"WHEN I reached Great Britain, the right of women to medicine was in this condition--a learned lawyer explained it carefully to me. I will give you his words: The unwritten law of every nation admits all mankind, and not the male half only, to the study and practice of medicine and the sale of drugs. In Great Britain this law is called the common law and is deeply respected. Whatever liberty it allows to men or women is held sacred in our courts until directly and explicitly withdrawn by some act of the Legislature. Under this ancient liberty, women have occasionally practiced general medicine and surgery up to the year 1858. But for centuries they monopolized, by custom, one branch of practice, the obstetric; and that, together with the occasional treatment of children, and the nursing of both sexes, which is semi-medical, and is their monopoly, seems, on the whole, to have contented them, till late years, when their views were enlarged by wider education and other causes. But their abstinence from general practice, like their monopoly of obstetrics, lay with women themselves, and not with the law of England. That law is the same in this respect as the common law of Italy and France; and the constitution of Bologna, where so many doctresses have filled the chairs of medicine and other sciences, makes no more direct provision for female students than does the constitution of any Scotch or English university. --The whole thing lay with the women themselves, and with local civilization. Years ago, Italy was far more civilized than England; so Italian women took a large sphere. Of late the Anglo-Saxon has gone in for civilization with his usual energy, and is eclipsing Italy; therefore his women aspire to larger spheres of intellect and action, beginning in the States, because American women are better educated than English. The advance of women in useful attainments is the most infallible sign in any country of advancing civilization. All this about civilization is my observation, sir, and not the lawyer's. Now for the lawyer again: Such being the law of England, the British Legislature passed an act in 1858, the real object of which was to protect the public against incapable doctors, not against capable doctresses or doctors. The act excludes from medical practice all persons whatever, male or female, unless registered in a certain register; and to get upon that register the person, male or female, must produce a license or diploma, granted by one of the British examining boards specified in a schedule attached to the act.
"Now, these examining boards were all members of the leading medical schools. If the Legislature had taken the usual precaution, and had added a clause compelling those boards to examine worthy applicants, the act would have been a sound public measure; but for want of that foresight--and without foresight a lawgiver is an impostor and a public pest--the State robbed women of their old common-law rights with one hand, and with the other enabled a respectable trades-union to thrust them out of their new statutory rights. Unfortunately, the respectable union, to whom the Legislature delegated an unconstitutional power they did not claim themselves, of excluding qualified persons from examination, and so robbing them of their license and their bread, had an overpowering interest to exclude qualified women from medicine. They had the same interest as the watchmakers' union, the printers', the painters' on china, the calico-engravers', and others have to exclude qualified women from those branches, though peculiarly fitted for them; but not more so than they are for the practice of medicine, God having made them, and not men, the medical, and unmusical, sex.
"Wherever there's a trades-union, the weakest go to the wall. Those vulgar unions I have mentioned exclude women from skilled labor they excel in, by violence and conspiracy, though the law threatens them with imprisonment for it. Was it in nature, then, that the medical union would be infinitely forbearing, when the Legislature went and patted it on the back, and said, you can conspire with safety against your female rivals. Of course the clique were tempted more than any clique could bear by the unwariness of the Legislature, and closed the doors of the medical schools to female applicants. Against unqualified female practitioners they never acted with such zeal and consent; and why? The female quack is a public pest, and a good foil to the union; the qualified doctress is a public good, and a blow to the union.
"The British medical union was now in a fine attitude by act of Parliament. It could talk its contempt of medical women, and act its terror of them, and keep both its feigned contempt and its real alarm safe from the test of a public examination--that crucible in which cant, surmise, and mendacity are soon evaporated or precipitated, and only the truth stands firm.
"For all that, two female practitioners got upon the register, and stand out, living landmarks of experience and the truth, in the dead wilderness of surmise and prejudice.
"I will tell you how they got in. The act of Parliament makes two exceptions: first, it lets in, without examination--and that is very unwise--any foreign doctor who shall be practicing in England at the date of the act, although, with equal incapacity, it omits to provide that any future foreign doctor shall be able to demand examination (in with the old foreign fogies, blindfold, right or wrong; out with the rising foreign luminaries of an ever-advancing science, right or wrong); and, secondly, it lets in, without examination, to experiment on the vile body of the public, any person, qualified or unqualified, who may have been made a doctor by a very venerable and equally irrelevant functionary. Guess, now, who it is that a British Parliament sets above the law, as a doctor-maker for that public it professes to love and protect!"
"The Regius Professor of Medicine?"
"Then I give it up."
"The Archbishop of Canterbury."
"Oh, come! a joke is a joke."
"This is no joke. Bright monument of British funkyism and imbecility, there stands the clause setting that reverend and irrelevant doctor-maker above the law, which sets his grace's female relations below the law, and, in practice, outlaws the whole female population, starving those who desire to practice medicine learnedly, and oppressing those who, out of modesty, not yet quite smothered by custom and monopoly, desire to consult a learned female physician, instead of being driven, like sheep, by iron tyranny--in a country that babbles Liberty--to a male physician or a female quack.
"Well, sir, in 1849 Miss Elizabeth Blackwell fought the good fight in the United States, and had her troubles; because the States were not so civilized then as now. She graduated doctor at Geneva, in the State of New York.
"She was practicing in England in 1858, and demanded her place on the register. She is an Englishwoman by birth; but she is an English M.D. only through America having more brains than Britain. This one islander sings, 'Hail, Columbia!' as often as 'God save the Queen!' I reckon.
"Miss Garrett, an enthusiastic student, traveled north, south, east, and west, and knocked in vain at the doors of every great school and university in Britain, but at last found a chink in the iron shutters of the London Apothecaries'. It seems Parliament was wiser in 1815 than in 1858, for it inserted a clause in the Apothecaries Act of 1815 compelling them to examine all persons who should apply to them for examination after proper courses of study. Their charter contained no loop-hole to evade the act, and substitute 'him' for 'person;' so they let Miss Garrett in as a student. Like all the students, she had to attend lectures on chemistry botany, materia medica, zoology, natural philosophy, and clinical surgery. In the collateral subjects they let her sit with the male students; but in anatomy and surgery she had to attend the same lectures privately, and pay for lectures all to herself. This cost her enormous fees. However, it is only fair to say that, if she had been one of a dozen female students, the fees would have been diffused; as it was, she had to gild the pill out of her private purse.
"In the hospital teaching she met difficulties and discouragement, though she asked for no more opportunities than are granted readily to professional nurses and female amateurs. But the whole thing is a mere money question; that is the key to every lock in it.
"She was freely admitted at last to one great hospital, and all went smoothly till some surgeon examined the students viva voce; then Miss Garrett was off her guard, and displayed too marked a superiority; thereupon the male students played the woman, and begged she might be excluded; and, I am sorry to say, for the credit of your sex, this unmanly request was complied with by the womanish males in power.
"However, at her next hospital, Miss Garrett was more discreet, and took pains to conceal her galling superiority.
"All her trouble ended--where her competitors' began--at the public examination. She passed brilliantly, and is an English apothecary. In civilized France she is a learned physician.
"She had not been an apothecary a week, before the Apothecaries' Society received six hundred letters from the medical small-fry in town and country; they threatened to send no more boys to the Apothecaries', but to the College of Surgeons, if ever another woman received an apothecary's license. Now, you know, all men tremble in England at the threats of a trades-union; so the apothecaries instantly cudgeled their brains to find a way to disobey the law, and obey the union. The medical press gave them a hint, and they passed a by-law, forbidding their students to receive any part of their education privately, and made it known, at the same time, that their female students would not be allowed to study the leading subjects publicly. And so they baffled the Legislature, and outlawed half the nation, by a juggle which the press and the public would have risen against, if a single grown-up man had been its victim, instead of four million adult women. Now, you are a straightforward man; what do you think of that?"
"Humph!" said Vizard. "I do not altogether approve it. The strong should not use the arts of the weak in fighting the weak. But, in spite of your eloquence, I mean to forgive them anything. Shakespeare has provided there with an excuse that fits all time:
"'Our poverty, but not our will, consents.'"
"Poverty! the poverty of a company in the city of London! Allons donc. Well, sir, for years after this all Europe, even Russia, advanced in civilization, and opened their medical schools to women; so did the United States: only the pig-headed Briton stood stock-still, and gloried in his minority of one; as if one small island is likely to be right in its monomania, and all civilized nations wrong.
"But while I was studying in France, one lion-hearted Englishwoman was moving our native isle. First she tried the University of London; and that sets up for a liberal foundation. Answer--'Our charter is expressly framed to exclude women from medical instruction.'
"Then she sat down to besiege Edinburgh. Now, Edinburgh is a very remarkable place. It has only half the houses, but ten times the intellect, of Liverpool or Manchester. And the university has two advantages as a home of science over the English universities: it is far behind them in Greek, which is the language of error and nescience, and before them in English, and that is a tongue a good deal of knowledge is printed in. Edinburgh is the only center of British literature, except London.
"One medical professor received the pioneer with a concise severity, and declined to hear her plead her cause, and one received her almost brutally. He said, 'No respectable woman would apply to him to study medicine.' Now, respectable women were studying it all over Europe."
"Well, but perhaps his soul lived in an island."
"That is so. However, personal applicants must expect a rub or two; and most of the professors, in and out of medicine, treated her with kindness and courtesy.
"Still, she found even the friendly professors alarmed at the idea of a woman matriculating, and becoming Civis Edinensis; so she made a moderate application to the Senate, viz., for leave to attend medical lectures. This request was indorsed by a majority of the medical professors, and granted. But on the appeal of a few medical professors against it, the Senate suspended its resolution, on the ground that there was only one applicant.
"This got wind, and other ladies came into the field directly, your humble servant among them. Then the Senate felt bound to recommend the University Court to admit such female students to matriculate as could pass the preliminary examination; this is in history, logic, languages, and other branches; and we prepared for it in good faith. It was a happy time: after a good day's work, I used to go up the Calton Hill, or Arthur's Seat, and view the sea, and the Piræns, and the violet hills, and the romantic undulations of the city itself, and my heart glowed with love of knowledge, and with honorable ambition. I ran over the names of worthy women who had adorned medicine at sundry times and in divers places, and resolved to deserve as great a name as any in history. Refreshed by my walk--I generally walked eight miles, and practiced gymnastics to keep my muscles hard--I used to return to my little lodgings; and they too were sweet to me, for I was learning a new science--logic."
"That was a nut to crack."
"I have met few easier or sweeter. One non-observer had told me it was a sham science, and mere pedantry; another, that it pretended to show men a way to truth without observing. I found, on the contrary, that it was a very pretty little science, which does not affect to discover phenomena, but simply to guard men against rash generalization, and false deductions from true data; it taught me the untrained world is brimful of fallacies and verbal equivoques that ought not to puzzle a child, but, whenever they creep into an argument, do actually confound the learned and the simple alike, and all for want of a month's logic.
"Yes, I was happy on the hill, and happy by the hearth; and so things went on till the preliminary examination came. It was not severe; we ladies all passed with credit, though many of the male aspirants failed."
"How do you account for that?" asked Vizard.
"With my eyes. I observe that the average male is very superior in intellect to the average female; and I observe that the picked female is immeasurably more superior to the average male, than the average male is to the average female."
"Is it so simple as that?"
"Ay; why not? What! are you one of those who believe that Truth is obscure-- hides herself--and lies in a well? I tell you, sir, Truth lies in no well. The place Truth lies in is--the middle of the turnpike road. But one old fogy puts on his green spectacles to look for her, and another his red, and another his blue; and so they all miss her, because she is a colorless diamond. Those spectacles are preconceived notions, à priori reasoning, cant, prejudice, the depth of Mr. Shallow's inner consciousness, etc., etc. Then comes the observer, opens the eyes that God has given him, tramples on all colored spectacles, and finds Truth as surely as the spectacled theorists miss her. Say that the intellect of the average male is to the average female as ten to six, it is to the intellect of the picked female as ten to a hundred and fifty, or even less. Now, the intellect of the male Edinburgh student was much above that of the average male, but still it fell far below that of the picked female. All the examinations at Edinburgh showed this to all God's unspectacled creatures that used their eyes."
These remarks hit Vizard hard. They accorded with his own good sense and method of arguing; but perhaps my more careful readers may have already observed this. He nodded hearty approval for once, and she went on:
"We had now a right to matriculate and enter on our medical course. But, to our dismay, the right was suspended. The proofs of our general proficiency, which we hoped would reconcile the professors to us as students of medicine, alarmed people, and raised us unscrupulous enemies in some who were justly respected, and others who had influence, though they hardly deserved it.
"A general council of the university was called to reconsider the pledge the Senate had given us, and overawe the university court by the weight of academic opinion. The court itself was fluctuating, and ready to turn either way. A large number of male students co-operated against us with a petition. They, too, were a little vexed at our respectable figure in the preliminary examination.
"The assembly met and the union orator got up; he was a preacher of the Gospel, and carried the weight of that office. Christianity, as well as science, seemed to rise against us in his person. He made a long and eloquent speech, based on the intelligent surmises and popular prejudices that were diffused in a hundred leading articles, and in letters to the editor by men and women, to whom history was a dead letter in modern controversies; for the Press battled this matter for two years, and furnished each party with an artillery of reasons, pro and con.
"He said, 'Woman's sphere is the hearth and the home: to impair her delicacy is to take the bloom from the peach: she could not qualify for medicine without mastering anatomy and surgery--branches that must unsex her. Providence, intending her to be man's helpmate, not his rival, had given her a body unfit for war or hard labor, and a brain four ounces lighter than a man's, and unable to cope with long study and practical science. In short, she was too good, and too stupid, for medicine.'
"It was eloquent, but it was à priori reasoning, and conjecture versus evidence: yet the applause it met with showed one how happy is the orator 'qui hurle avec les loups.' Taking the scientific preacher's whole theory in theology and science, woman was high enough in creation to be the mother of God, but not high enough to be a sawbones.
"Well, a professor of belles-lettres rose on our side, not with a rival theory, but with facts. He was a pupil of Lord Bacon, and a man of the nineteenth century; so he objected to à priori reasoning on a matter of experience. To settle the question of capacity he gave a long list of women who had been famous in science. Such as Bettesia Gozzadini, Novella Andrea, Novella Calderini, Maddelena Buonsignori, and many more, who were doctors of law and university professors: Dorotea Bocohi, who was professor both of philosophy and medicine; Laura Bassi, who was elected professor of philosophy in 1732 by acclamation, and afterward professor of experimental physics; Anna Manzolini, professor of anatomy in 1760; Gaetaua Agnesi, professor of mathematics; Christina Roccati, doctor of philosophy in 1750; Clotilde Tambroni, professor of Greek in 1793; Maria Dalle Donne, doctor of medicine in 1799; Zaffira Ferretti, doctor of medicine in 1800; Maria Sega, doctor of medicine in 1799; Madalena Noe, graduate of civil law in 1807. Ladies innumerable, who graduated in law and medicine at Pavia, Ferrara, and Padua, including Elena Lucrezia Cornaro of Padua, a very famous woman. Also in Salamanca, Alcalá, Cordova, he named more than one famous doctress. Also in Heidelberg, Göttingen, Giessen, Würzburg, etc., and even at Utrect, with numberless graduates in the arts and faculties at Montpellier and Paris in all ages. Also outside reputations, as of Doctor Bouvin and her mother, acknowledged celebrities in their branch of medicine. This chain, he said, has never been really broken. There was scarcely a great foreign university without some female student of high reputation. There were such women at Vienna and Petersburg; many such at Zurich. At Montpellier Mademoiselle Doumergue was carrying all before her, and Miss Garrett and Miss Mary Putnam at Paris, though they were weighted in the race by a foreign language. Let the male English physician pass a stiff examination in scientific French before he brayed so loud. He had never done it yet. This, he said, is not an age of chimeras; it is a wise and wary age, which has established in all branches of learning a sure test of ability in man or woman--public examination followed by a public report. These public examinations are all conducted by males, and women are passing them triumphantly all over Europe and America, and graduate as doctors in every civilized country, and even in half-civilized Russia.
"He then went into our own little preliminary examination, and gave the statistics: In Latin were examined 55 men and 3 women: 10 men were rejected, but no women; 7 men were respectable, 7 optimi, or first-rate, 1 woman bona, and 1 optima. In mathematics were examined 67 men and 4 women, of whom 1 woman was optima, and 1 bona: 10 men were optimi, and 25 boni; the rest failed. In German 2 men were examined, and 1 woman: 1 man was good, and 1 woman. In logic 28 men were examined, and 1 woman: the woman came out fifth in rank, and she had only been at it a month. In moral philosophy 16 men were examined; and 1 woman: the woman came out third. In arithmetic, 51 men and 3 women: 2 men were optimi, and 1 woman optima; several men failed, and not one woman. In mechanics, 81 men and 1 woman: the woman passed with fair credit, as did 13 men; the rest failing. In French were examined 58 men and 4 women: 3 men and 1 woman were respectable; 8 men and 1 woman passed; two women attained the highest excellence, optimoe, and not one man. In English, 63 men and 3 women: 3 men were good, and 1 woman; but 2 women were optimoe, and only 1 man."
"Fancy you remembering figures like that," said Vizard.
"It is all training and habit," said she, simply.
"As to the study and practice of medicine degrading women, he asked if it degraded men. No; it elevated them. They could not contradict him on that point. He declined to believe, without a particle of evidence, that any science could elevate the higher sex and degrade the lower. What evidence we had ran against it. Nurses are not, as a class, unfeminine, yet all that is most appalling, disgusting, horrible, and unsexing in the art of healing is monopolized by them., Women see worse things than doctors. Women nurse all the patients of both sexes, often under horrible and sickening conditions, and lay out all the corpses. No doctor objects to this on sentimental grounds; and why? Because the nurses get only a guinea a week, and not a guinea a flying visit: to women the loathsome part of medicine; to man the lucrative! The noble nurses of the Crimea went to attend males only, yet were not charged with indelicacy. They worked gratis. The would-be doctresses look mainly to attending women, but then they want to be paid for it: there was the rub--it was a mere money question, and all the attempts of the union to hide this and play the sentimental shop-man were transparent hypocrisy and humbug.
"A doctor justly revered in Edinburgh answered him, but said nothing new nor effective; and, to our great joy, the majority went with us.
"Thus encouraged, the university court settled the matter. We were admitted to matriculate and study medicine, under certain conditions, to which I beg your attention.
"The instruction of women for the profession of medicine was to be conducted in separate classes confined entirely to women.
"The professors of the Faculty of Medicine should, for this purpose, be permitted to have separate classes for women.
"All these regulations were approved by the chancellor, and are to this day a part of the law of that university.
"We ladies, five in number, but afterward seven, were matriculated and registered professional students of medicine, and passed six delightful months we now look back upon as if it was a happy dream.
"We were picked women, all in earnest. We deserved respect, and we met with it. The teachers were kind, and we attentive and respectful: the students were courteous, and we were affable to them, but discreet. Whatever seven young women could do to earn esteem, and reconcile even our opponents to the experiment, we did. There was not an anti-student, or downright flirt, among us; and, indeed, I have observed that an earnest love of study and science controls the amorous frivolity of women even more than men's. Perhaps our heads are really smaller than men's, and we haven't room in them to be like Solomon--extremely wise and arrant fools.
"This went on until the first professional examination; but, after the examination, the war, to our consternation, recommenced. Am I, then, bad-hearted for thinking there must have been something in that examination which roused the sleeping spirit of trades-unionism?"
"It seems probable."
"Then view that probability by the light of fact:
"In physiology the male students were 127; in chemistry, 226; 25 obtained honors in physiology; 31 in chemistry.
"In physiology and chemistry there were five women. One obtained honors in physiology alone; four obtained honors in both physiology and chemistry.
"So, you see, the female students beat the male students in physiology at the rate of five to one; and in chemistry, seven and three-quarters to one.
"But, horrible to relate, one of the ladies eclipsed twenty-nine out of the thirty-one gentlemen who took honors in chemistry. In capacity she surpassed them all; for the two, who were above her, obtained only two marks more than she did, yet they had been a year longer at the study. This entitled her to 'a Hope Scholarship' for that year.
"Would you believe it? the scholarship was refused her--in utter defiance of the founder's conditions--on the idle pretext that she had studied at a different hour from the male students, and therefore was not a member of the chemistry class."
"Then why admit her to the competition?" said Vizard.
"Why? because the à priori reasoners took for granted she would be defeated. Then the cry would have been, 'You had your chance; we let you try for the Hope Scholarship; but you could not win it.' Having won it, she was to be cheated out of it somehow, or anyhow. The separate-class system was not that lady's fault; she would have preferred to pay the university lecturer lighter fees, and attend a better lecture with the male students. The separate class was an unfavorable condition of study, which the university imposed on us, as the condition of admitting us to the professional study of medicine? Surely, then, to cheat that lady out of her Hope Scholarship, when she had earned it under conditions of study enforced and unfavorable, was perfidious and dishonest. It was even a little ungrateful to the injured sex; for the money which founded these scholarships was women's money, every penny of it. The good Professor Hope had lectured to ladies fifty years ago; had taken their fees, and founded his scholarships with their money: and it would have done his heart good to see a lady win and wear that prize which, but for his female pupils, would never have existed. But it is easy to trample on a dead man: as easy as on living women.
"The perfidy was followed by ruthless tyranny. They refused to admit the fair criminal to the laboratory, 'else,' said they, 'she'll defeat more men.
"That killed her, as a chemist. It gave inferior male students too great an advantage over her. And so the public and Professor Hope were sacrificed to a trades-union, and lost a great analytical chemist, and something more--she had, to my knowledge, a subtle diagnosis. Now we have at present no great analyst, and the few competent analysts we have do not possess diagnosis in proportion. They can find a few poisons in the dead, but they are slow to discover them in the living; so they are not to be counted on to save a life, where crime is administering poison. That woman could, and would, I think.
"They drove her out of chemistry, wherein she was a genius, into surgery, in which she was only a talent. She is now house-surgeon in a great hospital, and the public has lost a great chemist and diagnostic physician combined.
"Up to the date of this enormity, the Press had been pretty evenly divided for and against us. But now, to their credit, they were unanimous, and reprobated the juggle as a breach of public faith and plain morality. Backed by public opinion, one friendly professor took this occasion to move the university to relax the regulation of separate classes since it had been abused. He proposed that the female students should be admitted to the ordinary classes.
"This proposal was negatived by 58 to 47.
"This small majority was gained by a characteristic maneuver. The queen's name was gravely dragged in as disapproving the proposal, when, in fact, it could never have been submitted to her, or her comment, if any, must have been in writing; and as to the general question, she has never said a public word against medical women. She has too much sense not to ask herself how can any woman be fit to be a queen, with powers of life and death, if no woman is fit to be so small a thing, by comparison, as a physician or a surgeon.
"We were victims of a small majority, obtained by imagination playing upon flunkyism, and the first result was we were not allowed to sit down to botany with males. Mind you, we might have gathered blackberries with them in umbrageous woods from morn till dewy eve, and not a professor shocked in the whole faculty; but we must not sit down with them to an intellectual dinner of herbs, and listen, in their company, to the pedantic terms and childish classifications of botany, in which kindred properties are ignored. Only the male student must be told in public that a fox-glove is Digitalis purpurea in the improved nomenclature of science, and crow-foot is Ranunculus sceleratus, and the buck-bean is Menyanthis trifoliata, and mugwort is Artemesia Judaica; that, having lost the properties of hyssop known to Solomon, we regain our superiority over that learned Hebrew by christening it Gratiola officinalis. The sexes must not be taught in one room to discard such ugly and inexpressive terms as snow-drop, meadow-sweet, heart's-ease, fever-few, cowslip, etc., and learn to know the cowslip as Primula veris--by class, Pentandria monogynia; and the buttercup as Ranunculus acnis--Polyandria monogynia; the snow-drop as Galanthus nivalis--Hexandria monogynia; and the meadow-sweet as Ulnaria; the heart's ease as Viola tricolor; and the daisy as Bellis perennis--Syngenesia superflua."
"Well," said Vizard, "I think the individual names can only hurt the jaws and other organs of speech. But the classification! Is the mild luster of science to be cast over the natural disposition of young women toward Polyandria monogynia? Is trigamy to be identified in their sweet souls with floral innocence, and their victims sitting by?"
"Such classifications are puerile and fanciful," said Miss Gale; "but, for that very reason, they don't infect animals with trigamy. Novels are much more likely to do that."
"Especially ladies' novels," suggested Vizard, meekly.
"Some," suggested the accurate Rhoda. "But the sexes will never lose either morals or delicacy through courses of botany endured together. It will not hurt young ladies a bit to tell them in the presence of young gentlemen that a cabbage is a thalamifioral exogen, and its stamens are tetradynamous; nor that the mushroom, Psalliata campestris, and the toad-stool, Myoena campestris, are confounded by this science in one class, Cryptogamia. It will not even hurt them to be told that the properties of the Arum maculatum are little known, but that the males are crowded round the center of the spadix, and the females seated at the base."
Said Vizard, pompously, "The pulpit and the tea-table are centers of similar phenomena. Now I think of it, the pulpit is a very fair calyx, but the tea-table is sadly squat."
"Yes, sir. But, more than that, not one of these pedants who growled at promiscuous botany has once objected to promiscuous dancing, not even with the gentleman's arm round the lady's waist, which the custom of centuries cannot render decent. Yet the professors of delicacy connive, and the Mother Geese sit smirking at the wall. Oh, world of hypocrites and humbugs!"
"I am afraid you are an upsetter general," said Vizard. "But you are abominably sincere; and all this is a curious chapter of human nature. Pray proceed."
Miss Gale nodded gravely, and resumed.
"So much public ridicule fell on the union for this, and the blind flunkyism which could believe the queen had meddled in the detail, that the professors melted under it, and threw open botany and natural history to us, with other collateral sciences.
"Then came the great fight, which is not ended yet.
"To qualify for medicine and pass the stiff examination, by which the public is very properly protected, you must be versed in anatomy and clinical surgery. Books and lectures do not suffice for this, without the human subject--alive and dead. The university court knew that very well when it matriculated us, and therefore it provided for our instruction by promising us separate classes.
"Backed by this public pledge, we waited on the university professor of anatomy to arrange our fees for a separate lecture. He flatly refused to instruct us separately for love or money, or to permit his assistants. That meant, 'The union sees a way to put you in a cleft stick and cheat you out of your degree, in spite of the pledge the university has given you; in spite of your fees, and of your time given to study in reliance on the promise.'
"This was a heavy blow. But there was an extramural establishment called Surgeons' Hall, and the university formally recognized all the lecturers in this Hall; so we applied to those lecturers, and they were shocked at the illiberality of the university professors, and admitted us at once to mixed classes. We attended lectures with the male students on anatomy and surgery, and of all the anticipated evils, not one took place, sir.
"The objections to mixed classes proved to be idle words; yet the old-fashioned minds opposed to us shut their eyes and went on reasoning à priori, and proving that the evils which they saw did not arise must arise should the experiment of mixed classes, which was then succeeding, ever he tried.
"To qualify us for examination we now needed but one thing more--hospital practice. The infirmary is supported not so much by the university as the town. We applied, therefore, with some confidence, for the permission usually conceded to medical students. The managers refused us the town infirmary. Then we applied to the subscribers. The majority, not belonging to a trades-union, declared in our favor, and intimated plainly that they would turn out the illiberal managers at the next election of managers.
"But by this time the war was hot and general, and hard blows dealt on both sides. It was artfully suppressed by our enemies in the profession and in the Press that we had begged hard for the separate class which had been promised us in anatomy, and permission to attend, by ourselves, a limited number of wards in the infirmary; and on this falsehood by suppression worse calumnies were built.
"I shall tell you what we really were, and what foul mouths and pens insinuated we must be.
"Two accomplished women had joined us, and we were now the seven wise virgins of a half-civilized nation, and, if I know black from white, we were seven of its brightest ornaments. We were seven ladies, who wished to be doctresses, especially devoted to our own sex; seven good students, who went on our knees to the university for those separate classes in anatomy and clinical surgery which the university was bound in honor to supply us; but, our prayer rejected, said to the university, 'Well, use your own discretion about separate or mixed classes; but for your own credit, and that of human nature, do not willfully tie a hangman's noose to throttle the weak and deserving, and don't cheat seven poor, hard-working, meritorious women, your own matriculated students, out of our entrance-fees, which lie to this day in the university coffers, out of the exceptionally heavy fees we have paid to your professors, out of all the fruit of our hard study, out of our diplomas, and our bread. Solve the knot your own way. We will submit to mixed classes, or anything, except professional destruction.'
"In this spirit our lion-hearted leader wrote the letter of an uninjured dove, and said there were a great many more wards in the infirmary than any male student could or did attend; we would be content to divide the matter thus: the male students to have the monopoly of two-thirds, we to have the bare right of admission to one-third. By this the male students (if any) who had a sincere objection to study the sick, and witness operations, in our company, could never be troubled with us; and we, though less favored than the male students, could just manage to qualify for that public examination, which was to prove whether we could make able physicians or not.
"Sir, this gentle proposal was rejected with rude scorn, and in aggressive terms. Such is the spirit of a trades-union.
"Having now shown you what we were, I will now tell you what our enemies, declining to observe our conduct, though it was very public, suggested we must be--seven shameless women, who pursued medicine as a handle for sexuality; who went into the dissecting-room to dissect males, and into the hospital to crowd round the male patient, and who demanded mixed classes, that we might have male companions in those studies which every feminine woman would avoid altogether.
"This key-note struck, the public was regaled with a burst of hypocrisy such as Molière never had the luck to witness, or oh, what a comedy he would have written!
"The immodest sex, taking advantage of Molière's decease without heirs of his brains, set to work in public to teach the modest sex modesty.
"In the conduct of this pleasant paradox, the representatives of that sex, which has much courage and little modesty, were two professors--who conducted the paradox so judiciously that the London Press reprimanded them for their foul insinuations--and a number of young men called medical students.
"Now, the medical student surpasses most young men in looseness of life, and indecency of mind and speech.
"The representatives of womanhood to be instructed in modesty by these animals, old and young, were seven prudes, whose minds were devoted to study and honorable ambition. These women were as much above the average of their sex in feminine reserve and independence of the male sex as they were in intellect.
