INA KLOSKING recovered her senses that evening, and asked Miss Gale where she was. Miss Gale told her she was in the house of a friend.
"That," said Miss Gale, "I will tell you by-and-by. You are in good hands, and I am your physician."
"I have heard your voice before," said Ina, "but I know not where; and it is so dark! Why is it so dark?"
"Because too much light is not good for you. You have met with an accident."
"What accident, madam?"
"You fell and hurt your poor forehead. See, I have bandaged it, and now you must let me wet the bandage--to keep your brow cool."
"Thank you, madam," said Ina, in her own sweet but queenly way. "You are very good to me. I wish I could see your face more clearly. I know your voice." Then, after a silence, during which Miss Gale eyed her with anxiety, she said, like one groping her way to the truth, "I--fell--and--hurt--my forehead?--Ah!"
Then it was she uttered the cry that made Vizard quake at the door, and shook for a moment even Rhoda's nerves, though, as a rule, they were iron in a situation of this kind.
It had all come back to Ina Klosking.
After that piteous cry she never said a word. She did nothing but think, and put her hand to her head.
And soon after midnight she began to talk incoherently.
The physician could only proceed by physical means. She attacked the coming fever at once, with the remedies of the day, and also with an infusion of monk's-hood. That poison, promptly administered, did not deceive her. She obtained a slight perspiration, which was so much gained in the battle.
In the morning she got the patient shifted into another bed, and she slept a little after that. But soon she was awake, restless, and raving: still her character pervaded her delirium. No violence. Nothing any sore injured woman need be ashamed to have said: only it was all disconnected. One moment she was speaking to the leader of the orchestra, at another to Mr. Ashmead, at another, with divine tenderness, to her still faithful Severne. And though not hurried, as usual in these cases, it was almost incessant and pitiable to hear, each observation was so wise and good; yet, all being disconnected, the hearer could not but feel that a noble mind lay before him, overthrown and broken into fragments like some Attic column.
In the middle of this the handle was softly turned, and Zoe Vizard came in, pale and somber.
Long before this she had said to Fanny several times, "I ought to go and see her;" and Fanny had said, "Of course you ought."
So now she came. She folded her arms and stood at the foot of the bed, and looked at her unhappy rival, unhappy as possible herself.
What contrary feelings fought in that young breast! Pity and hatred. She must hate the rival who had come between her and him she loved; she must pity the woman who lay there, pale, wounded, and little likely to recover.
And, with all this, a great desire to know whether this sufferer had any right to come and seize Edward Severne by the arm, and so draw down calamity on both the women who loved him.
She looked and listened, and Rhoda Gale thought it hard upon her patient.
But it was not in human nature the girl should do otherwise; so Rhoda said nothing.
What fell from Ina's lips was not of a kind to make Zoe more her friend.
Her mind seemed now like a bird tied by a long silken thread. It made large excursions, but constantly came back to her love. Sometimes that love was happy, sometimes unhappy. Often she said "Edward!" in the exquisite tone of a loving woman; and whenever she did, Zoe received it with a sort of shiver, as if a dagger, fine as a needle, had passed through her whole body.
At last, after telling some tenor that he had sung F natural instead of F sharp, and praised somebody's rendering of a song in "Il Flauto Magico," and told Ashmead to make no more engagements for her at present, for she was going to Vizard Court, the poor soul paused a minute, and uttered a deep moan.
"Struck down by the very hand that was vowed to protect me!" said she. Then was silent again. Then began to cry, and sob, and wring her hands.
Zoe put her hand to her heart and moved feebly toward the door. However, she stopped a moment to say, "I am no use here. You would soon have me raving in the next bed. I will send Fanny." Then she drew herself up. "Miss Gale, everybody here is at your command. Pray spare nothing you can think of to save--my brother's guest."
There came out the bitter drop.
When she had said that, she stalked from the room like some red Indian bearing a mortal arrow in him, but too proud to show it.
But when she got to her own room she flung herself on her sofa, and writhed and sobbed in agony.
Fanny Dover came in and found her so, and flew to her.
