MoboReader> Literature > A Woman-Hater

   Chapter 5 No.5

A Woman-Hater By Charles Reade Characters: 49654

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05

THE letters were brought in; one was to Vizard, from Herries, announcing a remittance; one to Lord Uxmoor. On reading it, he was surprised into an exclamation, and his face expressed great concern.

"Oh!" said Zoe-"Harrington!"

Harrington's attention being thus drawn, he said, "No bad news, I hope?"

"Yes," said Uxmoor, in a low voice, "very bad. My oldest, truest, dearest friend has been seized with small-pox, and his life is in danger. He has asked for me, poor fellow. This is from his sister. I must start by the twelve o'clock train."

"Small-pox! Why, it is contagious," cried Fanny; "and so disfiguring!"

"I can't help that," said the honest fellow; and instantly rang the bell for his servant, and gave the requisite orders.

Zoe, whose eye had never left him all the time, said, softly, "It is brave and good of you. We poor, emotional, cowardly girls should sit down and cry."

"You would not, Miss Vizard," said he, firmly, looking full at her. "If you think you would, you don't know yourself."

Zoe colored high, and was silent.

Then Lord Uxmoor showed the true English gentleman. "I do hope," said he, earnestly, though in a somewhat broken voice, "that you will not let this spoil the pleasure we had planned together. Harrington will be my deputy."

"Well, I don't know," said Harrington, sympathizingly. Mr. Severne remarked, "Such an occurrence puts pleasure out of one's head." This he said, with his eyes on his plate, like one repeating a lesson. "Vizard, I entreat you," said Uxmoor, almost vexed. "It will only make me more unhappy if you don't."

"We will go," cried Zoe, earnestly; "we promise to go. What does it matter? We shall think of you and your poor friend wherever we are. And I shall pray for him. But, ah, I know how little prayers avail to avert these cruel bereavements." She was young, but old enough to have prayed hard for her sick mother's life, and, like the rest of us, prayed in vain. At this remembrance the tears ran undisguised down her cheeks.

The open sympathy of one so young and beautiful, and withal rather reserved, made Lord Uxmoor gulp, and, not to break down before them all, he blurted out that he must go and pack: with this he hurried away.

He was unhappy. Besides the calamity he dreaded, it was grievous to be torn away from a woman he loved at first sight, and just when she had come out so worthy of his love: she was a high-minded creature; she had been silent and reserved so long as the conversation was trivial; but, when trouble came, she was the one to speak to him bravely and kindly. Well, what must be, must. All this ran through his mind, and made him sigh; but it never occurred to him to shirk-to telegraph instead of going-nor yet to value himself on his self-denial.

They did not see him again till he was on the point of going, and then he took leave of them all, Zoe last. When he came to her, he ignored the others, except that he lowered his voice in speaking to her. "God bless you for your kindness, Miss Vizard. It is a little hard upon a fellow to have to run away from such an acquaintance, just when I have been so fortunate as to make it."

"Oh, Lord Uxmoor," said Zoe, innocently, "never mind that. Why, we live in the same county, and we are on the way home. All I think of is your poor friend; and do please telegraph-to Harrington."

He promised he would, and went away disappointed somehow at her last words.

When he was gone, Severne went out on the balcony to smoke, and Harrington held a council with the young ladies. "Well, now," said he, "about this trip to the lake."

"I shall not go, for one," said Zoe, resolutely.

"La!" said Fanny, looking carefully away from her to Harrington; "and she was the one that insisted."

Zoe ignored the speaker and set her face stiffly toward Harrington. "She only said that to him."

Fanny. "But, unfortunately, ears are not confined to the noble."

Zoe. "Nor tongues to the discreet."

Both these remarks were addressed pointedly to Harrington.

"Halloo!" said he, looking from one flaming girl to the other; "am I to be a shuttlecock, and your discreet tongues the battledoors? What is up?"

"We don't speak," said the frank Zoe; "that is up."

"Why, what is the row?"'

"No matter" (stiffly).

"No great matter, I'll be bound. 'Toll, toll the bell.' Here goes one more immortal friendship-quenched in eternal silence."

Both ladies bridled. Neither spoke.

"And dead silence, as ladies understand it, consists in speaking at one another instead of to."

No reply.

"That is well-bred taciturnity."

No answer.

"The dignified reserve that distinguishes an estrangement from a squabble."

No reply.

"Well, I admire permanent sentiments, good or bad; constant resolves, etc. Your friendship has not proved immortal; so, now let us see how long you can hold spite-SIEVES!" Then he affected to start. "What is this? I spy a rational creature out on yonder balcony. I hasten to join him. 'Birds of a feather, you know;" and with that he went out to his favorite, 'and never looked behind him.

The young ladies, indignant at the contempt the big man had presumed to cast upon the constant soul of woman, turned two red faces and four sparkling eyes to each other, with the instinctive sympathy of the jointly injured; but remembering in time, turned sharply round again, and presented napes, and so sat sullen.

By-and-by a chilling thought fell upon them both at the same moment of time. The men were good friends as usual, safe, by sex, from tiffs, and could do without them; and a dull day impended over the hostile fair.

Thereupon the ingenious Fanny resolved to make a splash of some sort and disturb stagnation. She suddenly cried out, "La! and the man is gone away: so what is the use?" This remark she was careful to level at bare space.

Zoe, addressing the same person-space, to wit-inquired of him if anybody in his parts knew to whom this young lady was addressing herself.