"The average girl, who throughout this discussion was all of a sudden puffed as a lily, because she ceased to be observed, can attend to nothing if a man is by; she can't work, she can't play, she is so eaten up with sexuality. The frivolous soul can just manage to play croquet with females; but, enter a man upon the scene, and she does even that very ill, and can hardly be got to take her turn in the only thing she has really given her mind to. We were angels compared with this paltry creature, and she was the standing butt of public censure, until it was found that an imaginary picture of her could be made the handle for insulting her betters.
"Against these seven prudes, decent dotards and their foul-mouthed allies flung out insinuations which did not escape public censure; and the medical students declared their modesty was shocked at our intrusion into anatomy and surgery, and petitioned against us. Some of the Press were deceived by this for a time, and hurlaient avec les loups.
"I took up, one day, my favorite weekly, in which nearly every writer seems to me a scholar, and was regaled with such lines as these:
"'It appears that girls are to associate with boys as medical students, in order that, when they become women, they may be able to speak to men with entire plainness upon all the subjects of a doctor's daily practice.
"'In plain words, the aspirants to medicine and surgery desire to rid themselves speedily and effectually of that modesty which nature has planted in women.' And then the writer concludes: 'We beg to suggest that there are other places besides dissecting-rooms and hospitals where those ladies may relieve themselves of the modesty which they find so troublesome. But fathers naturally object to this being done at their sons' expense."
"Infamous!" cried Vizard. "One comfort, no man ever penned that. That is some old woman writing down young ones."
"I don't know," said Rhoda. "I have met so many womanish men in this business. All I know is, that my cheeks burned, and, for once in the fight, scalding tears ran down them. It was as if a friend had spat upon me.
"What a chimera! What a monstrous misinterpretation of pure minds by minds impure! To us the dissecting-room was a temple, and the dead an awe, revolting to all our senses, until the knife revealed to our minds the Creator's hand in structural beauties that the trained can appreciate, if wicked dunces can't.
"And as to the infirmary, we should have done just what we did at Zürich. We held a little aloof from the male patients, unless some good-natured lecturer, or pupil, gave us a signal, and then we came forward. If we came uninvited, we always stood behind the male students: but we did crowd round the beds of the female patients, and claimed the inner row: AND, SIR, THEY THANKED GOD FOR US OPENLY.
"A few awkward revelations were made during this discussion. A medical student had the candor to write and say that he had been at a lecture, and the professor had told an indelicate story, and, finding it palatable to his modest males, had said, 'There, gentlemen: now, if female students were admitted here, I could not have told you this amusing circumstance.' So that it was our purifying influence he dreaded in secret, though he told the public he dreaded the reverse.
"Again, female patients wrote to the journals to beg that female students might be admitted to come between them and the brutal curiosity of the male students, to which they were subjected in so offensive a way that more than one poor creature declared she had felt agonies of shame, even in the middle of an agonizing operation.
"This being a cry from that public for whose sake the whole clique of physicians--male and female--exists, had, of course, no great weight in the union controversy.
"But, sir, if grave men and women will sit calmly down and fling dirt upon every woman who shall aspire to medicine in an island, though she can do so on a neighboring continent with honor, and choose their time when the dirt can only fall on seven known women--since the female students in that island are only seven--the pretended generality becomes a cowardly personality, and wounds as such, and excites less cold-hearted, and more hot-headed blackguards to outrage. It was so at Philadelphia, and it was so at Edinburgh.
"Our extramural teacher in anatomy was about to give a competitive examination. Now, on these occasions, we were particularly obnoxious. Often and clearly as it had been proved, by à priori reasoning, that we must be infinitely inferior to the average male, we persisted in proving, by hard fact, that we were infinitely his superior; and every examination gave us an opportunity of crushing solid reasons under hollow fact.
"A band of medical students determined that for once à priori reasoning should have fair play, and not be crushed by a thing so illusory as fact. Accordingly, they got the gates closed, and collected round them. We came up, one after another, and were received with hisses, groans, and abusive epithets.
"This mode of reasoning must have been admirably adapted to my weak understanding; for it convinced me at once I had no business there, and I was for private study directly.
"But, sir, you know the ancients said, 'Better is an army of stags with a lion for their leader, than an army of lions with a stag for their leader.' Now, it so happened that we had a lioness for our leader. She pushed manfully through the crowd, and hammered at the door: then we crept quaking after. She ordered those inside to open the gates; and some student took shame, and did. In marched our lioness, crept after by her--her--"
"A thousand thanks, good sir. Her does. On second thoughts, 'her hinds.' Doe is the female of buck. Now, I said stags. Well, the ruffians who had undertaken to teach us modesty swarmed in too. They dragged a sheep into the lecture-room, lighted pipes, produced bottles, drank, smoked, and abused us ladies to our faces, and interrupted the lecturer at intervals with their howls and ribaldry: that was intended to show the professor he should not be listened to any more if he admitted the female students. The affair got wind, and other students, not connected with medicine, came pouring in, with no worse motive, probably, than to see the lark. Some of these, however, thought the introduction of the sheep unfair to so respected a lecturer, and proceeded to remove her; but the professor put up his hand, and said, 'Oh, don't remove her: she is superior in intellect to many persons here present.'
"At the end of the lecture, thinking us in actual danger from these ruffians, he offered to let us out by a side door; but our lioness stood up and said, in a voice that rings in my ear even now, 'Thank you, sir; no. There are gentlemen enough here to escort us safely.'
"The magic of a great word from a great heart, at certain moments when minds are heated! At that word, sir, the scales fell from a hundred eyes; manhood awoke with a start, ay, and chivalry too; fifty manly fellows were round us in a moment, with glowing cheeks and eyes, and they carried us all home to our several lodgings in triumph. The cowardly caitiffs of the trades-union howled outside, and managed to throw a little dirt upon our gowns, and also hurled epithets, most of which were new to me; but it has since been stated by persons more versed in the language of the canaille that no fouler terms are known to the dregs of mankind.
"Thus did the immodest sex, in the person of the medical student, outrage seven fair samples of the modest sex--to teach them modesty.
"Next morning the police magistrates dealt with a few of our teachers, inflicted severe rebukes on them, and feeble fines.
"The craftier elders disowned the riot in public, but approved it in private; and continued to act in concert with it, only with cunning, not violence. It caused no honest revulsion of feeling, except in the disgusted public, and they had no power to help us.
"The next incident was a stormy debate by the subscribers to the infirmary; and here we had a little feminine revenge, which, outraged as we had been, I hope you will not grudge us.
"Our lioness subscribed five pounds, and became entitled to vote and speech. As the foulest epithets had been hurled at her by the union, and a certain professor had told her, to her face, no respectable woman would come to him and propose to study medicine, she said, publicly, that she had come to his opinion, and respectable women would avoid him--which caused a laugh.
"She also gave a venerable old physician, our bitter opponent, a slap that was not quite so fair. His attendant had been concerned in that outrage, and she assumed--in which she was not justified--that the old doctor approved. 'To be sure,' said she, 'they say he was intoxicated, and that is the only possible excuse.'
"The old doctor had only to say that he did not control his assistants in the street; and his own mode of conducting the opposition, and his long life of honor, were there to correct this young woman's unworthy surmises, and she would have had to apologize for going too far on mere surmise. But, instead of that, he was so injudicious as to accuse her of foul language, and say, 'My attendant is a perfect gentleman; he would not be my attendant if he were not.'
"Our lioness had him directly. 'Oh,' said she, 'if Dr. So-and-so prefers to say that his attendant committed that outrage on decency when in his sober senses, I am quite content.'
"This was described as violent invective by people with weak memories, who had forgotten the nature of the outrage our lioness was commenting on; but in truth it was only superior skill in debate, with truth to back it.
"For my part, I kept the police report at the time, and have compared it with her speech. The judicial comments on those rioters are far more severe than hers. The truth is it was her facts that hit too hard, not her expressions.
"Well, sir, she obtained a majority; and those managers of the infirmary who objected to female students were dismissed, and others elected. At the same meeting the Court of Contributors passed a statute, making it the law of the infirmary that students should be admitted without regard to sex.
"But as to the mere election of managers, the other party demanded a scrutiny of the votes, and instructive figures came out. There voted with us twenty-eight firms, thirty-one ladies, seven doctors.
"There voted with the union fourteen firms, two ladies, thirty-seven doctors, and three druggists.
"Thereupon the trades-union, as declared by the figures, alleged that firms ought not to vote. Nota bene, they always had voted unchallenged till they voted for fair play to women.
"The union served the provost with an interdict not to declare the new managers elected.
"We applied for our tickets under the new statute, but were impudently refused, under the plea that the managers must first be consulted: so did the servants of the infirmary defy the masters in order to exclude us.
"By this time the great desire of women to practice medicine had begun to show itself. Numbers came in and matriculated; and the pressure on the authorities to keep faith, and relax the dead-lock they had put us in, was great.
"Thereupon the authorities, instead of saying, 'We have pledged ourselves to a great number of persons, and pocketed their fees,' took fright, and cast about for juggles. They affected to discover all of a sudden that they had acted illegally in matriculating female students. They would, therefore, not give back their fees, and pay them two hundred pounds apiece for breach of contract, but detain their fees and stop their studies until compelled by judicial decision to keep faith. Observe, it was under advice of the lord-justice-general they had matriculated us, and entered into a contract with us, for fulfilling which it was not, and is not, in the power of any mortal man to punish them.
"But these pettifoggers said this: 'We have acted illegally, and therefore not we, but you, shall suffer: we will profit by our illegal act, for we will cheat you out of your fees to the university and your fees to its professors, as well as the seed-time of your youth that we have wasted.'
"Now, in that country they can get the opinions of the judges by raising what they call an action of declarator.
"One would think it was their business to go to the judges, and meantime give us the benefit of the legal doubt, while it lasted, and of the moral no-doubt, which will last till the day of judgment, and a day after.
"Not a bit of it. They deliberately broke their contract with us, kept our fees, and cheated us out of the article we had bought of them, disowned all sense of morality, yet shifted the burden of law on to our shoulders. Litigation is long. Perfidy was in possession. Possession is nine points. The female students are now sitting with their hands before them, juggled out of their studies, in plain defiance of justice and public faith, waiting till time shall show them whether provincial lawyers can pettifog as well as trades-union doctors.
"As for me, I had retired to civilized climes long before this. I used to write twice a week to my parents, but I withheld all mention of the outrage at Surgeons' Hall. I knew it would give them useless pain. But in three weeks or so came a letter from my father, unlike any other I ever knew him to write. It did not even begin, 'My dear child.' This was what he said (the words are engraved in my memory): 'Out of that nation of cowards and skunks! out of it this moment, once and forever! The States are your home. Draft on London inclosed. Write to me from France next week, or write to me no more. Graduate in France. Then come North, and sail from Havre to New York. You have done with Britain, and so have I, till our next war. Pray God that mayn't be long!'
"It was like a lion's roar of anguish. I saw my dear father's heart was bursting with agony and rage at the insult to his daughter, and I shed tears for him those wretches had never drawn from me.
"I had cried at being insulted by scholars in the Press; but what was it to me that the scum of the medical profession, which is the scum of God's whole creation, called me words I did not know the meaning of, and flung the dirt of their streets, and the filth of their souls, after me? I was frightened a little, that is all. But that these reptiles could wound my darling old lion's heart across the ocean! Sir, he was a man who could be keen and even severe with men, but every virtuous woman was a sacred thing to him. Had he seen one, though a stranger, insulted as we were, he would have died in her defense. He was a true American. And to think the dregs of mankind could wound him for his daughter, and so near the end of his own dear life. Oh!" She turned her head away.
"My poor girl!" said Vizard, and his own voice was broken.
When he said that, she gave him her hand, and seemed to cling to his a little; but she turned her head away from him and cried, and even trembled a little.
But she very soon recovered herself, and said she would try to end her story. It had been long enough.
"Sir, my father had often obeyed me; but now I knew I must obey him. I got testimonials in Edinburgh, and started South directly. In a week I was in the South of France. Oh, what a change in people's minds by mere change of place! The professors received me with winning courtesy; some hats were lifted to me in the street, with marked respect; flowers were sent to my lodgings by gentlemen who never once intruded, on me in person. I was in a civilized land. Yet there was a disappointment for me. I inquired for Cornelia. The wretch had just gone and married a professor. I feared she was up to no good, by her writing so seldom of late.
"I sent her a line that an old friend had returned, and had not forgotten her, nor our mutual vows.
"She came directly, and was for caressing away her crime, and dissolving it in crocodile tears; but I played the injured friend and the tyrant.
"Then she curled round me, and coaxed, and said, 'Sweetheart, I can advance your interests all the better. You shall be famous for us both. I shall be happier in your success than in my own.'
"In short, she made it very hard to hold spite; and it ended in feeble-minded embraces. Indeed, she was of service to me. I had a favor to ask: I wanted leave to count my Scotch time in France.
"My view was tenable; and Cornelia, by her beauty and her popularity, gained over all the professors to it but one. He stood out.
"Well, sir, an extraordinary occurrence befriended me; no, not extraordinary-- unusual.
"I lodged on a second floor. The first floor was very handsome. A young Englishman and his wife took it for a week. She was musical--a real genius. The only woman I ever heard sing without whining; for we are, by nature, the medical and unmusical sex."
"So you said before."
"I know I did; and I mean to keep saying it till people see it. Well, the young man was taken violently and mysteriously ill; had syncope after syncope, and at last ceased to breathe.
"The wife was paralyzed, and sat stupefied, and the people about feared for her reason.
"After a time they begged me to come down and talk to her. Of course I went. I found her with her head upon his knees. I sat down quietly, and looked at him. He was young and beautiful, but with a feminine beauty; his head finely shaped, with curly locks that glittered in the sun, and one golden lock lighter than the rest; his eyes and eyelashes, his oval face, his white neck, and his white hand, all beautiful. His left hand rested on the counterpane. There was an emerald ring on one finger. He was like some beautiful flower cut down. I can see him now.
"The woman lifted her head and saw me. She had a noble face, though now distorted and wild.
"She cried, 'Tell me he is not dead! tell me he is not dead!' and when I did not reply, the poor creature gave a wild cry, and her senses left her. We carried her into another room.
"While the women were bringing her to, an official came to insist on the interment taking place. They are terribly expeditious in the South of France.
"This caused an altercation, and the poor lady rushed out; and finding the officer peremptory, flung her arms round the body, and said they should not be parted--she would be buried with him.
"The official was moved, but said the law was strict, and the town must conduct the funeral unless she could find the sad courage to give the necessary instructions. With this he was going out, inexorable, when all of a sudden I observed something that sent my heart into my mouth, and I cried 'Arrêtez!' so loud that everybody stared.
"I said, 'You must wait till a physician has seen him; he has moved a finger.'
"I stared at the body, and they all stared at me.
"He had moved a finger. When I first saw him, his fingers were all close together; but now the little finger was quite away from the third finger--the one with the ring on.
"I felt his heart, and found a little warmth about it, but no perceptible pulse. I ordered them to take off his sheet and put on blankets, but not to touch him till I came back with a learned physician. The wife embraced me, all trembling, and promised obedience. I got a fiacre and drove to Dr. Brasseur, who was my hostile professor, but very able. I burst on him, and told him I had a case of catalepsy for him--it wasn't catalepsy, you know, but physicians are fond of Greek; they prefer the wrong Greek word to the right English. So I called it 'catalepsy,' and said I believed they were going to bury a live man. He shrugged his shoulders, and said that was one of the customs of the country. He would come in an hour. I told him that would not do, the man would be in his coffin; he must come directly. He smiled at my impetuosity, and yielded.
"I got him to the patient. He examined him, and said he might be alive, but feared the last spark was going out. He dared not venture on friction. We must be wary.
"Well, we tried this stimulant and that, till at last we got a sigh out of the patient; and I shall not forget the scream of joy at that sigh, which made the room ring, and thrilled us all.
"By-and-by I was so fortunate as to suggest letting a small stream of water fall from a height on his head and face. We managed that, and by-and-by were rewarded with a sneeze.
"I think a sneeze must revivify the brain wonderfully, for he made rapid progress, and then we tried friction, and he got well very quick. Indeed, as he had nothing the matter with him, except being dead, he got ridiculously well, and began paying us fulsome compliments, the doctor and me.
"So then we handed him to his joyful wife.
"They talk of crying for joy, as if it was done every day. I never saw it but once, and she was the woman. She made a curious gurgle; but it was very pretty. I was glad to have seen it, and very proud to be the cause.
"The next day that pair left. He was English and so many good-natured strangers called on him that he fled swiftly, and did not even bid me good-by. However, I was told they both inquired for me, and were sorry I was out when they went."
"How good of them!" said Vizard, turning red.
"Oh, never mind, sir; I made use of him. I scribbled an article that very day, entitled it, 'While there's life there's hope,' and rushed with it to the editor of a journal. He took it with delight. I wrote it à la Fran¸aise: picture of the dead husband, mourning wife, the impending interment; effaced myself entirely, and said the wife had refused to bury him until Dr. Brasseur, whose fame had reached her ears, had seen the body. To humor her, the doctor was applied to, and, his benevolence being equal to his science, he came: when, lo! a sudden surprise; the swift, unerring eye of science detected some subtle sign that had escaped the lesser luminaries. He doubted the death. He applied remedies; he exhausted the means of his art, with little avail at first, but at last a sigh was elicited, then a sneeze; and, marvelous to relate, in one hour the dead man was sitting up, not convalescent, but well. I concluded with some reflections on this most important case of suspended animation very creditable to the profession of medicine, and Dr. Brasseur."
"There was a fox!"
"Well, look at my hair. What else could you expect? I said that before, too.
"My notice published, I sent it to the doctor, with my respects, but did not call on him. However, one day he met me, and greeted me with a low bow. 'Mademoiselle,' said he, 'you were always a good student; but now you show the spirit of a confrère, and so gracefully, that we are all agreed we must have you for one as soon as possible.'
"I courtesied, and felt my face red, and said I should be the proudest woman in France.
"'Grand Dieu,' said he, 'I hope not; for your modesty is not the least of your charms.'
"So, the way was made smooth, and I had to work hard, and in about fourteen months I was admitted to my final examination. It was a severe one, but I had some advantages. Each nation has its wisdom, and I had studied in various schools.
"Being a linguist, with a trained memory, I occasionally backed my replies with a string of French, German, English, and Italian authorities that looked imposing.
"In short, I did pass with public applause and cordial felicitation; they quite féted me. The old welcomed me; the young escorted me home and flung flowers over me at my door. I reappeared in the balcony, and said a few words of gratitude to them and their noble nation. They cheered, and dispersed.
"My heart was in a glow. I turned my eyes toward New York: a fortnight more, and my parents should greet me as a European doctress, if not a British.
"The excitement had been too great; I sunk, a little exhausted, on the sofa. They bought me a letter. It was black-edged. I tore it open with a scream. My father was dead."
"I WAS prostrated, stupefied. I don't know what I did, or how long I sat there. But Cornelia came to congratulate me, and found me there like stone, with the letter in my hand. She packed up my clothes, and took me home with her. I made no resistance. I seemed all broken and limp, soul and body, and not a tear that day.
"Oh, sir, how small everything seems beside bereavement! My troubles, my insults, were nothing now; my triumph nothing; for I had no father left to be proud of it with me.
"I wept with anguish a hundred times a day. Why had I left New York? Why had I not foreseen this every-day calamity, and passed every precious hour by his side I was to lose?
"Terror seized me. My mother would go next. No life of any value was safe a day. Death did not wait for disease. It killed because it chose, and to show its contempt of hearts.
"But just as I was preparing to go to Havre, they brought me a telegram. I screamed at it, and put up my hands. I said 'No, no;' I would not read it, to be told my mother was dead. I would have her a few minutes longer. Cornelia read it, and said it was from her. I fell on it, and kissed it. The blessed telegram told she was coming home. I was to go to London and wait for her.
"I started. Cornelia paid my fees, and put my diploma in my box. I cared for nothing now but my own flesh and blood--what was left of it--my mother.
"I reached London, and telegraphed my address to my mother, and begged her to come at once and ease my fears. I told her my funds were exhausted; but, of course, that was not the thing I poured out my heart about; so I dare say she hardly realized my deplorable condition--listless and bereaved, alone in a great city, with no money.
"In her next letter she begged me to be patient. She had trouble with her husband's executors; she would send me a draft as soon as she could; but she would not leave, and let her child be robbed.
"By-and-by the landlady pressed me for money. I gave her my gowns and shawls to sell for me."
"And just now I was a fox."
"You are both. But so is every woman."
"She handed me a few shillings, by way of balance. I lived on them till they went. Then I starved a little."
"With a ring on your finger you could have pawned for ten guineas!"
"Pawn my ring! My father gave it me." She kissed it tenderly, yet, to Vizard, half defiantly.
"Pawning is not selling, goose!" said he, getting angry.
"But I must have parted with it."
"And you preferred to starve?"
"I preferred to starve," said she, steadily.
He looked at her. Her eyes faced his. He muttered something, and walked away, three steps to hide unreasonable sympathy. He came back with a grand display of cheerfulness. "Your mother will be here next month," said he, "with money in both pockets. Meantime I wish you would let me have a finger in the pie--or, rather my sister. She is warm-hearted and enthusiastic; she shall call on you, if you will permit it."
"Is she like you?"
"Not a bit. We are by different mothers. Hers was a Greek, and she is a beautiful, dark girl."
"I admire beauty; but is she like you--in--in--disposition?"
"Lord! no; very superior. Not abominably clever like you, but absurdly good. You shall judge for yourself. Oblige me with your address."
The doctress wrote her address with a resigned air, as one who had found somebody she had to obey; and, as soon as he had got it, Vizard gave her a sort of nervous shake of the hand, and seemed almost in a hurry to get away from her. But this was his way.
She would have been amazed if she had seen his change of manner the moment he got among his own people.
He burst in on them, crying, "There--the prayers of this congregation are requested for Harrington Vizard, saddled with a virago."
"Saddled with a virago!" screamed Fanny.
"Saddled with a--!" sighed Zoe, faintly.
"Saddled with a virago FOR LIFE!" shouted Vizard, with a loud defiance that seemed needless, since nobody was objecting violently to his being saddled.
"Look here!" said he, descending all of a sudden to a meek, injured air, which, however, did not last very long, "I was in the garden of Leicester Square, and a young lady turned faint. I observed it, and, instead of taking the hint and cutting, I offered assistance--off my guard, as usual. She declined. I persisted; proposed a glass of wine, or spirit. She declined, but at last let out she was starving."
"Oh!" cried Zoe.
"Yes, Zoe--starving. A woman more learned, more scientific, more eloquent, more offensive to a fellow's vanity, than I ever saw, or even read of--a woman of genius, starving, like a genius and a ninny, with a ring on her finger worth thirty guineas. But my learned goose would not raise money on that, because it was her father's, and he is dead."
"Poor thing!" said Zoe, and her eyes glistened directly.
"It is hard, Zoe, isn't it? She is a physician--an able physician; has studied at Zürich and at Edinburgh, and in France, and has a French diploma; but must not practice in England, because we are behind the Continent in laws and civilization--so she says, confound her impudence, and my folly for becoming a woman's echo! But if I were to tell you her whole story, your blood would boil at the trickery, and dishonesty, and oppression of the trades-union which has driven this gifted creature to a foreign school for education; and, now that a foreign nation admits her ability and crowns her with honor, still she must not practice in this country, because she is a woman, and we are a nation of half-civilized men. That is her chat, you understand, not mine. We are not obliged to swallow all that; but, turn it how you will, here are learning, genius, and virtue starving. We must get her to accept a little money; that means, in her case, a little fire and food. Zoe, shall that woman go to bed hungry to-night?"
"No, never!" said Zoe, warmly. "'Let me think. Offer her a loan."
"Well done; that is a good idea. Will you undertake it? She will be far more likely to accept. She is a bit of a prude and all, is my virago."
"Yes, dear, she will. Order the carriage. She shall not go to bed hungry-- nobody shall that you are interested in."
"Oh, after dinner will do."
Dinner was ordered immediately, and the brougham an hour after.
At dinner, Vizard gave them all the outline of the Edinburgh struggle, and the pros and cons; during which narrative his female hearers might have been observed to get cooler and cooler, till they reached the zero of perfect apathy. They listened in dead silence; but when Harrington had done, Fanny said aside to Zoe, "It is all her own fault. What business have women to set up for doctors?"
"Of course not," said Zoe; "only we must not say so. He indulges us in our whims."
Warm partisan of immortal justice, when it was lucky enough to be backed by her affections, Miss Vizard rose directly after dinner, and, with a fine imitation of ardor, said she could lose no more time--she must go and put on her bonnet. "You will come with me, Fanny?"
When I was a girl, or a boy--I forget which, it is so long ago--a young lady thus invited by an affectionate friend used to do one of two things; nine times out of ten she sacrificed her inclination, and went; the tenth, she would make sweet, engaging excuses, and beg off. But the girls of this day have invented "silent volition." When you ask them to do anything they don't quite like, they look you in the face, bland but full, and neither speak nor move. Miss Dover was a proficient in this graceful form of refusal by dead silence, and resistance by placid inertia. She just looked like the full moon in Zoe's face, and never budged. Zoe, being also a girl of the day, needed no interpretation. "Oh, very well," said she, "disobliging thing!"--with perfect good humor, mind you.
Vizard, however, was not pleased.
"You go with her, Ned," said he. "Miss Dover prefers to stay and smoke a cigar with me."
Miss Dover's face reddened, but she never budged. And it ended in Zoe taking Severne with her to call on Rhoda Gale.
Rhoda Gale stayed in the garden till sunset, and then went to her lodgings slowly, for they had no attraction--a dark room; no supper; a hard landlady, half disposed to turn her out.
Dr. Rhoda Gale never reflected much in the streets; they were to her a field of minute observation; but, when she got home she sat down and thought over what she had been saying and doing, and puzzled over the character of the man who had relieved her hunger and elicited her autobiography. She passed him in review; settled in her mind that he was a strong character; a manly man, who did not waste words; wondered a little at the way he had made her do whatever he pleased; blushed a little at the thought of having been so communicative; yet admired the man for having drawn her out so; and wondered whether she should see him again. She hoped she should. But she did not feel sure.
She sat half an hour thus--with one knee raised a little, and her hands interlaced--by a fire-place with a burned-out coal in it; and by-and-by she felt hungry again. But she had no food, and no money.
She looked hard at her ring, and profited a little by contact with the sturdy good sense of Vizard.
She said to herself, "Men understand one another. I believe father would be angry with me for not."
Then she looked tenderly and wistfully at the ring, and kissed it, and murmured, "Not to-night." You see she hoped she might have a letter in the morning, and so respite her ring.
Then she made light of it, and said to herself, "No matter; 'qui dort, dîne.' "
But as it was early for bed, and she could not be long idle, sipping no knowledge, she took up the last good German work that she had bought when she had money, and proceeded to read. She had no candle, but she had a lucifer-match or two, and an old newspaper. With this she made long spills, and lighted one, and read two pages by that paper torch, and lighted another before it was out, and then another, and so on in succession, fighting for knowledge against poverty, as she had fought for it against perfidy.
While she was thus absorbed, a carriage drew up at the door. She took no notice of that; but presently there was a rustling of silk on the stairs, and two voices, and then a tap at the door. "Come in," said she; and Zoe entered just as the last spill burned out.
Rhoda Gale rose in a dark room; but a gas-light over the way just showed her figure. "Miss Gale?" said Zoe, timidly.
"I am Miss Gale," said Rhoda, quietly, but firmly.
"I am Miss Vizard--the gentleman's sister that you met in Leicester Square to-day;" and she took a cautious step toward her.
Rhoda's cheeks burned.
"Miss Vizard," she said, "excuse my receiving you so; but you may have heard I am very poor. My last candle is gone. But perhaps the landlady would lend me one. I don't know. She is very disobliging, and very cruel."
"Then she shall not have the honor of lending you a candle," said Zoe, with one of her gushes. "Now, to tell the truth," said she, altering to the cheerful, "I'm rather glad. I would rather talk to you in the dark for a little, just at first. May I?" By this time she had gradually crept up to Rhoda.
"I am afraid you must," said Rhoda. "But at least I can offer you a seat."
Zoe sat down, and there was an awkward silence.
"Oh, dear," said Zoe; "I don't know how to begin. I wish you would give me your hand, as I can't see your face."
"With all my heart: there."
(Almost in a whisper) "He has told me."
Rhoda put the other hand to her face, though it was so dark.
"Oh, Miss Gale, how could you? Only think! Suppose you had killed yourself, or made yourself very ill. Your mother would have come directly and found you so; and only think how unhappy you would have made her."
"Can I have forgotten my mother?" asked Rhoda of herself, but aloud.
"Not willfully, I am sure. But you know geniuses are not always wise in these little things. They want some good humdrum soul to advise them in the common affairs of life. That want is supplied you now; for I am here--ha-ha!"
"You are no more commonplace than I am; much less now, I'll be bound."
"We will put that to the test," said Zoe, adroitly enough. "My view of all this is--that here is a young lady in want of money for a time, as everybody is now and then, and that the sensible course is to borrow some till your mother comes over with her apronful of dollars. Now, I have twenty pounds to lend, and, if you are so mighty sensible as you say, you won't refuse to borrow it."
"Oh, Miss Vizard, you are very good; but I am afraid and ashamed to borrow. I never did such a thing."
"Time you began, then. I have--often. But it is no use arguing. You must--or you will get poor me finely scolded. Perhaps he was on his good behavior with you, being a stranger; but at home they expect to be obeyed. He will be sure to say it was my stupidity, and that he would have made you directly."
"Do tell!" cried Rhoda, surprised into an idiom; "as if I'd have taken money from him!"
"Why, of course not; but between us it is nothing at all. There:" and she put the money into Rhoda's hand, and then held both hand and money rather tightly imprisoned in her larger palm, and began to chatter, so as to leave the other no opening. "Oh, blessed darkness! how easy it makes things! does it not? I am glad there was no candle; we should have been fencing and blushing ever so long, and made such a fuss about nothing--and--"
This prattle was interrupted by Rhoda Gale putting her right wrist round Zoe's neck, and laying her forehead on her shoulder with a little sob. So then they both distilled the inevitable dew-drops.
