Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Evan Harrington - Part 31
EVAN HARRINGTON; or, HE WOULD BE A GENTLEMAN.
BY GEORGE MEREDITH.
CHAPTER XL.IN WHICH THE COUNTESS STILL SCENTS GAME.
Mr. John Raikes and his friend Frank Remand, surnamed Franco, to suit the requirements of metre, in which they habitually conversed, were walking arm-in-arm along the drive in Society’s Park on a fine frosty Sunday afternoon of midwinter. The quips and jokes of Franco were lively, and he looked into the carriages passing, as if he knew that a cheerful countenance is not without charms for their inmates. Jack’s face, on the contrary, was barren and bleak. Being of that nature that when a pun was made he must perforce outstrip it, he fell into Franco’s humour from time to time, but albeit aware that what he uttered was good, and by comparison transcendent, he refused to enjoy it. Nor when Franco started from his arm to declaim a passage, did he do other than make limp efforts to unite himself to Franco again. A further sign of immense depression in him was that instead of the creative, it was the critical faculty he exercised, and rather than reply to Franco in his form of speech, he scanned occasional lines and objected to particular phrases. He had clearly exchanged the sanguine for the bilious temperament, and was fast stranding on the rocky shores of prose. Franco bore this very well, for he, like Jack in happier days, claimed all the glances of lovely woman as his own, and on his right there flowed a stream of beauties. At last he was compelled to observe: “This change is sudden: wherefore so downcast? With tigrine claw thou manglest my speech, thy cheeks are like December’s pippin, and thy tongue most sour!”
“Then of it make a farce!” said Jack, for the making of farces was Franco’s profession.
“Wherefore so downcast! What a line! There! let’s walk on. Let us the left foot forward stout advance. I care not for the herd.”
“’Tis love!” cried Franco.
“Ay, an’ it be!” Jack gloomily returned.
“For ever cruel is the sweet Saldar?”
Jack winced at this name.
“A truce to banter, Franco!” he said sternly: but the subject was opened, and the wound.
“Love!” he pursued, mildly groaning. “Suppose you adored a fascinating woman, and she knew—positively knew—your manly weakness, and you saw her smiling upon everybody, and she told you to be happy, and egad, when you came to reflect, you found that after three months’ suit, you were nothing better than her errand-boy? A thing to boast of, is it not, quotha?”
“Love’s yellow-fever, jealousy, methinks,” Franco commenced in reply; but Jack spat at the emphasised word.
“Jealousy!—who’s jealous of clergymen and that crew? Not I, by Pluto! I carried five messages to one fellow with a coat-tail straight to his heels, last week. She thought I should drive my curricle—I couldn’t afford an omnibus! I had to run. When I returned to her I was dirty. She made remarks!”
“Thy sufferings are severe—but such is woman!” said Franco. “’Gad, it’s a good idea, though.” He took out a note-book and pencilled a point or two. Jack watched the process sardonically.
“My tragedy is, then, thy farce!” he exclaimed. “Well, be it so! I believe I shall come to song-writing again myself shortly—beneath the shield of Catnach I’ll a nation’s ballad’s frame! I’ve spent my income—or, as you grossly call it—my tincome, ha! ha! in four months, and now I’m living on my curricle. I underlet it. It’s like trade—it’s as bad as poor old Harrington, by Jove! But that isn’t the worst, Franco!” Jack dropped his voice: “I believe I’m furiously loved by a poor country wench.”
“Morals!” was Franco’s most encouraging reproof.
“Oh, I don’t think I’ve even kissed her,” rejoined Jack, who doubted because his imagination was vivid. “It’s my intellect that dazzles her. I’ve got letters—she calls me clever. By jingo! since I gave up driving I’ve had thoughts of rushing down to her and making her mine in spite of home, family, fortune, friends, name, position—everything! I have, indeed.”
Franco looked naturally astonished at this amount of self-sacrifice. “The Countess?” he shrewdly suggested.
“I’d rather be my Polly’s prince
Than yon great lady’s errand-boy!”
Jack burst into song.
He stretched out his hand, as if to discard all the great ladies who were passing. By the strangest misfortune ever known, the direction taken by his fingers was towards a carriage wherein, beautifully smiling opposite an elaborately reverend gentleman of middle age, the Countess de Saldar was sitting. This great lady is not to be blamed for deeming that her errand-boy was pointing her out vulgarly on a public promenade. Ineffable disdain curled off her sweet olive visage. She turned her head.
