“You are so English!” cried Dorothy, with perfect languor, and a malicious twitter passed between two or three. Mr. George spluttered indiscreetly.
The Countess observed the performance. Not to convert the retreat into a total rout, she, with that dark flush which was her manner of blushing, took formal leave of Lady Jocelyn, who, in return, simply said: “Good bye, Countess.” Mrs. Strike’s hand she kindly shook.
The few digs and slaps and thrusts at gloomy Harry and prim Miss Carrington and boorish Mr. George, wherewith the Countess, torn with wrath, thought it necessary to cover her retreat, need not be told. She struck the weak alone: Juliana she respected. Masterly tactics, for they showed her power, gratified her vengeance, and left her unassailed. On the road she had Andrew to tear to pieces. O delicious operation! And O shameful brother to reduce her to such joys! And, O Providence! may a poor desperate soul, betrayed through her devotion, unremunerated for her humiliation and absolute hard work, accuse thee? The Countess would have liked to. She felt it to be the instigation of the devil, and decided to remain on the safe side still.
Happily for Evan, she was not ready with her packing by half-past eleven. It was near twelve when he, pacing in front of the inn, observed Polly Wheedle, followed some yards in the rear by John Raikes, advancing towards him. Now Polly had been somewhat delayed by Jack’s persecutions, and Evan declining to attend to the masked speech of her mission, which directed him to go at once down a certain lane in the neighbourhood of the park, some minutes were lost.
“Why, Mr. Harrington,” said Polly, “it’s Miss Rose: she’s had leave from her Ma. Can you stop away, when it’s quite proper?”
Evan hesitated. Before he could conquer the dark spirit, lo, Rose appeared, walking up the village street. Polly and her adorer fell back.
Timidly, unlike herself, Rose neared him.
“I have offended you, Evan. You would not come to me: I have come to you.”
“I am glad to be able to say good-bye to you, Rose,” was his pretty response.
Could she have touched his hand then, the blood of these lovers rushing to one channel must have made all clear. At least he could hardly have struck her true heart with his miserable lie. But that chance was lost: they were in the street, where passions have no play.
“Tell me, Evan,—it is not true.”
He, refining on his misery, thought, “She would not ask it if she trusted me:” and answered her: “You have heard it from your mother, Rose.”
“But I will not believe it from any lips but yours, Evan. Oh, speak, speak!”
It pleased him to think: “How could one who loved me believe it even then?”
He said: “It can scarcely do good to make me repeat it, Rose.”
And then, seeing her dear bosom heave quickly, he was tempted to fall on his knees to her with a wild outcry of love. The chance was lost. The inexorable street forbade it.
There they stood in silence, gasping at the barrier that divided them.
Suddenly a noise was heard. “Stop! stop!” cried the voice of John Raikes. “When a lady and gentleman are talking together, sir, do you lean your long ears over them—ha?”
Looking round, Evan beheld Laxley a step behind, and Jack rushing up to him, seizing his collar, and instantly undergoing ignominious prostration for his heroic defence of the privacy of lovers.
“Stand aside,” said Laxley, imperiously. “Rosey! so you’ve come for me. Take my arm. You are under my protection.”
Another forlorn “Is it true?” Rose cast towards Evan with her eyes. He wavered under them.
“Did you receive my letter?” he demanded of Laxley.
“I decline to hold converse with you,” said Laxley, drawing Rose’s hand on his arm.
“You will meet me to-day or to-morrow?”
“I am in the habit of selecting my own company.”
Rose disengaged her hand. Evan grasped it. No word of farewell was uttered. Her mouth moved, but her eyes were hard shut, and nothing save her hand’s strenuous pressure, equalling his own, told that their parting had been spoken, the link violently snapped.
Mr. John Raikes had been picked up and pulled away by Polly. She now rushed to Evan: “Good-bye, and God bless you, dear Mr. Harrington. I’ll find means of letting you know how she is. And he shan’t have her, mind!”
Rose was walking by Laxley’s side, but not leaning on his arm. Evan blessed her for this. Ere she was out of sight the fly rolled down the street. She did not heed it, did not once turn her head. Ah, bitter unkindness! When Love is hurt it is self-love that requires the opiate. Conning gave it him in the form of a note in a handwriting not known to him. It said:
"I do not believe it, and nothing will ever make me.
Evan could not forget these words. They coloured his farewell to Beckley: the dear old downs, the hop-gardens, the long grey farms walled with clipped yew, the home of his lost love! He thought of them through weary nights when the ghostly image with the hard shut eye-lids and the quivering lips would rise and sway irresolutely in air till a shape out of the darkness extinguished it. Pride is the god of pagans. Juliana had honoured her god. The spirit of Juliana seemed to pass into the body of Rose, and suffer for him as that ghostly image visibly suffered.