But as Rhoda was not much given that way, she started up, and said, "Darkness? No; I must see the face that has come here to help me, and not humiliate me. That is the first use I'll make of the money. I am afraid you are rather plain, or you couldn't be so good as all this."
"No," said Zoe. "I'm not reckoned plain; only as black as a coal."
"All the more to my taste," said Rhoda, and flew out of the room, and nearly stumbled over a figure seated on a step of the staircase. "Who are you?" said she, sharply.
"My name is Severne."
"And what are you doing there?"
"Waiting for Miss Vizard."
"Come in, then."
"She told me not."
"Then I tell you to. The idea! Miss Vizard!"
"Please have Mr. Severne in. Here he is sitting--like Grief--on the steps. I will soon be back."
She flew to the landlady. "Mrs. Grip, I want a candle."
"Well, the shops are open," said the woman, rudely.
"Oh, I have no time. Here is a sovereign. Please give me two candles directly, candlesticks and all."
The woman's manner changed directly.
"You shall have them this moment, miss, and my own candlesticks, which they are plated."
She brought them, and advised her only to light one. "They don't carry well, miss," said she. "They are wax--or summat."
"Then they are summat," said Miss Gale, after a single glance at their composition.
"I'll make you a nice hot supper, miss, in half an hour," said the woman, maternally, as if she were going to give it her.
"No, thank you. Bring me a two-penny loaf, and a scuttle of coals."
"La, miss, no more than that--out of a sov'?"
Having shown Mrs. Grip her father was a Yankee, she darted upstairs, with her candles. Zoe came to meet her, and literally dazzled her.
Rhoda stared at her with amazement and growing rapture. "Oh, you beauty!" she cried, and drank her in from head to foot.
"Well," said she, drawing a long breath, "Nature, you have turned out a com-plete article this time, I reckon." Then, as Severne laughed merrily at this, she turned her candle and her eyes full on him very briskly. She looked at him for a moment, with a gratified eye at his comeliness; then she started. "Oh!" she cried.
He received the inspection merrily, till she uttered that ejaculation, then he started a little, and stared at her.
"We have met before," said she, almost tenderly.
"Have we?" said he, putting on a mystified air.
She fixed him, and looked him through and through. "You--don't--remember--me?" asked she. Then, after giving him plenty of time to answer, "Well, then, I must be mistaken;" and her words seemed to freeze themselves and her as they fell.
She turned her back on him, and said to Zoe, with a good deal of sweetness and weight, "I have lived to see goodness and beauty united. I will never despair of human nature."
This was too pointblank for Zoe; she blushed crimson, and said archly, "I think it is time for me to run. Oh, but I forgot; here is my card. We are all at that hotel. If I am so very attractive, you will come and see me--we leave town very soon--will you?"
"I will," said Rhoda.
"And since you took me for an old acquaintance, I hope you will treat me as one," said Severne, with consummate grace and assurance.
"I will, sir," said she, icily, and with a marvelous curl of the lip that did not escape him.
She lighted them down the stairs, gazed after Zoe, and ignored Severne altogether.
GOING home in the carriage, Zoe was silent, but Severne talked nineteen to the dozen. Had his object been to hinder his companion's mind from dwelling too long on one thing, he could not have rattled the dice of small talk more industriously. His words would fill pages; his topics were, that Miss Gale was an extraordinary woman, but too masculine for his taste, and had made her own troubles setting up doctress, when her true line was governess--for boys. He was also glib and satirical upon that favorite butt, a friend.
"Who but a soi-disant woman-hater would pick up a strange virago and send his sister to her with twenty pounds? I'll tell you what it is, Miss Vizard--"
Here Miss Vizard, who had sat dead silent under a flow of words, which is merely indicated above, laid her hand on his arm to stop the flux for a moment, and said, quietly, "Do you know her? tell me."
"Know her! How should I?"
"I thought you might have met her--abroad."
"Well, it is possible, of course, but very unlikely. If I did, I never spoke to her, or I should have remembered her. Don't you think so?"
"She seemed very positive; and I think she is an accurate person. She seemed quite surprised and mortified when you said 'No.'"
"Well, you know, of course it is a mortifying thing when a lady claims a gentleman's acquaintance, and the gentleman doesn't admit it. But what could I do? I couldn't tell a lie about it--could I?"
"Of course not."
"I was off my guard, and rudish; but you were not. What tact! what delicacy! what high breeding and angelic benevolence! And so clever, too!"
"Oh, fie! you listened!"
"You left the door ajar, and I could not bear to lose a word that dropped from those lips so near me. Yes, I listened, and got such a lesson as only a noble, gentle lady could give. I shall never forget your womanly art, and the way you contrived to make the benefaction sound nothing. 'We are all of us at low water in turns, and for a time, especially me, Zoe Vizard; so here's a trifling loan.' A loan! you'll never see a shilling of it again! No matter. What do angels want of money?"
"Oh, pray," said Zoe, "you make me blush!"
"Then I wish there was more light to see it--yes, an angel. Do you think I can't see you have done all this for a lady you do not really approve? Fancy--a she doctor!"
"My dear friend," said Zoe, with a little juvenile pomposity, "one ought not to judge one's intellectual superiors hastily, and this lady is ours"--then, gliding back to herself, "and it is my nature to approve what those I love approve--when it is not downright wrong, you know."
"Oh, of course it is not wrong; but is it wise?"
Zoe did not answer: the question puzzled her.
"Come," said he, "I'll be frank, and speak out in time. I don't think you know your brother Harrington. He is very inflammable."
"Inflammable! What! Harrington? Well, yes; for I've seen smoke issue from his mouth--ha! ha!"
"Ha! ha! I'll pass that off for mine, some day when you are not by. But, seriously, your brother is the very man to make a fool of himself with a certain kind of woman. He despises the whole sex--in theory, and he is very hard upon ordinary women, and does not appreciate their good qualities. But, when he meets a remarkable woman, he catches fire like tow. He fell in love with Mademoiselle Klosking."
"Oh, not in love!"
"I beg your pardon. Now, this is between you and me--he was in love with her, madly in love. He was only saved by our coming away. If those two had met and made acquaintance, he would have been at her mercy. I don't say any harm would have come of it; but I do say that would have depended on the woman, and not on the man."
Zoe looked very serious, and said nothing. But her long silence showed him his words had told.
"And now," said he, after a judicious pause, "here is another remarkable woman; the last in the world I should fancy, or Vizard either, perhaps, if he met her in society. But the whole thing occurs in the way to catch him. He finds a lady fainting with hunger; he feeds her; and that softens his heart to her. Then she tells him the old story--victim of the world's injustice--and he is deeply interested in her. She can see that; she is as keen as a razor. If those two meet a few more times, he will be at her mercy; and then won't she throw physic to the dogs, and jump at a husband six feet high, and twelve thousand acres! I don't study women with a microscope, as our woman-hater does, but I notice a few things about them; and one is, that their eccentricities all give way at the first offer of marriage. I believe they are only adopted in desperation, to get married. What beautiful woman is ever eccentric? catch her! she can get a husband without. That doctress will prescribe Harrington a wedding-ring; and, if he swallows it, it will be her last prescription. She will send out for the family doctor after that, like other wives."
"You alarm me," said Zoe. "Pray do not make me unjust. This is a lady with a fine mind, and, not a designing woman."
"Oh, I don't say she has laid any plans; but these things are always extemporized the moment the chance comes. You can count beforehand on the instinct of every woman who is clever and needy, and on Vizard's peculiar weakness for women out of the common. He is hard upon the whole sex; but he is no match for individuals. He owned as much himself to me one day. You are not angry with me!"
"No, no. Angry with you?"
"It is you I think of in all this. He is a fine fellow, and you are proud of him. I wouldn't have him marry to mortify you. For myself, while the sister honors me with her regard, I really don't much care who has the brother and the acres. I have the best of the bargain."
Zoe disputed this--in order to make him say it several times.
He did, and proved it in terms that made her cheeks red with modesty and gratified pride; and by the time they had got home, he had flattered everything but pride, love, and happiness out of her heart, poor girl.
The world is like the Law, full of implied contracts: we give and take, without openly agreeing to. Subtle Severne counted on this, and was not disappointed. Zoe rewarded him for his praises, and her happiness, by falling into his views about Rhoda Gale. Only she did it in her own lady-like way, and not plump.
She came up to Harrington and kissed him, and said, "Thank you, dear, for sending me on a good errand. I found her in a very mean apartment, without fire or candle."
"I thought as much," said Vizard.
"Did she take the money?"
"Yes--as a loan."
"Make any difficulties?"
"A little, dear."
Severne put in his word. "Now, if you want to know all the tact and delicacy with which it was done, you must come to me; for Miss Vizard is not going to give you any idea of it."
"Be quiet, sir, or I shall be very angry. I lent her the money, dear, and her troubles are at an end; for her mother will certainly join her before she has spent your twenty pounds. Oh! and she had not parted with her ring; that is a comfort, is it not?"
"You are a good-hearted girl, Zoe," said Vizard, approvingly; then, recovering himself, "But don't you be blinded by sentiment. She deserves a good hiding for not parting with her ring. Where is the sense of starving, with thirty pounds on your finger?"
Zoe smiled, and said his words were harder than his deeds.
"Because he doesn't mean a word he says," put in Fanny Dover, uneasy at the long cessation of her tongue, for all conversation with Don Cigar had proved impracticable.
"Are you there still, my Lady Disdain?" said Vizard. "I thought you were gone to bed."
"You might well think that. I had nothing to keep me up."
Said Zoe, rather smartly, "Oh, yes, you had--Curiosity;" then, turning to her brother, "In short, you make your mind quite easy. You have lent your money, or given it, to a worthy person, but a little wrong-headed. However"--with a telegraphic glance at Severne--"she is very accomplished; a linguist: she need never be in want; and she will soon have her mother to help her and advise her. Perhaps Mrs. Gale has an income; if not, Miss Gale, with her abilities, will easily find a place in some house of business, or else take to teaching. If I was them, I would set up a school."
Unanimity is rare in this world; but Zoe's good sense carried every vote. Her prompter, Severne, nodded approval. Fanny said, "Why, of course;" and Vizard, who it was feared might prove refractory, assented even more warmly than the others. "Yes," said he, "that will be the end of it. You relieve me of a weight. Really, when she told me that fable of learning maltreated, honorable ambition punished, justice baffled by trickery, and virtue vilified, and did not cry like the rest of you, except at her father dying in New York the day she won her diploma at Montpelier, I forgave the poor girl her petticoats; indeed, I lost sight of them. She seemed to me a very brave little fellow, damnably ill used, and I said, 'This is not to be borne. Here is a fight, and justice down under dirty feet.' What, ho!" (roaring at the top of his voice).
Zoe and Fanny (screaming, and pinching Ned Severne right and left). "Ah! ah!"
"Vizard to the rescue!"
"But, with the evening, cool reflection came. A sister, youthful, but suddenly sagacious (with a gleam of suspicion), very suddenly has stilled the waves of romance, and the lips of beauty have uttered common sense. Shall they utter it in vain? Never! It may be years before they do it again. We must not slight rare phenomena. Zoe locuta est--Eccentricity must be suppressed. Doctresses, warned by a little starvation, must take the world as it is, and teach little girls and boys languages, and physic them with arithmetic and the globes: these be drugs that do not kill; they only make life a burden. I don't think we have laid out our twenty pounds badly, Zoe, and there is an end of it. The incident is emptied, as the French say, and (lighting bed-candles) the ladies retire with the honors of war. Zoe has uttered good sense, and Miss Dover has done the next best thing; she has said very little--"
Miss Dover shot in contemptuously, "I had no companion--"
--"For want of a fool to speak her mind to."
INGENIOUS Mr. Severne having done his best to detach the poor doctress from Vizard and his family, in which the reader probably discerns his true motive, now bent his mind on slipping back to Homburg and looking after his money. Not that he liked the job. To get hold of it, he knew he must condense rascality; he must play the penitent, the lover, and the scoundrel over again, all in three days.
Now, though his egotism was brutal, he was human in this, that he had plenty of good nature skin-deep, and superficial sensibilities, which made him shrink a little from this hot-pressed rascality and barbarity. On the other hand, he was urged by poverty, and, laughable as it may appear, by jealousy. He had observed that the best of women, if they are not only abandoned by him they love, but also flattered and adored by scores, will some times yield to the joint attacks of desolation, pique, vanity, etc.
In this state of fluctuation he made up his mind so far as this: he would manage so as to be able to go.
Even this demanded caution. So he began by throwing out, in a seeming careless way, that he ought to go down into Huntingdonshire.
"Of course you ought," said Vizard.
No objection was taken, and they rather thought he would go next day. But that was not his game. It would never do to go while they were in London. So he kept postponing, and saying he would not tear himself away; and at last, the day before they were to go down to Barfordshire, he affected to yield to a remonstrance of Vizard, and said he would see them off, and then run down to Huntingdonshire, look into his affairs, and cross the country to Barfordshire.
"You might take Homburg on the way," said Fanny, out of fun--her fun--not really meaning it.
Severne cast a piteous look at Zoe. "For shame, Fanny!" said she. "And why put Homburg into his head?"
"When I had forgotten there was such a place," said Mr. Severne, taking his cue dexterously from Zoe, and feigning innocent amazement. Zoe colored with pleasure. This was at breakfast. At afternoon tea something happened. The ladies were upstairs packing, an operation on which they can bestow as many hours as the thing needs minutes. One servant brought in the tea; another came in soon after with a card, and said it was for Miss Vizard; but he brought it to Harrington. He read it:
"Send it up to Miss Vizard," said he. The man was going out: he stopped him, and said, "You can show the lady in here, all the same."
Rhoda Gale was ushered in. She had a new gown and bonnet, not showy, but very nice. She colored faintly at sight of the two gentlemen; but Vizard soon put her at her ease. He shook hands with her, and said, "Sit down, Miss Gale; my sister will soon be here. I have sent your card up to her."
"Shall I tell her?" said Severne, with the manner of one eager to be agreeable to the visitor.
"If you please, sir," said Miss Gale.
Severne went out zealously, darted up to Zoe's room, knocked, and said, "Pray come down: here is that doctress."
Meantime, Jack was giving Gill the card, and Gill was giving it Mary to give to the lady. It got to Zoe's room in a quarter of an hour.
"Any news from mamma?" asked Vizard, in his blunt way.
"No. My mother writes me that I must not expect her. She has to fight with a dishonest executor. Oh, money, money!"
At that moment Zoe entered the room, but Severne paced the landing. He did not care to face Miss Gale; and even in that short interval of time he had persuaded Zoe to protect her brother against this formidable young lady, and shorten the interview if she could.
So Zoe entered the room bristling with defense of her brother. At sight of her, Miss Gale rose, and her features literally shone with pleasure. This was rather disarming to one so amiable as Zoe, and she was surprised into smiling sweetly in return; but still her quick, defensive eye drank Miss Gale on the spot, and saw, with alarm, the improvement in her appearance. She was very healthy, as indeed she deserved to be; for she was singularly temperate, drank nothing but water and weak tea without sugar, and never eat nor drank except at honest meals. Her youth and pure constitution had shaken off all that pallor, and the pleasure of seeing Zoe lent her a lovely color. Zoe microscoped her in one moment: not one beautiful feature in her whole face; eyes full of intellect, but not in the least love-darting; nose, an aquiline steadily reversed; mouth, vastly expressive, but large; teeth, even and white, but ivory, not pearl; chin, ordinary; head symmetrical, and set on with grace. I may add, to complete the picture, that she had a way of turning this head, clean, swift, and birdlike, without turning her body. That familiar action of hers was fine--so full of fire and intelligence.
Zoe settled in one moment that she was downright plain, but might probably be that mysterious and incomprehensible and dangerous creature, "a gentleman's beauty," which, to women, means no beauty at all, but a witch-like creature, that goes and hits foul, and eclipses real beauty--dolls, to wit--by some mysterious magic.
"Pray sit down," said Zoe, formally. Rhoda sat down, and hesitated a moment. She felt a frost.
Vizard helped her, "Miss Gale has heard from her mother."
"Yes, Miss Vizard," said Rhoda, timidly; "and very bad news. She cannot come at present; and I am so distressed at what I have done in borrowing that money of you; and see, I have spent nearly three pounds of it in dress; but I have brought the rest back."
Zoe looked at her brother, perplexed.
"Stuff and nonsense!" said Vizard. "You will not take it, Zoe."
"Oh, yes; if you please, do," said Rhoda still to Zoe. "When I borrowed it, I felt sure I could repay it; but it is not so now. My mother says it may be months before she can come, and she forbids me positively to go to her. Oh! but for that, I'd put on boy's clothes, and go as a common sailor to get to her."
Vizard fidgeted on his chair.
"I suppose I mustn't go in a passion," said he, dryly.
"Who cares?" said Miss Gale, turning her head sharply on him in the way I have tried to describe.
"I care," said Vizard. "I find wrath interfere with my digestion. Please go on, and tell us what your mother says. She has more common sense than somebody else I won't name--politeness forbids."
"Well, who doubts that?" said the lady, with frank good humor. "Of course she has more sense than any of us. Well, my mother says--oh, Miss Vizard!"
"No, she doesn't now. She never heard the name of Vizard."
Miss Gale was in no humor for feeble jokes. She turned half angrily away from him to Zoe. "She says I have been well educated, and know languages; and we are both under a cloud, and I had better give up all thought of medicine, and take to teaching."
"Well, Miss Gale," said Zoe, "if you ask me, I must say I think it is good advice. With all your gifts, how can you fight the world? We are all interested in you here; and it is a curious thing, but do you know we agreed the other day you would have to give up medicine, and fall into some occupation in which there are many ladies already to keep you in countenance. Teaching was mentioned, I think; was it not, Harrington?"
Rhoda Gale sighed deeply.
"I am not surprised," said she. "Most women of the world think with you. But oh, Miss Vizard, please take into account all that I have done and suffered for medicine! Is all that to go for nothing? Think what a bitter thing it must be to do, and then to undo; to labor and study, and then knock it all down--to cut a slice out of one's life, out of the very heart of it--and throw it clean away. I know it is hard for you to enter into the feelings of any one who loves science, and is told to desert it. But suppose you had loved a man you were proud of--loved him for five years--and then they came to you and said, 'There are difficulties in the way; he is as worthy as ever, and he will never desert you; but you must give him up, and try and get a taste for human rubbish: it will only be five years of wasted life, wasted youth, wasted seed-time, wasted affection, and then a long vegetable life of unavailing regrets.' I love science as other women love men. If I am to give up science, why not die? Then I shall not feel my loss; and I know how to die without pain. Oh, the world is cruel! Ah! I am too unfortunate! Everybody else is rewarded for patience, prudence, temperance, industry, and a life with high and almost holy aims; but I am punished, afflicted, crushed under the injustice of the day. Do not make me a nurse-maid. I won't be a governess; and I must not die, because that would grieve my mother. Have pity on me! have pity!"
She trembled all over, and stretched out her hands to Zoe with truly touching supplication.
Zoe forgot her part, or lost the power to play it well. She turned her head away and would not assent; but two large tears rolled out of her beautiful eyes. Miss Gale, who had risen in the ardor of her appeal, saw that, and it set her off. She leaned her brow against the mantel-piece, not like a woman, but a brave boy, that does not want to be seen crying, and she faltered out, "In France I am a learned physician; and here to be a house-maid! For I won't live on borrowed money. I am very unfortunate."
Severne, who had lost patience, came swiftly in, and found them in this position, and Vizard walking impatiently about the room in a state of emotion which he was pleased to call anger.
Zoe, in a tearful voice, said, "I am unable to advise you. It is very hard that any one so deserving should be degraded."
Vizard burst out, "It is harder the world should be so full of conventional sneaks; and that I was near making one of them. The last thing we ever think of, in this paltry world, is justice, and it ought to be the first. Well, for once I've got the power to be just, and just I'll be, by God! Come, leave off sniveling, you two, and take a lesson in justice--from a beginner: converts are always the hottest, you know. Miss Gale, you shall not be driven out of science, and your life and labor wasted. You shall doctor Barfordshire, and teach it English, too, if any woman can. This is the programme. I farm two hundred acres--vicariously, of course. Nobody in England has brains to do anything himself. That weakness is confined to your late father's country, and they suffer for it by outfighting, outlying, outmaneuvering, outbullying, and outwitting us whenever we encounter them. Well, the farmhouse is large. The bailiff has no children. There is a wing furnished, and not occupied. You shall live there, with the right of cutting vegetables, roasting chickens, sucking eggs, and riding a couple of horses off their legs."
"But what am I to do for all that?"
"Oh, only the work of two men. You must keep my house in perfect health. The servants have a trick of eating till they burst. You will have to sew them up again. There are only seven hundred people in the village. You must cure them all; and, if you do, I promise you their lasting ingratitude. Outside the village, you must make them pay--if you can. We will find you patients of every degree. But whether you will ever get any fees out of them, this deponent sayeth not. However, I can answer for the ladies of our county, that they will all cheat you--if they can."
Miss Gale's color came and went, and her eyes sparkled. "Oh, how good you are! Is there a hospital?"
"County hospital, and infirmary, within three miles. Fine country for disease. Intoxication prevalent, leading to a bountiful return of accidents. I promise you wounds, bruises, and putrefying sores, and everything to make you comfortable."
"Oh, don't laugh at me. I am so afraid I shall--no, I hope I shall not disgrace you. And, then, it is against the law; but I don't mind that."
"Of course not. What is the law to ladies with elevated views? By-the-by, what is the penalty--six months?"
"Oh, no. Twenty pounds. Oh, dear! another twenty pounds!"
"Make your mind easy. Unjust laws are a dead letter on a soil so primitive as ours. I shall talk to Uxmoor and a few more, and no magistrate will ever summons you, nor jury convict you, in Barfordshire. You will be as safe there as in Upper Canada. Now then--attend. We leave for Barfordshire to-morrow. You will go down on the first of next month. By that time all will be ready: start for Taddington, eleven o'clock. You will be met at the Taddington Station, and taken to your farmhouse. You will find a fire ten days old, and, for once in your life, young lady, you will find an aired bed; because my man Harris will be house-maid, and not let one of your homicidal sex set foot in the crib."
Miss Gale looked from Vizard to his sister, like a person in a dream. She was glowing with happiness; but it did not spoil her. She said, humbly and timidly, "I hope I may prove worthy."
"That is your business," said Vizard, with supreme indifference; "mine is to be just. Have a cup of tea?"
"Oh, no, thank you; and it will be a part of my duty to object to afternoon tea. But I am afraid none of you will mind me."
After a few more words, in which Severne, seeing Vizard was in one of his iron moods, and immovable as him of Rhodes, affected now to be a partisan of the new arrangement, Miss Gale rose to retire. Severne ran before her to the door, and opened it, as to a queen. She bowed formally to him as she went out. When she was on the other side the door, she turned her head in her sharp, fiery way, and pointed with her finger to the emerald ring on his little finger, a very fine one. "Changed hands," said she: "it was on the third finger of your left hand when we met last;" and she passed down the stairs with a face half turned to him, and a cruel smile.
Severne stood fixed, looking after her; cold crept among his bones: he was roused by a voice above him saying, very inquisitively, "What does she say?" He looked up, and it was Fanny Dover leaning over the balusters of the next landing. She had evidently seen all, and heard some. Severne had no means of knowing how much. His heart beat rapidly. Yet he told her, boldly, that the doctress had admired his emerald ring: as if to give greater force to this explanation, he took it off, and showed it her, very amicably. He calculated that she could hardly, at that distance, have heard every syllable, and, at the same time, he was sure she had seen Miss Gale point at the ring.
"Hum!" said Fanny; and that was all she said.
Severne went to his own room to think. He was almost dizzy. He dreaded this Rhoda Gale. She was incomprehensible, and held a sword over his head. Tongues go fast in the country. At the idea of this keen girl and Zoe Vizard sitting under a tree for two hours, with nothing to do but talk, his blood ran cold. Surely Miss Gale must hate him. She would not always spare him. For once he could not see his way clear. Should he tell her half the truth, and throw himself on her mercy? Should he make love to her? Or what should he do? One thing he saw clear enough: he must not quit the field. Sooner or later, all would depend on his presence, his tact, and his ready wit.
He felt like a man who could not swim, and wades in deepening water. He must send somebody to Homburg, or abandon all thought of his money. Why abandon it? Why not return to Ina Klosking? His judgment, alarmed at the accumulating difficulties, began to intrude its voice. What was he turning his back on? A woman, lovely, loving, and celebrated, who was very likely pining for him, and would share, not only her winnings at play with him, but the large income she would make by her talent. What was he following? A woman divinely lovely and good, but whom he could not possess, or, if he did, could not hold her long, and whose love must end in horror.
But nature is not so unfair to honest men as to give wisdom to the cunning. Rarely does reason prevail against passion in such a mind as Severne's. It ended, as might have been expected, in his going down to Vizard Court with Zoe.
An express train soon whirled them down to Taddington, in Barfordshire. There was Harris, with three servants, waiting for them, one with a light cart for their luggage, and two with an open carriage and two spanking bays, whose coats shone like satin. The servants, liveried, and top-booted, and buckskin-gloved, and spruce as if just out of a bandbox, were all smartness and respectful zeal. They got the luggage out in a trice, with Harris's assistance. Mr. Harris then drove away like the wind in his dog-cart; the traveling party were soon in the barouche. It glided away, and they rolled on easy springs at the rate of twelve miles an hour till they came to the lodge-gate. It was opened at their approach, and they drove full half a mile over a broad gravel path, with rich grass on each side, and grand old patriarchs, oak and beech, standing here and there, and dappled deer, grazing or lying, in mottled groups, till they came to a noble avenue of lofty lime-trees, with stems of rare size and smoothness, and towering piles on piles of translucent leaves, that glowed in the sun like flakes of gold.
At the end of this avenue was seen an old mansion, built of that beautiful clean red brick--which seems to have died out--and white-stone facings and mullions, with gables and oriel windows by the dozen; but between the avenue and the house was a large oval plot of turf, with a broad gravel road running round it; and attached to the house, but thrown a little back, were the stables, which formed three sides of a good-sized quadrangle, with an enormous clock in the center. The lawn, kitchen-garden, ice-houses, pineries, green houses, revealed themselves only in peeps as the carriage swept round the spacious plot and drew up at the hall door.
No ringing of bells nor knocking. Even as the coachman tightened his reins, the great hall door was swung open, and two footmen appeared. Harris brought up a rear-guard, and received the party in due state.
A double staircase, about ten feet broad, rose out of the hall, and up this Mr. Harris conducted Severne, the only stranger, into a bedroom with a great oriel window looking west.
"This is your room, sir," said he. "Shall I unpack your things when they come?"
Severne assented, and that perfect major-domo informed him that luncheon was ready, and retired cat-like, and closed the door so softly no sound was heard.
Mr. Severne looked about him, and admitted to himself that, with all his experiences of life, this was his first bedroom. It was of great size, to begin. The oriel window was twenty feet wide, and had half a dozen casements, each with rose-colored blinds, though some of them needed no blinds, for green creepers, with flowers like clusters of grapes, curled round the mullions, and the sun shone mellowed through their leaves. Enormous curtains of purple cloth, with cold borders, hung at each side in mighty folds, to be drawn at night-time when the eye should need repose from feasting upon color.
There were three brass bedsteads in a row, only four feet broad, with spring-beds, hair mattresses a foot thick, and snowy sheets for coverlets, instead of counter-panes; so that, if you were hot, feverish, or sleepless in one bed, you might try another, or two.
Thick carpets and rugs, satin-wood wardrobes, prodigious wash-hand stands, with china backs four feet high. Towel-horses, nearly as big as a donkey, with short towels, long towels, thick towels, thin towels, bathing sheets, etc.; baths of every shape; and cans of every size; a large knee-hole table; paper and envelopes of every size. In short, a room to sleep in, study in, live in, and stick fast in, night and day.
But what is this? A Gothic arch, curtained with violet merino. He draws the curtain. It is an ante-room. One half of it is a bathroom, screened, and paved with encaustic tiles that run up the walls, so you may splash to your heart's content. The rest is a studio, and contains a choice little library of well-bound books in glass cases, a piano-forte, and a harmonium. Severne tried them; they were both in perfect tune. Two clocks, one in each room, were also in perfect time. Thereat he wondered. But the truth is, it was a house wherein precision reigned: a tuner and a clockmaker visited by contract every month.
This, and two more guest-chambers, and the great dining-hall, were built under the Plantagenets, when all large landowners entertained kings and princes with their retinues. As to that part of the house which was built under the Tudors, there are hundreds of country houses as important, only Mr. Severne had not been inside them, and was hardly aware to what perfection rational luxury is brought in the houses of our large landed gentry. He sat down in an antique chair of enormous size; the back went higher than his head, the seat ran out as far as his ankle, when seated; there was room in it for two, and it was stuffed--ye gods, how it was stuffed! The sides, the back, and the seat were all hair mattresses, a foot thick at least. Here nestled our sybarite; with the sun shining through leaves, and splashing his beautiful head with golden tints and transparent shadows, and felt in the temple of comfort, and incapable of leaving it alive.
He went down to luncheon. It was distinguishable from dinner in this, that they all got up after it, and Zoe said, "Come with me, children."
Fanny and Severne rose at the word. Vizard said he felt excluded from that invitation, having cut his wise-teeth; so he would light a cigar instead; and he did. Zoe took the other two into the kitchen garden--four acres, surrounded with a high wall, of orange-red brick, full of little holes where the nails had been. Zoe, being now at home, and queen, wore a new and pretty deportment. She was half maternal, and led her friend and lover about like two kids. She took them to this and that fruit tree, set them to eat, and looked on, superior. By way of climax, she led them to the south wall, crimson with ten thousand peaches and nectarines; she stepped over the border, took superb peaches and nectarines from the trees, and gave them with her own hand to Fanny and Severne. The head gardener glared in dismay at the fair spoliator. Zoe observed him, and laughed. "Poor Lucas," said she; "he would like them all to hang on the tree till they fell off with a wasp inside. Eat as many as ever you can, young people; Lucas is amusing."