"To a girl that is too sensible not to see the folly of quarreling about a man-when he is gone," said Fanny.

"If it is me you mean," said Zoe stiffly, "really I am surprised. You forget we are at daggers drawn."

"No, I don't, dear; and parted forever."

Zoe smiled at that against her will.

"Zoe!" (penitentially).

"Frances!" (archly).

"Come cuddle me quick!"

Zoe was all round her neck in a moment, like a lace scarf, and there was violent kissing, with a tear or two.

Then they put an arm round each other's waist, and went all about the premises intertwined like snakes; and Zoe gave Fanny her cameo brooch, the one with the pearls round it.

The person to whom Vizard fled from the tongue of beauty was a delightful talker: he read two or three newspapers every day, and recollected the best things. Now, it is not everybody can remember a thousand disconnected facts and recall them apropos. He was various, fluent, and, above all, superficial; and such are your best conversers. They have something good and strictly ephemeral to say on everything, and don't know enough of anything to impale their hearers. In my youth there talked in Pall Mall a gentleman known as "Conversation Sharpe." He eclipsed everybody. Even Macaulay paled. Sharpe talked all the blessed afternoon, and grave men listened, enchanted; and, of all he said, nothing stuck. Where be now your Sharpiana? The learned may be compared to mines. These desultory charmers are more like the ornamental cottage near Staines, forty or fifty rooms, and the whole structure one story high. The mine teems with solid wealth; but you must grope and trouble to come to it: it is easier and pleasanter to run about the cottage with a lot of rooms. all on the ground-floor.

The mind and body both get into habits-sometimes apart, sometimes in conjunction. Nowadays we seat the body to work the intellect, even in its lower form of mechanical labor: it is your clod that toddles about laboring. The Peripatetics did not endure: their method was not suited to man's microcosm. Bodily movements fritter mental attention. We sit at the feet of Gamaliel, or, as some call him, Tyndal; and we sit to Bacon and Adam Smith. But, when we are standing or walking, we love to take brains easy. If this delightful chatterbox had been taken down shorthand and printed, and Vizard had been set down to Severni Opuscula, ten volumes-and, mind you, Severne had talked all ten by this time-the Barfordshire squire and old Oxonian would have cried out for "more matter with less art," and perhaps have even fled for relief to some shorter treatise-Bacon's "Essays," Browne's "Religio Medici," or Buckle's "Civilization." But lounging in a balcony, and lazily breathing a cloud, he could have listened all day to his desultory, delightful friend, overflowing with little questions, little answers, little queries, little epigrams, little maxims 'a la Rochefoucauld, little histories, little anecdotes, little gossip, and little snapshots at every feather flying.

"Quicquid agunt homines, votum, timor, ira, voluptas, Gaudia, discursus, nostri farrago Severni."

But, alas! after an hour of touch-and-go, of superficiality and soft delight, the desultory charmer fell on a subject he had studied. So then he bored his companion for the first time in all the tour.

But, to tell the honest truth, Mr. Severne had hitherto been pleasing his friend with a cold-blooded purpose. His preliminary gossip, that made the time fly so agreeably, was intended to oil the way to lubricate the passage of a premeditated pill. As soon as he had got Vizard into perfect good humor, he said, apropos of nothing that had passed, "By-the-by, old fellow, that five hundred pounds you promised to lend me!"

Vizard was startled by this sudden turn of a conversation, hitherto agreeable.

"Why, you have had three hundred and lost it," said he. "Now, take my advice, and don't lose any more."

"I don't mean to. But I am determined to win back the three hundred, and a great deal more, before I leave this. I have discovered a system, an infallible one."

"I am sorry to hear it," said Harrington, gravely. "That is the second step on the road to ruin; the gambler with a system is the confirmed maniac."

"What! because other systems have been tried, and proved to be false? Mine is untried, and it is mere prejudice to condemn it unheard."

"Propound it, then," said Vizard. "Only please observe the bank has got its system; you forget that: and the bank's system is to take a positive advantage, which must win in the long run; therefore, all counter-systems must lose in the long run."

"But the bank is tied to a long run, the individual player is not."

This reply checked Vizard for a moment and the other followed up his advantage. "Now, Vizard, be reasonable. What would the trifling advantage the bank derives from an incident, which occurs only once in twenty-eight deals, avail against a player who could foresee at any given deal whether the card that was going to come up the nearest thirty would be on the red or black?"

"No avail at all. God Almighty could break the bank every afternoon. Apre's? as we say in France. Do you pretend to omniscience?"

"Not exactly."

"Well, but prescience of isolated events, preceded by no indicia, belongs only to omniscience. Did they not teach you that much at Oxford?"

"They taught me very little at Oxford."

"Fault of the place, eh? You taught them something, though; and the present conversation reminds me of it. In your second term, when every other man is still quizzed and kept down as a freshman, you, were already a leader; a chief of misrule. You founded a whist-club in Trinity, the primmest college of all. The Dons rooted you out in college; but you did not succumb; you fulfilled the saying of Sydney Smith, that 'Cribbage should be played in caverns, and sixpenny-whist in the howling wilderness.' Ha! ha! how well I remember riding across Bullington Green one fine afternoon, and finding four Oxford hacks haltered in a row, and the four undergraduates that had hired them on long tick, sitting cross-legged under the hedge like Turks or tailors, round a rude table with the legs sawed down to stumps. You had two packs, and a portable inkstand, and were so hard at it that I put my mare's nose right over the quartet before you saw either her or me. That hedge was like a drift of odoriferous snow the hawthorn bloom, and primroses sparkled on its bank like topazes. The birds chirruped, the sky smiled, the sun burned perfumes; and there sat my lord and his fellow-maniacs, snick-snack-pit-pat-cutting, dealing, playing, revoking, scoring, and exchanging I. O. U. 's not worth the paper."