“I’ll go down to that girl to-night,” said Jack, with compressed passion. And then he hurried Franco along to the bridge, where, behold, the Countess alighted with the gentleman, and walked beside him into the gardens.
“Follow her,” said Jack, in agitation. “Do you see her? by yon long-tailed raven’s side? Follow her, Franco! See if he kisses her hand—anything! and meet me here in half an hour. I’ll have evidence!”
Franco did not altogether like the office, but Jack’s dinners, singular luck, and superiority in the encounter of puns, gave him the upper hand with his friend, and so Franco went.
Turning away from the last glimpse of his Countess, Jack crossed the bridge, and had not strolled far beneath the bare branches of one of the long green walks, when he perceived a gentleman with two ladies leaning on him.
“Now, there,” moralised Jack; “now, what do you say to that? Do you call that fair? He can’t be happy, and it’s not in nature for them to be satisfied. And yet, if I went up and attempted to please them all by taking one away, the probabilities are that he would knock me down. Such is life! We won’t be made comfortable!”
Nevertheless, he passed them with indifference, for it was merely the principle he objected to; and, indeed, he was so wrapped in his own conceptions, that his name had to be called behind him twice before he recognised Evan Harrington, Mrs. Strike, and Miss Bonner. The arrangement he had previously thought good, was then spontaneously adopted. Mrs. Strike reposed her fair hand upon Jack’s arm, and Juliana, with a timid glance of pleasure, walked ahead in Evan’s charge. Close neighbourhood between the couples was not kept. The genius of Mr. John Raikes was wasted in manœuvres to lead his beautiful companion into places where he could be seen with her, and envied. It was, perhaps, more flattering that she should betray a marked disposition to prefer solitude in his society. But this idea illumined him only towards the moment of parting. Then he saw it; then he groaned in soul, and besought Evan to have one more promenade, saying, with characteristic cleverness in the masking of his real thoughts: “It gives us an appetite, you know.”
In Evan’s face and Juliana’s there was not much sign that any protraction of their walk together would aid this beneficent process of nature. He took her hand gently, and when he quitted it, it dropped.
“The Rose, the Rose of Beckley Court!” Jack sang aloud. “Why, this is a day of meetings. Behold John Thomas in the rear—a tower of plush and powder! Shall I rush—shall I pluck her from the aged stem?”
On the gravel-walk above them Rose passed with her aristocratic grandmother, muffled in furs. She marched deliberately, looking coldly before her. Evan’s face was white, and Juliana, whose eyes were fixed on him, shuddered.
“I’m chilled,” she murmured to Caroline. “Let us go.”
Caroline eyed Evan with a meaning sadness.
“We will hurry to our carriage,” she said. “I will write.”
They were seen to make a little circuit so as not to approach Rose; after whom, thoughtless of his cruelty, Evan bent his steps slowly, halting when she reached her carriage. He believed—rather, he knew that she had seen him. There was a consciousness in the composed outlines of her face as she passed: the indifference was too perfect. Let her hate him, if she pleased. It recompensed him that the air she wore should make her appearance more womanly; and that black dress and crape-bonnet, in some way, touched him to mournful thoughts of her that helped a partial forgetfulness of wounded self.
Rose had driven of. He was looking at the same spot where Caroline’s hand waved from her carriage. Juliana was not seen. Caroline requested her to nod to him once, but she would not. She leaned back hiding her eyes, and moving a petulant shoulder at Caroline’s hand.
“Has he offended you, my child?”
Juliana answered harshly:
“Are my hopes false?” asked the mellow voice.
No reply was heard. The wheels rolled on, and Caroline tried other subjects, knowing possibly that they would lead Juliana back to this of her own accord.
“You saw how she treated him?” the latter presently said, without moving her hand from before her eyes.
“Yes, dear. He forgives her, and will forget it.”
“Oh!” she clenched her long thin hand, “I pray that I may not die before I have made her repent it. She shall!”
Juliana looked glitteringly in Caroline’s face, and then fell a-weeping, and suffered herself to be folded and caressed. The storm was long subsiding.
“Dearest! you are better now?” said Caroline.
She whispered: “Yes.”
