Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/13

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Dec. 26, 1863.
5
ONCE A WEEK.

Norman's tones could be very winning when he chose. They seemed to influence Mrs. Newton now, for the mocking accent had quite died out of her voice as she answered hurriedly, playing nervously with her parasol,—

"If you really cared for poetry you would not laugh at Frank for liking the sunlight. And—and I think you do sometimes 'feign a taste you have not,' whatever you say."

Perhaps I was not intended to hear those last low words. Newton certainly did not, for he was still taken up with the view, and was not attending. How Norman looked I don't know, but he said nothing. Suddenly Mrs. Newton, to change the conversation, I rather fancy, began to admire some pretty purple and white flowers on the bank. I forget what she called them—"beautiful something or other,"—but I never could recollect those names. Norman gathered a handful and put them into her hand, saying:—

"Perhaps you won't believe that I care for wild flowers, Mrs. Newton, but I do—in my way."

She only said, "Thank you," and then, turning to her husband, took his arm, complaining of being tired. By this time we were at the gate, so, bidding them farewell for the present, we turned back.

We walked a few yards in silence.

"Well," said I, at last, "I did not know that you would meet another friend at Guestford."

"Yes," said he, "I used to meet her when I was staying at the Thornley's; but she was only there once or twice. Miss Lyddon she was then. She has hardly altered at all. She and Newton seem to suit each other well enough. How well that fellow wears!"

He seemed to hesitate as to whether he should say more. I did not press him, and he must have seen that I purposely forbore. My former suspicions were decidedly confirmed by the incidents of the walk, and had the lady not been Newton's wife, I should have tried a little "chaff" with Norman on the subject. But as it was, I thought that acquiescence in the view they both intended should be taken of their acquaintance was my wisest course. Any other might have produced embarrassment, perhaps have led to Norman's departure; so I dismissed the subject from my mind.

We took a rather extended walk, then went in and played billiards until it was time to dress for dinner. The cloud, if there had been one, had entirely passed away from Norman. Jane was most anxious to know what we thought of Mrs. Newton; and Norman was far too cunning in conversational fence to show any wish to turn the conversation, whatever he may have felt. But even I could detect no arrière pensée in his manner. He spoke of their having met in old days just as he and she had already done, and praised her very much; not enthusiastically, to be sure, but he never was enthusiastic. Moreover, even when, as with Jane, he had no desire of conquest, he had trodden the war-path too long to be able so to violate its principles as to force upon the woman you are talking to the conviction that she is second in your thoughts. "Women," he would say, "are no doubt often very fond of each other. Their intimacies ripen to bosom friendship in twenty-four hours; and I have known cases where they have lasted three whole months. But, even with men, no one likes to think himself really subordinate to his friend; and a woman, you know, has no other test of her value than the way in which men treat her. The doctrine of reserve should be attended to in praising one woman to another, oven when their friendship is at a white heat. You can't but have noticed that the usual entente cordiale between two spaniels becomes seriously over-clouded if their master obtrusively caresses one whilst the other is by."

Norman and I spent the next morning in shooting; but we left off rather early, as he said that he had letters to write. Proceeding homewards through some fields adjoining the Rectory, we came upon Mrs. Newton, who had been "district visiting," and was going home the same way. We had not been together five minutes (during which time she had talked almost exclusively with me), when Farmer Brownson met us. Now Farmer Brownson was one of my uncle's chief tenants, and had known me ever since I could walk, and I was a great pet and hero of his; so there was nothing to be done but telling my friends I would overtake them directly, to stop and shake hands with him, and listen to his delight and wonder at seeing me again. It was some time before I could get loose without hurting the good old boy's feelings. When at last I turned away, Mrs. Newton and Norman were not in sight. Three minutes' rapid walking, however, brought me to them, standing at the gate of the Rectory field, in which were her children with their nurses. He was bending towards her as I came up, evidently talking very earnestly, but I heard nothing. Her face, as much as I could see of it, seemed very troubled, and yet there was a lurking smile about the mouth too. She seemed confused.

"Here is Mr. Evesham at last. I must go in; I am late. I suppose you would not