But she ordered her out quite wildly. "No, no; go to her, like all the rest, and leave poor Zoe all alone. She is alone."
Then Fanny clung to her, and tried hard to comfort her.
This young lady now became very zealous and active. She divided her time between the two sufferers, and was indefatigable in their service. When she was not supporting Zoe, she was always at Miss Gale's elbow offering her services. "Do let me help you," she said. "Do pray let me help. We are poor at home, and there is nothing I cannot do. I'm worth any three servants."
She always helped shift the patient into a fresh bed, and that was done very often. She would run to the cook or the butler for anything that was wanted in a hurry. She flung gentility and humbug to the winds. Then she dressed in ten minutes, and went and dined with Vizard, and made excuses for Zoe's absence, to keep everything smooth; and finally she insisted on sitting up with Ina Klosking till three in the morning, and made Miss Gale go to bed in the room. "Paid nurses!" said she; "they are no use except to snore and drink the patient's wine. You and I will watch her every moment of the night; and if I'm ever at a loss what to do, I will call you."
Miss Gale stared at her once, and then accepted this new phase of her character.
The fever was hot while it lasted; but it was so encountered with tonics, and port wine, and strong beef soup (not your rubbishy beef tea), that in forty-eight hours it began to abate. Ina recognized Rhoda Gale as the lady who had saved Severne's life at Montpellier, and wept long and silently upon her neck. In due course, Zoe, hearing there was a great change, came in again to look at her. She stood and eyed her. Soon Ina Klosking caught sight of her, and stared at her.
"You here!" said she. "Ah! you are Miss Vizard. I am in your house. I will get up and leave it;" and she made a feeble attempt to rise, but fell back, and the tears welled out of her eyes at her helplessness.
Zoe was indignant, but for the moment more shocked than anything else. She moved away a little, and did not know what to say.
"Let me look at you," said the patient. "Ah! you are beautiful. When I saw you at the theater, you fascinated me. How much more a man? I will resist no more. You are too beautiful to be resisted. Take him, and let me die."
"I do her no good," said Zoe, half sullenly, half trembling.
"Indeed you do not," said Rhoda, bluntly, and almost bitterly. She was all nurse.
"I'll come here no more," said Zoe, sadly but sternly, and left the room.
Then Ina turned to Miss Gale and said, patiently, "I hope I was not rude to that lady--who has broken my heart."
Fanny and Rhoda took each a hand and told her she could not be rude to anybody.
"My friends," said Ina, looking piteously to each in turn, "it is her house, you know, and she is very good to me now--after breaking my heart."
Then Fanny showed a deal of tact. "Her house!" said she. "It is no more hers than mine. Why, this house belongs to a gentleman, and he is mad after music. He knows you very well, though you don't know him, and he thinks you the first singer in Europe."
"You flatter me," said Ina, sadly.
"Well, he thinks so; and he is reckoned a very good judge. Ah! now I think of it, I will show you something, and then you will believe me."
She ran off to the library, snatched up Ina's picture set round with pearls, and came panting in with it. "There," said she; "now you look at that!" and she put it before her eyes. "Now, who is that, if you please?"
"Oh! It is Ina Klosking that was. Please bring me a glass."
The two ladies looked at each other. Miss Gale made a negative signal, and Fanny said, "By-and-by. This will do instead, for it is as like as two peas. Now ask yourself how this comes to be in the house, and set in pearls. Why, they are worth three hundred pounds. I assure you that the master of this house is fanatico per la musica; heard you sing Siebel at Homburg--raved about you--wanted to call on you. We had to drag him away from the place; and he declares you are the first singer in the world; and you cannot doubt his sincerity, for here are the pearls."
Ina Klosking's pale cheek colored, and then she opened her two arms wide, and put them round Fanny's neck and kissed her: her innocent vanity was gratified, and her gracious nature suggested gratitude to her who had brought her the compliment, instead of the usual ungrateful bumptiousness praise elicits from vanity.