“My brother has only to know you, dear——”
“Hush! That’s past.” Juliana stopped her; and, on a deep breath that threatened to break to sobs, she added in a sweeter voice than was common to her, “Ah, why—why did you tell him about the Beckley property?”
Caroline vainly strove to deny that she had told him. Juliana’s head shook mournfully at her; and now Caroline knew what Juliana meant when she begged so earnestly that Evan should be kept ignorant of her change of fortune.
Some days after this the cold struck Juliana’s chest, and she sickened. The three sisters held a sitting to consider what it was best to do with her. Caroline proposed to take her to Beckley without delay. Harriet was of opinion that the least they could do was to write to her relations and make them instantly aware of her condition.
But the Countess said, “No,” to both. Her argument was, that Juliana being independent, they were by no means bound to “bundle” her, in her state, back to a place where she had been so shamefully maltreated: that here she would live, while there she would certainly die: that absence of excitement was her medicine, and that here she had it. Mrs. Andrew, feeling herself responsible as the young lady’s hostess, did not acquiesce in the Countess’s views till she had consulted Juliana; and then apologies for giving trouble were breathed on the one hand; sympathy, condolences, and professions of esteem, on the other. Juliana said, she was but slightly ill, would soon recover: entreated not to leave them before she was thoroughly re-established, and to consent to be looked on as one of the family, she sighed, and said, it was the utmost she could hope. Of course the ladies took this compliment to themselves, but Evan began to wax in importance. The Countess thought it nearly time to acknowledge him, and supported the idea by a citation of the doctrine, that to forgive is Christian. It happened, however, that Harriet, who had less art and more will than her sisters, was inflexible. She, living in a society but a few steps above Tailordom, however magnificent in expenditure and resources, abhorred it solemnly. From motives of prudence, as well as personal disgust, she continued firm in declining to receive her brother. She would not relent when the Countess pointed out a dim, a dazzling, prospect, growing out of Evan’s proximity to the heiress of Beckley Court; she was not to be moved when Caroline suggested that the specific for the frail invalid was Evan’s presence. As to this, Juliana was sufficiently open, though, as she conceived, her art was extreme.
“Do you know why I stay to vex and trouble you?” she asked Caroline. “Well, then, it is that I may see your brother united to you all: and then I shall go happy.”
The pretext served also to make him the subjec of many conversations. Twice a week a bunch of the best flowers that could be got were sorted and arranged by her, and sent namelessly to brighten Evan’s chamber.
“I may do such a thing as this, you know, without incurring blame,” she said.
The sight of a love so humble in its strength and affluence, sent Caroline to Evan on a fruitless errand. What availed it that, accused of giving lead to his pride in refusing the heiress, Evan should declare that he did not love her? He did not, Caroline admitted as possible, but he might. He might learn to love her, and therefore he was wrong in wounding her heart. She related flattering anecdotes. She drew tearful pictures of Juliana’s love for him; and noticing how he seemed to prize his bouquet of flowers, said:
“Do you love them for themselves, or the hand that sent them?”
Evan blushed, for it had been a struggle for him to receive them, as he thought, from Rose in secret. The flowers lost their value; the song that had arisen out of them, “Thou livest in my memory,” ceased. But they came still. How many degrees from love gratitude may be, I have not reckoned. I rather fear it lies on the opposite shore. From a youth to a girl, it may yet be very tender; the more so, because their ages commonly exclude such a sentiment, and nature seems willing to make a transition stage of it. Evan wrote to Juliana. Incidentally he expressed a wish to see her. Juliana was under doctor’s interdict: but she was not to be prevented from going when Evan wished her to go. They met in the park, as before, and he talked to her five minutes through the carriage window.
“Was it worth the risk, my poor child?” said Caroline, pityingly.
Juliana cried: “Oh! I would give anything to live!”
A man might have thought that she made no direct answer.
“Don’t you think I am patient? Don’t you think I am very patient?” she asked Caroline, winningly, on their way home.
Caroline could scarcely forbear from smiling at the feverish anxiety she showed for a reply that should confirm her words and hopes.
“So we must all be!” she said, and that common-place remark caused Juliana to exclaim: “Prisoners have lived in a dungeon, on bread and water, for years!”
Whereat Caroline kissed her so very tenderly that Juliana tried to look surprised, and failing, her thin lips quivered; she breathed a soft “hush,” and fell on Caroline’s bosom.