"All true, but the revoking," said Severne, merrily. "Monster! by the memory of those youthful days, I demand a fair hearing." Then, gravely, "Hang it all, Vizard, I am not a fellow that is always intruding his affairs and his theories upon other men."

"No, no, no," said Vizard, hastily, and half apologetically; "go on."

"Well, then, of course I don't pretend to foreknowledge; but I do to experience, and you know experience teaches the wise."

"Not to fling five hundred after three. There-I beg pardon. Proceed, instructor of youth."

"Do listen, then: experience teaches us that luck has its laws; and I build my system on one of them. If two opposite accidents are sure to happen equally often in a total of fifty times, people, who have not observed, expect them to happen turn about, and bet accordingly. But they don't happen turn about; they make short runs, and sometimes long ones. They positively avoid alternation. Have you not observed this at trente et quarante?"


"Then you have not watched the cards."

"Not much. The faces of the gamblers were always my study. They are instructive."

"Well, then, I'll give you an example outside-for the principle runs through all equal chances-take the university boat-race: you have kept your eye on that?"

"Rather. Never missed one yet. Come all the way from Barfordshire to see it."

"Well, there's an example."

"Of chance? No, thank you. That goes by strength, skill, wind, endurance, chaste living, self-denial, and judicious training. Every winning boat is manned by virtues." His eye flashed, and he was as earnest all in a moment as he had been listless. A continental cynic had dubbed this insular cynic mad.

The professor of chances smiled superior. "Those things decide each individual race, and the best men win, because it happens to be the only race that is never sold. But go further back, and you find it is chance. It is pure chance that sends the best men up to Cambridge two or three years running, and then to Oxford. With this key, take the facts my system rests on. There are two. The first is that in thirty and odd races and matches, the university luck has come out equal on the river and at Lord's: the second is, the luck has seldom alternated. I don't say, never. But look at the list of events; it is published every March. You may see there the great truth that even chances shun direct alternation. In this, properly worked, lies a fortune at Homburg, where the play is square. Red gains once; you back red next time, and stop. You are on black, and win; you double. This is the game, if you have only a few pounds. But with five hundred pounds you can double more courageously, and work the short run hard; and that is how losses are averted and gains secured. Once at Wiesbaden I caught a croupier, out on a holiday. It was Good-Friday, you know. I gave him a stunning dinner. He was close as wax, at first-that might be the salt fish; but after the rognons 'a la brochette, and a bottle of champagne, he let out. I remember one thing he said: Monsieur, ce que fait la fortune de la banque ce n'est pas le petit avantage qu'elle tire du refait-quoique cela y est pour quelquechose-c'est la te'me'rite' de ceux qui perdent, et la timidite' de ceux qui gagnent.'"

"And," says Vizard, "there is a French proverb founded on experience:

"C'est encore rouge qui perd, Et encore noir. Mais toujours blanc qui gagne.'"

Severne, for the first time, looked angry and mortified; he turned his back and was silent. Vizard looked at him uneasily, hesitated a moment, then flung the remainder of his cigar away and seemed to rouse himself body and soul. He squared his shoulders, as if he were going to box the Demon of play for his friend, and he let out good sense right and left, and, indeed, was almost betrayed into eloquence. "What!" he cried, "you, who are so bright and keen and knowing in everything else, are you really so blinded by egotism and credulity as to believe that you can invent any method of betting at rouge et noir that has not been tried before you were born? Do you remember the first word in La Bruy'ere's famous work?"

"No," said Ned, sulkily. "Read nothing but newspapers."

"Good lad. Saves a deal of trouble. Well, he begins 'Tout est dit'-'everything has been said;' and I say that, in your business, 'Tout est fait'-'everything has been done.' Every move has been tried before you existed, and the result of all is that to bet against the bank, wildly or systematically, is to gamble against a rock. Si monumenta quoeris, circumspice. Use your eyes, man. Look at the Kursaal, its luxuries, its gardens, its gilding, its attractions, all of them cheap, except the one that pays for all; all these delights, and the rents, and the croupiers, and the servants, and the income and liveries of an unprincipled prince, who would otherwise be a poor but honest gentleman with one bonne, instead of thirty blazing lackeys, all come from the gains of the bank, which are the losses of the players, especially of those that have got a system."

Severne shot in, "A bank was broken last week."

"Was it? Then all it lost has returned to it, or will return to it to-night; for gamblers know no day of rest."

"Oh, yes, they do. It is shut on Good-Friday."

"You surprise me. Only three hundred and sixty-four days in the year! Brainless avarice is more reasonable than I thought. Severne, yours is a very serious case. You have reduced your income, that is clear; for an English gentleman does not stay years and years abroad unless he has out run the constable; and I feel sure gambling has done it. You had the fever from a boy. Bullington Green! 'As the twig's bent the tree's inclined.' Come, come, make a stand. We are friends. Let us help one another against our besetting foibles. Let us practice antique wisdom; let us 'know ourselves,' and leave Homburg to-morrow, instead of Tuesday."