"I never had peaches enough off the tree before," said Fanny.
"No more have I," said Severne. "This must be the Elysian fields, and I shall spoil my dinner."
"Who cares?" said Fanny, recklessly. "Dinner comes every day, and always at the only time when one has no appetite. But this eating of peaches-- Oh, what a beauty!"
"Children," said Zoe, gravely, "I advise you not to eat above a dozen. Do not enter on a fatal course, which in one brief year will reduce you to a hapless condition. There--I was let loose among them at sixteen, and ever since they pall. But I do like to see you eat them, and your eyes sparkle."
"That is too bad of you," said Fanny, driving her white teeth deep into a peach. "The idea! Now, Mr. Severne, do my eyes sparkle?"
"Like diamonds. But that proves nothing: it is their normal condition."
"There, make him a courtesy," said Zoe, "and come along."
She took them into the village. It was one of the old sort; little detached houses with little gardens in front, in all of which were a few humble flowers, and often a dark rose of surpassing beauty. Behind each cottage was a large garden, with various vegetables, and sometimes a few square yards of wheat. There was one little row of new brick houses standing together; their number five, their name Newtown. This town of five houses was tiled; the detached houses were thatched, and the walls plastered and whitewashed like snow. Such whitewash seems never to be made in towns, or to lose its whiteness in a day. This broad surface of vivid white was a background, against which the clinging roses, the clustering, creeping honeysuckles, and the deep young ivy with its tender green and polished leaves, shone lovely; wood smoke mounted, thin and silvery, from a cottage or two, that were cooking, and embroidered the air, not fouled it. The little windows had diamond panes, as in the Middle Ages, and every cottage door was open, suggesting hospitality and dearth of thieves. There was also that old essential, a village green--a broad strip of sacred turf, that was everybody's by custom, though in strict law Vizard's. Here a village cow and a donkey went about grazing the edges, for the turf in general was smooth as a lawn. By the side of the green was the village ale-house. After the green other cottages; two of them
"Quite overcanopied with lush woodbine, With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine."
One of these was called Marks's cottage, and the other Allen's. The rustic church stood in the middle of a hill nearly half a mile from the village. They strolled up to it. It had a tower built of flint, and clad on two sides with ivy three feet deep, and the body of the church was as snowy as the cottages, and on the south side a dozen swallows and martins had lodged their mortar nests under the eaves; they looked, against the white, like rugged gray stone bosses. Swallows and martins innumerable wheeled, swift as arrows, round the tower, chirping, and in and out of the church through an open window, and added their music and their motion to the beauty of the place.
Returning from the church to the village, Miss Dover lagged behind, and then Severne infused into his voice those tender tones, which give amorous significance to the poorest prose.
"What an Arcadia!" said he.
"You would not like to be banished to it," said Zoe, demurely.
"That depends," said he, significantly. Instead of meeting him half way and demanding an explanation, Zoe turned coy and fell to wondering what Fanny was about.
"Oh, don't compel her to join us," said Severne. "She is meditating."
"On what? She is not much given that way."
"On her past sins; and preparing new ones."
"For shame! She is no worse than we are. Do you really admire Islip?"
"Indeed I do, if this is Islip?"
"It is then; and this cottage with the cluster-rose tree all over the walls is Marks's cottage. We are rather proud of Marks's cottage," said she, timidly.
"It is a bower," said he, warmly.
This encouraged Zoe, and she said, "Is there not a wonderful charm in cottages? I often think I should like to live in Marks's. Have you ever had that feeling?"
"Never. But I have it now. I should like to live in it--with you."
Zoe blushed like a rose, but turned it off. "You would soon wish yourself back again at Vizard Court," said she. "Fanny--Fanny!" and she stood still.
Fanny came up. "Well, what is the matter now?" said she, with pert, yet thoroughly apathetic, indifference.
"The matter is--extravagances. Here is a man of the world pretending he would like to end his days in Marks's cottage."
"Stop a bit. It was to be with somebody I loved. And wouldn't you, Miss Dover?"
"Oh dear, no. We should be sure to quarrel, cooped up in such a mite of a place. No; give me Vizard Court, and plenty of money, and the man of my heart."
"You have not got one, I'm afraid," said Zoe, "or you would not put him last."
"Why not? when he is of the last importance," said Fanny, flippantly, and turned the laugh her way.
They strolled through the village together, but in the grounds of Vizard Court Fanny fairly gave them the slip. Severne saw his chance, and said, tenderly, "Did you hear what she said about a large house being best for lovers?"
"Yes, I heard her," said Zoe, defensively; "but very likely she did not mean it. That young lady's words are air. She will say one thing one day and another the next."
"I don't know. There is one thing every young lady's mind is made up about, and that is, whether it is to be love or money."
"She was for both, if I remember," said Zoe, still coldly.
"Because she is not in love."
"Well, I really believe she is not--for once."
"There, you see. She is in an unnatural condition."
"For her, very."
"So she is no judge. No; I should prefer Marks's cottage. The smaller the better; because then the woman I love could not ever be far from me."
He lowered his voice, and drove the insidious words into her tender bosom. She began to tremble and heave, and defend herself feebly.
"What have I to do with that? You mustn't."
"How can I help it? You know the woman I love--I adore--and would not the smallest cottage in England be a palace if I was blessed with her sweet love and her divine company? Oh, Zoe, Zoe!"
Then she did defend herself, after a fashion: "I won't listen to such--Edward!" Having uttered his name with divine tenderness, she put her hands to her blushing face, and fled from him. At the head of the stairs she encountered Fanny, looking satirical. She reprimanded her.
"Fanny," said she, "you really must not do that"--[pause]--"out of our own grounds. Kiss me, darling. I am a happy girl." And she curled round Fanny, and panted on her shoulder.
Miss Artful, known unto men as Fanny Dover, had already traced out in her own mind a line of conduct, which the above reprimand, minus the above kisses, taken at their joint algebraical value, did not disturb. The fact is, Fanny hated home; and liked Vizard Court above all places. But she was due at home, and hanging on to the palace of comfort by a thread. Any day her mother, out of natural affection and good-breeding, might write for her; and unless one of her hosts interfered, she should have to go. But Harrington went for nothing in this, unfortunately. His hospitality was unobtrusive, but infinite. It came to him from the Plantagenets through a long line of gentlemen who shone in vices; but inhospitality was unknown to the whole chain, and every human link in it. He might very likely forget to invite Fanny Dover unless reminded; but, when she was there, she was welcome to stay forever if she chose. It was all one to him. He never bothered himself to amuse his guests, and so they never bored him. He never let them. He made them at home; put his people and his horses at their service; and preserved his even tenor. So, then, the question of Fanny's stay lay with Zoe; and Zoe would do one of two things: she would either say, with well-bred hypocrisy, she ought not to keep Fanny any longer from her mother--and so get rid of her; or would interpose, and give some reason or other. What that reason would be, Fanny had no precise idea. She was sure it would not be the true one; but there her insight into futurity and females ceased. Now, Zoe was thoroughly fascinated by Severne, and Fanny saw it; and yet Zoe was too high-bred a girl to parade the village and the neighborhood with him alone--and so placard her attachment--before they were engaged, and the engagement sanctioned by the head of the house. This consideration enabled Miss Artful to make herself necessary to Zoe. Accordingly, she showed, on the very first afternoon, that she was prepared to play the convenient friend, and help Zoe to combine courtship with propriety.
This plan once conceived, she adhered to it with pertinacity and skill. She rode and walked with them, and in public put herself rather forward, and asserted the leader; but sooner or later, at a proper time and place, she lagged behind, or cantered ahead, and manipulated the wooing with tact and dexterity.
The consequence was that Zoe wrote of her own accord to Mrs. Dover, asking leave to detain Fanny, because her brother had invited a college friend, and it was rather awkward for her without Fanny, there being no other lady in the house at present.
She showed this to Fanny, who said, earnestly,
"As long as ever you like, dear. Mamma will not miss me a bit. Make your mind easy."
Vizard, knowing his sister, and entirely deceived in Severne, exercised no vigilance; for, to do Zoe justice, none was necessary, if Severne had been the man he seemed.
There was no mother in the house to tremble for her daughter, to be jealous, to watch, to question, to demand a clear explanation--in short, to guard her young as only the mothers of creation do.
The Elysian days rolled on. Zoe was in heaven, and Severne in a fool's paradise, enjoying everything, hoping everything, forgetting everything, and fearing nothing. He had come to this, with all his cunning; he was intoxicated and blinded with passion.
Now it was that the idea of marrying Zoe first entered his head. But he was not mad enough for that. He repelled it with terror, rage, and despair. He passed an hour or two of agony in his own room, and came down, looking pale and exhausted. But, indeed, the little Dumas, though he does not pass for a moralist, says truly and well, "Les amours illégitimes portent toujours des fruits amers;" and Ned Severne's turn was come to suffer a few of the pangs he had inflicted gayly on more than one woman and her lover.
One morning at breakfast Vizard made two announcements. "Here's news," said he; "Dr. Gale writes to postpone her visit. She is ill, poor girl!"
"Oh, dear! what is the matter?" inquired Zoe, always kind-hearted.
"Gastritis--so she says."
"What is that?" inquired Fanny.
Mr. Severne, who was much pleased at this opportune illness, could not restrain his humor, and said it was a disorder produced by the fumes of gas.
Zoe, accustomed to believe this gentleman's lies, and not giving herself time to think, said there was a great escape in the passage the night she went there.
Then there was a laugh at her simplicity. She joined in it, but shook her finger at Master Severne.
Vizard then informed Zoe that Lord Uxmoor had been staying some time at Basildon Hall, about nine miles off; so he had asked him to come over for a week, and he had accepted. "He will be here to dinner," said Vizard. He then rang the bell, and sent for Harris, and ordered him to prepare the blue chamber for Lord Uxmoor, and see the things aired himself. Harris having retired, cat-like, Vizard explained, "My womankind shall not kill Uxmoor. He is a good fellow, and his mania--we have all got a mania, my young friends--is a respectable one. He wants to improve the condition of the poor--against their will."
"His friend! that was so ill. I hope he has not lost him," said Zoe.
"He hasn't lost him in this letter, Miss Gush," said Vizard. "But you can ask him when he comes."
"Of course I shall ask him," said Zoe.
Half an hour before dinner there was a grating of wheels on the gravel. Severne looked out of his bedroom window, and saw Uxmoor drive up. Dark blue coach; silver harness, glittering in the sun; four chestnuts, glossy as velvet; two neat grooms as quick as lightning. He was down in a moment, and his traps in the hall, and the grooms drove the trap round to the stables.
They were all in the drawing-room when Lord Uxmoor appeared; greeted Zoe with respectful warmth, Vizard with easy friendship, Severne and Miss Dover with well-bred civility. He took Zoe out, and sat at her right hand at dinner.
As the new guest, he had the first claim on her attention and they had a topic ready--his sick friend. He told her all about him, and his happy recovery, with simple warmth. Zoe was interested and sympathetic; Fanny listened, and gave Severne short answers. Severne felt dethroned.
He was rather mortified, and a little uneasy, but too brave to show it. He bided his time. In the drawing-room Lord Uxmoor singled out Zoe, and courted her openly with respectful admiration. Severne drew Fanny apart, and exerted himself to amuse her. Zoe began to cast uneasy glances. Severne made common cause with Fanny. "We have no chance against a lord, or a lady, you and I, Miss Dover."
"I haven't," said she; "but you need not complain. She wishes she were here."
"So do I. Will you help me?"
"No, I shall not. You can make love to me. I am tired of never being made love to."
"Well," said this ingenuous youth, "you certainly do not get your deserts in this house. Even I am so blinded by my passion for Zoe, that I forget she does not monopolize all the beauty and grace and wit in the house."
"Go on," said Fanny. "I can bear a good deal of it--after such a fast."
"I have no doubt you can bear a good deal. You are one of those that inspire feelings, but don't share them. Give me a chance; let me sing you a song."
"A love song?"
"Can you sing it as well as you can talk it?"
"With a little encouragement. If you would kindly stand at the end of the piano, and let me see your beautiful eyes fixed on me."
"With just suspicion?"
"No; with unmerited pity." And he began to open the piano.
"What! do you accompany yourself?"
"Yes, after a fashion; by that means I don't get run over."
Then this accomplished person fixed his eyes on Fanny Dover, and sung her an Italian love song in the artificial passionate style of that nation; and the English girl received it pointblank with complacent composure. But Zoe started and thrilled at the first note, and crept up to the piano as if drawn by an irresistible cord. She gazed on the singer with amazement and admiration. His voice was a low tenor, round, and sweet as honey. It was a real voice, a musical instrument.
"More tunable than lark to shepherd's ear When wheat is green, when hawthorn buds appear."
And the Klosking had cured him of the fatal whine which stains the amateur, male or female, and had taught him climax, so that he articulated and sung with perfect purity, and rang out his final notes instead of slurring them. In short, in plain passages he was a reflection, on a small scale, of that great singer. He knew this himself, and had kept clear of song: it was so full of reminiscence and stings. But now jealousy drove him to it.
It was Vizard's rule to leave the room whenever Zoe or Fanny opened the piano. So in the evening that instrument of torture was always mute.
But hearing a male voice, the squire, who doted on good music, as he abhorred bad, strolled in upon the chance; and he stared at the singer.
When the song ended, there was a little clamor of ladies' voices calling him to account for concealing his talent from them.
"I was afraid of Vizard," said he; "he hates bad music."
"None of your tricks," said the squire; "yours is not bad music; you speak your words articulately, and even eloquently. Your accompaniment is a little queer, especially in the bass; but you find out your mistakes, and slip out of them Heaven knows how. Zoe, you are tame, but accurate. Correct his accompaniments some day--when I'm out of hearing. Practice drives me mad. Give us another."
Severne laughed good-humoredly. "Thus encouraged, who could resist?" said he. "It is so delightful to sing in a shower bath of criticism."
He sung a sprightly French song, with prodigious spirit and dash.
They all applauded, and Vizard said, "I see how it is. We were not good enough. He would not come out for us. He wanted the public. Uxmoor, you are the public. It is to you we owe this pretty warbler. Have you any favorite song, Public? Say the word, and he shall sing it you."
Severne turned rather red at that, and was about to rise slowly, when Uxmoor, who was instinctively a gentleman, though not a courtier, said, "I don't presume to choose Mr. Severne's songs; but if we are not tiring him, I own I should like to hear an English song; for I am no musician, and the words are everything with me."
Severne assented dryly, and made him a shrewd return for his courtesy.
Zoe had a brave rose in her black hair. He gave her one rapid glance of significance, and sung a Scotch song, almost as finely as it could be sung in a room:
"My love is like the red, red rose That's newly sprung in June; My love is like a melody That's sweetly played in tune."
The dog did not slur the short notes and howl upon the long ones, as did a little fat Jew from London, with a sweet voice and no brains, whom I last heard howl it in the Theater Royal, Edinburgh. No; he retained the pure rhythm of the composition, and, above all, sung it with the gentle earnestness and unquavering emotion of a Briton.
It struck Zoe's heart pointblank. She drew back, blushing like the rose in her hair and in the song, and hiding her happiness from all but the keen Fanny. Everybody but Zoe applauded the song. She spoke only with her cheeks and eyes.
Severne rose from the piano. He was asked to sing another, but declined laughingly. Indeed, soon afterward he glided out of the room and was seen no more that night.
Consequently he became the topic of conversation; and the three, who thought they knew him, vied in his praises.
In the morning an expedition was planned, and Uxmoor proffered his "four-in-hand." It was accepted. All young ladies like to sit behind four spanking trotters; and few object to be driven by a viscount with a glorious beard and large estates.
Zoe sat by Uxmoor. Severne sat behind them with Fanny, a spectator of his open admiration. He could not defend himself so well as last night, and he felt humiliated by the position.
It was renewed day after day. Zoe often cast a glance back, and drew him into the conversation; yet, on the whole, Uxmoor thrust him aside by his advantages and his resolute wooing.
The same thing at dinner. It was only at night he could be number one. He tuned Zoe's guitar; and one night when there was a party, he walked about the room with this, and, putting his left leg out, serenaded one lady after another. Barfordshire was amazed and delighted at him, but Uxmoor courted Zoe as if he did not exist. He began to feel that he was the man to amuse women in Barfordshire, but Uxmoor the man to marry them. He began to sulk. Zoe's quick eyes saw and pitied. She was puzzled what to do. Lord Uxmoor gave her no excuse for throwing cold water on him, because his adoration was implied, not expressed; and he followed her up so closely, she could hardly get a word with Severne. When she did, there was consolation in every tone; and she took care to let drop that Lord Uxmoor was going in a day or two. So he was, but he altered his mind, and asked leave to stay.
Severne looked gloomy at this, and he became dejected. He was miserable, and showed it, to see what Zoe would do. What she did was to get rather bored by Uxmoor, and glance from Fanny to Severne. I believe Zoe only meant, "Do pray say things to comfort him;" but Fanny read these gentle glances à la Dover. She got hold of Severne one day, and said,
"What is the matter with you?"
"Of course you can't divine," said he, sarcastically.
"Oh yes, I can; and it is your own fault."
"My fault! That is a good joke. Did I invite this man with all his advantages? That was Vizard's doing, who calls himself my friend."
"If it was not this one, it would be some other. Can you hope to keep Zoe Vizard from being courted? Why, she is the beauty of the county! and her brother not married. It is no use your making love by halves to her. She will go to some man who is in earnest."
"And am I not in earnest?"
"Not so much as he is. You have known her four months, and never once asked her to marry you."
"So I am to be punished for my self-denial."
"Self-denial! Nonsense. Men have no self-denial. It is your cowardice."
"Don't be cruel. You know it is my poverty."
"Your poverty of spirit. You gave up money for her, and that is as good as if you had it still, and better. If you love Zoe, scrape up an income somehow, and say the word. Why, Harrington is bewitched with you, and he is rolling in money. I wouldn't lose her by cowardice, if I were you. Uxmoor will offer marriage before he goes. He is staying on for that. Now, take my word for it, when one man offers marriage, and the other does not, there is always a good chance of the girl saying this one is in earnest, and the other is not. We don't expect self-denial in a man; we don't believe in it. We see you seizing upon everything else you care for; and, if you don't seize on us, it wounds our vanity, the strongest passion we have. Consider, Uxmoor has title, wealth, everything to bestow with the wedding-ring. If he offers all that, and you don't offer all you have, how much more generous he looks to her than you do!"
"In short, you think she will doubt my affection, if I don't ask her to share my poverty."
"If you don't, and a rich man asks her to share his all, I'm sure she will. And so should I. Words are only words."
"You torture me. I'd rather die than lose her."
"Then live and win her. I've told you the way."
"I will scrape an income together, and ask her."
"Upon your honor?"
"Upon my soul."
"Then, in my opinion, you will have her in spite of Lord Uxmoor."
Hot from this, Edward Severne sat down and wrote a moving letter to a certain cousin of his in Huntingdonshire.
"MY DEAR COUSIN--I have often heard you say you were under obligations to my father, and had a regard for me. Indeed, you have shown the latter by letting the interest on my mortgage run out many years and not foreclosing. Having no other friend, I now write to you, and throw myself on your pity. I have formed a deep attachment to a young lady of infinite beauty and virtue. She is above me in everything, especially in fortune. Yet she deigns to love me. I can't ask her hand as a pauper; and by my own folly, now deeply repented, I am little more. Now, all depends on you--my happiness, my respectability. Sooner or later, I shall be able to repay you all. For God's sake come to the assistance of your affectionate cousin,
"The brother, a man of immense estates, is an old friend, and warmly attached to me. If I could only, through your temporary assistance or connivance, present my estate as clear, all would be well, and I could repay you afterward."
To this letter he received an immediate reply:
"DEAR EDWARD--I thought you had forgotten my very existence. Yes, I owe much to your father, and have always said so, and acted accordingly. While you have been wandering abroad, deserting us all, I have improved your estate. I have bought all the other mortgages, and of late the rent has paid the interest, within a few pounds. I now make you an offer. Give me a long lease of the two farms at three hundred pounds a year--they will soon be vacant--and two thousand pounds out of hand, and I will cancel all the mortgages, and give you a receipt for them, as paid in full. This will be like paying you several thousand pounds for a beneficial lease. The two thousand pounds I must insist on, in justice to my own family.
"Your affectionate cousin,
This munificent offer surprised and delighted Severne, and, indeed, no other man but Cousin George, who had a heart of gold, and was grateful to Ned's father, and also loved the scamp himself, as everybody did, would have made such an offer.
Our adventurer wrote, and closed with it, and gushed gratitude. Then he asked himself how to get the money. Had he been married to Zoe, or not thinking of her, he would have gone at once to Vizard, for the security was ample. But in his present delicate situation this would not do. No; he must be able to come and say, "My estate is small, but it is clear. Here is a receipt for six thousand pounds' worth of mortgages I have paid off. I am poor in land but rich in experience, regrets, and love. Be my friend, and trust me with Zoe."
He turned and twisted it in his mind, and resolved on a bold course. He would go to Homburg, and get that sum by hook or by crook out of Ina Klosking's winnings. He took Fanny into his confidence; only he substituted London for Homburg.
"And oh, Miss Dover," said he, "do not let me suffer by going away and leaving a rival behind."
"Suffer by it!" said she. "No, I mean to reward you for taking my advice. Don't you say a word to her. It will come better from me. I'll let her know what you are gone for; and she is just the girl to be upon honor, and ever so much cooler to Lord Uxmoor because you are unhappy, but have gone away trusting her."
And his artful ally kept her word. She went into Zoe's room before dinner to have it out with her.
In the evening Severne told Vizard he must go up to London for a day or two.
"All right," said Vizard. "Tell some of them to order the dog-cart for your train."
But Zoe took occasion to ask him for how long, and murmured, "Remember how we shall miss you," with such a look that he was in Elysium that evening.
But at night he packed his bag for Homburg, and that chilled him. He lay slumbering all night, but not sleeping, and waking with starts and a sense of horror.
At breakfast, after reading his letters, Vizard asked him what train he would go by.
He said, the one o'clock.
"All right," said Vizard. Then he rang the bell, countermanded the dog-cart, and ordered the barouche.
"A barouche for me!" said Severne. "Why, I am not going to take the ladies to the station."
"No; it is to bring one here. She comes down from London five minutes before you take the up train."
There was a general exclamation: Who was it? Aunt Maitland?
"No," said Vizard, tossing a note to Zoe--"it is Doctress Gale."
Severne's countenance fell.
EDWARD SEVERNE, master of arts, dreaded Rhoda Gale, M.D. He had deluded, in various degrees, several ladies that were no fools; but here was one who staggered and puzzled him. Bright and keen as steel, quick and spirited, yet controlled by judgment and always mistress of herself, she seemed to him a new species. The worst of it was, he felt himself in the power of this new woman, and, indeed, he saw no limit to the mischief she might possibly do him if she and Zoe compared notes. He had thought the matter over, and realized this more than he did when in London. Hence the good youth's delight at her illness, noticed in a former chapter.
He was very thoughtful all breakfast time, and as soon as it was over drew Vizard apart, and said he would postpone his visit to London until he had communicated with his man of business. He would go to the station and telegraph him, and by that means would do the civil and meet Miss Gale. Vizard stared at him.
"You meet my virago? Why, I thought you disapproved her entirely."
"No, no; only the idea of a female doctor, not the lady herself. Besides, it is a rule with me, my dear fellow, never to let myself disapprove my friends' friends."
"That is a bright idea, and you are a good fellow," said Vizard. "Go and meet the pest, by all means, and bring her here to luncheon. After luncheon we will drive her up to the farm and ensconce her."
Edward Severne had this advantage over most impostors, that he was masculine or feminine as occasion required. For instance, he could be hysterical or bold to serve the turn. Another example--he watched faces like a woman, and yet he could look you in the face like a man, especially when he was lying. In the present conjuncture a crafty woman would have bristled with all the arts of self-defense, but stayed at home and kept close to Zoe. Not so our master of arts; he went manfully to meet Rhoda Gale, and so secure a téte-à-téte, and learn, if possible, what she meant to do, and whether she could be cannily propitiated. He reached the station before her, and wired a very intelligent person who, he knew, conducted delicate inquiries, and had been very successful in a divorce case, public two years before. Even as he dispatched this message there was a whistling and a ringing, and the sound of a coming train, and Ned Severne ran to meet Rhoda Gale with a heart palpitating a little, and a face beaming greatly to order. He looked for her in the first-class carriages, but she was in the second, and saw him. He did not see her till she stepped out on the platform. Then he made toward her. He took off his hat, and said, with respectful zeal, "If you will tell me what luggage you have, the groom shall get it out."
Miss Gale's eyes wandered over him loftily. "I have only a box and a bag, sir, both marked 'R. G.' "
"Joe," said he--for he had already made friends with all the servants, and won their hearts--"box and bag marked 'R. G.' Miss Gale, you had better take your seat in the carriage."
Miss Gale gave a little supercilious nod, and he showed her obsequiously into the carriage. She laid her head back, and contemplated vacancy ahead in a manner anything but encouraging to this new admirer Fate had sent her. He turned away, a little discomfited, and when the luggage was brought up, he had the bag placed inside, and the box in a sort of boot, and then jumped in and seated himself inside. "Home," said he to the coachman, and off they went. When he came in she started with well-feigned surprise, and stared at him.
"Oh," said she, "I have met you before. Why, it is Mr. Severne. Excuse me taking you for one of the servants. Some people have short memories, you know."
This deliberate affront was duly felt, but parried with a master-hand.
"Why, I am one of the servants," said he; "only I am not Vizard's. I'm yours."
"If you will let me."
"I am too poor to have fine servants."
"Say too haughty. You are not too poor, for I shan't cost you anything but a gracious word now and then."
"Unfortunately I don't deal in gracious words, only true ones."
"I see that."
"Then suppose you imitate me, and tell me why you came to meet me?"
This question came from her with sudden celerity, like lightning out of a cloud, and she bent her eyes on him with that prodigious keenness she could throw into those steel gray orbs, when her mind put on its full power of observation.
Severne colored a little, and hesitated.
"Come now," said this keen witch, "don't wait to make up a reason. Tell the truth for once--quick!--quick!--why did you come to meet me?"
"I didn't come to be bullied," replied supple Severne, affecting sullenness.
"You didn't!" cried the other, acting vast surprise. "Then what did you come for?"
"I don't know; and I wish I hadn't come."
"That I believe." Rhoda shot this in like an arrow.
"But," continued Severne, "if I hadn't, nobody would; for it is Vizard's justicing day, and the ladies are too taken up with a lord to come and meet such vulgar trifles as genius and learning and sci--"
"Come, come!" said Rhoda, contemptuously; "you care as little about science and learning and genius as I possess them. You won't tell me? Well, I shall find you out." Then, after a pause, "Who is this lord?"
"What kind of a lord is he?"
"A very bushy lord."
"Bushy?--oh, bearded like the pard! Now tell me," said she, "is he cutting you out with Miss Vizard?"
"You shall judge for yourself. Please spare me on that one topic--if you ever spared anybody in your life."
"Oh, dear me!" said Rhoda, coolly. "I'm not so very cruel. I'm only a little vindictive and cat-like. If people offend me, I like to play with them a bit, and amuse myself, and then kill them--kill them--kill them; that is all."
This pretty little revelation of character was accompanied with a cruel smile that showed a long row of dazzling white teeth. They seemed capable of killing anything from a liar up to a hickory-nut.
Severne looked at her and gave a shudder. "Then Heaven forbid you should ever be my enemy!" said he, sadly, "for I am unhappy enough already."
Having delivered this disarming speech, he collapsed, and seemed to be overpowered with despondency. Miss Gale showed no signs of melting. She leaned back and eyed him with steady and composed curiosity, as a zoologist studying a new specimen and all its little movements.
They drove up to the Hall door, and Miss Gale was conducted to the drawing-room, where she found Lord Uxmoor and the two young ladies. Zoe shook hands with her. Fanny put a limp paw into hers, which made itself equally limp directly, so Fanny's dropped out. Lord Uxmoor was presented to her, at his own request. Soon after this luncheon was announced. Vizard joined them, welcomed Rhoda genially, and told the party he had ordered the break, and Uxmoor would drive them to the farm round by Hillstoke and the Common. "And so," said he, "by showing Miss Gale our most picturesque spot at once, we may perhaps blind her to the horrors of her situation--for a time."
The break was driven round in due course, with Uxmoor's team harnessed to it. It was followed by a dog-cart crammed with grooms, Uxmoorian and Vizardian. The break was padded and cushioned, and held eight or nine people very comfortably.. It was, indeed, a sort of picnic van, used only in very fine weather. It rolled on beautiful springs. Its present contents were Miss Gale and her luggage and two hampers full of good things for her; Vizard, Severne, and Miss Dover. Zoe sat on the box beside Lord Uxmoor. They drove through the village, and Mr. Severne was so obliging as to point out its beauties to Miss Gale. She took little notice of his comments, except by a stiff nod every now and then, but eyed each house and premises with great keenness.
At last she stopped his fluency by inquiring whether he had been into them all; and when he said he had not, she took advantage of that admission to inform him that in two days' time she should be able to tell him a great deal more than he was likely to tell her, upon his method of inspecting villages.
"That is right," said Vizard; "snub him: he gets snubbed too little here. How dare he pepper science with his small-talk? But it is our fault--we admire his volubility."
"Oh," said Fanny, with a glance of defiance at Miss Gale, "if we are to talk nothing but science, it will be a weary world."