She was transparent enough in one thing; but the flame which burned within her did not light her through. Others, on other matters, were quite as transparent to her. Caroline never knew that she had as much as told her the moral suicide Evan had committed at Beckley; so cunningly had she been probed at intervals with little casual questions; random interjections, that one who loved him could not fail to meet; petty doubts requiring elucidations. And the Countess, kind as her sentiments had grown towards the afflicted creature, was compelled to proclaim her densely stupid in material affairs. For the Countess had an itch of the simplest feminine curiosity to know whether the dear child had any notion of accomplishing a certain holy duty of the perishable on this earth, who might possess worldly goods; and no hints—not even plain speaking, would do. Juliana did not understand her at all.
The Countess exhibited a mourning-ring on her finger, Mrs. Bonner’s bequest to her.
“How fervent is my gratitude to my excellent departed friend for this! A legacy, however trifling, embalms our dear lost ones in the memory!”
It was of no avail. Juliana continued densely stupid. Was she not worse? The Countess could not, “in decency,” as she observed, reveal to her who had prompted Mrs. Bonner so to bequeath the Beckley estates as to “ensure sweet Juliana’s future;” but ought not Juliana to divine it?—Juliana at least had hints sufficient.
Cold spring winds were now blowing. Juliana had resided no less that two months with the Cogglesbys. She was entreated still to remain, and she did. From Lady Jocelyn she heard not a word of remonstrance; but from Miss Carrington and Mrs. Shorne she received admonishing letters. Finally, Mr. Harry Jocelyn presented himself. In London, and without any of that needful substance which a young gentleman feels the want of in London more than elsewhere, Harry began to have thoughts of his own, without any instigation from his aunts, about devoting himself to business. So he sent his card up to his cousin, and was graciously met in the drawing-room by the Countess, who ruffled him and smoothed him, and would possibly have distracted his soul from business had his circumstances been less straitened. Juliana was declared to be too unwell to see him that day. He called a second time, and enjoyed a similar greeting. His third visit procured him an audience alone with Juliana, when, at once, despite the warnings of his aunts, the frank fellow plunged into medias res. Mrs. Bonner had left him totally dependent on his parents and his chances.
“A desperate state of things, isn’t it, Juley? I think I shall go for a soldier—common, you know.”
Instead of shrieking out against such a debasement of his worth and gentility, as was to be expected, Juliana said:
“That’s what Mr. Harrington thought of doing.”
“He! If he’d had the pluck he would.”
“His duty forbade it, and he did not.”
“Duty! a confounded tailor! What fools we were to have him at Beckley!”
“Has the Countess been unkind to you, Harry?”
“I havn’t seen her to-day, and don’t want to. It’s my little dear old Juley I came for.”
“Dear Harry!” she thanked him with eyes and hands. “Come often, won’t you?”
“Why, ain’t you coming back to us, Juley?”
“Not yet. They are very kind to me here. How is Rose?”
“Oh, quite jolly. She and Ferdinand are thick again. Balls every night. She dances like the deuce. They want me to go; but I ain’t the sort of figure for those places, and besides, I shan’t dance till I can lead you out.”
A spur of laughter at Harry’s generous nod brought on Juliana’s cough. Harry watched her little body shaken and her reddened eyes. Some real emotion—perhaps the fear which healthy young people experience at the sight of deadly disease—made Harry touch her arm with the softness of a child’s touch.”
“Don’t be alarmed, Harry,” she said. “It’s nothing—only winter. I’m determined to get well.”
“That’s right,” quoth he, recovering. “I know you’ve got pluck, or you wouldn’t have stood that operation.”
“Let me see: when was that?” she asked slyly.
Harry coloured, for it related to a time when he had not behaved prettily to her.
“There, Juley, that’s all forgotten. I was a fool—a scoundrel, if you like. I’m sorry for it now.”
“Do you want money, Harry?”
“Have you repaid Mr. Harrington yet?”
“There—no, I haven’t. Bother it! that fellow’s name’s always on your tongue. I’ll tell you what, Juley—but it’s no use. He’s a low, vulgar adventurer.”
“Dear Harry,” said Juliana, softly; “don’t bring your aunts with you when you come to see me.”
“Well, then, I’ll tell you, Juley. It’s enough that he’s a beastly tailor.”
“Quite enough,” she responded. “And he is neither a fool nor a scoundrel.”
