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   Chapter 4 No.4

A Woman-Hater By Charles Reade Characters: 6056

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05

AS the opera drew to an end, Zoe began to look round more and more for Severne; but he did not come, and Lord Uxmoor offered his arm earnestly. She took it; but hung back a moment on his very arm, to tell Harrington Mr. Severne had been taken ill.

At the railway station the truant emerged suddenly, just as the train was leaving; but Lord Uxmoor had secured three seats, and the defaulter had to go with Harrington. On reaching the hotel, the ladies took their bed-candles; but Uxmoor found time to propose an excursion next day, Sunday, to a lovely little lake-open carriage, four horses. The young ladies accepted, but Mr. Severne declined; he thanked Lord Uxmoor politely, but he had arrears of correspondence.

Zoe cast a mortified and rather a haughty glance on him, and Fanny shrugged her shoulders incredulously.

These two ladies brushed hair together in Zoe's room. That is a soothing operation, my masters, and famous for stimulating females to friendly gossip; but this time there was, for once, a guarded reserve. Zoe was irritated, puzzled, mortified, and even grieved by Severne's conduct. Fanny was gnawed by jealousy, and out of temper. She had forgiven Zoe Ned Severne. But that young lady was insatiable; Lord Uxmoor, too, had fallen openly in love with her-openly to a female eye. So, then, a blonde had no chance, with a dark girl by: thus reasoned she, and it was intolerable. It was some time before either spoke an atom of what was uppermost in her mind. They each doled out a hundred sentences that missed the mind and mingled readily with the atmosphere, being, in fact, mere preliminary and idle air. So two deer, in duel, go about and about, and even affect to look another way, till they are ripe for collision. There be writers would give the reader all the preliminary puffs of articulated wind, and everybody would say, "How clever! That is just the way girls really talk." But I leave the glory of photographing nullities to the geniuses of the age, and run to the first words which could, without impiety, be called dialogue.

"Don't you think his conduct a little mysterious?" said Zoe, mal 'a propos of anything that had been said hitherto.

"Well, yes; rather," said Fanny, with marked carelessness.

"First, a sick friend; then a bleeding at the nose; and now he won't drive to the lake with us. Arrears of correspondence? Pooh!"

Now, Fanny's suspicions were deeper than Zoe's; she had observed Severne keenly: but it was not her cue to speak. She yawned and said, "What does it matter?"

"Don't be unkind, Fanny. It matters to me."

"Not it. You have another ready."

"What other? There is no one that I-Fanny."

"Oh, nonsense! The man is evidently smitten, and you keep encouraging him."

"No, I don't; I am barely civil. And don't be ill-natured. What can I do?"

"Why, be content with one at a time."

"It is very rude to talk so. Besides, I haven't got one, much less two. I begin to doubt him; and, Lord Uxmoor! you know I cannot possibly care for him-an

acquaintance of yesterday."

"But you know all about him-that he is an excellent parti," said Fanny, with a provoking sneer.

This was not to be borne.

"Oh!" said Zoe, "I see; you want him for yourself. It is you that are not content with one. You forget how poor Harrington would miss your attentions. He would begin to appreciate them-when he had lost them."

This stung, and Fanny turned white and red by turns. "I deserve this," said she, "for wasting advice on a coquette."

"That is not true. I'm no coquette; and here I am, asking your advice, and you only snub me. You are a jealous, cross, unreasonable thing."

"Well, I'm not a hypocrite."

"I never was called so before," said Zoe, nobly and gently.

"Then you were not found out, that is all. You look so simple and ingenuous, and blush if a man says half a word to you; and all the time you are a greater flirt than I am."

"Oh, Fanny!" screamed Zoe, with horror.

It seems a repartee may be conveyed in a scream; for Fanny now lost her temper altogether. "Your conduct with those two men is abominable," said she. "I won't speak to you any more."

"I beg you will not, in your present temper," said Zoe, with unaffected dignity, and rising like a Greek column.

Fanny flounced out of the room.

Zoe sat down and sighed, and her glorious eyes were dimmed. Mystery-doubt-and now a quarrel. What a day! At her age, a little cloud seems to darken the whole sky.

Next morning the little party met at breakfast. Lord Uxmoor, anticipating a delightful day, was in high spirits, and he and Fanny kept up the ball. She had resolved, in the silent watches of the night, to contest him with Zoe, and make every possible use of Severne, in the conflict.

Zoe was silent and distraite, and did not even try to compete with her sparkling rival. But Lord Uxmoor's eyes often wandered from his sprightly companion to Zoe, and it was plain he longed for a word from her mouth.

Fanny observed, bit her lip, and tacked internally, "'bout ship," as the sailors say. Her game now, conceived in a moment, and at once put in execution, was to encourage Uxmoor's attentions to Zoe. She began by openly courting Mr. Severne, to make Zoe talk to Uxmoor, and also make him think that Severne and she were the lovers.

Her intentions were to utilize the coming excursion: she would attach herself to Harrington, and so drive Zoe and Uxmoor together; and then Lord Uxmoor, at his present rate of amorous advance, would probably lead Zoe to a detached rock, and make her a serious declaration. This good, artful girl felt sure such a declaration, made a few months hence in Barfordshire, would be accepted, and herself left in the cold. Therefore she resolved it should be made prematurely, and in Prussia, with Severne at hand, and so in all probability come to nothing. She even glimpsed a vista of consequences, and in that little avenue discerned the figure of Fanny Dover playing the part of consoler, friend, and ultimately spouse to a wealthy noble.

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