Then Miss Gale put in her word--"When you met with this unfortunate accident, I was for taking you up to my house. It is three miles off; but he would not hear of it. He said, 'No; here she got her wound, and here she must be cured.'"
"So," said Fanny, "pray set your mind at ease. My cousin Harrington is a very good soul, but rather arbitrary. If you want to leave this place, you must get thoroughly well and strong, for he will never let you go till you are."
Between these two ladies, clever and cooperating, Ina smiled, and seemed relieved; but she was too weak to converse any more just then.
Some hours afterward she beckoned Fanny to her, and said, "The master of the house--what is his name?"
"La, no; only her half-brother."
"If he is so kind to me because I sing, why comes he not to see me? She has come."
Fanny smiled. "It is plain you are not an Englishwoman, though you speak it so beautifully. An English gentleman does not intrude into a lady's room."
"It is his room."
"He would say that, while you occupy it, it is yours, and not his."
"He awaits my invitation, then."
"I dare say he would come if you were to invite him, but certainly not without."
"I wish to see him who has been so kind to me, and so loves music; but not to-day--I feel unable."
The next day she asked for a glass, and was distressed at her appearance. She begged for a cap.
"What kind of a cap?" asked Fanny.
"One like that," said she, pointing to a portrait on the wall. It was of a lady in a plain brown silk dress and a little white shawl, and a neat cap with a narrow lace border all round her face.
This particular cap was out of date full sixty years; but the house had a storeroom of relics, and Fanny, with Vizard's help, soon rummaged out a cap of the sort, with a narrow frill all round.
Her hair was smoothed, a white silk band passed over the now closed wound, and the cap fitted on her. She looked pale, but angelic.
Fanny went down to Vizard, and invited him to come and see Mademoiselle Klosking--by her desire. "But," she added, "Miss Gale is very anxious lest you should get talking of Severne. She says the fever and loss of blood have weakened her terribly; and if we bring the fever on again, she cannot answer for her life."
"Has she spoken of him to you?"
"Then why should she to me?"
"Because you are a man, and she may think to get the truth out of you: she knows we shall only say what is for the best. She is very deep, and we don't know her mind yet."
Vizard said he would be as guarded as he could; but if they saw him going wrong, they must send him away.
"Oh, Miss Gale will do that, you may be sure," said Fanny.
Thus prepared, Vizard followed Fanny up the stairs to the sick-room.
Either there is such a thing as love at first sight, or it is something more than first sight, when an observant man gazes at a woman for an hour in a blaze of light, and drinks in her looks, her walk, her voice, and all the outward signs of a beautiful soul; for the stout cynic's heart beat at entering that room as it had not beat for years. To be sure, he had not only seen her on the stage in all her glory, but had held her, pale and bleeding, to his manly breast, and his heart warmed to her all the more, and, indeed, fairly melted with tenderness.
Fanny went in and announced him. He followed softly, and looked at her.
Wealth can make even a sick-room pretty. The Klosking lay on snowy pillows whose glossy damask was edged with lace; and upon her form was an eider-down quilt covered with violet-colored satin, and her face was set in that sweet cap which hid her wound, and made her eloquent face less ghastly.
She turned to look at him, and he gazed at her in a way that spoke volumes.
"A seat," said she, softly.
Fanny was for putting one close to her. "No," said Miss Gale, "lower down; then she need not to turn her head."
So he sat down nearer her feet.
"My good host," said she, in her mellow voice, that retained its quality, but not its power, "I desire to thank you for your goodness to a poor singer, struck down--by the hand that was bound to protect her."
Vizard faltered out that there was nothing to thank him for. He was proud to have her under his roof, though deeply grieved at the cause.
She looked at him, and her two nurses looked at her and at each other, as much as to say, "She is going upon dangerous ground."
They were right. But she had not the courage, or, perhaps, as most women are a little cat-like in this, that they go away once or twice from the subject nearest their heart before they turn and pounce on it, she must speak of other things first. Said she, "But if I was unfortunate in that, I was fortunate in this, that I fell into good hands. These ladies are sisters to me," and she gave Miss Gale her hand, and kissed the other hand to Fanny, though she could scarcely lift it; "and I have a host who loves music, and overrates my poor ability." Then, after a pause, "What have you heard me sing?"