Severne looked sullen, but said nothing; then Vizard gave him too hastily credit for some of that sterling friendship, bordering on love, which warmed his own faithful breast: under this delusion he made an extraordinary effort; he used an argument which, with himself, would have been irresistible. "Look here," said he, "I'll-won't you have a cigar?-there; now I'll tell you something: I have a mania as bad as yours; only mine is intermittent, thank Heaven! I'm told a million women are as good, or better, than a million men. It may be so. But when I, an individual, stake my heart on lovely woman, she always turns out unworthy. With me, the sex avoids alternation. Therefore I rail on it wholesale. It is not philosophical; but I don't do it to instruct mankind; it is to soothe my spleen. Well-would you believe it?-once in every three years, in spite of my experience, I am always bitten again. After my lucid interval has expired, I fall in with some woman, who seems not like the rest, but an angel. Then I, though I'm averse to the sex, fall an easy, an immediate victim to the individual."

"Love at first sight."

"Not a bit of it. If she is as beautiful as an angel, with the voice of a peacock or a guinea-hen-and, luckily for me, that is a frequent arrangement-she is no more to me than the fire-shovel. If she has a sweet voice and pale eyes, I'm safe. Indeed, I am safe against Juno, Venus, and Minerva for two years and several months after the last; but when two events coincide, when my time is up, and the lovely, melodious female comes, then I am lost. Before I have seen her and heard her five minutes, I know my fate, and I never resist it. I never can; that is a curious part of the mania. Then commences a little drama, all the acts of which are stale copies; yet each time they take me by surprise, as if they were new. In spite of past experience, I begin all confidence and trust: by-and-by come the subtle but well-known signs of deceit; so doubt is forced on me; and then I am all suspicion, and so darkly vigilant that soon all is certainty; for 'les fourberies des femmes' are diabolically subtle, but monotonous. They seem to vary only on the surface. One looks too gentle and sweet to give any creature pain; I cherish her like a tender plant; she deceives me for the coarsest fellow she can find. Another comes the frank and candid dodge; she is so off-handed she shows me it is not worth her while to betray. She deceives me, like the other, and with as little discrimination. The next has a face of beaming innocence, and a limpid eye that looks like transparent candor; she gazes long and calmly in my face, as if her eye loved to dwell on me, gazes with the eye of a gazelle or a young hare, and the baby lips below outlie the hoariest male fox in the Old Jewry. But, to complete the delusion, all my sweethearts and wives are romantic and poetical skin-deep-or they would not attract me-and all turn out vulgar to the core. By their lovers alone can you ever know them. By the men they can't love, and the men they do love, you find these creatures that imitate sentiment so divinely are hard, prosaic, vulgar little things, thinly gilt and double varnished."

"They are much better than we are; but you don't know how to take them," said Severne, with the calm superiority of success.

"No," replied Vizard, dryly, "curse me if I do. Well, I did hope I had outgrown my mania, as I have done the toothache; for this time I had passed the fatal period, the three years. It is nearly four years now since I went through the established process-as fixed beforehand as the dyer's or the cotton-weaver's-adored her, trusted her blindly, suspected her, watched her, detected her, left her. By-the-by, she was my wife, the last; but that made no difference; she was neither better nor worse than the rest, and her methods and idiotic motives of deceit identical. Well, Ned, I was mistaken. Yesterday night I met my Fate once more."

"Where? In Frankfort?"

"No: at Homburg; at the opera. You must give me your word not to tell a soul."

"I pledge you my word of honor."

"Well, the lady who sung the part of Siebel."

"Siebel?" muttered Severne.

"Yes," said Vizard, dejectedly.

Severne fixed his eyes on his friend with a strange expression of confusion and curiosity, as if he could not take it all in. But he said nothing, only looked very hard all the time.

Vizard burst out, "'O miserae hominum mentes, O pectora caeca!' There I sat, in the stalls, a happy man comparatively, because my heart, though full of scars, was at peace, and my reason, after periodical abdications, had resumed its throne, for good; so I, weak mortal, fancied. Siebel appeared; tall, easy, dignified, and walking like a wave; modest, fair, noble, great, dreamy, and, above all, divinely sad; the soul of womanhood and music poured from her honey lips; she conquered all my senses: I felt something like a bolt of ice run down my back. I ought to have jumped up and fled the theater. I wish I had. But I never do. I am incurable. The charm deepened; and when she had sung 'Le Parlate d'Amor' as no mortal ever sung and looked it, she left the stage and carried my heart and soul away with her. What chance had I? Here shone all the beauties that adorn the body, all the virtues and graces that embellish the soul; they were wedded to poetry and ravishing music, and gave and took enchantment. I saw my paragon glide away, like a goddess, past the scenery, and I did not see her meet her lover at the next step-a fellow with a wash-leather face, greasy locks in a sausage roll, and his hair shaved off his forehead-and snatch a pot of porter from his hands, and drain it to the dregs, and say, 'It is all right, Harry: that fetched 'em.' But I know, by experience, she did; so sauve qui peut. Dear friend and fellow-lunatic, for my sake and yours, leave Frankfort with me to-morrow."