After the village there was a long, gradual ascent of about a mile, and then they entered a new country. It was a series of woods and clearings, some grass, some arable. Huge oaks, flung their arms over a road lined on either side by short turf, close-cropped by the gypsies' cattle. Some band or other of them was always encamped by the road-side, and never two bands at once. And between these giant trees, not one of which was ever felled, you saw here and there a glade, green as an emerald; or a yellow stubble, glowing in the sun. After about a mile of this, still mounting, but gradually, they emerged upon a spacious table-land--a long, broad, open, grass plateau, studded with cottages. In this lake of grass Uxmoor drew up at a word from Zoe, to show Miss Gale the scene. The cottages were white as snow, and thatched as at Islip; but instead of vegetable-gardens they all had orchards. The trees were apple and cherry: of the latter not less than a thousand in that small hamlet. It was literally a lawn, a quarter of a mile long and about two hundred yards broad, bordered with white cottages and orchards. The cherries, red and black, gleamed like countless eyes among the cool leaves. There was a little church on the lawn that looked like a pigeon-house. A cow or two grazed peacefully. Pigs, big and little, crossed the lawn, grunting and squeaking satisfaction, and dived into the adjacent woods after acorns, and here and there a truffle the villagers knew not the value of. There was a pond or two in the lawn; one had a wooden plank fixed on uprights, that went in some way. A woman was out on the board, bare-armed, dipping her bucket in for water. In another pond an old knowing horse stood gravely cooling his heels up to the fetlocks. These, with shirts, male and female, drying on a line, and whiteheaded children rolling in the dust, and a donkey braying his heart out for reasons known only to himself, if known at all, were the principal details of the sylvan hamlet; but on a general survey there were grand beauties. The village and its turf lay in the semicircular sweep of an unbroken forest; but at the sides of the leafy basin glades had been cut for drawing timber, stacking bark, etc., and what Milton calls so happily "the checkered shade" was seen in all its beauty; for the hot sun struggled in at every aperture, and splashed the leaves and the path with fiery flashes and streaks, and topaz brooches, all intensified in fire and beauty by the cool adjacent shadows.
Looking back, the view was quite open in most places. The wooded lanes and strips they had passed were little more in so vast a panorama than the black stripes on a backgammon board. The site was so high that the eye swept over all, and rested on a broad valley beyond, with a patchwork pattern of variegated fields and the curling steam of engines flying across all England; then swept by a vast incline up to a horizon of faint green hills, the famous pastures of the United Kingdom. So that it was a deep basin of foliage in front; but you had only to turn your body, and there was a forty-mile view, with all the sweet varieties of color that gem our fields and meadows, as they bask in the afternoon sun of that golden time when summer melts into autumn, and mellows without a chill.
"Oh," cried Miss Gale, "don't anybody speak, please! It is too beautiful!"
They respected an enthusiasm so rare in this young lady, and let her contemplate the scene at her ease.
"I reckon," said she, dogmatically, and nodding that wise little head, "that this is Old England--the England my ancestors left in search of liberty, and that's a plant that ranks before cherry-trees, I rather think. No, I couldn't have gone; I'd have stayed and killed a hundred tyrants. But I wouldn't have chopped their heads off" (to Vizard, very confidentially); "I'd have poisoned 'em."
"Don't, Miss Gale!" said Fanny; "you make my blood run cold."
As it was quite indifferent to Miss Gale whether she made Miss Dover's blood run cold or not, she paid no attention, but proceeded with her reflections. "The only thing that spoils it is the smoke of those engines, reminding one that in two hours you or I, or that pastoral old hermit there in a smock-frock, and a pipe--and oh, what bad tobacco!--can be wrenched out of this paradise, and shrieked and rattled off and flung into that wilderness of brick called London, where the hearts are as hard as the pavement--except those that have strayed there from Barfordshire."
The witch changed face and tone and everything like lightning, and threw this last in with a sudden grace and sweetness that contrasted strangely with her usual sharpness.
Zoe heard, and turned round to look down on her with a smile as sweet as honey. "I hardly think that is a drawback," said she, amicably. "Does not being able to leave a place make it sweeter? for then we are free in it, you know. But I must own there is a drawback--the boys' faces, Miss Gale, they are so pasty."
"Indeed!" says Rhoda, pricking up her ears.
"Form no false hopes of an epidemic. This is not an infirmary in a wood, Miss Gale," said Vizard. "My sister is a great colorist, and pitches her expectations too high. I dare say their faces are not more pasty than usual; but this is a show place, and looks like a garden; so Zoe wants the boys to be poppies and pansies, and the girls roses and lilies. Which--they--are--not."
"All I know is," said Zoe, resolutely, "that in Islip the children's faces are rosy, but here they are pasty--dreadfully pasty."
"Well, you have got a box of colors. We will come up some day and tint all the putty-faced boys." It was to Miss Dover the company owed this suggestion.
"No," said Rhoda. "Their faces are my business; I'll soon fix them. She didn't say putty-faced; she said pasty."
"Grateful to you for the distinction, Miss Gale," said Zoe.
Miss Gale proceeded to insist that boys are not pasty-faced without a cause, and it is to be sought lower down. "Ah!" cried she, suddenly, "is that a cherry that I see before me? No, a million. They steal them and eat them by the thousand, and that's why. Tell the truth, now, everybody--they eat the stones."
Miss Vizard said she did not know, but thought them capable.
"Children know nothing," said Vizard. "Please address all future scientific inquiries to an 'old inhabitant.' Miss Gale, the country abounds in curiosities; but, among those curiosities, even Science, with her searching eye, has never yet discovered an unswallowed cherry stone in Hillstoke village."
"What! not on the trees?"
"She is too much for me. Drive on, coachman, and drown her replies in the clatter of hoofs. Round by the Stag, Zoe. I am uneasy till I have locked Fair Science up. I own it is a mean way of getting rid of a troublesome disputant."
"Now I think it is quite fair," said Fanny. "She shuts you up, and so you lock her up."
"'Tis well," said Vizard, dolefully. "Now I am No. 3--I who used to retort and keep girls in their places--with difficulty. Here is Ned Severne, too, reduced to silence. Why, where's your tongue? Miss Gale, you would hardly believe it, this is our chatterbox. We have been days and days, and could not get in a word edgewise for him. But now all he can do is to gaze on you with canine devotion, and devour the honey--I beg pardon, the lime-juice--of your lips. I warn you of one thing, though; there is such a thing as a threatening silence. He is evidently booking every word you utter; and he will deliver it all for his own behind your back some fine day."
With this sort of banter and small talk, not worth deluging the reader dead with, they passed away the time till they reached the farm.
"You stay here," said Vizard--"all but Zoe. Tom and George, get the things out." The grooms had already jumped out of the dog-cart, and two were at the horses' heads. The step-ladder was placed for Zoe, and Vizard asked her to go in and see the rooms were all right, while he took Miss Gale to the stables. He did so, and showed her a spirited Galloway and a steady old horse, and told her she could ride one and drive the other all over the country.
She thanked him, but said her attention would be occupied by the two villages first, and she should make him a report in forty-eight hours.
"As you please," said he. "You are terribly in earnest."
"What should I be worth if I was not?'
"Well, come and see your shell; and you must tell me if we have forgotten anything essential to your comfort."
She followed him, and he led her to a wing of the farmhouse comparatively new, and quite superior to the rest. Here were two good sunny rooms, with windows looking south and west, and they were both papered with a white watered pattern, and a pretty French border of flowers at the upper part, to look gay and cheerful.
Zoe was in the bedroom, arranging things with a pretty air of hospitality. It was cheerily fitted up, and a fire of beech logs blazing.
"How good you are!" said Rhoda, looking wistfully at her. But Zoe checked all comments by asking her to look at the sitting-room and see if it would do. Rhoda would rather have stayed with Zoe; but she complied, and found another bright, cheerful room, and Vizard standing in the middle of it. There was another beech fire blazing, though it was hot weather. Here was a round table, with a large pot full of flowers, geraniums and musk flowers outside, with the sun gilding their green leaves most amiably, and everything unpretending, but bright and comfortable; well padded sofa, luxurious armchair, stand-up reading desk, and a very large knee-hole table; a fine mirror from the ceiling to the dado; a book-case with choice books, and on a pembroke table near the wall were several periodicals. Rhoda, after a cursory survey of the room, flew to the books. "Oh!" said she, "what good books! all standard works; and several on medicine; and, I declare, the last numbers of the Lancet and the Medical Gazette, and the very best French and German periodicals! Oh, what have I done? and what can I ever do?"
"What! Are you going to gush like the rest--and about nothing?" said Vizard. "Then I'm off. Come along, Zoe;" and he hurried his sister away.
She came at the word; but as soon as they were out of the house, asked him what was the matter.
"I thought she was going to gush. But I dare say it was a false alarm."
"And why shouldn't she gush, when you have been so kind?"
"Pooh--nonsense! I have not been kind to her, and don't mean to be kind to her, or to any woman; besides, she must not be allowed to gush; she is the parish virago--imported from vast distances as such--and for her to play the woman would be an abominable breach of faith. We have got our gusher, likewise our flirt; and it was understood from the first that this was to be a new dramatis persona--was not to be a repetition of you or la Dover, but--ahem--the third Grace, a virago: solidified vinegar."
Rhoda Gale felt very happy. She was young, healthy, ambitious, and sanguine. She divined that, somehow, her turning point had come; and when she contrasted her condition a month ago, and the hardness of the world, with the comfort and kindness that now surrounded her, and the magnanimity which fled, not to be thanked for them, she felt for once in a way humble as well as grateful, and said to herself, "It is not to myself nor any merit of mine I owe such a change as all this is." What some call religion, and others superstition, overpowered her, and she kneeled down and held communion with that great Spirit which, as she believed, pervades the material universe, and probably arises from it, as harmony from the well strung harp. Theory of the day, or Plato redivivus--which is it?
"O great creative element, and stream of tendencies in the universe, whereby all things struggle toward perfection, deign to be the recipient of that gratitude which fills me, and cannot be silent; and since gratitude is right in all, and most of all in me at this moment, forgive me if, in the weakness of my intellect, I fall into the old error of addressing you as an individual. It is but the weakness of the heart; we are persons, and so we cry out for a personal God to be grateful to. Pray receive it so--if, indeed, these words of mine have any access to your infinitely superior nature. And if it is true that you influence the mind of man, and are by any act of positive volition the cause of these benefits I now profit by, then pray influence my mind in turn, and make me a more worthy recipient of all these favors; above all, inspire me to keep faithfully to my own sphere, which is on earth; to be good and kind and tolerant to my fellow creatures, perverse as they are sometimes, and not content myself with saying good words to you, to whose information I can add nothing, nor yet to your happiness, by any words of mine. Let no hollow sentiment of religion keep me long prating on my knees, when life is so short, and" (jumping suddenly up) "my duties can only be discharged afoot."
Refreshed by this aspiration, the like of which I have not yet heard delivered in churches--but the rising generation will perhaps be more fortunate in that respect--she went into the kitchen, ordered tea, bread and butter, and one egg for dinner at seven o'clock, and walked instantly back to Hillstoke to inspect the village, according to her ideas of inspection.
Next morning down comes the bailiff's head man in his light cart, and a note is delivered to Vizard at the breakfast table. He reads it to himself, then proclaims silence, and reads it aloud:
"DEAR SIR--As we crossed your hall to luncheon, there was the door of a small room half open, and I saw a large mahogany case standing on a marble table with one leg, but three claws gilt. I saw 'Micro' printed on the case. So I hope it is a microscope, and a fine one. To enable you to find it, if you don't know, the room had crimson curtains, and is papered in green flock. That is the worst of all the poisonous papers, because the texture is loose, and the poisonous stuff easily detached, and always flying about the room. I hope you do not sit in it, nor Miss Vizard, because sitting in that room is courting death. Please lend me the microscope, if it is one, and I'll soon show you why the boys are putty faced. I have inspected them, and find Miss Dover's epithet more exact than Miss Vizard's, which is singular. I will take great care of it. Yours respectfully,
Vizard ordered a servant to deliver the microscope to Miss Gale's messenger with his compliments. Fanny wondered what she wanted with it. "Not to inspect our little characters, it is to be hoped," said Vizard. "Why not pay her a visit, you ladies? then she will tell you, perhaps." The ladies instantly wore that bland look of inert but rocky resistance I have already noted as a characteristic of "our girls." Vizard saw, and said, "Try and persuade them, Uxmoor."
"I can only offer Miss Vizard my escort," said Lord Uxmoor.
"And I offer both ladies mine," said Ned Severne, rather loud and with a little sneer, to mark his superior breeding. The gentleman was so extremely polite in general that there was no mistaking his hostile intentions now. The inevitable war had begun, and the first shot was fired. Of course the wonder was it had not come long before; and perhaps I ought to have drawn more attention to the delicacy and tact of Zoe Vizard, which had averted it for a time. To be sure, she had been aided by the size of the house and its habits. The ladies had their own sitting rooms; Fanny kept close to Zoe by special orders; and nobody could get a chance téte-à-téte with Zoe unless she chose. By this means, her native dignity and watchful tact, by her frank courtesy to Uxmoor, and by the many little quiet ways she took to show Severne her sentiments remained unchanged, she had managed to keep the peace, and avert that open competition for her favor which would have tickled the vanity of a Fanny Dover, but shocked the refined modesty of a Zoe Vizard.
But nature will have her way soon or late, and it is the nature of males to fight for the female.
At Severne's shot Uxmoor drew up a little haughtily, but did not feel sure anything was intended. He was little accustomed to rubs. Zoe, on the other hand, turned a little pale--just a little, for she was sorry, but not surprised; so she proved equal to the occasion. She smiled and made light of it. "Of course we are all going," said she.
"Except one," said Vizard, dryly.
"That is too bad," said Fanny. "Here he drives us all to visit his blue-stocking, but he takes good care not to go himself."
"Perhaps he prefers to visit her alone," suggested Severne. Zoe looked alarmed.
"That is so," said Vizard. "Observe, I am learning her very phrases. When you come back, tell me every word she says; pray let nothing be lost that falls from my virago."
The party started after luncheon; and Severne, true to his new policy, whipped to Zoe's side before Uxmoor, and engaged her at once in conversation.
Uxmoor bit his lip, and fell to Fanny. Fanny saw at once what was going on, and made herself very agreeable to Uxmoor. He was polite and a little gratified, but cast uneasy glances at the other pair.
Meantime Severne was improving his opportunity. "Sorry to disturb Lord Uxmoor's monopoly," said he, sarcastically, "but I could not bear it any longer."
"I do not object to the change," said Zoe, smiling maternally on him; "but you will be good enough to imitate me in one thing--you will always be polite to Lord Uxmoor."
"He makes it rather hard."
"It is only for a time; and we must learn to be capable of self-denial. I assure you I have exercised quite as much as I ask of you. Edward, he is a gentleman of great worth, universally respected, and my brother has a particular wish to be friends with him. So pray be patient; be considerate. Have a little faith in one who--"
She did not end the sentence.
"Well, I will," said he. "But please think of me a little. I am beginning to feel quite thrust aside, and degraded in my own eyes for putting up with it."
"For shame, to talk so," said Zoe; but the tears came into her eyes.
The master of arts saw, and said no more. He had the art of not overdoing: he left the arrow to rankle. He walked by her side in a silence for ever so long. Then, suddenly, as if by a mighty effort of unselfish love, went off into delightful discourse. He cooed and wooed and flattered and fascinated; and by the time they reached the farm had driven Uxmoor out of her head.
Miss Gale was out. The farmer's wife said she had gone into the town--meaning Hillstoke--which was, strictly speaking, a hamlet or tributary village. Hillstoke church was only twelve years old, and the tithes of the place went to the parson of Islip.
When Zoe turned to go, Uxmoor seized the opportunity, and drew up beside her, like a soldier falling into the ranks. Zoe felt hot; but as Severne took no open notice, she could not help smiling at the behavior of the fellows; and Uxmoor got his chance.
Severne turned to Fanny with a wicked sneer. "Very well, my lord," said he; "but I have put a spoke in your wheel."
"As if I did not see, you clever creature!" said Fanny, admiringly.
"Ah, Miss Dover, I need to be as clever as you! See what I have against me: a rich lord, with the bushiest beard."
"Never you mind," said Fanny. "Good wine needs no bush, ha! ha! You are lovely, and have a wheedling tongue, and you were there first. Be good, now--and you can flirt with me to fill up the time. I hate not being flirted at all. It is stagnation."
"Yes, but it is not so easy to flirt with you just a little. You are so charming." Thereupon he proceeded to flatter her, and wonder how he had escaped a passionate attachment to so brilliant a creature. "What saved me," said he, oracularly, "is, that I never could love two at once; and Zoe seized my love at sight. She left me nothing to lay at your feet but my admiration, the tenderest friendship man can feel for woman, and my lifelong gratitude for fighting my battle. Oh, Miss Dover, I must be quite serious a moment. What other lady but you would be so generous as to befriend a poor man with another lady, when there's wealth and title on the other side?"
Fanny blushed and softened, but turned it off. "There--no heroics, please," said she. "You are a dear little fellow; and don't go and be jealous, for he shan't have her. He would never ask me to his house, you know. Now I think you would perhaps--who knows? Tell me, fascinating monster, are you going to be ungrateful?"
"Not to you. My home would always be yours; and you know it." And he caught her hand and kissed it in an ungovernable transport, the strings of which be pulled himself. He took care to be quick about it, though, and not let Zoe or Uxmoor see, who were walking on before and behaving sedately.
In Hillstoke lived, on a pension from Vizard, old Mrs. Greenaway, rheumatic about the lower joints, so she went on crutches; but she went fast, being vigorous, and so did her tongue. At Hillstoke she was Dame Greenaway, being a relic of that generation which applied the word dame to every wife, high and low; but at Islip she was "Sally," because she had started under that title, fifty-five years ago, as house-maid at Vizard Court; and, by the tenacity of oral tradition, retained it ever since, in spite of two husbands she had wedded and buried with equal composure.
Her feet were still springy, her arms strong as iron, and her crutches active. At sight of our party she came out with amazing wooden strides, agog for gossip, and met them at the gate. She managed to indicate a courtesy, and said, "Good day, miss; your sarvant, all the company. Lord, how nice you be dressed, all on ye, to--be--sure! Well, miss, have ye heerd the news?"
"No, Sally. What is it?"
"What! haant ye heerd about the young 'oman at the farm?"
"Oh yes; we came to see her."
"No, did ye now? Well, she was here not half an hour agone. By the same toaken, I did put her a question, and she answered me then and there."
"And may I ask what the question was?"
"And welcome, miss. I said, says I, 'Young 'oman, where be you come from?' so says she, 'Old 'oman, I be come from forin parts.' 'I thought as much,' says I. 'And what be 'e come for?' 'To sojourn here,' says she, which she meant to bide a time. 'And what do 'e count to do whilst here you be?' says I. Says she, 'As much good as ever I can do, and as little harm.' 'That is no answer,' says I. She said it would do for the present; 'and good day to you, ma'am,' says she. 'Your sarvant, miss,' says I; and she was off like a flash. But I called my grandson Bill, and I told him he must follow her, go where she would, and let us know what she was up to down in Islip. Then I went round the neighbors, and one told me one tale, and another another. But it all comes to one--we have gotten A BUSYBODY; that's the name I gives her. She don't give in to that, ye know; she is a Latiner, and speaks according. She gave Master Giles her own description. Says she, 'I'm suspector-general of this here districk.' So then Giles he was skeared a bit--he have got an acre of land of his own, you know--and he up and asked her did she come under the taxes, or was she a fresh imposition; 'for we are burdened enough a'ready, no offense to you, miss,' says Josh Giles. 'Don't you be skeared, old man,' says she, 'I shan't cost you none; your betters pays for I.' So says Giles, 'Oh, if you falls on squire, I don't vally that; squire's back is broad enough to bear the load, but I'm a poor man.' That's how a' goes on, ye know. Poverty is always in his mouth, but the old chap have got a hatful of money hid away in the thatch or some're, only he haan't a got the heart to spend it."
"Tell us more about the young lady," asked Uxmoor.
"What young lady? Oh, her. She is not a young lady--leastways she is not dressed like one, but like a plain, decent body. She was all of a piece--blue serge! Bless your heart, the peddlers bring it round here at elevenpence half-penny the yard, and a good breadth too; and plain boots, not heeled like your'n, miss, nor your'n, ma'am; and a felt hat like a boy. You'd say the parish had dressed her for ten shillings, and got a pot of beer out on't."
"Well, never mind that," said Zoe; "I must tell you she is a very worthy young lady, and my brother has a respect for her. Dress? Why, Sally, you know it is not the wisest that spend most on dress. You might tell us what she does."
Dame Greenaway snatched the word out of her mouth. "Well, then, miss, what she have done, she have suspected everything. She have suspected the ponds; she have suspected the houses; she have suspected the folk; she must know what they eat and drink and wear next their very skin, and what they do lie down on. She have been at the very boys and forebade 'em to swallow the cherry stones, poor things; but old Mrs. Nash--which her boys lives on cherries at this time o' year, and to be sure they are a godsend to keep the children hereabout from starving--well, Dame Nash told her the Almighty knew best; he had put 'em together on the tree, so why not in the boys' insides; and that was common sense to my mind. But la! she wouldn't heed it. She said, 'Then you'd eat the peach stones by that rule, and the fish bones and all.' Says she, quite resolute like, 'I forbid 'em to swallow the stones;' and says she, 'Ye mawnt gainsay me, none on ye, for I be the new doctor.' So then it all come out. She isn't suspector-general; she is a wench turned doctor, which it is against reason. Shan't doctor me for one; but that there old Giles, he says he is agreeable, if so be she wool doctor him cheap--cussed old fool!--as if any doctoring was cheap that kills a body and doan't cure 'em. Dear heart, I forgot to tell ye about the ponds. Well, you know there be no wells here. We makes our tea out of the ponds, and capital good tea to drink, far before well water, for I mind that one day about twenty years agone some interfering body did cart a barrel up from Islip; and if we wants water withouten tea, why, we can get plenty on't, and none too much malt and hops, at 'The Black Horse.' So this here young 'oman she suspects the poor ponds and casts a hevil-eye on them, and she borrows two mugs of Giles, and carries the water home to suspect it closer. That is all she have done at present, but, ye see, she haan't been here so very long. You mark my words, miss, that young 'oman will turn Hillstoke village topsy-turvy or ever she goes back to London town."
"Nonsense, Sally," said Zoe; "how can anybody do that while my brother and I are alive?" She then slipped half a crown into Sally's hand, and led the way to Islip.
On the road her conversation with Oxmoor took a turn suggestive of this interview. I forget which began it; but they differed a little in opinion, Uxmoor admiring Miss Gale's zeal and activity, and Zoe fearing that she would prove a rash reformer, perhaps a reckless innovator.
"And really," said she, "why disturb things? for, go where I will, I see no such Paradise as these two villages."
"They are indeed lovely," said Uxmoor; "but my own village is very pretty. Yet on nearer inspection I have found so many defects, especially in the internal arrangements of the cottages, that I am always glad to hear of a new eye having come to bear on any village."
"I know you are very good," said Zoe, "and wish all the poor people about you to be as healthy and as happy as possible."
"I really do," said, warmly. "I often think of the strange inequality in the lot of men. Living in the country, I see around me hundreds of men who are by nature as worthy as I am, or thereabouts. Yet they must toil and labor, and indeed fight, for bare food and clothing, all their lives, and worse off at the close of their long labor. That is what grieves me to the heart. All this time I revel in plenty and luxuries--not forgetting the luxury of luxuries, the delight of giving to those who need and deserve. What have I done for all this? I have been born of the right parents. My merit, then, is the accident of an accident. But having done nothing meritorious before I was born, surely I ought to begin afterward. I think a man born to wealth ought to doubt his moral title to it, and ought to set to work to prove it--ought to set himself to repair the injustice of fortune by which he profits. Yes, such a man should be a sort of human sunshine, and diffuse blessings all round him. The poor man that encounters him ought to bless the accident. But there, I am not eloquent. You know how much more I mean than I can say."
"Indeed I do," said Zoe, "and I honor you."
"Ah, Miss Vizard," said Uxmoor, "that is more than I can ever deserve."
"You are praising me at your own expense," said Zoe. "Well, then," said she, sweetly, "please accept my sympathy. It is so rare to find a gentleman of your age thinking so little of himself and so much of poor people. Yet that is a Divine command. But somehow we forget our religion out of church--most of us. I am sure I do, for one."
This conversation brought them to the village, and there they met Vizard, and Zoe repeated old Sally's discourse to him word for word. He shook his head solemnly, and said he shared her misgivings. "We have caught a Tartar."
On arriving at Vizard Court, they found Miss Gale had called and left two cards.
Open rivalry having now commenced between Uxmoor and Severne, his lordship was adroit enough to contrive that the drag should be in request next day.
Then Severne got Fanny to convey a note to Zoe, imploring her to open her bedroom window and say good-night to him the last. "For," said he, "I have no coach and four, and I am very unhappy."
This and his staying sullenly at home spoiled Zoe's ride, and she was cool to Uxmoor, and spoiled his drive.
At night Zoe peeped through the curtain and saw Severne standing in the moonlight. She drank him in for some time in silence, then softly opened her window and looked out. He took a step nearer.
She said, very softly and tenderly, "You are very naughty, and very foolish. Go to bed di-rectly." And she closed her window with a valiant slam; then sat down and sighed.
Same game next day. Uxmoor driving, Zoe wonderfully polite, but chill, because he was separating her and Severne. At night, Severne on the wet grass, and Zoe remonstrating severely, but not sincerely, and closing the window peremptorily she would have liked to keep open half the night.
It has often been remarked that great things arise out of small things, and sometimes, when in full motion, depend on small things. History offers brilliant examples upon its large stage. Fiction has imitated history in un verre d'eau and other compositions. To these examples, real or feigned, I am now about to add one; and the curious reader may, if he thinks it worth while, note the various ramifications at home and abroad of a seemingly trivial incident.
They were all seated at luncheon, when a servant came in with a salver, and said, "A gentleman to see you, sir." He presented his salver with a card upon it. Severne clutched the card, and jumped up, reddening.
"Show him in here," said the hospitable Vizard.
"No, no," cried Severne, rather nervously; "it is my lawyer on a little private business."
Vizard told the servant to show the visitor into the library, and take in the Madeira and some biscuits.
"It is about a lease," said Ned Severne, and went out rather hurriedly.
"La!" said Fanny, "what a curious name--Poikilus. And what does S. I. mean, I wonder?"
"This is enigmatical discourse," said Vizard, dryly. "Please explain."
"Why, the card had Poikilus on it."
"You are very inquisitive," said Zoe, coloring.
"No more than my neighbors. But the man put his salver right between our noses, and how could I help seeing Poikilus in large letters, and S. I. in little ones up in the corner?"
Said Vizard, "The female eye is naturally swift. She couldn't help seeing all that in half a minute of time; for Ned Severne snatched up the card with vast expedition."
"I saw that too," said Fanny, defiantly.
Uxmoor put in his word. "Poikilus! That is a name one sees in the papers."
"Of course you do. He is one of the humbugs of the day. Pretends to find things out; advertises mysterious disappearances; offers a magnificent reward--with perfect safety, because he has invented the lost girl's features and dress, and her disappearance into the bargain; and I hold with the schoolmen that she who does not exist cannot disappear. Poikilus, a puffing detective. S. I., Secret Inquiry. I spell Enquiry with an E--but Poikilus is a man of the day. What the deuce can Ned Severne want of him? I suppose I ought not to object. I have established a female detective at Hillstoke. So Ned sets one up at Islip. I shall make my own secret arrangements. If Poikilus settles here, he will be drawn through the horse-pond by small-minded rustics once a week."
While he was going on like this, Zoe felt uncomfortable, and almost irritated by his volubility, and it was a relief to her when Severne returned. He had confided a most delicate case to the detective, given him written instructions, and stipulated for his leaving the house without a word to any one, and, indeed, seen him off--all in seven minutes. Yet he returned to our party cool as a cucumber, to throw dust in everybody's eyes.
"I must apologize for this intrusion," he said to Vizard; "but my lawyer wanted to consult me about the lease of one of my farms, and, finding himself in the neighborhood, he called instead of writing."
"Your lawyer, eh?" said Vizard, slyly. "What is your lawyer's name?"
"Jackson," said Ned, without a moment's hesitation.
Fanny giggled in her own despite.
Instead of stopping here, Severne must go on; it was his unlucky day.
"Not quite a gentleman, you know, or I would have inflicted his society on you."
"Not quite--eh?" said Harrington, so dryly that Fanny Dover burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter.
But Zoe turned hot and cold to see him blundering thus, and telling lie upon lie.
Severne saw there was something wrong, and buried his nose in pigeon pie. He devoured it with an excellent appetite, while every eye rested on him; Zoe's with shame and misery, Uxmoor's with open contempt, Vizard's with good humored satire.
The situation became intolerable to Zoe Vizard. Indignant and deeply shocked herself, she still could not bear to see him the butt of others' ridicule and contempt. She rose haughtily and marched to the door. He raised his head for a moment as she went out. She turned, and their eyes met. She gave him such a glance of pity and disdain as suspended the meat upon his fork, and froze him into comprehending that something very serious indeed had happened.
He resolved to learn from Fanny what it was, and act accordingly. But Zoe's maid came in and whispered Fanny. She went out, and neither of the young ladies was seen till dinner-time. It was conveyed to Uxmoor that there would be no excursion of any kind this afternoon; and therefore he took his hat, and went off to pay a visit. He called on Rhoda Gale. She was at home. He intended merely to offer her his respects, and to side with her generally against these foolish rustics; but she was pleased with him for coming, and made herself so agreeable that he spent the whole afternoon comparing notes with her upon village life, and the amelioration it was capable of. Each could give the other valuable ideas; and he said he hoped she would visit his part of the country ere long; she would find many defects, but also a great desire to amend them.
This flattered her, naturally; and she began to take an interest in him. That interest soon took the form of curiosity. She must know whether he was seriously courting Zoe Vizard or not. The natural reserve of a well-bred man withstood this at first; but that armor could not resist for two mortal hours such a daughter of Eve as this, with her insidious questions, her artful statements, her cat-like retreats and cat-like returns. She learned--though he did not see how far he had committed himself--that he admired Zoe Vizard and would marry her to-morrow if she would have him; his hesitation to ask her, because he had a rival, whose power he could not exactly measure; but a formidable and permitted rival.
They parted almost friends; and Rhoda settled quietly in her mind he should have Zoe Vizard, since he was so fond of her.