"Only Siebel! why, that is a poor little thing."
"So I thought, till I heard you sing it."
"And, after Siebel, you bought my photograph."
"And wasted pearls on it."
"No, madam. I wasted it on pearls."
"If I were well, I should call that extravagant. But it is permitted to flatter the sick--it is kind. Me you overrate, I fear; but you do well to honor music. Ay, I, who lie here wounded and broken-hearted, do thank God for music. Our bodies are soon crushed, our loves decay or turn to hate, but art is immortal."
She could no longer roll this out in her grand contralto, but she could still raise her eyes with enthusiasm, and her pale face was illuminated. A grand soul shone through her, though she was pale, weak, and prostrate.
They admired her in silence.
After a while she resumed, and said, "If I live, I must live for my art alone."
Miss Gale saw her approaching a dangerous topic, so she said, hastily, "Don't say if you live, please, because that is arranged. You have been out of danger this twenty-four hours, provided you do not relapse; and I must take care of that."
"My kind friend," said Ina, "I shall not relapse; only my weakness is pitiable. Sometimes I can scarcely forbear crying, I feel so weak. When shall I be stronger?"
"You shall be a little stronger every three days. There are always ups and downs in convalescence."
"When shall I be strong enough to move?"
"Let me answer that question," said Vizard. "When you are strong enough to sing us Siebel's great song."
"There," said Fanny Dover; "there is a mercenary host for you. He means to have a song out of you. Till then you are his prisoner."
"No, no, she is mine," said Miss Gale; "and she shan't go till she has sung me 'Hail, Columbia.' None of your Italian trash for me."
Ina smiled, and said it was a fair condition, provided that "Hail, Columbia," with which composition, unfortunately, she was unacquainted, was not beyond her powers. "I have often sung for money," said she; "but this time"--here she opened her grand arms and took Rhoda Gale to her bosom--"I shall sing for love."
"Now we have settled that," said Vizard, "my mind is more at ease, and I will retire."
"One moment," said Ina, turning to him. Then, in a low and very meaning voice, "There is something else."
"No doubt there is plenty," said Miss Gale, sharply; "and, by my authority, I postpone it all till you are stronger. Bid us good-by for the present, Mr. Vizard."
"I obey," said he. "But, madam, please remember I am always at your service. Send for me when you please, and the oftener the better for me."
"Thank you, my kind host. Oblige me with your hand."
He gave her his hand. She took it, and put her lips to it with pure and gentle and seemly gratitude, and with no loss of dignity, though the act was humble.
He turned his head away, to hide the emotion that act and the touch of her sweet lips caused him; Miss Gale hurried him out of the room.
"You naughty patient," said she; "you must do nothing to excite yourself."
"Sweet physician, loving nurse, I am not excited."
Miss Gale felt her heart to see.
"Gratitude does not excite," said Ina. "It is too tame a feeling in the best of us."
"That is a fact," said Miss Gale; "so let us all be grateful, and avoid exciting topics. Think what I should feel if you had a relapse. Why, you would break my heart."
"I really think you would, tough as it is. One gets so fond of an unselfish patient. You cannot think how rare they are, dear. You are a pearl. I cannot afford to lose you."
"Then you shall not," said Ina, firmly. "Know that I, who seem so weak, am a woman of great resolution. I will follow good counsel; I will postpone all dangerous topics till I am stronger; I will live. For I will not grieve the true friends calamity has raised me."
Of course Fanny told Zoe all about this interview. She listened gloomily; and all she said was, "Sisters do not go for much when a man is in love."
"Do brothers, when a woman is?" said Fanny.
"I dare say they go for as much as they are worth."
"Zoe, that is not fair. Harrington is full of affection for you. But you will not go near him. Any other man would be very angry. Do pray make an effort, and come down to dinner to-day."
"No, no. He has you and his Klosking. And I have my broken heart. I am alone; and so will be all alone."