Severne hung his head, and thought hard. Here was a new and wonderful turn. He felt all manner of strange things-a pang of jealousy, for one. He felt that, on every account, it would

be wise to go, and, indeed, dangerous to stay. But a mania is a mania, and so he could not. "Look here, old fellow," he said, "if the opera were on to-morrow, I would leave my three hundred behind me and sacrifice myself to you, sooner than expose you to the fascinations of so captivating a woman as Ina Klosking."

"Ina Klosking? Is that her name? How do you know?"

"I-I-fancy I heard so."

"Why, she was not announced. Ina Klosking! It is a sweet name;" and he sighed.

"But you are quite safe from her for one day," continued Severne, "so you must be reasonable. I will go with you, Tuesday, as early as you like; but do be a good fellow, and let me have the five hundred, to try my system with to-morrow."

Vizard looked sad, and made no reply.

Severne got impatient. "Why, what is it to a rich fellow like you? If I had twelve thousand acres in a ring fence, no friend would ask me twice for such a trifling sum."

Vizard, for the first time, wore a supercilious smile at being so misunderstood, and did not deign a reply.

Severne went on mistaking his man: "I can give you bills for the money, and for the three hundred you did lend me."

Vizard did not receive this as expected. "Bills?" said he, gravely. "What, do you do that sort of thing as well?"

"Why not, pray? So long as I'm the holder, not the drawer, nor the acceptor. Besides, they are not accommodation bills, but good commercial paper."

"You are a merchant, then; are you?"

"Yes; in a small way. If you will allow me, I will explain."

He did so; and, to save comments, yet enable the reader to appreciate his explanation, the true part of it is printed in italics, the mendacious portion in ordinary type.

"My estate in Huntingdonshire is not very large; and there are mortgages on it, for the benefit of other members of my family. I was always desirous to pay off these mortgages; and took the best advice I could. I have got an uncle: he lives in the city. He put me on to a good thing. I bought a share in a trading vessel; she makes short trips, and turns her cargo often. She will take out paper to America, and bring back raw cotton: she will land that at Liverpool, and ship English hardware and cotton fabrics for the Mediterranean and Greece, and bring back currants from Zante and lemons from Portugal. She goes for the nimble shilling. Well, you know ships wear out: and if you varnish them rotten, and insure them high, and they go to glory, Mr. Plimsoll is down on you like a hammer. So, when she had paid my purchase-money three times over, some fellows in the city made an offer for The Rover-that was her name. My share came to twelve hundred, and my uncle said I was to take it. Now I always feel bound by what he decides. They gave me four bills, for four hundred, three hundred, three hundred, and two hundred. The four hundred was paid at maturity. The others are not due yet. I have only to send them to London, and I can get the money back by Thursday: but you want me to start on Tuesday."

"That is enough," said Vizard, wearily, "I will be your banker, and-"

"You are a good fellow!" said Severne warmly.

"No, no; I am a weak fellow, and an injudicious one. But it is the old story: when a friend asks you what he thinks a favor, the right thing is to grant it at once. He doesn't want your advice; he wants the one thing he asks for. There, get me the bills, and I'll draw a check on Muller: Herries advised him by Saturday's post; so we can draw on Monday."

"All right, old man," said Severne, and went away briskly for the bills.

When he got from the balcony into the room, his steps flagged a little; it struck him that ink takes time to dry, and more time to darken.

As The Rover, with her nimble cargoes, was first cousin to The Flying Dutchman, with his crew of ghosts, so the bills received by Severne, as purchase-money for his ship, necessarily partook of that ship's aerial character. Indeed they existed, as the schoolmen used to say, in posse, but not in esse. To be less pedantic and more exact, they existed as slips of blank paper, with a Government stamp. To give them a mercantile character for a time-viz., until presented for payment-they must be drawn by an imaginary ship-owner or a visionary merchant, and indorsed by at least one shadow, and a man of straw.

The man of straw sat down to inscribe self and shadows, and became a dishonest writer of fiction; for the art he now commenced appears to fall short of forgery proper, but to be still more distinct from justifiable fiction. The ingenious Mr. De Foe's certificate by an aeial justice of the peace to the truth of his ghostly narrative comes nearest to it, in my poor reading.

Qualms he had, but not deep. If the bills were drawn by Imagination, accepted by Fancy, and indorsed by Impudence, what did it matter to Ned Straw, since his system would enable him to redeem them at maturity? His only real concern was to conceal their recent origin. So he wrote them with a broad-nibbed pen, that they might be the blacker, and set them to dry in the sun.

He then proceeded to a change of toilet.

While thus employed, there was a sharp tap at his door and Vizard's voice outside. Severne started with terror, snapped up the three bills with the dexterity of a conjurer-the handle turned-he shoved them into a drawer-Vizard came in-he shut the drawer, and panted.

Vizard had followed the custom of Oxonians among themselves, which is to knock, and then come in, unless forbidden.

"Come," said he, cheerfully, "those bills. I'm in a hurry to cash them now, and end the only difference we have ever had, old fellow."

The blood left Severne's cheek and lips for a moment, and he thought swiftly and hard. The blood returned, along with his ready wit. "How good you are!" said he; "but no. It is Sunday."

"Sunday!" ejaculated Vizard. "What is that to you, a fellow who has been years abroad?"

"I can't help it," said Severne, apologetically. "I am superstitious-don't like to do business on a Sunday. I would not even shunt at the tables on a Sunday-I don't think."

"Ah, you are not quite sure of that. There is a limit to your superstition! Well, will you listen to a story on a Sunday?"


