Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/12

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[Dec. 26, 1863.
ONCE A WEEK.

face was the very personification of honesty and genial good-nature, but it lacked the distinction that belonged to Norman's.

The room was large, and as Norman entered it he did not see its other occupants. I stood a moment talking to him and Newton at the door.

"Come," said the latter; "I see my wife: let me introduce you."

Norman was a firm believer in Brummell's dogma, that "a gentleman may be amused, but he should never suffer himself to be surprised." Nevertheless, he certainly was for a moment a prey to the vulgar emotion when he found himself face to face with Mrs. Newton. There was a coldness, almost, I fancied, a defiance in the silvery voice as she received him (without any of the empressement she had shown to me), saying, "How do you do, Mr. Norman? I suppose you hardly expected to see me," adding, to her husband, "I have met Mr. Norman before, years ago, at Torquay."

She had had the advantage of Norman in previous preparation, but he was always master of any feelings he might have, and it was in the calmest of his calm tones that he replied:

"I never forget faces or voices, Mrs. Newton, and I am past being surprised at anything. I congratulate my friend Newton on being a still more fortunate man than I thought him."

The careful modulation of his voice, and the somewhat Grandisonian nature of his speech, were sufficient indications to one who knew him as well as I did, that all was not smooth within. He always became grammatical and elaborate when put out or vexed. I didn't like the symptoms; and then I bethought me of the flush I had observed on the lady's cheek awhile back. So ho, ma petite, thought I, is that to be put to Norman's account, and not to the rector's, after all? If he saw much of you, with your soft eyes and winning ways, the chances are that "years ago" he made more or less love to you. Deuce take it! I wish you had been as nice as you are, and anybody else. One comfort is, though, that you can't well be in love with one another at present, for he to my certain knowledge has been épris with a dozen women since he can have set eyes on you; and you, by all accounts, are devoted to your husband and children. And if you hate one another, it does not much matter, for you each of you have too much taste to show it offensively.

I sat by Mrs. Newton at luncheon, and once or twice ventured to allude to her previous acquaintance with Norman—for I always like understanding the "lie" of a country. I only discovered that she had met him four years ago, when he had, as I knew, been staying in South Devon. Certainly no one would have gathered from her manner that the subject was an unpleasant one, only that it had little interest for her. I began to think I had lighted upon a mare's nest. Norman sat at the other end of the table, talking to Newton and my cousin. From his manner, thoroughly self-contained, and without the least effusion, I perceived that he was conscious of the presence in the social atmosphere of some hostile influence, but this might be only Newton. Poor Frank was a capital fellow, but his jokes were not the best, and he made puns and laughed very loudly at them, and altogether there was a boisterous hilarity about him that rather overwhelms men with keen nerves. Besides, he was as glad as a schoolboy to see us both again. He had to go directly after luncheon, and his wife persisted in accompanying him, both promising to dine with us on the following day. I suggested to Norman to walk through the park with them, and smoke our cigars, which Mrs. Newton was good enough "rather to like." (I suspect the rector had pretty well broken her in to the weed.)

It was a lovely afternoon. Everything was bathed in that "soft lustre" which one never sees but at that time of the day at the end of September and the beginning of October. Newton was enthusiastic on "the effects;" Norman laughingly begged him to spare him.

"It isn't that I have anything to say against the sun and the woods," said he; "but really I have seen both so very often before. Partridges and pointers are the most pleasing objects to my vision:—

'In looking on the happy autumn fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.'"

He quoted lightly, but as he spoke looked full at Mrs. Newton. The shy eyes fell before his, and a slight change flitted over the beautiful face—not an angry one, it seemed to me. But she looked up and said, somewhat bitterly:—

"So not even Tennyson is safe from your irreverent hands, Mr. Norman."

Norman smiled.

"Tennyson and I are such very good friends, that you see I fancy I am entitled to take a little liberty with him when I like."

"I don't believe you really care for him a bit," said she; "you only say you do because now it is the fashion to like him."

"You bring very heavy charges against me, Mrs. Newton. First, that I do not really like Tennyson, which is bad enough; and next, which is worse, that I feign a taste I have not, out of a base subserviency to popular opinion."