She cried and sobbed, but she was obstinate, and Fanny could only let her have her own way in that.
Another question was soon disposed of. When Fanny invited her into the sickroom, she said, haughtily, "I go there no more. Cure her, and send her away--if Harrington will let her go. I dare say she is to be pitied."
"Of course she is. She is your fellow-victim, if you would only let yourself see it."
"Unfortunately, instead of pitying her, I hate her. She has destroyed my happiness, and done herself no good. He does not love her, and never will."
Fanny found herself getting angry, so she said no more; for she was determined nothing should make her quarrel with poor Zoe; but after dinner, being téte-à-téte with Vizard, she told him she was afraid Zoe could not see things as they were; and she asked him if he had any idea what had become of Severne.
"Fled the country, I suppose."
"Are you sure he is not lurking about?"
"To get a word with Zoe--alone."
"He will not come near this. I will break every bone in his skin if he does."
"But he is so sly; he might hang about."
"What for? She never goes out; and if she did, have you so poor an opinion of her as to think she would speak to him?"
"Oh, no! and she would forbid him to speak to her. But he would be sure to persist; and he has such wonderful powers of explanation, and she is blinded by love, I think he would make her believe black was white, if he had a chance; and if he is about, he will get a chance some day. She is doing the very worst thing she could--shutting herself up so. Any moment she will turn wild, and rush out reckless. She is in a dangerous state, you mark my words; she is broken-hearted, and yet she is bitter against everybody, except that young villain, and he is the only enemy she has in the world. I don't believe Mademoiselle Klosking ever wronged her, nor ever will. Appearances are against her; but she is a good woman, or I am a fool. Take my advice, Harrington, and be on your guard. If he had written a penitent letter to Mademoiselle Klosking, that would be a different thing; but he ignores her, and that frightens me for Zoe."
Harrington would not admit that Zoe needed any other safeguard against a detected scoundrel than her own sense of dignity. He consented, however, to take precautions, if Fanny would solemnly promise not to tell Zoe, and so wound her. On that condition, he would see his head-keeper tomorrow, and all the keepers and watchers should be posted so as to encircle the parish with vigilance. He assured Fanny these fellows had a whole system of signals to the ear and eye, and Severne could not get within a mile of the house undetected. "But," said he, "I will not trust to that alone. I will send an advertisement to the local papers and the leading London journals, so worded that the scoundrel shall know his forgery is detected, and that he will be arrested on a magistrate's warrant if he sets foot in Barfordshire."
Fanny said that was capital, and, altogether, he had set her mind at rest.
"Then do as much for me," said Vizard. "Please explain a remarkable phenomenon. You were always a bright girl, and no fool; but not exactly what humdrum people would call a good girl. You are not offended?"
"The idea! Why, I have publicly disowned goodness again and again. You have heard me."
"So I have. But was not that rather deceitful of you? for you have turned out as good as gold. Anxiety has kept me at home of late, and I have watched you. You live for others; you are all over the house to serve two suffering women. That is real charity, not sexual charity, which humbugs the world, but not me. You are cook, housemaid, butler, nurse, and friend to both of them. In an interval of your time, so creditably employed, you come and cheer me up with your bright little face, and give me wise advice. I know that women are all humbugs; only you are a humbug reversed, and deserve a statue--and trimmings. You have been passing yourself off for a naughty girl, and all the time you were an extra good one."
"And that puzzles the woman-hater, the cynical student, who says he has fathomed woman. My poor dear Harrington, if you cannot read so shallow a character as I am, how will you get on with those ladies upstairs--Zoe, who is as deep as the sea, and turbid with passion, and the Klosking, who is as deep as the ocean?"
She thought a moment and said, "There, I will have pity on you. You shall understand one woman before you die, and that is me. I'll give you the clew to my seeming inconsistencies--if you will give me a cigarette."
"What! another hidden virtue? You smoke?"
"Not I, except when I happen to be with a noble soul who won't tell."