"Then, once on a time there was a Scotch farmer who had a bonny cow; and another farmer coveted her honestly. One Sunday they went home together from kirk and there was the cow grazing. Farmer Two stopped, eyed her, and said to Farmer One, 'Gien it were Monday, as it is the Sabba' day, what would ye tak' for your coow?' The other said the price would be nine pounds, if it were Monday. And so they kept the Sabbath; and the cow changed hands, though, to the naked eye, she grazed on in situ. Our negotiation is just as complete. So what does it matter whether the actual exchange of bills and cash takes place to-day or to-morrow?"

"Do you really mean to say it does not matter to you?" asked Severne.

"Not one straw."

"Then, as it does not matter to you, and does to me, give me my foolish way, like a dear good fellow."

"Now, that is smart," said Vizard-"very smart;" then, with a look of parental admiration, "he gets his own way in everything. He will have your money-he won't have your money. I wonder whether he will consent to walk those girls out, and disburden me of their too profitable discourse."

"That I will, with pleasure."

"Well, they are at luncheon-with their bonnets on."

"I will join them in five minutes."

After luncheon, Miss Vizard, Miss Dover, and Mr. Severne started for a stroll.

Miss Maitland suggested that Vizard should accompany them.

"Couldn't think of deserting you," said he dryly.

The young ladies giggled, because these two rarely opened their mouths to agree, one being a professed woman-hater, and the other a man-hater, in words.

Says Misander, in a sourish way, "Since you value my conversation so, perhaps you will be good enough not to smoke for the next ten minutes."

Misogyn consented, but sighed. That sigh went unpitied, and the lady wasted no time.

"Do you see what is going on between your sister and that young man?"

"Yes; a little flirtation."

"A great deal more than that. I caught them, in this very room, making love."

"You alarm me," said Vizard, with marked tranquillity.

"I saw him-kiss-her-hand."

"You relieve me," said Vizard, as calmly as he had been alarmed. "There's no harm in that. I've kissed the queen's hand, and the nation did not rise upon me. However, I object to it. The superior sex should not play the spaniel. I will tell him to drop that. But, permit me to say, all this is in your department, not mine.

"But what can I do against three of them, unless you support me? There you have let them go out together."

"Together with Fanny Dover, you mean?"

"Yes; and if Fanny had any designs on him, Zoe would be safe-"

"And poor Ned torn in two."

"But Fanny, I am grieved to say, seems inclined to assist this young man with Zoe; that is, because it does not matter to her. She has other views-serious ones."

"Serious! What? A nunnery? Then I pity my lady abbess."

"Her views are plain enough to anybody but you."

"Are they? Then make me as wise as my neighbors."

"Well, then, she means to marry you."

"What! Oh, come!-that is too good a joke!"

"It is sober earnest. Ask Zoe-ask your friend, Mr. Severne-ask the chambermaids-ask any creature with an eye in its head. Oh, the blindness of you men!"

The Misogyn was struck dumb. When he recovered, it was to repine at the lot of man.

"Even my own familiar cousin-once removed-in whom I trusted! I depute you to inform her that I think her adorable, and that matrimony is no longer a habit of mine. Set her on to poor Severne; he is a ladies' man, and 'the more the merrier' is his creed."

"Such a girl as Fanny is not to be diverted from a purpose of that sort. Besides, she has too much sense to plunge into the Severne and-pauperism! She is bent on a rich husband, not a needy adventurer."

"Madam, in my friend's name, I thank you."

"You are very welcome, sir-it is only the truth." Then, with a swift return to her original topic: "No; I know perfectly well what Fanny Dover will do this afternoon. She sketches."

"It is too true," said Vizard dolefully: "showed me a ship in full sail, and I praised it in my way. I said, 'That rock is rather well done.'"

"Well, she will be seized with a desire to sketch. She will sit down apart, and say, 'Please don't watch me-it makes me nervous.' The other two will take the hint and make love a good way off; and Zoe will go greater lengths, with another woman in sight-but only just in sight, and slyly encouraging her-than if she were quite alone with her mauvais sujet."

Vizard was pleased with the old lady. "This is sagacious," said he, "and shows an eye for detail. I recognize in your picture the foxy sex. But, at this moment, who can foretell which way the wind will blow? You are not aware, perhaps, that Zoe and Fanny have had a quarrel. They don't speak. Now, in women, you know, vices are controlled by vices-see Pope. The conspiracy you dread will be averted by the other faults of their character, their jealousy and their petulant tempers. Take my word for it, they are sparring at this moment; and that poor, silly Severne meditating and moderating, and getting scratched on both sides for trying to be just."

At this moment the door opened, and Fanny Dover glittered on the threshold in Cambridge blue.

"There," said Vizard; "did not I tell you? They are come home."

"Only me," said Fanny gayly.

"Where are the others?" inquired Miss Maitland sharply.

"Not far off-only by the riverside."

"And you left those two alone!"

"Now, don't be cross, aunt," cried Fanny, and limped up to her. "These new boots are so tight that I really couldn't bear them any longer. I believe I shall be lame, as it is."

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself. What will the people say?"

"La! aunt, it is abroad. One does what one likes-out of England."

"Here's a code of morals!" said Vizard, who must have his slap.