Harry’s memory for his own speech was not quick. When Juliana’s calm glance at him called it up, he jumped from his chair, crying: “Upon my honour, I’ll tell you what, Juley! If I had money to pay him to-morrow, I’d insult him on the spot.”
Juliana meditated, and said: “Then all your friends must wish you to continue poor.”
This girl had once been on her knees to him. She had looked up to him with admiring love, and he had given her a crumb or so occasionally, thinking her something of a fool, and more of a pest; but now he could not say a word to her without being baffled in an elder sisterly tone that exasperated him so far that he positively wished to marry her, and coming to the point, offered himself with downright sincerity, and was rejected. Harry left in a passion. Juliana confided the secret to Caroline, who suggested interested motives, which Juliana would not hear of.
“Ah,” said the Countess, when Caroline mentioned the case to her, “of course the poor thing cherishes her first offer. She would believe a curate to be disinterested! But mind that Evan has due warning when she is to meet him. Mind that he is dressed becomingly.”
Caroline asked why.
“Because, my dear, she is enamoured of his person. These little unhealthy creatures are always attracted by the person. She thinks it to be Evan’s qualities. I know better: it is his person. Beckley Court may be lost by a shabby coat!”
The Countess had recovered from certain spiritual languors into which she had fallen after her retreat. Ultimate victory hung still in the balance. Oh! if Evan would only marry this little sufferer, who was so sure to die within a year! or, if she lived (for marriage has often been as a resurrection to some poor female invalids), there was Beckley Court, a splendid basis for future achievements. Reflecting in this fashion, the Countess pardoned her brother. Glowing hopes hung fresh lamps in her charitable breast. She stepped across the threshold of Tailordom, won Mr. Goren’s heart by her condescension, and worked Evan into a sorrowful mood concerning the invalid. Was not Juliana his only active friend? In return, he said things which only required a little colouring to be very acceptable to her. The game waxed exciting again. The enemy (the Jocelyn party), was alert, but powerless. The three sisters were almost wrought to perform a sacrifice far exceeding Evan’s. They nearly decided to summon him to the house: but the matter being broached at table one evening, Major Strike objected to it so angrily that they abandoned it, with the satisfactory conclusion that if they did wrong it was the Major’s fault.
Meantime Juliana had much on her conscience. She knew Evan to be innocent, and she allowed Rose to think him guilty. Could she bring her heart to join them? That was not in her power: but desiring to be lulled by a compromise, she devoted herself to make his relatives receive him; and on days of bitter winds she would drive out to meet him, answering all expostulations with—“I should not go if he were here.”
The game waxed hot. It became a question whether Evan should be admitted to the house in spite of the Major. Juliana now made an extraordinary move. Having the Count with her in the carriage one day, she stopped in front of Mr. Goren’s shop, and Evan had to come out. The Count returned home extremely mystified. Once more the unhappy Countess was obliged to draw bills on the fabulous; and as she had recommenced the system, which was not without its fascinations to her, Juliana, who had touched the spring, had the full benefit of it. The Countess had deceived her before—what of that? She spoke things sweet to hear. Who could be false that gave her heart food on which it lived?
One night Juliana returned from her drive alarmingly ill. She was watched through the night by Caroline and the Countess alternately. In the morning the sisters met.
“She has consented to let us send for a doctor,” said Caroline.
“Her chief desire seems to be a lawyer,” said the Countess.
“Yes, but the doctor must be sent for first.”
“Yes, indeed! But it behoves us to previse that the doctor does not kill her before the lawyer comes.”
Caroline looked at Louisa, and said: “Are you ignorant?”
“No—what?” cried the Countess eagerly.
“Evan has written to tell Lady Jocelyn the state of her health, and—”
“And that naturally has aggravated her malady!” The Countess cramped her long fingers. “The child heard it from him yesterday! Oh, I could swear at that brother!”
She dropped into a chair and sat rigid and square-jawed, a sculpture of unutterable rage.
In the afternoon Lady Jocelyn arrived. The doctor was there—the lawyer had gone. Without a word of protest Juliana accompanied her ladyship to Beckley Court. Here was a blow!
But Andrew was preparing one more mighty still. What if the Cogglesby Brewery proved a basis most unsound? Where must they fall then? Alas! on that point whence they sprang. If not to Perdition—Tailordom!