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   Chapter 31 No.31

A Woman-Hater By Charles Reade Characters: 8252

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


I MUST now retrograde a little to relate something rather curious, and I hope not uninteresting.

Zoe Vizard had been for some time acting on Mrs. Gale's advice; building, planning for the good of the poor, and going out of herself more and more. She compared notes constantly with Miss Gale, and conceived a friendship for her. It had been a long time coming, because at first she disliked Miss Gale's manners very much. But that lady had nursed her tenderly, and now advised her, and Zoe, who could not do anything by halves, became devoted to her.

As she warmed to her good work, she gave signs of clearer judgment. She never mentioned Severne; but she no longer absolutely avoided Ina Klosking's name; and one day she spoke of her as a high-principled woman; for which the Gale kissed her on the spot.

One name she often uttered, and always with regret and self-reproach-Lord Uxmoor's. I think that, now she was herself building and planning for the permanent improvement of the poor, she felt the tie of a kindred sentiment. Uxmoor was her predecessor in this good work, too; and would have been her associate, if she had not been so blind. This thought struck deep in her. Her mind ran more and more on Uxmoor, his manliness, his courage in her defense, and his gentlemanly fortitude and bravery in leaving her, without a word, at her request. Running over all these, she often blushed with shame, and her eyes filled with sorrow at thinking of how she had treated him; and lost him forever by not deserving him.

She even made oblique and timid inquiries, but could learn nothing of him, except that he sent periodical remittances to Miss Gale, for managing his improvements. These, however, came in through a country agent from a town agent, and left no clew.

But one fine day, with no warning except to his own people, Lord Uxmoor came home; and the next day rode to Hillstoke to talk matters over with Miss Gale. He was fortunate enough to find her at home. He thanked her for the zeal and enthusiasm she had shown, and the progress his works had made under her supervision.

He was going away without even mentioning the Vizard family.

But the crafty Gale detained him. "Going to Vizard Court?" said she.

"No," said he, very dryly.

"Ah, I understand; but perhaps you would not mind going with me as far as Islip. There is something there I wish you to see."

"Humph? Is it anything very particular? Because-"

"It is. Three cottages rising, with little flower gardens in front. Square plots behind, and arrangements for breeding calves, with other ingenious novelties. A new head come into our business, my lord."

"You have converted Vizard? I thought you would. He is a satirical fellow, but he will listen to reason."

"No, it is not Mr. Vizard; indeed, it is no convert of mine. It is an independent enthusiast. But I really believe your work at home had some hand in firing her enthusiasm."

"A lady! Do I know her?"

"You may. I suppose you know everybody in Barfordshire. Will you come? Do!"

"Of course I will come, Miss Gale. Please tell one of your people to walk my horse down after us."

She had her hat on in a moment, and walked him down to Islip.

Her tongue was not idle on the road. "You don't ask after the people," said she. "There's poor Miss Vizard. She had a sad illness. We were almost afraid we should lose her."

"Heaven forbid!" said Uxmoor, startled by this sudden news.

"Mademoiselle Klosking got quite well; and oh! what do you think? Mr. Severne turned out to be her husband."

"What is that?" shouted Uxmoor, and stopped dead short. "Mr. Severne a married man!"

"Yes; and Mademoiselle Klosking a married woman."

"You amaze me. Why, that Mr. Severne was paying his attentions to Miss Vizard."

"So I used to fancy," said Rhoda carelessly. "But you see it came out he was married, and so of course she packed him off with a flea in his ear."

"Did she? When was that?"

"Let me see, it was the 17th of October."

"Why, that was the very day I left England."

"How odd! Why did you not stay another week? Gentlemen are so

impatient. Never mind, that is an old story now. Here we are; those are the cottages. The workmen are at dinner. Ten to one the enthusiast is there: this is her time. You stay here. I'll go and see."

She went off on tiptoe, and peeped and pried here and there, like a young witch. Presently she took a few steps toward him, with her finger mysteriously to her lips, and beckoned him. He entered into the pantomime-she seemed so earnest in it-and came to her softly.

"Do just take a peep in at that opening for a door," said she, "then you'll see her; her back is turned. She is lovely; only, you know, she has been ill, and I don't think she is very happy."

Uxmoor thought this peeping at enthusiasts rather an odd proceeding, but Miss Gale had primed his curiosity, and he felt naturally proud of a female pupil. He stepped up lightly, looked in at the door, and, to his amazement, saw Zoe Vizard sitting on a carpenter's bench, with her lovely head in the sun's rays. He started, then gazed, then devoured her with his eyes.

What! was this his pupil?

How gentle and sad she seemed! All his stoicism melted at the sight of her. She sat in a sweet, pensive attitude, pale and drooping, but, to his fancy, lovelier than ever. She gave a little sigh. His heart yearned. She took out a letter, read it slowly, and said, softly and slowly, "Poor fellow!" He thought he recognized his own handwriting, and could stand no more. He rushed, in, and was going to speak to her; but she screamed, and no conjurer ever made a card disappear quicker than she did that letter, as she bounded away like a deer, and stood, blushing scarlet, and palpitating all over.

Uxmoor was ashamed of his brusquerie. "What a brute I am to frighten you like this!" said he. "Pray forgive me; but the sight of you, after all these weary months-and you said 'Poor fellow!'"

"Did I?" said Zoe, faintly, looking scared.

"Yes, sweet Zoe, and you were reading a letter."

No reply.

"I thought the poor fellow might be myself. Not that I am to be pitied, if you think of me still."

"I do, then-very often. Oh, Lord Uxmoor, I want to go down on my knees to you."

"That is odd, now; for it is exactly what I should like to do to you."

"What for? It is I who have behaved so ill."

"Never mind that; I love you."

"But you mustn't. You must love some worthy person."

"Oh, you leave that to me. I have no other intention. But may I just see whose letter you were reading?"

"Oh, pray don't ask me."

"I insist on knowing."

"I will not tell you. There it is." She gave it to him with a guilty air, and hid her face.

"Dear Zoe, suppose I were to repeat the offer I made here?"

"I advise you not," said she, all in a flurry.

"Why?"

"Because. Because-I might say 'Yes.'"

"Well, then I'll take my chance once more. Zoe, will you try and love me?"

"Try? I believe I do love you, or nearly. I think of you very often."

"Then you will do something to make me happy."

"Anything; everything."

"Will you marry me?"

"Yes, that I will," said Zoe, almost impetuously; "and then," with a grand look of conscious beauty, "I can make you forgive me."

Uxmoor, on this, caught her in his arms, and kissed her with such fire that she uttered a little stifled cry of alarm; but it was soon followed by a sigh of complacency, and she sunk, resistless, on his manly breast.

So, after two sieges, he carried that fair citadel by assault.

Then let not the manly heart despair, nor take a mere brace of "Noes" from any woman. Nothing short of three negatives is serious.

They walked out in arm-in-arm and very close to each other; and he left her, solemnly engaged.

Leaving this pair to the delights of courtship, and growing affection on Zoe's side-for a warm attachment of the noblest kind did grow, by degrees, out of her penitence, and esteem, and desire to repair her fault-I must now take up the other thread of this narrative, and apologize for having inverted the order of events; for it was, in reality, several days after this happy scene that Mademoiselle Klosking sent for Miss Gale.

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