"Nonsense," said Miss Maitland: "she will be sure to meet somebody. All England is on the Rhine at this time of the year; and, whether or no, is it for you to expose that child to familiarity with a person nobody knows, nor his family either? You are twenty-five years old; you know the world; you have as poor an opinion of the man as I have, or you would have set your own cap at him-you know you would-and you have let out things to me when you were off your guard. Fanny Dover, you are behaving wickedly; you are a false friend to that poor girl."

Upon this, lo! the pert Fanny, hitherto so ready with her answers, began to cry bitterly. The words really pricked her conscience, and to be scolded is one thing, to be severely and solemnly reproached is another; and before a man!

The official woman-hater was melted in a moment by the saucy girl's tears. "There-there," said he, kindly, "have a little mercy. Hang it all! Don't make a mountain of a mole-hill."

The official man-hater never moved a muscle. "It is no use her crying to me: she must give me a proof she is sorry. Fanny, if you are a respectable girl, and have any idea of being my heir, go you this moment and bring them home."

"Yes, aunt," said Fanny, eagerly; and went off with wonderful alacrity.

It was a very long apartment, full forty feet; and while Fanny bustled down it, Miss Maitland extended a skinny finger, like one of Macbeth's witches, and directed Vizard's eye to the receding figure so pointedly that he put up his spyglass the better to see the phenomenon.

As Fanny skipped out and closed the door, Miss Maitland turned to Vizard, with lean finger still pointing after Fanny, and uttered a monosyllable:


Vizard burst out laughing. "La fourbe!" said he. "Miss Maitland, accept my compliments; you possess the key to a sex no fellow can unlock. And, now I have found an interpreter, I begin to be interested in this little comedy. The first act is just over. There will be half an hour's wait till the simulatrix of infirmity comes running back with the pilgrims of the Rhine. Are they 'the pilgrims of the Rhine' or 'the pilgrims of Love?' Time will show. Play to recommence with a verbal encounter; you will be one against three; for all that, I don't envy the greater number."

"Three to one? No. Surely you will be on the right side for once.

"Well, you see, I am the audience. We can't be all dramatis personae, and no spectator. During the wait, I wonder whether the audience, having nothing better to do, may be permitted to smoke a cigar."

"So long a lucid interval is irksome, of course. Well, the balcony is your smoking-room. You will see them coming; please tap at my door the moment you do."

Half an hour elapsed, an hour, and the personages required to continue the comedy did not return.

Vizard, having nothing better to do, fell to thinking of Ina Klosking, and that was not good for him. Solitude and ennui fed his mania, and at last it took the form of action. He rang, and ordered up his man Harris, a close, discreet personage, and directed him to go over to Homburg, and bring back all the information he could about the new singer; her address in Homburg, married or single, prude or coquette. Should information be withheld, Harris was to fee the porter at the opera-house, the waiter at her hotel, and all the human commodities that knew anything about her. Having dismissed Harris, he lighted his seventh cigar, and said to himself, "It is all Ned Severne's fault. I wanted to leave for England to-day."

The day had been overcast for some time and now a few big drops fell, by way of warning. Then it turned cool: then came a light drizzling rain, and, in the middle of this, Fanny Dover appeared, almost flying home.

Vizard went and tapped at Miss Maitland's door. She came out.

"Here's Miss Dover coming, but she is alone."

The next moment Fanny bounced into the room, and started a little at the picture of the pair ready to receive her. She did not wait to be taken to task, but proceeded to avert censure by volubility and self-praise. "Aunt, I went down to the river, where I left them, and looked all along it, and they were not in sight. Then I went to the cathedral, because that seemed the next likeliest place. Oh, I have had such a race!"

"Why did you come back before you had found them?"

"Aunt, it was going to rain; and it is raining now, hard."

"She does not mind that."

"Zoe? Oh, she has got nothing on!"

"Bless me!" cried Vizard. "Godiva rediviva."

"Now, Harrington, don't! Of course, I mean nothing to spoil; only her purple alpaca, and that is two years old. But my blue silk, I can't afford to ruin it. Nobody would give me another, I know."

"What a heartless world!" said Vizard dryly.

"It is past a jest, the whole thing," objected Miss Maitland; "and, now we are together, please tell me, if you can, either of you, who is this man? What are his means? I know 'The Peerage,' 'The Baronetage,' and 'The Landed Gentry,' but not Severne. That is a river, not a family."

"Oh," said Vizard, "family names taken from rivers are never parvenues. But we can't all be down in Burke. Ned is of a good stock, the old English yeoman, the country's pride."

"Yeoman!" said the Maitland, with sovereign contempt.

Vizard resisted. "Is this the place to sneer at an English yeoman, where you see an unprincely prince living by a gambling-table? What says the old stave?

"'A German prince, a marquis of France, And a laird o' the North Countrie; A yeoman o' Kent, with his yearly rent, Would ding 'em out, all three."'

"Then," said Misander, with a good deal of malicious, intent, "you are quite sure your yeoman is not a-pauper-an adventurer-"


"And a gambler."

"No; I am not at all sure of that. But nobody is all-wise. I am not, for one. He is a fine fellow; as good as gold; as true as steel. Always polite, always genial; and never speaks ill of any of you behind your backs."

Miss Maitland bridled at that. "What I have said is not out of dislike to the young man. I am warning a brother to take a little more care of his sister, that is all. However, after your sneer, I shall say no more behind Mr. Severne's back, but to his face-that is, if we ever see his face again, or Zoe's either."