Here again it was Severne's unlucky day, and Uxmoor's lucky. To carry this same day to a close, Severne tried more than once to get near Zoe and ask if he had offended her, and in what. But no opportunity occurred. So then he sat and gazed at her, and looked unhappy. She saw, and was not unmoved, but would not do more than glance at him. He resigned himself to wait till night.
Night came. He went on the grass. There was a light in Zoe's room. It was eleven o'clock. He waited, shivering, till twelve. Then the light was put out; but no window opened. There was a moon; and her windows glared black on him, dark and bright as the eyes she now averted from him. He was in disgrace.
The present incident I have recorded did not end here; and I must now follow Poikilus on his mission to Homburg; and if the reader has a sense of justice, methinks he will not complain of the journey, for see how long I have neglected the noblest figure in this story, and the most to be pitied. To desert her longer would be too unjust, and derange entirely the balance of this complicated story.
A CRUEL mental stroke, like a heavy blow upon the body, sometimes benumbs and sickens at first, but does not torture; yet that is to follow.
It was so with Ina Klosking. The day she just missed Edward Severne, and he seemed to melt away from her very grasp into the wide world again, she could drag herself to the theater and sing angelically, with a dull and aching heart. But next day her heart entered on sharper suffering. She was irritated, exasperated; chained to the theater, to Homburg, yet wild to follow Severne to England without delay. She told Ashmead she must and would go. He opposed it stoutly, and gave good reasons. She could not break faith with the management. England was a large place. They had, as yet, no clew but a name. By waiting, the clew would come. The sure course was to give publicity in England to her winnings, and so draw Severne to her. But for once she was too excited to listen to reason. She was tempest-tossed. "I will go--I will go," she repeated, as she walked the room wildly, and flung her arms aloft with reckless abandon, and yet with a terrible majesty, an instinctive grace, and all the poetry of a great soul wronged and driven wild.
She overpowered Ashmead and drove him to the director. He went most unwillingly; but once there, was true to her, and begged off the engagement eagerly. The director refused this plump. Then Ashmead, still true to his commission, offered him (most reluctantly) a considerable sum down to annul the contract, and backed this with a quiet hint that she would certainly fall ill if refused. The director knew by experience what this meant, and how easily these ladies can command the human body to death's door pro re natâ, and how readily a doctor's certificate can be had to say or swear that the great creature cannot sing or act without peril to life, though really both these arts are grand medicines, and far less likely to injure the bona fide sick than are the certifying doctor's draughts and drugs. The director knew all this; but he was furious at the disappointment threatened him. "No," said he; "this is always the way; a poor devil of a manager is never to have a success. It is treacherous, it is ungrateful: I'll close. You tell her if she is determined to cut all our throats and kick her own good fortune down, she can; but, by ----, I'll make her smart for it! Mind, now; she closes the theater and pays the expenses, if she plays me false."
"But if she is ill?"
"Let her die and be ----, and then I'll believe her. She is the healthiest woman in Germany. I'll go and take steps to have her arrested if she offers to leave the town."
Ashmead reported the manager's threats, and the Klosking received them as a lioness the barking of a cur. She drew herself swiftly up, and her great eye gleamed imperial disdain at all his menaces but one.
"He will not really close the theater," said she, loftily; but uneasiness lurked in her manner.
"He will," said Ashmead. "He is desperate: and you know it is hard to go on losing and losing, and then the moment luck turns to be done out of it, in spite of a written bargain. I've been a manager myself."
"So many poor people!" said Ina, with a sigh; and her defiant head sunk a little.
"Oh, bother them!" said Ashmead, craftily. "Let 'em starve."
"God forbid!" said Ina. Then she sighed again, and her queenly head sunk lower. Then she faltered out, "I have the will to break faith and ruin poor people, but I have not the courage."
Then a tear or two began to trickle, carrying with them all the egotistical resolution Ina Klosking possessed at that time. Perhaps we shall see her harden: nothing stands still.
This time the poor conquered.
But every now and then for many days there were returns of torment and agitation and wild desire to escape to England.
Ashmead made head against these with his simple arts. For one thing, he showed her a dozen paragraphs in MS. he was sending to as many English weekly papers, describing her heavy gains at the table. "With these stones," said he, "I kill two birds: extend your fame, and entice your idol back to you." Here a growl, which I suspect was an inarticulate curse. Joseph, fi!
The pen of Joseph on such occasions was like his predecessor's coat, polychromatic. The Klosking read him, and wondered. "Alas!" said she, "with what versatile skill do you descant on a single circumstance not very creditable."
"Creditable!" said Ashmead; "it was very naughty, but it is very nice." And the creature actually winked, forgetting, of course, whom he was winking at, and wasting his vulgarity on the desert air; for the Klosking's eye might just manage to blink--at the meridian sun, or so forth; but it never winked once in all its life.
One of the paragraphs ran thus, with a heading in small capitals:
"Mademoiselle Klosking, the great contralto, whose success has been already recorded in all the journals, strolled, on one of her off nights, into the Kursaal at Homburg, and sat down to trente et quarante. Her melodious voice was soon heard betting heavily, with the most engaging sweetness of manner; and doubling seven times upon the red, she broke the bank, and retired with a charming courtesy and eight thousand pounds in gold and notes."
Another dealt with the matter thus:
"The latest coup at Homburg has been made by a cantatrice whose praises all Germany are now ringing. Mademoiselle Klosking, successor and rival of Alboni, went to the Kursaal, pour passer le temps; and she passed it so well that in half an hour the bank was broken, and there was a pile of notes and gold before La Klosking amounting to ten thousand pounds and more. The lady waved these over to her agent, Mr. Joseph Ashmead, with a hand which, par parenthése, is believed to be the whitest in Europe, and retired gracefully."
On perusing this, La Klosking held two white hands up to heaven in amazement at the skill and good taste which had dragged this feature into the incident.
"A circumstance has lately occurred here which will infallibly be seized on by the novelists in search of an incident. Mademoiselle Klosking, the new contralto, whose triumphant progress through Europe will probably be the next event in music, walked into the Kursaal the other night, broke the bank, and walked out again with twelve thousand pounds, and that charming composure which is said to distinguish her in private life.
"What makes it more remarkable is that the lady is not a gamester, has never played before, and is said to have declared that she shall never play again. It is certain that, with such a face, figure, and voice as hers, she need never seek for wealth at the gambling-table. Mademoiselle Klosking is now in negotiation with all the principal cities of the Continent. But the English managers, we apprehend, will prove awkward competitors."
Were I to reproduce the nine other paragraphs, it would be a very curious, instructive, and tedious specimen of literature; and, who knows? I might corrupt some immaculate soul, inspire some actor or actress, singer or songstress, with an itch for public self-laudation, a foible from which they are all at present so free. Witness the Era, the Hornet, and Figaro.
Ina Klosking spotted what she conceived to be a defect in these histories. "My friend," said she meekly, "the sum I won was under five thousand pounds."
"Was it? Yes, to be sure. But, you see, these are English advertisements. Now England is so rich that if you keep down to any Continental sum, you give a false impression in England of the importance on the spot."
"And so we are to falsify figures? In the first of these legends it was double the truth; and, as I read, it enlarges--oh, but it enlarges," said Ina, with a Gallicism we shall have to forgive in a lady who spoke five languages.
"Madam," said Ashmead, dryly, "you must expect your capital to increase rapidly, so long as I conduct it."
Not being herself swift to shed jokes, Ina did not take them rapidly. She stared at him. He never moved a muscle. She gave a slight shrug of her grand shoulders, and resigned that attempt to reason with the creature.
She had a pill in store for him, though. She told him that, as she had sacrificed the longings of her heart to the poor of the theater, so she should sacrifice a portion of her ill-gotten gains to the poor of the town.
He made a hideously wry face at that, asked what poor-rates were for, and assured her that "pauper" meant "drunkard."
"It is not written so in Scripture," said Ina; "and I need their prayers, for I am very unhappy."
In short, Ashmead was driven out from the presence chamber with a thousand thalers to distribute among the poor of Homburg; and, once in the street, his face did not shine like an angel of mercy's, but was very pinched and morose; hardly recognizable--poor Joe!
By-and-by he scratched his head. Now it is unaccountable, but certain heads often yield an idea in return for that. Joseph's did, and his countenance brightened.
Three days after this Ina was surprised by a note from the burgomaster, saying that he and certain of the town council would have the honor of calling on her at noon.
What might this mean?
She sent to ask for Mr. Ashmead; he was not to be found; he had hidden himself too carefully.
The deputation came and thanked her for her munificent act of charity.
She looked puzzled at first, then blushed to the temples. "Munificent act, gentlemen! Alas! I did but direct my agent to distribute a small sum among the deserving poor. He has done very ill to court your attention. My little contribution should have been as private as it is insignificant."
"Nay, madam," said the clerk of the council, who was a recognized orator, "your agent did well to consult our worthy burgomaster, who knows the persons most in need and most deserving. We do not doubt that you love to do good in secret. Nevertheless, we have also our sense of duty, and we think it right that so benevolent an act should be published, as an example to others. In the same view, we claim to comment publicly on your goodness." Then he looked to the burgomaster, who took him up.
"And we comment thus: Madam, since the Middle Ages the freedom of this town has not been possessed by any female. There is, however, no law forbidding it, and therefore, madam, the civic authorities, whom I represent, do hereby present to you the freedom of this burgh."
He then handed her an emblazoned vellum giving her citizenship, with the reasons written plainly in golden letters.
Ina Klosking, who had remained quite quiet during the speeches, waited a moment or two, and then replied, with seemly grace and dignity:
"Mr. Burgomaster and gentlemen, you have paid me a great and unexpected compliment, and I thank you for it. But one thing makes me uneasy: it is that I have done so little to deserve this. I console myself, however, by reflecting that I am still young, and may have opportunities to show myself grateful, and even to deserve, in the future, this honor, which at present overpays me, and almost oppresses me. On that understanding, gentlemen, be pleased to bestow, and let me receive, the rare compliment you have paid me by admitting me to citizenship in your delightful town." (To herself:) "I'll scold him well for this."
Low courtesy; profound bows; exit deputation enchanted with her; manet Klosking with the freedom of the city in her hand and ingratitude in her heart; for her one idea was to get hold of Mr. Joseph Ashmead directly and reproach him severely for all this, which she justly ascribed to his machinations.
The cunning Ashmead divined her project, and kept persistently out of her way. That did not suit her neither. She was lonely. She gave the waiter a friendly line to bring him to her.
Now, mind you, she was too honest to pretend she was not going to scold him. So this is what she wrote:
"MY FRIEND--Have you deserted me? Come to me, and be remonstrated. What have you to fear? You know so well how to defend yourself.
Arrived in a very few minutes Mr. Ashamed, jaunty, cheerful, and defensive.
Ina, with a countenance from which all discontent was artfully extracted, laid before him, in the friendliest way you can imagine, an English Bible. It was her father's, and she always carried it with her. "I wish," said she, insidiously, "to consult you on a passage or two of this book. How do you understand this:
"'When thou doest thine alms, do not send a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do.'
"'When thou doest thine alms, let not thy right hand know what thy left hand doeth, that thine alms may be in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.'"
Having pointed out these sentences with her finger, she looked to him for his interpretation. Joseph, thus erected into a Scripture commentator, looked at the passages first near, and then afar off, as if the true interpretation depended on perspective. Having thus gained a little time, he said, "Well, I think the meaning is clear enough. We are to hide our own light under a bushel. But it don't say an agent is to hide his employer's.'
"Be serious, sir. This is a great authority."
"Oh, of course, of course. Still--if you won't be offended, ma'am--times are changed since then. It was a very small place, where news spread of itself; and all that cannot be written for theatrical agents, because there wasn't one in creation."
"And so now their little customs, lately invented, like themselves, are to prevail against God's im-mor-tal law!" It was something half way between Handel and mellowed thunder the way her grand contralto suddenly rolled out these three words. Joseph was cunning. He put on a crushed appearance, deceived by which the firm but gentle Klosking began to soften her tone directly.
"It has given me pain," said she, sorrowfully. "And I am afraid God will be angry with us both for our ostentation."
"Not He," said Joseph, consolingly. "Bless your heart, He is not half so irritable as the parsons fancy; they confound Him with themselves."
Ina ignored this suggestion with perfect dignity and flowed on: "All I stipulate now is that I may not see this pitiable parade in print."
"That is past praying for, then," said Ashmead, resolutely. "You might as well try to stop the waves as check publicity--in our day. Your munificence to the poor--confound the lazy lot!--and the gratitude of those pompous prigs, the deputation--the presentation--your admirable reply--"
"You never heard it, now--"
"Which, as you say, I was not so fortunate as to hear, and so must content myself with describing it--all this is flying north, south, east, and west."
"Oh no, no, no! You have not advertised it?"
"Not advertised it! For what do you take me? Wait till you see the bill I am running up against you. Madam, you must take people as they are. Don't try to un-Ashmead me; it is impossible. Catch up that knife and kill me. I'll not resist; on the contrary, I'll sit down and prepare an obituary notice for the weeklies, and say I did it. BUT WHILE I BREATHE I ADVERTISE."
And Joseph was defiant; and the Klosking shrugged her noble shoulders, and said, "You best of creatures, you are incurable."
To follow this incident to its conclusion, not a week after this scene, Ina Klosking detected, in an English paper,
"Mademoiselle Klosking, the great contralto, having won a large sum of money at the Kursaal, has given a thousand pounds to the poor of the place. The civic authorities hearing of this, and desirous to mark their sense of so noble a donation, have presented her with the freedom of the burgh, written on vellum and gold. Mademoiselle Klosking received the compliment with charming grace and courtesy; but her modesty is said to have been much distressed at the publicity hereby given to an act she wished to be known only to the persons relieved by her charity."
Ina caught the culprit and showed him this. "A thousand pounds!" said she. "Are you not ashamed? Was ever a niggardly act so embellished and exaggerated? I feel my face very red, sir."
"Oh, I'll explain that in a moment," said Joseph, amicably. "Each nation has a coin it is always quoting. France counts in francs, Germany in thalers, America in dollars, England in pounds. When a thing costs a million francs in France, or a million dollars in the States, that is always called a million pounds in the English journals: otherwise it would convey no distinct idea at all to an Englishman. Turning thalers and francs into pounds--that is not exaggeration; it is only translation."
Ina gave him such a look. He replied with an unabashed smile.
She shrugged her shoulders in silence this time, and, to the best of my belief, made no more serious attempts to un-Ashmead her Ashmead.
A month had now passed, and that was a little more than half the dreary time she had to wade through. She began to count the days, and that made her pine all the more. Time is like a kettle. Be blind to him, he flies; watch him, he lags. Her sweet temper was a little affected, and she even reproached Ashmead for holding her out false hopes that his advertisements of her gains would induce Severne to come to her, or even write. "No," said she; "there must be some greater attraction. Karl says that Miss Vizard, who called upon me, was a beauty, and dark. Perhaps she was the lovely girl I saw at the opera. She has never been there since: and he is gone to England with people of that name."
"Well, but that Miss Vizard called on you. She can't intend to steal him from you."
"But she may not know; a woman may injure another without intending. He may deceive her; he has betrayed me. Her extraordinary beauty terrifies me. It enchanted me; and how much more a man?"
Joseph said he thought this was all fancy; and as for his advertisements, it was too early yet to pronounce on their effect.
The very day after this conversation he bounced into her room in great dudgeon. "There, madam! the advertisements have produced an effect; and not a pleasant one. Here's a detective on to us. He is feeling his way with Karl. I knew the man in a moment; calls himself Poikilus in print, and Smith to talk to; but he is Aaron at the bottom of it all, and can speak several languages. Confound their impudence! putting a detective on to us, when it is they that are keeping dark."
"Who do you think has sent him?" asked Ina, intently.
"The party interested, I suppose."
"Interested in what?"
"Why, in the money you won; for he was drawing Karl about that."
"Then he sent the man!" And Ina began to pant and change color.
"Well, now you put it to me, I think so. Come to look at it, it is certain. Who else could it be? Here is a brace of sweeps. They wouldn't be the worse for a good kicking. You say the word, and Smith shall have one, at all events."
"Alas! my friend," said Ina, "for once you are slow. What! a messenger comes here direct from him; and are we so dull we can learn nothing from him who comes to question us? Let me think."
She leaned her forehead on her white hand, and her face seemed slowly to fill with intellectual power.
"That man," said she at last, "is the only link between him and me. I must speak to him."
Then she thought again.
"No, not yet. He must be detained in the house. Letters may come to him, and their postmarks may give us some clew."
"I'll recommend the house to him."
"Oh, that is not necessary. He will lodge here of his own accord. Does he know you?"
"I think not."
"Do not give him the least suspicion that you know he is a detective."
"All right, I won't."
"If he sounds you about the money, say nobody knows much about it, except Mademoiselle Klosking. If you can get the matter so far, come and tell me. But be you very reserved, for you are not clear."
Ashmead received these instructions meekly, and went into the salle à manger and ordered dinner. Smith was there, and had evidently got some information from Karl, for he opened an easy conversation with Ashmead, and it ended in their dining together.
Smith played the open-handed country man to the life--stood champagne. Ashmead chattered, and seemed quite off his guard. Smith approached the subject cautiously. "Gamble here as much as ever?"
"All day, some of them."
"Ladies and all?"
"Why, the ladies are the worst."
"No; are they now? Ah, that reminds me. I heard there was a lady in this very house won a pot o' money."
"It is true. I am her agent."
"I suppose she lost it all next day?"
"Well, not all, for she gave a thousand pounds to the poor."
"The dressmakers collared the rest?"
"I cannot say. I have nothing to do except with her theatrical business. She will make more by that than she ever made at play."
"What, is she tip-top?"
"The most rising singer in Europe."
"I should like to see her."
"That you can easily do. She sings tonight. I'll pass you in."
"You are a good fellow. Have a bit of supper with me afterward. Bottle of fizz."
These two might be compared to a couple of spiders, each taking the other for a fly. Smith was enchanted with Ina's singing, or pretended. Ashmead was delighted with him, or pretended.
"Introduce me to her," said Smith.
"I dare not do that. You are not professional, are you?"
"No, but you can say I am, for a lark."
Ashmead said he should like to; but it would not do, unless he was very wary.
"Oh, I'm fly," said the other. "She won't get anything out of me. I've been behind the scenes often enough."
Then Ashmead said he would go and ask her if he might present a London manager to her.
He soon brought back the answer. "She is too tired to-night: but I pressed her, and she says she will be charmed if you will breakfast with her to-morrow at eleven." He did not say that he was to be with her at half-past ten for special instructions. They were very simple. "My friend," said she, "I mean to tell this man something which he will think it his duty to telegraph or write to him immediately. It was for this I would not have the man to supper, being after post-time. This morning he shall either write or telegraph, and then, if you are as clever in this as you are in some things, you will watch him, and find out the address he sends to."
Ashmead listened very attentively, and fell into a brown study.
"Madam," said he at last, "this is a first-rate combination. You make him communicate with England, and I will do the rest. If he telegraphs, I'll be at his heels. If he goes to the post, I know a way. If he posts in the house, he makes it too easy."
At eleven Ashmead introduced his friend "Sharpus, manager of Drury Lane Theater," and watched the fencing match with some anxiety, Ina being little versed in guile. But she had tact and self-possession; and she was not an angel, after all, but a woman whose wits were sharpened by love and suffering.
Sharpus, alias Smith, played his assumed character to perfection. He gave the Klosking many incidents of business and professional anecdotes, and was excellent company. The Klosking was gracious, and more bonne enfant than Ashmead had ever seen her. It was a fine match between her and the detective. At last he made his approaches.
"And I hear we are to congratulate you on success at rouge et noir as well as opera. Is it true that you broke the bank?"
"Perfectly," was the frank reply.
"And won a million?"
"More or less," said the Klosking, with an open smile.
"I hope it was a good lump, for our countrymen leave hundreds of thousands here every season."
"It was four thousand nine hundred pounds, sir."
"Phew! Well, I wish it had been double. You are not so close as our friend here, madam."
"No, sir; and shall I tell you why?"
"If you like, madam," said Smith, with assumed indifference.
"Mr. Ashmead is a model agent; he never allows himself to see anybody's interests but mine. Now the truth is, another person has an interest in my famous winnings. A gentleman handed £25 to Mr. Ashmead to play with. He did not do so; but I came in and joined £25 of my own to that £25, and won an enormous sum. Of course, if the gentleman chooses to be chivalrous and abandon his claim, he can; but that is not the way of the world, you know. I feel sure he will come to me for his share some day; and the sooner the better, for money burns the pocket."
Sharpus, alias Smith, said this was really a curious story. "Now suppose," said he, "some fine day a letter was to come asking you to remit that gentleman his half, what should you do?"
"I should decline; it might be an escroc. No. Mr. Ashmead here knows the gentleman. Do you not?"
"I'll swear to him anywhere."
"Then to receive his money he must face the eye of Ashmead. Ha! ha!"
The detective turned the conversation, and never came back to the subject; but shortly he pleaded an engagement, and took his leave.
Ashmead lingered behind, but Ina hurried him off, with an emphatic command not to leave this man out of his sight a moment.
He violated this order, for in five minutes he ran back to tell her, in an agitated whisper, that Smith was, at that moment, writing a letter in the salle à manger.
"Oh, pray don't come here!" cried Ina, in despair. "Do not lose sight of him for a moment."
"Give me that letter to post, then," said Ashmead, and snatched one up Ina had directed overnight.
He went to the hotel door, and lighted a cigar; out came Smith with a letter in his very hand. Ashmead peered with all his eyes; but Smith held the letter vertically in his hand and the address inward. The letter was sealed.
Ashmead watched him, and saw he was going to the General Post. He knew a shorter cut, ran, and took it, and lay in wait. As Smith approached the box, letter in hand, he bustled up in a furious hurry, and posted his own letter so as to stop Smith's hand at the very aperture before he could insert his letter. He saw, apologized, and drew back. Smith laughed, and said, "All right, old man. That is to your sweetheart, or you wouldn't be in such a hurry."
"No; it was to my grandmother," said Ashmead.
"Go on," said Smith, and poked the ribs of Joseph. They went home jocular; but the detective was no sooner out of the way than Ashmead stole up to Ina Klosking, and put his finger to his lips; for Karl was clearing away, and in no hurry.
They sat on tenter-hooks and thought he never would go. He did go at last, and then the Klosking and Ashmead came together like two magnets.
"All right! Letter to post. Saw address quite plain--Edward Severne, Esq."
Ina, who was standing all on fire, now sat down and interlaced her hands. "Vizard!" said she, gloomily.
"Yes; Vizard Court," said Ashmead, triumphantly; "that means he is a large landed proprietor, and you will easily find him if he is there in a month."
"He will be there," said Ina. "She is very beautiful. She is dark, too, and he loves change. Oh, if to all I have suffered he adds that--"
"Then you will forgive him that," said Ashmead, shaking his head.
"Never. Look at me, Joseph Ashmead."
He looked at her with some awe, for she seemed transformed, and her Danish eye gleamed strangely.
"You who have seen my torments and my fidelity, mark what I say: If he is false to me with another woman, I shall kill him--or else I shall hate him."
She took her desk and wrote, at Ashmead's dictation,
THE next morning Vizard carried Lord Uxmoor away to a magistrates' meeting, and left the road clear to Severne; but Zoe gave him no opportunity until just before luncheon, and then she put on her bonnet and came downstairs; but Fanny was with her.
Severne, who was seated patiently in his bedroom with the door ajar, came out to join them, feeling sure Fanny would openly side with him, or slip away and give him his opportunity.
But, as the young ladies stood on the broad flight of steps at the hall door, an antique figure drew nigh--an old lady, the shape of an egg, so short and stout was she. On her head she wore a black silk bonnet constructed many years ago, with a droll design, viz., to keep off sun, rain, and wind; it was like an iron coal scuttle, slightly shortened; yet have I seen some very pretty faces very prettily framed in such a bonnet. She had an old black silk gown that only reached to her ankle, and over it a scarlet cloak of superfine cloth, fine as any colonel or queen's outrider ever wore, and looking splendid, though she had used it forty years, at odd times. This dame had escaped the village ill, rheumatics, and could toddle along without a staff at a great, and indeed a fearful, pace; for, owing to her build, she yawed so from side to side at every step that, to them who knew her not, a capsize appeared inevitable.
"Mrs. Judge, I declare," cried Zoe.
"Ay, Miss Hannah Judge it is. Your sarvant, ma'am;" and she dropped two courtesies, one for each lady.
Mrs. Judge was Harrington's old nurse. Zoe often paid a visit to her cottage, but she never came to Vizard Court except on Harrington's birthday, when the servants entertained all the old pensioners and retainers at supper. Her sudden appearance, therefore, and in gala costume, astonished Zoe. Probably her face betrayed this, for the old lady began, "You wonder to see me here, now, doan't ye?"
"Well, Mrs. Judge," said Zoe, diplomatically, "nobody has a better right to come."
"You be very good, miss. I don't doubt my welcome nohow."
"But," said Zoe, playfully, "you seldom do us the honor; so I am a little surprised. What can I do for you?"
"You does enough for me, miss, you and young squire. I bain't come to ask no favors. I ain't one o' that sort. I'll tell ye why I be come. 'Tis to warn you all up here."
"This is alarming," said Zoe to Fanny.
"That is as may be," said Mrs. Judge; "forwarned, forearmed, the by-word sayeth. There is a young 'oman a-prowling about this here parish as don't belong to hus."
"La," said Fanny, "mustn't we visit your parish if we were not born there?"
"Don't you take me up before I be down, miss," said the old nurse, a little severely. "'Tain't for the likes of you I speak, which you are a lady, and visits the Court by permission of squire; but what I objects to is--hinterlopers." She paused to see the effect of so big a word, and then resumed, graciously, "You see, most of our hills comes from that there Hillstoke. If there's a poacher, or a thief, he is Hillstoke; they harbors the gypsies as ravage the whole country, mostly; and now they have let loose this here young 'oman on to us. She is a POLL PRY: goes about the town a-sarching: pries into their housen and their vittels, and their very beds. Old Marks have got a muck-heap at his door for his garden, ye know. Well, miss, she sticks her parasole into this here, and turns it about, as if she was agoing to spread it: says she, 'I must know the de-com-po-si-tion of this 'ere, as you keeps under the noses of your young folk.' Well, I seed her agoing her rounds, and the folk had told me her ways; so I did set me down to my knitting and wait for her, and when she came to me I offered her a seat; so she sat down, and says she 'This is the one clean house in the village,' says she: 'you might eat your dinner off the floor, let alone the chairs and tables.' 'You are very good, miss,' says I. Says she, 'I wonder whether upstairs is as nice as this?' 'Well,' says I, 'them as keep it downstairs keeps it hup; I don't drop cleanliness on the stairs, you may be sure.' 'I suppose not,' says she, 'but I should like to see.' That was what I was a-waiting for, you know, so I said to her, 'Curiosity do breed curiosity,' says I. 'Afore you sarches this here house from top to bottom I should like to see the warrant.' 'What warrant?' says she. 'I've no warrant. Don't take me for an enemy,' says she. 'I'm your best friend,' says she. 'I'm the new doctor.' I told her I had heard a whisper of that too; but we had got a parish doctor already, and one was enough. 'Not when he never comes anigh you,' says she, 'and lets you go half way to meet your diseases.' 'I don't know for that,' says I, and indeed I haan't a notion what she meant, for my part; but says I, 'I don't want no women folk to come here a-doctoring o' me, that's sartin.' So she said, 'But suppose you were very ill, and the he-doctor three miles off, and fifty others to visit afore you?' 'That is no odds,' says I; 'I would not be doctored by a woman.' Then she says to me, says she, 'Now you look me in the face.' 'I can do that,' says I; 'you, or anybody else. I'm an honest woman, I am;' so I up and looked her in the face as bold as brass. 'Then,' says she, 'am I to understand that, if you was to be ill to-morrow, you would rather die than be doctored by a woman?' She thought to daant me, you see, so I says, 'Well, I don't know as I oodn't.' You do laugh, miss. Well, that is what she did. 'All right,' says she. 'Make haste and die, my good soul,' says she, 'for, while you live, you'll be a hobelisk to reform.' So she went off, but I made to the door, and called after her I should die when God pleased, and I had seen a good many young folk laid out, that looked as like to make old bones as ever she does--chalk-faced--skinny---to-a-d! And I called after her she was no lady. No more she ain't, to come into my own house and call a decent woman 'a hobelisk!' Oh! oh! Which I never was, not even in my giddy days, but did work hard in my youth, and am respect for my old age."
"Yes, nurse, yes; who doubts it?"
"And nursed young squire, and, Lord bless your heart, a was a poor puny child when I took him to my breast, and in six months the finest, chubbiest boy in all the parish; and his dry-nurse for years arter, and always at his heels a-keeping him out of the stable and the ponds, and consorting with the village boys; and a proper resolute child he was, and hard to manage: and my own man that is gone, and my son 'that's not so clever as some,'* I always done justice by them both, and arter all to be called a hobelisk--oh! oh! oh!"
* Paraphrase for the noun substantive "idiot." It is also a specimen of the Greek figure "litotes."
Then behold the gentle Zoe with her arm round nurse's neck, and her handkerchief to nurse's eyes, murmuring, "There--there--don't cry, nurse; everybody esteems you, and that lady did not mean to affront you; she did not say 'obelisk;' she said 'obstacle.' That only means that you stand in the way of her improvements; there was not much harm in that, you know. And, nurse, please give that lady her way, to oblige me; for it is by my brother's invitation she is here."
"Ye doan't say so! What, does he hold with female she-doctoresses?"
"He wishes to try one. She has his authority."
"Ye doan't say so!"
"Indeed I do."
"Con--sarn the wench! why couldn't she says so, 'stead o' hargefying?"
"She is a stranger, and means well; so she did not think it necessary. You must take my word for it."
"La, miss, I'll take your'n before hers, you may be sure," said Mrs. Judge, with a decided remnant of hostility.
And now a proverbial incident happened. Miss Rhoda Gale came in sight, and walked rapidly into the group.
After greeting the ladies, and ignoring Severne, who took off his hat to her, with deep respect, in the background, she turned to Mrs. Judge. "Well, old lady," said she cheerfully, "and how do you do?"