"Oh, aunt!" said Fanny, reproachfully. "It is only the rain. La! poor things, they will be wet to the skin. Just see how it is pouring!"

"That it is: and let me tell you there is nothing so dangerous as a te'te-'a-te'te in the rain."

"A thunder-storm is worse, aunt," said Fanny, eagerly; "because then she is frightened to death, and clings to him-if he is nice."

Having galloped into this revelation, through speaking first and thinking afterward, Fanny pulled up short the moment the words were out, and turned red, and looked askant, under her pale lashes at Vizard. Observing several twinkles in his eyes, she got up hastily and said she really must go and dry her gown.

"Yes," said Miss Maitland; "come into my room, dear."

Fanny complied, with rather a rueful face, not doubting that the public "dear" was to get it rather hot in private.

Her uneasiness was not lessened when the old maid said to her, grimly, "Now, sit you down there, and never mind your dress."

However, it came rather mildly, after all. "Fanny, you are not a bad girl, and you have shown you were sorry; so I am not going to be hard on you: only you must be a good girl now, and help me to undo the mischief, and then I will forgive you."

"Aunt," said Fanny, piteously, "I am older than she is, and I know I have done rather wrong, and I won't do it any more; but pray, pray, don't ask me to be unkind to her to-day; it is brooch-day."

Miss Maitland only stared at this obscure announcement: so Fanny had to explain that Zoe and she had tiffed, and made it up, and Zoe had given her a brooch. Hereupon she went for it, and both ladies forgot the topic they were on, and every other, to examine the brooch.

"Aunt," says Fanny, handling the brooch, and eyeing it, "you were a poor girl, like me, before grandpapa left you the money, and you know it is just as well to have a tiff now and then with a rich one, because, when you kiss and make it up, you always get some reconciliation-thing or other."

Miss Maitland dived into the past and nodded approval.

Thus encouraged, Fanny proceeded to more modern rules. She let Miss Maitland know it was always understood at her school that on these occasions of tiff, reconciliation, and present, the girl who received the present was to side in everything with the girl who gave it, for that one day. "That is the real reason I put on my tight boots-to earn my brooch. Isn't it a duck?"

"Are they tight, then?"

"Awfully. See-new on to-day."

"But you could shake off your lameness in a moment."

"La, aunt, you know one can fight with that sort of thing, or fight against it. It is like colds, and headaches, and fevers, and all that. You are in bed, too ill to see anybody you don't much care for. Night comes, and then you jump up and dress, and go to a ball, and leave your cold and your fever behind you, because the ball won't wait till you are well, and the bores will. So don't ask me to be unkind to Zoe, brooch-day," said Fanny, skipping back to her first position with singular pertinacity.

"Now, Fanny," said Miss Maitland, "who wants you to be unkind to her? But you must and shall promise me not to lend her any more downright encouragement, and to watch the man well."

"I promise that faithfully," said Fanny-an adroit concession, since she had been watching him like a cat a mouse for many days.

"Then you are a good girl; and, to reward you, I will tell you in confidence all the strange stories I have discovered today."

"Oh, do, aunt!" cried Fanny; and now her eyes began to sparkle with curiosity.

Miss Maitland then bid her observe that the bedroom window was not a French casement, but a double-sash window-closed at present because of the rain; but it had been wide open at the top all the time.

"Those two were smoking, and talking secrets; and, child," said the old lady, very impressively, "if you-want-to-know-what gentlemen really are, you must be out of sight, and listen to them, smoking. When I was a girl, the gentlemen came out in their true colors over their wine. Now they are as close as wax, drinking; and even when they are tipsy they keep their secrets. But once let them get by themselves and smoke, the very air is soon filled with scandalous secrets none of the ladies in the house ever dreamed of. Their real characters, their true histories, and their genuine sentiments, are locked up like that genius in 'The Arabian Nights,' and come out in smoke as he did." The old lady chuckled at her own wit, and the young one laughed to humor her. "Well, my dear, those two smoked, and revealed themselves-their real selves; and I listened and heard every word on the top of those drawers."

Fanny looked at the drawers. They were high.

"La, aunt! how ever did you get up there?"

"By a chair."

"Oh, fancy you perched up there, listening, at your age!"

"You need not keep throwing my age in my teeth. I am not so very old. Only I don't paint and whiten and wear false hair. There are plenty of coquettes about, ever so much older than I am. I have a great mind not to tell you; and then much you will ever know about either of these men!"

"Oh, aunt, don't be cruel! I am dying to hear it."

As aunt was equally dying to tell it, she passed over the skit upon her age, though she did not forget nor forgive it; and repeated the whole conversation of Vizard and Severne with rare fidelity; but as I abhor what the evangelist calls "battology," and Shakespeare "damnable iteration," I must draw upon the intelligence of the reader (if any), and he must be pleased to imagine the whole dialogue of those two unguarded smokers repeated to Fanny, and interrupted, commented on at every salient point, scrutinized, sifted, dissected, and taken to pieces by two keen women, sharp by nature, and sharper now by collision of their heads. No candor, no tolerance, no allowance for human weakness, blunted the scalpel in their dexterous hands.

Oh, Gossip! delight of ordinary souls, and more delightful still when you furnish food for detraction!

To Fanny, in particular, it was exciting, ravishing, and the time flew by so unheeded that presently there came a sharp knock and an impatient voice cried, "Chatter! chatter! chatter! How long are we to be kept waiting for dinner, all of us?"

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top