Mrs. Judge replied, in fawning accents, "Thank you, miss, I be well enough to get about. I was a-telling 'em about you--and, to be sure, it is uncommon good of a lady like you to trouble so much about poor folk."
"Don't mention it; it is my duty and my inclination. You see, my good woman, it is not so easy to cure diseases as people think; therefore it is a part of medicine to prevent them: and to prevent them you must remove the predisposing causes, and to find out all those causes you must have eyes, and use them."
"You are right, miss," said La Judge, obsequiously. "Prevention is better nor cure, and they say 'a stitch in time saves nine.'"
"That is capital good sense, Mrs. Judge; and pray tell the villagers that, and make them as full of 'the wisdom of nations' as you seem to be, and their houses as clean--if you can."
"I'll do my best, miss," said Mrs. Judge, obsequiously; "it is the least we can all do for a young lady like you that leaves the pomps and vanities, and gives her mind to bettering the condishing of poor folk."
Having once taken this cue and entered upon a vein of flattery, she would have been extremely voluble--for villages can vie with cities in adulation as well as in detraction--but she was interrupted by a footman announcing luncheon.
Zoe handed Mrs. Judge over to the man with a request that he would be kind to her, and have her to dine with the servants.
Yellowplush saw the gentlefolks away, and then, parting his legs, and putting his thumbs into his waistcoat pockets, delivered himself thus: "Well, old girl, am I to give you my harm round to the kitchen, or do you know the way by yourself?"
"Young chap," said Mrs. Judge, and turned a glittering eye, "I did know the way afore you was born, and I should know it all one if so be you was to be hung, or sent to Botany Bay--to larn manners."
Having delivered this shot, she rolled away in the direction of Roast Beef.
The little party had hardly settled at the table when they were joined by Vizard and Uxmoor: both gentlemen welcomed Miss Gale more heartily than the ladies had done, and before luncheon ended Vizard asked her if her report was ready. She said it was.
"Have you got it with you?"
"Then please hand it to me."
"Oh! it is in my head. I don't write much down; that weakens the memory. If you would give me half an hour after luncheon--" She hesitated a little.
Zoe jealoused a téte-à-téte, and parried it skillfully. "Oh," said she, "but we are all much interested: are not you, Lord Uxmoor?"
"Indeed I am," said Uxmoor.
"So am I," said Fanny, who didn't care a button.
"Yes, but," said Rhoda, "truths are not always agreeable, and there are some that I don't like--" She hesitated again, and this time actually blushed a little.
The acute Mr. Severne, who had been watching her slyly, came to her assistance.
"Look here, old fellow," said he to Vizard, "don't you see that Miss Gale has discovered some spots in your paradise? but, out of delicacy, does not want to publish them, but to confide them to your own ear. Then you can mend them or not."
Miss Gale turned her eyes full on Severne. "You are very keen at reading people, sir," said she, dryly.
"Of course he is," said Vizard. "He has given great attention to your sex. Well, if that is all, Miss Gale, pray speak out and gratify their curiosity. You and I shall never quarrel over the truth."
"I'm not so sure of that," said Miss Gale. "However, I suppose I must risk it. I never do get my own way; that's a fact."
After this little ebullition of spleen, she opened her budget. "First of all, I find that these villages all belong to one person; so does the soil. Nobody can build cottages on a better model, nor make any other improvement. You are an absolute monarch. This is a piece of Russia, not England. They are all serfs, and you are the czar."
"It is true," said Vizard, "and it sounds horrid, but it works benignly. Every snob who can grind the poor does grind them; but a gentleman never, and he hinders others. Now, for instance, an English farmer is generally a tyrant; but my power limits his tyranny. He may discharge his laborer, but he can't drive him out of the village, nor rob him of parish relief, for poor Hodge is my tenant, not a snob's. Nobody can build a beershop in Islip. That is true. But if they could, they would sell bad beer, give credit in the ardor of competition, poison the villagers, and demoralize them. Believe me, republican institutions are beautiful on paper; but they would not work well in Barfordshire villages. However, you profess to go by experience in everything. There are open villages within five miles. I'll give you a list. Visit them. You will find that liberty can be the father of tyranny. Petty tradesmen have come in and built cottages, and ground the poor down with rents unknown in Islip; farmers have built cottages, and turned their laborers into slaves. Drunkenness, dissipation, poverty, disaffection, and misery--that is what you will find in the open villages. Now, in Islip you have an omnipotent squire, and that is an abomination in theory, a mediæval monster, a blot on modern civilization; but practically the poor monster is a softener of poverty, an incarnate buffer between the poor and tyranny, the poor and misery."
"I'll inspect the open villages, and suspend my opinion till then," said Miss Gale, heartily; "but, in the meantime, you must admit that where there is great power there is great responsibility."
"Oh, of course."
"Well, then, your little outlying province of Hillstoke is full of rheumatic adults and putty-faced children. The two phenomena arise from one cause--the water. No lime in it, and too many reptiles. It was the children gave me the clew. I suspected the cherry stones at first: but when I came to look into it, I found they eat just as many cherry stones in the valley, and are as rosy as apples; but, then, there is well water in the valleys. So I put this and that together, and I examined the water they drink at Hillstoke. Sir, it is full of animalcula. Some of these cannot withstand the heat of the human stomach; but others can, for I tried them in mud artificially heated. [A giggle from Fanny Dover.] Thanks to your microscope, I have made sketches of several amphibia who live in those boys' stomachs, and irritate their membranes, and share their scanty nourishment, besides other injuries." Thereupon she produced some drawings.
They were handed round, and struck terror in gentle bosoms. "Oh, gracious!" cried Fanny, "one ought to drink nothing but champagne." Uxmoor looked grave. Vizard affected to doubt their authenticity. He said, "You may not know it, but I am a zoologist, and these are antediluvian eccentricities that have long ceased to embellish the world we live in. Fie! Miss Gale. Down with anachronisms."
Miss Gale smiled, and admitted that one or two of the prodigies resembled antediluvian monsters, but said oracularly that nature was fond of producing the same thing on a large scale and a small scale, and it was quite possible the small type of antediluvian monster might have survived the large.
"That is most ingenious," said Vizard; "but it does not account for this fellow. He is not an antediluvian; he is a barefaced modern, for he is A STEAM ENGINE."
This caused a laugh, for the creature had a perpendicular neck, like a funnel, that rose out of a body like a horizontal cylinder.
"At any rate," said Miss Gale, "the little monster was in the world first; so he is not an imitation of man's work."
"Well," said Vizard, "after all, we have had enough of the monsters of the deep. Now we can vary the monotony, and say the monsters of the shallow. But I don't see how they can cause rheumatism."
"I never said they did," retorted Miss Gale, sharply: "but the water which contains them is soft water. There is no lime in it, and that is bad for the bones in every way. Only the children drink it as it is: the wives boil it, and so drink soft water and dead reptiles in their tea. The men instinctively avoid it and drink nothing but beer. Thus, for want of a pure diluent with lime in solution, an acid is created in the blood which produces gout in the rich, and rheumatism in the poor, thanks to their meager food and exposure to the weather."
"Poor things!" said womanly Zoe. "What is to be done?"
"La!" said Fanny, "throw lime into the ponds. That will kill the monsters, and cure the old people's bones into the bargain."
This compendious scheme struck the imagination, but did not satisfy the judgment of the assembly.
"Fanny!" said Zoe, reproachfully.
"That would be killing two birds with one stone," suggested Uxmoor, satirically.
"The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel," explained Vizard, composedly.
Zoe reiterated her question, What was to be done?
Miss Gale turned to her with a smile. "We have got nothing to do but to point out these abominations. The person to act is the Russian autocrat, the paternal dictator, the monarch of all he surveys, and advocate of monarchial institutions. He is the buffer between the poor and all their ills, especially poison: he must dig a well."
Every eye being turned on Vizard to see how he took this, he said, a little satirically, "What! does Science bid me bore for water at the top of a hill?"
"She does so," said the virago. "Now look here, good people."
And although they were not all good people, yet they all did look there, she shone so with intelligence, being now quite on her mettle.
"Half-civilized man makes blunders that both the savage and the civilized avoid. The savage builds his hut by a running stream. The civilized man draws good water to his door, though he must lay down pipes from a highland lake to a lowland city. It is only half-civilized man that builds a village on a hill, and drinks worms, and snakes, and efts, and antediluvian monsters in limeless water. Then I say, if great but half civilized monarchs would consult Science before they built their serf huts, Science would say, 'Don't you go and put down human habitations far from pure water--the universal diluent, the only cheap diluent, and the only liquid which does not require digestion, and therefore must always assist, and never chemically resist, the digestion of solids.' But when the mischief is done, and the cottages are built on a hill three miles from water, then all that Science can do is to show the remedy, and the remedy is--boring."
"Then the remedy is like the discussion," said Fanny Dover, very pertly.
Zoe was amused, but shocked. Miss Gale turned her head on the offender as sharp as a bird. "Of course it is, to children," said she; "and that is why I wished to confine it to mature minds. It is to you I speak, sir. Are your subjects to drink poison, or will you bore me a well?--Oh, please!"
"Do you hear that?" said Vizard, piteously, to Uxmoor. "Threatened and cajoled in one breath. Who can resist this fatal sex?--Miss Gale, I will bore a well on Hillstoke common. Any idea how deep we must go--to the antipodes, or only to the center?"
"Three hundred and thirty feet, or thereabouts."
"No more? Any idea what it will cost?"
"Of course I have. The well, the double windlass, the iron chain, the two buckets, a cupola over the well, and twenty-three keys--one for every head of a house in the hamlet--will cost you about £315."
"Why, this is Detail made woman. How do you know all this?"
"From Tom Wilder."
"Who is he?"
"What, don't you know? He is the eldest son of the Islip blacksmith, and a man that will make his mark. He casts every Thursday night. He is the only village blacksmith in all the county who casts. You know that, I suppose."
"No, I had not the honor."
"Well, he is, then: and I thought you would consent, because you are so good: and so I thought there could be no harm in sounding Tom Wilder. He offers to take the whole contract, if squire's agreeable; bore the well; brick it fifty yards down: he says that ought to be done, if she is to have justice. 'She' is the well: and he will also construct the gear; he says there must be two iron chains and two buckets going together; so then the empty bucket descending will help the man or woman at the windlass to draw the full bucket up. £315: one week's income, your Majesty."
"She has inspected our rent-roll, now," said Vizard, pathetically: "and knows nothing about the matter."
"Except that it is a mere flea-bite to you to bore through a hill for water. For all that, I hope you will leave me to battle it with Tom Wilder. Then you won't be cheated, for once. You always are, and it is abominable. It would have been five hundred if you had opened the business."
"I am sure that is true," said Zoe. She added this would please Mrs. Judge: she was full of the superiority of Islip to Hillstoke.
"Stop a bit," said Vizard. "Miss Gale has not reported on Islip yet."
"No, dear; but she has looked into everything, for Mrs. Judge told me. You have been into the cottages?"
"Yes, I have been into Marks's."
She did not seem inclined to be very communicative; so Fanny, out of mischief, said, pertly, "And what did you see there, with your Argus eye?"
"I saw--three generations."
"Ha! ha! La! did you now? And what were they all doing?"
"They were all living together, night and day, in one room."
This conveyed no very distinct idea to the ladies; but Vizard, for the first time, turned red at this revelation before Uxmoor, improver of cottage life. "Confound the brutes!" said he. "Why, I built them a new room; a larger one: didn't you see it?"
"Yes. They stack their potatoes in it."
"Just like my people," said Uxmoor. "That is the worst of it: they resist their own improvement."
"Yes, but," said the doctress, "with monarchial power we can trample on them for their good. Outside Marks's door at the back there is a muck-heap, as he calls it; all the refuse of the house is thrown there; it is a horrible melange of organic matter and decaying vegetables, a hot-bed of fever and malaria. Suffocated and poisoned with the breath of a dozen persons, they open the window for fresh air, and in rushes typhoid from the stronghold its victims have built. Two children were buried from that house last year. They were both killed by the domestic arrangements as certainly as if they had been shot with a double-barreled pistol. The outside roses you admire so are as delusive as flattery; their sweetness covers a foul, unwholesome den."
"Marks's cottage! The show place of the village!" Zoe Vizard flushed with indignation at the bold hand of truth so rudely applied to a pleasant and cherished illusion.
Vizard, more candid and open to new truths, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "What can I do more than I have done?"
"Oh, it is not your fault," said the doctress, graciously. "It is theirs. Only, as you are their superior in intelligence and power, you might do something to put down indecency, immorality, and disease."
"May I ask what?"
"Well, you might build a granary for the poor people's potatoes. No room can keep them dry; but you build your granary upon four pillars: then that is like a room over a cellar."
"Well, I'll build it so--if I build it at all," said Vizard, dryly. "What next?"
"Then you could make them stack their potatoes in the granary, and use the spare room, and so divide their families, and give morality a chance. The muck-heap you should disperse at once with the strong hand of power."
At this last proposal, Squire Vizard--the truth must be told--delivered a long, plowman's whistle at the head of his own table.
"Pheugh!" said he; "for a lady that is more than half republican, you seem to be taking very kindly to monarchial tyranny."
"Well, now, I'll tell you the truth," said she. "You have converted me. Ever since you promised me the well, I have discovered that the best form of government is a good-hearted tyrant."
"With a female viceroy over him, eh?"
"Only in these little domestic matters," said Rhoda, deprecatingly. "Women are good advisers in such things. The male physician relies on drugs. Medical women are wanted to moderate that delusion; to prevent disease by domestic vigilance, and cure it by selected esculents and pure air. These will cure fifty for one that medicine can; besides drugs kill ever so many: these never killed a creature. You will give me the granary, won't you? Oh, and there's a black pond in the center of the village. Your tenant Pickett, who is a fool--begging his pardon--lets all his liquid manure run out of his yard into the village till it accumulates in a pond right opposite the five cottages they call New Town, and its exhalations taint the air. There are as many fevers in Islip as in the back slums of a town. You might fill the pond up with chalk, and compel Pickett to sink a tank in his yard, and cover it; then an agricultural treasure would be preserved for its proper use, instead of being perverted into a source of infection."
Vizard listened civilly, and, as she stopped, requested her to go on.
"I think we have had enough," said Zoe, bitterly.
Rhoda, who was in love with Zoe, hung her head, and said, "Yes; I have been very bold."
"Fiddlestick!" said Vizard. "Never mind those girls. You speak out like a man: a stranger's eye always discovers things that escape the natives. Proceed."
"No; I won't proceed till I have explained to Miss Vizard."
"You may spare yourself the trouble. Miss Vizard thought Islip was a paradise. You have dispelled the illusion, and she will never forgive you. Miss Dover will; because she is like Gallio--she careth for none of these things."
"Not a pin," said Fanny, with admirable frankness.
"Well, but," said Rhoda, naïvely, "I can't bear Miss Vizard to be angry with me; I admire her so. Please let me explain. Islip is no paradise--quite the reverse; but the faults of Islip are not your faults. The children are ignorant; but you pay for a school. The people are poor from insufficient wages; but you are not paymaster. Your gardeners, your hinds, and all your outdoor people have enough. You give them houses. You let cottages and gardens to the rest at half their value; and very often they don't pay that, but make excuses; and you accept them, though they are all stories; for they can pay everybody but you, and their one good bargain is with you. Miss Vizard has carried a basket all her life with things from your table for the poor."
Miss Vizard blushed crimson at this sudden revelation.
"If a man or a woman has served your house long, there's a pension for life. You are easy, kind, and charitable. It is the faults of others I ask you to cure, because you have such power. Now, for instance, if the boys at Hillstoke are putty-faced, the boys at Islip have no calves to their legs. That is a sure sign of deteriorating species. The lower type of savage has next to no calf. The calf is a sign of civilization and due nourishment. This single phenomenon was my clew, and led me to others; and I have examined the mothers and the people of all ages, and I tell you it is a village of starvelings. Here a child begins life a starveling, and ends as he began. The nursing mother has not food enough for one, far less for two. The man's wages are insufficient, and the diet is not only insufficient, but injudicious. The race has declined. There are only five really big, strong men--Josh Grace, Will Hudson, David Wilder, Absalom Green, and Jack Greenaway; and they are all over fifty--men of another generation. I have questioned these men how they were bred, and they all say milk was common when they were boys. Many poor people kept a cow; squire doled it; the farmers gave it or sold it cheap; but nowadays it is scarcely to be had. Now, that is not your fault, but you are the man who can mend it. New milk is meat and drink especially to young and growing people. You have a large meadow at the back of the village. If you could be persuaded to start four or five cows, and let somebody sell the new milk to the poor at cost price--say, five farthings the quart. You must not give it, or they will water their muckheaps with it. With those cows alone you will get rid, in the next generation, of the half-grown, slouching men, the hollow-eyed, narrow-chested, round-backed women, and the calfless boys one sees all over Islip, and restore the stalwart race that filled the little village under your sires and have left proofs of their wholesome food on the tombstones: for I have read every inscription, and far more people reached eighty-five between 1750 and 1800 than between 1820 and 1870. Ah, how I envy you to be able to do such great things so easily! Water to poisoned Hillstoke with one hand; milk to starved Islip with the other. This is to be indeed a king!"
The enthusiast rose from the table in her excitement, and her face was transfigured; she looked beautiful for the moment.
"I'll do it," shouted Vizard; "and you are a trump."
Miss Gale sat down, and the color left her cheek entirely.
Fanny Dover, who had a very quick eye for passing events, cried out, "Oh dear! she is going to faint now." The tone implied, what a plague she is!
Thereupon Severne rushed to her, and was going to sprinkle her face; but she faltered, "No! no! a glass of wine." He gave her one with all the hurry and empressement in the world. She fixed him with a strange look as she took it from him: she sipped it; one tear ran into it. She said she had excited herself; but she was all right now. Elastic Rhoda!
"I am very glad of it," said Vizard. "You are quite strong enough without fainting. For Heaven's sake, don't add woman's weakness to your artillery, or you will be irresistible; and I shall have to divide Vizard Court among the villagers. At present I get off cheap, and Science on the Rampage: let me see--only a granary, a well, and six cows."
"They'll give as much milk as twelve cows without the well," said Fanny. It was her day for wit.
This time she was rewarded with a general laugh.
It subsided, as such things will, and then Vizard said, solemnly, "New ideas are suggested to me by this charming interview; and permit me to give them a form, which will doubtless be new to these accomplished ladies:
"'Gin there's a hole in a' your coats,
I rede ye tent it;
A chiel's amang ye takin' notes,
And, faith, he'll prent it.'"
Zoe looked puzzled, and Fanny inquired what language that was.
"Very good language."
"Then perhaps you will translate it into language one can understand."
"The English of the day, eh?"
"You think that would improve it, do you? Well, then:
'If there is a defect in any one of your habilimeats,
Let me earnestly impress on you the expediency of repairing it;
An individual is among you with singular powers of observation,
Which will infallibly result in printing and publication.'
Zoe, you are an affectionate sister; take this too observant lady into the garden, poison her with raw fruit, and bury her under a pear tree."
Zoe said she would carry out part of the programme, if Miss Gale would come.
Then the ladies rose and rustled away, and the rivals would have followed, but Vizard detained them on the pretense of consulting them about the well; but, when the ladies had gone, he owned he had done it out of his hatred to the sex. He said he was sure both girls disliked his virago in their hearts, so he had compelled them to spend an hour together, without any man to soften their asperity.
This malicious experiment was tolerably successful. The three ladies strolled together, dismal as souls in purgatory. One or two little attempts at conversation were made, but died out for want of sympathy. Then Fanny tried personalities, the natural topic of the sex in general.
"Miss Gale, which do you admire most, Lord Uxmoor or Mr. Severne?"
"For their looks?"
"Oh, of course."
"You don't admire beards, then?"
"That depends. Where the mouth is well shaped and expressive, the beard spoils it. Where it is commonplace, the beard hides its defect, and gives a manly character. As a general rule, I think the male bird looks well with his crest and feathers."
"And so do I," said Fanny, warmly; "and yet I should not like Mr. Severne to have a beard. Don't you think he is very handsome?"
"He is something more," said Rhoda. "He is beautiful. If he was dressed as a woman, the gentlemen would all run after him. I think his is the most perfect oval face I ever saw."
"But you must not fall in love with him," said Fanny.
"I do not mean to," said Rhoda. "Falling in love is not my business: and if it was, I should not select Mr. Severne."
"Why not, pray?" inquired Zoe haughtily. Her manner was so menacing that Rhoda did not like to say too much just then. She felt her way. "I am a physiognomist," said she, "and I don't think he can be very truthful. He is old of his age, and there are premature marks under his eyes that reveal craft, and perhaps dissipation. These are hardly visible in the room, but they are in the open air, when you get the full light of day. To be sure, just now his face is marked with care and anxiety; that young man has a good deal on his mind."
Here the observer discovered that even this was a great deal too much. Zoe was displeased, and felt affronted by her remarks, though she did not condescend to notice them; so Rhoda broke off and said, "It is not fair of you, Miss Dover, to set me giving my opinion of people you must know better than I do. Oh, what a garden!" And she was off directly on a tour of inspection. "Come along," said she, "and I will tell you their names and properties."
They could hardly keep up with her, she was so eager. The fruits did not interest her, but only the simples. She was downright learned in these, and found a surprising number. But the fact is, Mr. Lucas had a respect for his predecessors. What they had planted, he seldom uprooted--at least, he always left a specimen. Miss Gale approved his system highly, until she came to a row of green leaves like small horseradish, which was planted by the side of another row that really was horseradish.
"This is too bad, even for Islip," said Miss Gale. "Here is one of our deadliest poisons planted by the very side of an esculent herb, which it resembles. You don't happen to have hired the devil for gardener at any time, do you? Just fancy! any cook might come out here for horseradish, and gather this plant, and lay you all dead at your own table. It is the Aconitum of medicine, the Monk's-hood or Wolf's-bane' of our ancestors. Call the gardener, please, and have every bit of it pulled up by the roots. None of your lives are safe while poisons and esculents are planted together like this."
And she would not budge till Zoe directed a gardener to dig up all the Aconite. A couple of them went to work and soon uprooted it. The gardeners then asked if they should burn it.
"Not for all the world," said Miss Gale. "Make a bundle of it for me to take home. It is only poison in the hands of ignoramuses. It is most sovereign medicine. I shall make tinctures, and check many a sharp ill with it. Given in time, it cuts down fever wonderfully; and when you check the fever, you check the disease."
Soon after this Miss Gale said she had not come to stop; she was on her way to Taddington to buy lint and German styptics, and many things useful in domestic surgery. "For," said she, "the people at Hillstoke are relenting; at least, they run to me with their cut fingers and black eyes, though they won't trust me with their sacred rheumatics. I must also supply myself with vermifuges till the well is dug, and so mitigate puerile puttiness and internal torments."
The other ladies were not sorry to get rid of an irrelevant zealot, who talked neither love, nor dress, nor anything that reaches the soul.
So Zoe said, "What, going already?" and having paid that tax to politeness, returned to the house with alacrity.
But the doctress would not go without her Wolf's-bane, Aconite ycleped.
The irrelevant zealot being gone, the true business of the mind was resumed; and that is love-making, or novelists give us false pictures of life, and that is impossible.
As the doctress drove from the front door, Lord Uxmoor emerged from the library--a coincidence that made both girls smile; he hoped Miss Vizard was not too tired to take another turn.
"Oh no!" said Zoe: "are you, Fanny?"
At the first step they took, Severne came round an angle of the building and joined them. He had watched from the balcony of his bedroom.
Both men looked black at each other, and made up to Zoe. She felt uncomfortable, and hardly knew what to do. However, she would not seem to observe, and was polite, but a little stiff, to both.
However, at last, Severne, having asserted his rights, as he thought, gave way, but not without a sufficient motive, as may be gathered from his first word to Fanny.
"My dear friend, for Heaven's sake, what is the matter? She is angry with me about something. What is it? has she told you?"
"Not a word. But I see she is in a fury with you; and really it is too ridiculous. You told a fib; that is the mighty matter, I do believe. No, it isn't; for you have told her a hundred, no doubt, and she liked you all the better; but this time you have been naughty enough to be found out, and she is romantic, and thinks her lover ought to be the soul of truth."
"Well, and so he ought," said Ned.
"He isn't, then;" and Fanny burst out laughing so loud that Zoe turned round and enveloped them both in one haughty glance, as the exaggerating Gaul would say.
"La! there was a look for you!" said Fanny, pertly: "as if I cared for her black brows."
"I do, though: pray remember that."
"Then tell no more fibs. Such a fuss about nothing! What is a fib?" and she turned up her little nose very contemptuously at all such trivial souls as minded a little mendacity.
Indeed, she disclaimed the importance of veracity so imperiously that Severne was betrayed into saying, "Well, not much, between you and me; and I'll be bound I can explain it."
"Explain it to me, then."
"Well, but I don't know--"
"Which of your fibs it was."
Another silver burst of laughter. But Zoe only vouchsafed a slightly contemptuous movement of her shoulders.
"Well, no," said Severne, half laughing himself at the sprightly jade's smartness.
"Well, then, that friend of yours that called at luncheon."
Severne turned grave directly. "Yes," said he.
"You said he was your lawyer, and came about a lease."
"So he did."
"And his name was Jackson.
"So it was."
"This won't do. You mustn't fib to me! It was Poikilus, a Secret Inquiry; and they all know it; now tell me, without a fib--if you can--what ever did you want with Poikilus?"
Severne looked aghast. He faltered out, "Why, how could they know?"
"Why, he advertises, stupid! and Lord Uxmoor and Harrington had seen it. Gentlemen read advertisements. That is one of their peculiarities."
"Of course he advertises: that is not what I mean. I did not drop his card, did I? No; I am sure I pocketed it directly. What mischief-making villain told them it was Poikilus?"
Fanny colored a little, but said, hastily, "Ah, that I could not tell you."
"The footman, perhaps?"
"I should not wonder." (What is a fib?)
"Oh, don't swear at the servants; that is bad taste."
"Not when he has ruined me?"
"Ruined you?--nonsense! Make up some other fib, and excuse the first."
"I can't. I don't know what to do; and before my rival, too! This accounts for the air of triumph he has worn ever since, and her glances of scorn and pity. She is an angel, and I have lost her."
"Stuff and nonsense!" said Fanny Dover. "Be a man, and tell me the truth."
"Well, I will," said he; "for I am in despair. It is all that cursed money at Homburg. I could not clear my estate without it. I dare not go for it. She forbade me; and indeed I can't bear to leave her for anything; so I employed Poikilus to try and learn whether that lady has the money still, and whether she means to rob me of it or not."
Fanny Dover reflected a moment, then delivered herself thus: "You were wrong to tell a fib about it. What you must do now--brazen it out. Tell her you love her, but have got your pride and will not come into her family a pauper. Defy her, to be sure; we like to be defied now and then, when we are fond of the fellow."
"I will do it," said he; "but she shuns me. I can't get a word with her."
Fanny said she would try and manage that for him; and as the rest of their talk might not interest the reader, and certainly would not edify him, I pass on to the fact that she did, that very afternoon, go into Zoe's room, and tell her Severne was very unhappy: he had told a fib; but it was not intended to deceive her, and he wished to explain the whole thing.
"Did he explain it to you?" asked Zoe, rather sharply.
"No; but he said enough to make me think you are using him very hardly. To be sure, you have another string to your bow."
"Oh, that is the interpretation you put."
"It is the true one. Do you think you can make me believe you would have shied him so long if Lord Uxmoor had not been in the house?"
Zoe bridled, but made no reply, and Fanny went to her own room, laughing.
Zoe was much disturbed. She secretly longed to hear Severne justify himself. She could not forgive a lie, nor esteem a liar. She was one of those who could pardon certain things in a woman she would not forgive in a man. Under a calm exterior, she had suffered a noble distress; but her pride would not let her show it. Yet now that he had appealed to her for a hearing, and Fanny knew he had appealed, she began to falter.
Still Fanny was not altogether wrong: the presence of a man incapable of a falsehood, and that man devoted to her, was a little damaging to Severne, though not so much as Miss Artful thought.
However, this very afternoon Lord Uxmoor had told her he must leave Vizard Court to-morrow morning.
So Zoe said to herself, "I need not make opportunities; after to-morrow he will find plenty."
She had an instinctive fear he would tell more falsehoods to cover those he had told; and then she should despise him, and they would both be miserable; for she felt for a moment a horrible dread that she might both love and despise the same person, if it was Edward Severne.
There were several people to dinner, and, as hostess, she managed not to think too much of either of her admirers.
However, a stolen glance showed her they were both out of spirits.
She felt sorry. Her nature was very pitiful. She asked herself was it her fault, and did not quite acquit herself. Perhaps she ought to have been more open and declared her sentiments. Yet would that have been modest in a lady who was not formally engaged? She was puzzled. She had no experience to guide her: only her high breeding and her virginal instincts.
She was glad when the night ended.
She caught herself wishing the next day was gone too.
When she retired Uxmoor was already gone, and Severne opened the door to her. He fixed his eyes on her so imploringly, it made her heart melt; but she only blushed high, and went away sad and silent.
As her maid was undressing her she caught sight of a letter on her table. "What is that?" said she.
"It is a letter," said Rosa, very demurely.
Zoe divined that the girl had been asked to put it there.
Her bosom heaved, but she would not encourage such proceedings, nor let Rosa see how eager she was to hear those very excuses she had evaded.
But, for all that, Rosa knew she was going to read it, for she only had her gown taken off and a peignoir substituted, and her hair let down and brushed a little. Then she dismissed Rosa, locked the door, and pounced on the letter. It lay on her table with the seal uppermost. She turned it round. It was not from him: it was from Lord Uxmoor.
She sat down and read it.
"DEAR MISS VIZARD--I have had no opportunities of telling you all I feel for you, without attracting an attention that might have been unpleasant to you; but I am sure you must have seen that I admired you at first sight. That was admiration of your beauty and grace, though even then you showed me a gentle heart and a sympathy that made me grateful. But, now I have had the privilege of being under the same roof with you, it is admiration no longer--it is deep and ardent love; and I see that my happiness depends on you. Will you confide your happiness to me? I don't know that I could make you as proud and happy as I should be myself; but I should try very hard, out of gratitude as well as love. We have also certain sentiments in common. That would be one bond more.
"But indeed I feel I cannot make my love a good bargain to you, for you are peerless, and deserve a much better lot in every way than I can offer. I can only kneel to you and say, 'Zoe Vizard, if your heart is your own to give, pray be my lover, my queen, my wife.'
"Your faithful servant and devoted admirer,
"Poor fellow!" said Zoe, and her eyes filled. She sat quite quiet, with the letter open in her hand. She looked at it, and murmured, "A pearl is offered me here: wealth, title, all that some women sigh for, and--what I value above all--a noble nature, a true heart, and a soul above all meanness. No; Uxmoor will never tell a falsehood. He could not."
She sighed deeply, and closed her eyes. All was still. The light was faint; yet she closed her eyes, like a true woman, to see the future clearer.
Then, in the sober and deep calm, there seemed to be faint peeps of coming things: It appeared a troubled sea, and Uxmoor's strong hand stretched out to rescue her. If she married him, she knew the worst--an honest man she esteemed, and had almost an affection for, but no love.
As some have an impulse to fling themselves from a height, she had one to give herself to Uxmoor, quietly, irrevocably, by three written words dispatched that night.
But it was only an impulse. If she had written it, she would have torn it up.
Presently a light thrill passed through her: she wore a sort of half-furtive, guilty look, and opened the window.
Ay, there he stood in the moonlight, waiting to be heard.
She did not start nor utter any exclamation. Somehow or other she almost knew he was there before she opened the window.
"Well?" said she, with a world of meaning.
"You grant me a hearing at last."
"I do. But it is no use. You cannot explain away a falsehood."
"Of course not. I am here to confess that I told a falsehood. But it was not you I wished to deceive. I was going to explain the whole thing to you, and tell you all; but there is no getting a word with you since that lord came."
"He had nothing to do with it. I should have been just as much shocked."
"But it would only have been for five minutes. Zoe!"
"Just put yourself in my place. A detective, who ought to have written to me in reply to my note, surprises me with a call. I was ashamed that such a visitor should enter your brother's house to see me. There sat my rival--an aristocrat. I was surprised into disowning the unwelcomed visitor, and calling him my solicitor."
Now if Zoe had been an Old Bailey counsel, she would have kept him to the point, reminded him that his visitor was unseen, and fixed a voluntary falsehood on him; but she was not an experienced cross-examiner, and perhaps she was at heart as indignant at the detective as at the falsehood: so she missed her advantage, and said, indignantly, "And what business had you with a detective? You having one at all, and then calling him your solicitor, makes one think all manner of things."
"I should have told you all about it that afternoon, only our intercourse is broken off to please a rival. Suppose I gave you a rival, and used you for her sake as you use me for his, what would you say? That would be a worse infidelity than sending for a detective, would it not?"
Zoe replied, haughtily, "You have no right to say you have a rival; how dare you? Besides," said she, a little ruefully, "it is you who are on your defense, not me."
"True; I forgot that. Recrimination is not convenient, is it?"
"I can escape it by shutting the window," said Zoe, coldly.
"Oh, don't do that. Let me have the bliss of seeing you, and I will submit to a good deal of injustice without a murmur."
"The detective?" said Zoe, sternly.
"I sent for him, and gave him his instructions, and he is gone for me to Homburg."
"Ah! I thought so. What for?"
"About my money. To try and find out whether they mean to keep it."
"Would you really take it if they would give it you?"
"Of course I would."
"Yet you know my mind about it."
"I know you forbade me to go for it in person: and I obeyed you, did I not?"
"Yes, you did--at the time."
"I do now. You object to my going in person to Homburg. You know I was once acquainted with that lady, and you feel about her a little of what I feel about Lord Uxmoor; about a tenth part of what I feel, I suppose, and with not one-tenth so much reason. Well, I know what the pangs of jealousy are: I will never inflict them on you, as you have on me. But I will have my money, whether you like or not."
Zoe looked amazed at being defied. It was new to her. She drew up, but said nothing.
Severne went on: "And I will tell you why: because without money I cannot have you. My circumstances have lately improved; with my money that lies in Homburg I can now clear my family estate of all incumbrance, and come to your brother for your hand. Oh, I shall be a very bad match even then, but I shall not be a pauper, nor a man in debt. I shall be one of your own class, as I was born--a small landed gentleman with an unencumbered estate."
"That is not the way to my affection. I do not care for money."
"But other people do. Dear Zoe, you have plenty of pride yourself; you must let me have a little. Deeply as I love you, I could not come to your brother and say, 'Give me your sister, and maintain us both.' No, Zoe, I cannot ask your hand till I have cleared my estate; and I cannot clear it without that money. For once I must resist you, and take my chance. There is wealth and a title offered you. I won't ask you to dismiss them and take a pauper. If you don't like me to try for my own money, give your hand to Lord Uxmoor; then I shall recall my detective, and let all go; for poverty or wealth will matter nothing to me: I shall have lost the angel I love: and she once loved me."
He faltered, and the sad cadence of his voice melted her. She began to cry. He turned his head away and cried too.
There was a silence. Zoe broke it first.
"Edward," said she, softly.
"You need not defy me. I would not humiliate you for all the world. Will it comfort you to know that I have been very unhappy ever since you lowered yourself so? I will try and accept your explanation."
He clasped his hands with gratitude.
"Edward, will you grant me a favor?"
"Can you ask?"
"It is to have a little more confidence in one who-- Now you must obey me implicitly, and perhaps we may both be happier to-morrow night than we are to-night. Directly after breakfast take your hat and walk to Hillstoke. You can call on Miss Gale, if you like, and say something civil."
"What! go and leave you alone with Lord Uxmoor?"
"Ah, Zoe, you know your power. Have a little mercy."
"Perhaps I may have a great deal--if you obey me."
"I will obey you."
"Then go to bed this minute."
She gave him a heavenly smile, and closed the window.
Next morning, as soon as breakfast was over, Ned Severne said, "Any messages for Hillstoke? I am going to walk up there this morning."
"Embrace my virago for me," said Vizard.
Severne begged to be excused.
He hurried off, and Lord Uxmoor felt a certain relief.
The Master of Arts asked himself what he could do to propitiate the female M. D. He went to the gardener and got him to cut a huge bouquet, choice and fragrant, and he carried it all the way to Hillstoke. Miss Gale was at home. As he was introduced rather suddenly, she started and changed color, and said, sharply, "What do you want?" Never asked him to sit down, rude Thing!
He stood hanging his head like a culprit, and said, with well-feigned timidity, that he came, by desire of Miss Vizard, to inquire how she was getting on, and to hope the people were beginning to appreciate her.
"Oh! that alters the case; any messenger from Miss Vizard is welcome. Did she send me those flowers, too? They are beautiful."
"No. I gathered them myself. I have always understood ladies loved flowers."
"It is only by report you know that, eh? Let me add something to your information: a good deal depends on the giver; and you may fling these out of the window." She tossed them to him.
The Master of Arts gave a humble, patient sigh, and threw the flowers out of the window, which was open. He then sunk into a chair and hid his face in his hands.
Miss Gale colored, and bit her lip. She did not think he would have done that, and it vexed her economical soul. She cast a piercing glance at him, then resumed her studies, and ignored his presence.
But his patience exhausted hers. He sat there twenty minutes, at least, in a state of collapse that bid fair to last forever.
So presently she looked up and affected to start. "What! are you there still?" said she.
"Yes," said be; "you did not dismiss me; only my poor flowers."
"Well," said she, apologetically, "the truth is, I'm not strong enough to dismiss you by the same road."
"It is not necessary. You have only to say, 'Go.' "
"Oh, that would be rude. Could not you go without being told right out?"
"No, I could not. Miss Gale, I can't account for it, but there is some strange attraction. You hate me, and I fear you, yet I could follow you about like a dog. Let me sit here a little longer and see you work."
Miss Gale leaned her head upon her hand, and contemplated him at great length. Finally she adopted a cat-like course. "No," said she, at last; "I am going my rounds: you can come with me, if I am so attractive."
He said he should be proud, and she put on her hat in thirty seconds.
They walked together in silence. He felt as if he were promenading a tiger cat, that might stop any moment to fall upon him.
She walked him into a cottage: there was a little dead wood burning on that portion of the brick floor called the hearth. A pale old man sat close to the fire, in a wooden armchair. She felt his pulse, and wrote him a prescription.
"To Mr. Vizard's housekeeper, Vizard Court:
"Please give the bearer two pounds of good roast beef or mutton, not salted, and one pint port wine,
"RHODA GALE, M. D."
"Here, Jenny," she said to a sharp little girl, the man's grandniece, "take this down to Vizard Court, and if the housekeeper objects, go to the front-door and demand in my name to see the squire or Miss Vizard, and give them the paper. Don't you give it up without the meat. Take this basket on your arm."
Then she walked out of the cottage, and Severne followed her: he ventured to say that was a novel prescription.
She explained. "Physicians are obliged to send the rich to the chemist, or else the fools would think they were slighted. But we need not be so nice with the poor; we can prescribe to do them good. When you inflicted your company on me, I was sketching out a treatise, to be entitled, 'Cure of Disorders by Esculents.' That old man is nearly exsanguis. There is not a drug in creation that could do him an atom of good. Nourishing food may. If not, why, he is booked for the long journey. Well, he has had his innings. He is fourscore. Do you think you will ever see fourscore--you and your vices?"
"Oh, no. But I think you will; and I hope so; for you go about doing good."
"And some people one could name go about doing mischief?"
Severne made no reply.
Soon after they discovered a little group, principally women and children. These were inspecting something on the ground, and chattering excitedly. The words of dire import, "She have possessed him with a devil," struck their ear. But soon they caught sight of Miss Gale, and were dead silent. She said, "What is the matter? Oh, I see, the vermifuge has acted."
It was so: a putty-faced boy had been unable to eat his breakfast; had suffered malaise for hours afterward, and at last had been seized with a sort of dry retching, and had restored to the world they so adorn a number of amphibia, which now wriggled in a heap, and no doubt bitterly regretted the reckless impatience with which they had fled from an unpleasant medicine to a cold-hearted world.
"Well, good people," said Miss Gale, "what are you making a fuss about? Are they better in the boy or out of him?"
The women could not find their candor at a moment's notice, but old Giles replied heartily, "Why, hout! better an empty house than a bad tenant."
"That is true," said half a dozen voices at once. They could resist common sense in its liquid form, but not when solidified into a proverb.
"Catch me the boy," said Miss Gale, severely.
Habitual culpability destroys self-confidence; so the boy suspected himself of crime, and instantly took to flight. His companions loved hunting; so three swifter boys followed him with a cheerful yell, secured him, and brought him up for sentence.
"Don't be frightened, Jacob," said the doctress. "I only want to know whether you feel better or worse."
His mother put in her word: "He was ever so bad all the morning."
"Hold your jaw," said old Giles, "and let the boy tell his own tale."
"Well, then," said Jacob, "I was mortal bad, but now do I feel like a feather; wust on't is, I be so blessed hungry now. Dall'd if I couldn't eat the devil--stuffed with thunder and lightning."
"I'll prescribe accordingly," said Miss Gale, and wrote in pencil an order on a beefsteak pie they had sent her from the Court.
The boy's companions put their heads together over this order, and offered their services to escort him.
"No, thank you," said the doctress. "He will go alone, you young monkeys. Your turn will come."
Then she proceeded on her rounds, with Mr. Severne at her heels, until it was past one o'clock.
Then she turned round and faced him. "We will part here," said she, "and I will explain my conduct to you, as you seem in the dark. I have been co-operating with Miss Vizard all this time. I reckon she sent you out of the way to give Lord Uxmoor his opportunity, so I have detained you. While you have been studying medicine, he has been popping the question, of course. Good-by, Mr. Villain."
Her words went through the man like cold steel. It was one woman reading another. He turned very white, and put his hand to his heart. But he recovered himself, and said, "If she prefers another to me, I must submit. It is not my absence for a few hours that will make the difference. You cannot make me regret the hours I have passed in your company. Good-by," and he seemed to leave her very reluctantly.
"One word," said she, softening a little. "I'm not proof against your charm. Unless I see Zoe Vizard in danger, you have nothing to fear from me. But I love her, you understand."
He returned to her directly, and said, in most earnest, supplicating tones, "But will you ever forgive me?"
"I will try."
And so they parted.
He went home at a great rate; for Miss Gale's insinuations had raised some fear in his breast.
Meantime this is what had really passed between Zoe and Lord Uxmoor. Vizard went to his study, and Fanny retired at a signal from Zoe. She rose, but did not go; she walked slowly toward the window; Uxmoor joined her: for he saw he was to have his answer from her mouth.
Her bosom heaved a little, and her cheeks flushed. "Lord Uxmoor," she said, "you have done me the greatest honor any man can pay a woman, and from you it is indeed an honor. I could not write such an answer as I could wish; and, besides, I wish to spare you all the mortification I can."
"Ah!" said Uxmoor, piteously.
"You are worthy of any lady's love; but I have only my esteem to give you, and that was given long ago."
Uxmoor, who had been gradually turning very white, faltered, "I had my fears. Good-by."
She gave him her hand. He put it respectfully to his lips: then turned and left her, sick at heart, but too brave to let it be seen. He preferred her esteem to her pity.
By this means he got both. She put her handkerchief to her eyes without disguise. But he only turned at the door to say, in a pretty firm voice, "God bless you!"
In less than an hour he drove his team from the door, sitting heartbroken and desolate, but firm and unflinching as a rock.
So then, on his return from Hillstoke, Severne found them all at luncheon except Uxmoor. He detailed his visit to Miss Gale, and, while he talked, observed. Zoe was beaming with love and kindness. He felt sure she had not deceived him. He learned, by merely listening, that Lord Uxmoor was gone, and he exulted inwardly.
After luncheon, Elysium. He walked with the two girls, and Fanny lagged behind; and Zoe proved herself no coquette. A coquette would have been a little cross and shown him she had made a sacrifice. Not so Zoe Vizard. She never told him, nor even Fanny, she had refused Lord Uxmoor. She esteemed the great sacrifice she had made for him as a little one, and so loved him a little more that he had cost her an earl's coronet and a large fortune.
The party resumed their habits that Uxmoor had interrupted, and no warning voice was raised.
The boring commenced at Hillstoke, and Doctress Gale hovered over the work. The various strata and their fossil deposits were an endless study, and kept her microscope employed. With this, and her treatise on "Cure by Esculents" she was so employed that she did not visit the Court for some days: then came an invitation from Lord Uxmoor to stay a week with him, and inspect his village. She accepted it, and drove herself in the bailiff's gig, all alone. She found her host attending to his duties, but dejected; so then she suspected, and turned the conversation to Zoe Vizard, and soon satisfied herself he had no hopes in that quarter. Yet he spoke of her with undisguised and tender admiration. Then she said to herself, "This is a man, and he shall have her."
She sat down and wrote a letter to Vizard, telling him all she knew, and what she thought, viz., that another woman, and a respectable one, had a claim on Mr. Severne, which ought to be closely inquired into, and the lady's version heard. "Think of it," said she. "He disowned the woman who had saved his life, he was so afraid I should tell Miss Vizard under what circumstances I first saw him."
She folded and addressed the letter.
But having relieved her mind in some degree by this, she asked herself whether it would not be kinder to all parties to try and save Zoe without an exposure. Probably Severne benefited by his grace and his disarming qualities; for her ultimate resolution was to give him a chance, offer him an alternative: he must either quietly retire, or be openly exposed.
So then she put the letter in her desk, made out her visit, of which no further particulars can be given at present, returned home, and walked down to the Court next morning to have it out with Edward Severne.
But, unfortunately, from the very day she offered him terms up at Hillstoke, the tide began to run in Severne's favor with great rapidity.
A letter came from the detective. Severne received it at breakfast, and laid it before Zoe, which had a favorable effect on her mind to begin.
Poikilus reported that the money was in good hands. He had seen the lady. She made no secret of the thing--the sum was £4,900, and she said half belonged to her and half to a gentleman. She did not know him, but her agent, Ashmead, did. Poikilus added that he had asked her would she honor that gentleman's draft? She had replied she should be afraid to do that; but Mr. Ashmead should hand it to him on demand. Poikilus summed up that the lady was evidently respectable, and the whole thing square.
Severne posted this letter to his cousin, under cover, to show him he was really going to clear his estate, but begged him to return it immediately and lend him £50. The accommodating cousin sent him £50, to aid him in wooing his heiress. He bought her a hoop ring, apologized for its small value, and expressed his regret that all he could offer her was on as small a scale, except his love.
She blushed, and smiled on him, like heaven opening. "Small and great, I take them," said she; and her lovely head rested on his shoulder.
They were engaged.
From that hour he could command a téte-à-téte with her whenever he chose, and his infernal passion began to suggest all manner of wild, wicked and unreasonable hopes.
Meantime there was no stopping. He soon found he must speak seriously to Vizard. He went into his study and began to open the subject. Vizard stopped him. "Fetch the other culprit," said he; and when Zoe came, blushing, he said, "Now I am going to make shorter work of this than you have done. Zoe has ten thousand pounds. What have you got?"
"Only a small estate, worth eight thousand pounds, that I hope to clear of all incumbrances, if I can get my money."
"Fond of each other? Well, don't strike me dead with your eyes. I have watched you, and I own a prettier pair of turtledoves I never saw. Well, you have got love and I have got money. I'll take care of you both. But you must live with me. I promise never to marry."
This brought Zoe round his neck, with tears and kisses of pure affection. He returned them, and parted her hair paternally.
"This is a beautiful world, isn't it?" said he, with more tenderness than cynicism this time.
"Ah, that it is!" cried Zoe, earnestly. "But I can't have you say you will never be as happy as I am. There are true hearts in this heavenly world; for I have found one."
"I have not, and don't mean to try again. I am going in for the paternal now. You two are my children. I have a talisman to keep me from marrying. I'll show it you." He drew a photograph from his drawer, set round with gold and pearls. He showed it them suddenly. They both started. A fine photograph of Ina Klosking. She was dressed as plainly as at the gambling-table, but without a bonnet, and only one rose in her hair. Her noble forehead was shown, and her face, a model of intelligence, womanliness, and serene dignity.
He gazed at it, and they at him and it.
He kissed it. "Here is my Fate," said he. "Now mark the ingenuity of a parent. I keep out of my Fate's way. But I use her to keep off any other little Fates that may be about. No other humbug can ever catch me while I have such a noble humbug as this to contemplate. Ah! and here she is as Siebel. What a goddess! Just look at her. Adorable! There, this shall stand upon my table, and the other shall be hung in my bedroom. Then, my dear Zoe, you will be safe from a stepmother. For I am your father now. Please understand that."
This brought poor Zoe round his neck again with such an effusion that at last he handed her to Severne, and he led her from the room, quite overcome, and, to avoid all conversation about what had just passed, gave her over to Fanny, while he retired to compose himself.
By dinner-time he was as happy as a prince again and relieved of all compunction.
He heard afterward from Fanny that Zoe and she had discussed the incident and Vizard's infatuation, Fanny being specially wroth at Vizard's abuse of pearls; but she told him she had advised Zoe not to mention that lady's name, but let her die out.
And, in point of fact, Zoe did avoid the subject.
There came an eventful day. Vizard got a letter, at breakfast, from his bankers, that made him stare, and then knit his brows. It was about Edward Severne' s acceptances. He said nothing, but ordered his horse and rode into Taddington.
The day was keen but sunny, and, seeing him afoot so early, Zoe said she should like a drive before luncheon. She would show Severne and Fanny some ruins on Pagnell Hill. They could leave the trap at the village inn and walk up the hill. Fanny begged off, and Severne was very glad. The prospect of a long walk up a hill with Zoe, and then a day spent in utter seclusion with her, fired his imagination and made his heart beat. Here was one of the opportunities he had long sighed for of making passionate love to innocence and inexperience.
Zoe herself was eager for the drive, and came down, followed by Rosa with some wraps, and waited in the morning-room for the dog-cart. It was behind time for once, because the careful coachman had insisted on the axle being oiled. At last the sound of wheels was heard. A carriage drew up at the door.
"Tell Mr. Severne," said Zoe. "He is in the dining-room, I think."
But it was not the dog-cart.
A vigilant footman came hastily out and opened the hall door. A lady was on the steps, and spoke to him, but, in speaking, she caught sight of Zoe in the hall. She instantly slipped pass the man and stood within the great door.
"Miss Vizard?" said she.
Zoe took a step toward her and said, with astonishment, "Mademoiselle Klosking!"
The ladies looked at each other, and Zoe saw something strange was coming; for the Klosking was very pale, yet firm, and fixed her eyes upon her as if there was nothing else in sight.
"You have a visitor--Mr. Severne?"
"Yes," said Zoe, drawing up.
"Can I speak with him?"
"He will answer for himself. EDWARD!"
At her call Severne came out hastily behind Ina Klosking.
She turned, and they faced each other.
"Ah!" she cried; and in spite of all, there was more of joy than any other passion in the exclamation.
Not so he. He uttered a scream of dismay, and staggered, white as a ghost, but still glared at Ina Klosking.
Zoe's voice fell on him like a clap of thunder: "What!--Edward!--Mr. Severne!--Has this lady still any right--"
"No, none whatever!" he cried; "it is all past and gone."
"What is past?" said Ina Klosking, grandly. "Are you out of your senses?"
Then she was close to him in a moment, by one grand movement, and took him by both lapels of his coat, and held him firmly. "Speak before this lady," she cried. "Have--I--no--rights--over you?" and her voice was majestic, and her Danish eyes gleamed lightning.
The wretch's knees gave way a moment and he shook in her hands. Then, suddenly, he turned wild. "Fiend! you have ruined me!" he yelled; and then, with his natural strength, which was great, and the superhuman power of mad excitement, he whirled her right round and flung her from him, and dashed out of the door, uttering cries of rage and despair.
The unfortunate lady, thus taken by surprise, fell heavily, and, by cruel ill luck, struck her temple, in falling, against the sharp corner of a marble table. It gashed her forehead fearfully, and she lay senseless, with the blood spurting in jets from her white temple.
Zoe screamed violently, and the hall and the hall staircase seemed to fill by magic.
In the terror and confusion, Harrington Vizard strode into the hall, from Taddington. "What is the matter?" he cried. "A woman killed?"
Some one cried out she had fallen.
"Water, fools--a sponge--don't stand gaping!" and he flung himself on his knees, and raised the woman's head from the floor. One eager look into her white face--one wild cry--"Great God! it is--" He had recognized her.
IT was piteous to see and hear. The blood would not stop; it spurted no longer, but it flowed alarmingly. Vizard sent Harris off in his own fly for a doctor, to save time. He called for ice. He cried out in agony to his servants, "Can none of you think of anything? There--that hat. Here, you women; tear me the nap off with your fingers. My God! what is to be done? She'll bleed to death!" And he held her to his breast, and almost moaned with pity over her, as he pressed the cold sponge to her wound--in vain; for still the red blood would flow.
Wheels ground the gravel. Servants flew to the door, crying, "The doctor! the doctor!"
As if he could have been fetched in five minutes from three miles off.
Yet it was a doctor. Harris had met Miss Gale walking quietly down from Hillstoke. He had told her in a few hurried words, and brought her as fast as the horses could go.
She glided in swiftly, keen, but self-possessed, and took it all in directly.
Vizard saw her, and cried, "Ah! Help!--she is bleeding to death!"
"She shall not," said Rhoda. Then to one footman, "Bring a footstool, you;" to another, "You bring me a cork;" to Vizard, "You hold her toward me so. Now sponge the wound."
This done, she pinched the lips of the wound together with her neat, strong fingers. "See what I do," she said to Vizard. "You will have to do it, while I-- Ah, the stool! Now lay her head on that; the other side, man. Now, sir, compress the wound as I did, vigorously. Hold the cork, you, till I want it."
She took out of her pocket some adhesive plaster, and flakes of some strong styptic, and a piece of elastic. "Now," said she to Vizard, "give me a little opening in the middle to plaster these strips across the wound." He did so. Then in a moment she passed the elastic under the sufferer's head, drew it over with the styptic between her finger and thumb, and crack! the styptic was tight on the compressed wound. She forced in more styptic, increasing the pressure, then she whipped out a sort of surgical housewife, and with some cutting instrument reduced the cork, then cut it convex, and fastened it on the styptic by another elastic. There was no flutter, yet it was all done in fifty seconds.
"There," said she, "she will bleed no more, to speak of. Now seat her upright. Why! I have seen her before. This is--sir, you can send the men away."'
"Yes; and, Harris, pack up Mr. Severne's things, and bring them down here this moment."
The male servants retired, the women held aloof. Fanny Dover came forward, pale and trembling, and helped to place Ina Klosking in the hall porter's chair. She was insensible still, but moaned faintly.
Her moans were echoed: all eyes turned. It was Zoe, seated apart, all bowed and broken--ghastly pale, and glaring straight before her.
"Poor girl!" said Vizard. "We forgot her. It is her heart that bleeds. Where is the scoundrel, that I may kill him?" and he rushed out at the door to look for him. The man's life would not have been worth much if Squire Vizard could have found him then.
But he soon came back to his wretched home, and eyed the dismal scene, and the havoc one man had made--the marble floor all stained with blood--Ina Klosking supported in a chair, white, and faintly moaning--Zoe still crushed and glaring at vacancy, and Fanny sobbing round her with pity and terror; for she knew there must be worse to come than this wild stupor.
"Take her to her room, Fanny dear," said Vizard, in a hurried, faltering voice, "and don't leave her. Rosa, help Miss Dover. Do not leave her alone, night nor day." Then to Miss Gale, "She will live? Tell me she will live."
"I hope so," said Rhoda Gale. "Oh, the blow will not kill her, nor yet the loss of blood. But I fear there will be distress of mind added to the bodily shock. And such a noble face! My own heart bleeds for her. Oh, sir, do not send her away to strangers! Let me take her up to the farm. It is nursing she will need, and tact, when she comes to herself."
"Send here away to strangers!" cried Vizard. "Never! No. Not even to the farm. Here she received her wound; here all that you and I can do shall be done to save her. Ah, here's Harris, with the villain's things. Get the lady's boxes out, and put Mr. Severne's into the fly. Give the man two guineas, and let him leave them at the 'Swan,' in Taddington."
He then beckoned down the women, and had Ina Klosking carried upstairs to the very room Severne had occupied.
He then convened the servants, and placed them formally under Miss Gale's orders, and one female servant having made a remark, he turned her out of the house, neck and crop, directly with her month's wages. The others had to help her pack, only half an hour being allowed for her exit.
The house seemed all changed. Could this be Vizard Court? Dead gloom--hurried whispers--and everybody walking softly, and scared--none knowing what might be the next calamity.
Vizard felt sick at heart and helpless. He had done all he could, and was reduced to that condition women bear far better than men--he must wait, and hope, and fear. He walked up and down the carpeted landing, racked with anxiety.
At last there came a single scream of agony from Ina Klosking's room.
It made the strong man quake.
He tapped softly at the door.
Rhoda opened it.
"What is it?" he faltered.
She replied, gravely, "Only what must be. She is beginning to realize what has befallen her. Don't come here. You can do no good. I will run down to you whenever I dare. Give me a nurse to help, this first night."
He went down and sent into the village for a woman who bore a great name for nursing. Then he wandered about disconsolate.
The leaden hours passed. He went to dress, and discovered Ina Klosking's blood upon his clothes. It shocked him first, and then it melted him: he felt an inexpressible tenderness at sight of it. The blood that had flowed in her veins seemed sacred to him. He folded that suit, and tied it up in a silk handkerchief, and locked it away.
In due course he sat down to dinner--we are all such creatures of habit. There was everything as usual, except the familiar faces. There was the glittering plate on the polished sideboard, the pyramid of flowers surrounded with fruits. There were even chairs at the table, for the servants did not know he was to be quite alone. But he was. One delicate dish after another was brought him, and sent away untasted. Soon after dinner Rhoda Gale came down and told him her patient was in a precarious condition, and she feared fever and delirium. She begged him to send one servant up to the farm for certain medicaments she had there, and another to the chemist at Taddington. These were dispatched on swift horses, and both were back in half an hour.
By-and-by Fanny Dover came down to him, with red eyes, and brought him Zoe's love. "But," said she, "don't ask her to come down. She is ashamed to look anybody in the face, poor girl."
"Why? what has she done?"
"Oh, Harrington, she has made no secret of her affection; and now, at sight of that woman, he has abandoned her."
"Tell her I love her more than I ever did, and respect her more. Where is her pride?"
"Pride! she is full of it; and it will help her--by-and-by. But she has a bitter time to go through first. You don't know how she loves him."
"What! love him still, after what he has done?"
"Yes! She interprets it this way and that. She cannot bear to believe another woman has any real right to separate them."
"Separate them! The scoundrel knocked her down for loving him still, and fled from them both. Was ever guilt more clear? If she doubts that he is a villain, tell her from me he is a forger, and has given me bills with false names on them. The bankers gave me notice to-day, and I was coming home to order him out of the house when this miserable business happened."
"A forger! is it possible?" said Fanny. "But it is no use my telling her that sort of thing. If he had committed murder, and was true to her, she would cling to him. She never knew till now how she loved him, nor I neither. She put him in Coventry for telling a lie; but she was far more unhappy all the time than he was. There is nothing to do but to be kind to her, and let her hide her face. Don't hurry her."
"Not I. God help her! If she has a wish, it shall be gratified. I am powerless. She is young. Surely time will cure her of a villain, now he is detected."
Fanny said she hoped so.
The truth is, Zoe had not opened her heart to Fanny. She clung to her, and writhed in her arms; but she spoke little, and one broken sentence contradicted the other. But mental agony, like bodily, finds its vent, not in speech, the brain's great interpreter, but in inarticulate cries, and moans, and sighs, that prove us animals even in the throes of mind. Zoe was in that cruel stage of suffering.
So passed that miserable day.
Return to Index for This Novel
Return to Charles Reade Main Page