Vizard found her a Russian cigarette, and lighted his own cigar, and she lectured as follows:
"What women love, and can't do without, if they are young and healthy and spirited, is--Excitement. I am one who pines for it. Now, society is so constructed that to get excitement you must be naughty. Waltzing all night and flirting all day are excitement. Crochet, and church, and examining girls in St. Matthew, and dining en famille, and going to bed at ten, are stagnation. Good girls--that means stagnant girls: I hate and despise the tame little wretches, and I never was one, and never will be. But now look here: We have two ladies in love with one villain--that is exciting. One gets nearly killed in the house--that is gloriously exciting. The other is broken-hearted. If I were to be a bad girl, and say, 'It is not my business; I will leave them to themselves, and go my little mill-round of selfishness as before,' why, what a fool I must be! I should lose Excitement. Instead of that, I run and get thinks for the Klosking--Excitement. I cook for her, and nurse her, and sit up half the night--Excitement. Then I run to Zoe, and do my best for her--and get snubbed--Excitement. Then I sit at the head of your table, and order you--Excitement. Oh, it is lovely!"
"Shall you not be sorry when they both get well, and Routine recommences?"
"Of course I shall. That is the sort of good girl I am. And, oh! when that fatal day comes, how I shall flirt. Heaven help my next flirtee! I shall soon flirt out the stigma of a good girl. You mark my words, I shall flirt with some married man after this. I never did that yet. But I shall; I know I shall. --Ah!--there, I have burned my finger."
"Never mind. That is exciting."
"As such I accept it. Good-by. I must go and relieve Miss Gale. Exit the good girl on her mission of charity--ha! ha!" She hummed a valse à deux temps, and went dancing out with such a whirl that her petticoats, which were ample, and not, as now, like a sack tied at the knees, made quite a cool air in the room.
She had not been gone long when Miss Gale came down, full of her patient. She wanted to get her out of bed during the daytime, but said she was not strong enough to sit up. Would he order an invalid couch down from London? She described the article, and where it was to be had.
He said Harris should go up in the morning and bring one down with him.
He then put her several questions about her patient; and at last asked her, with an anxiety he in vain endeavored to conceal, what she thought was the relation between her and Severne.
Now it may be remembered that Miss Gale had once been on the point of telling him all she knew, and had written him a letter. But at that time the Klosking was not expected to appear on the scene in person. Were she now to say she had seen her and Severne living together, Rhoda felt that she should lower her patient. She had not the heart to do that.
Rhoda Gale was not of an amorous temperament, and she was all the more open to female attachments. With a little encouragement she would have loved Zoe, but she had now transferred her affection to the Klosking. She replied to Vizard almost like a male lover defending the object of his affection.
"The exact relation is more than I can tell; but I think he has lived upon her, for she was richer than he was; and I feel sure he has promised her marriage. And my great fear now is lest he should get hold of her and keep his promise. He is as poor as a rat or a female physician; and she has a fortune in her voice, and has money besides, Miss Dover tells me. Pray keep her here till she is quite well, please."
"And then let me have her up at Hillstoke. She is beginning to love me, and I dote on her."
"So do I."
"Ah, but you must not."
"Well, why not?"
"She is not to love any man again who will not marry her. I won't let her. I'll kill her first, I love her so. A rogue she shan't marry, and I can't let you marry her, because, her connection with that Severne is mysterious. She seems the soul of virtue, but I could not let you marry her until things are clearer."
"Make your mind easy. I will not marry her--nor anybody else--till things are a great deal clearer than I have ever found them, where your sex is concerned."
Miss Gale approved the resolution.
Next day Vizard posted his keepers, and sent his advertisements to the London and country journals.
Fanny came into his study to tell him there was more trouble--Miss Maitland taken seriously ill, and had written to Zoe.
"Poor old soul!" said Vizard. "I have a great mind to ride over and see her."
"Somebody ought to go," said Fanny.
"Well, you go."
"How can I--with Zoe, and Mademoiselle Klosking, and you, to look after?"
"Instead of one old woman. Not much excitement in that."
"No, cousin. To think of your remembering! Why, you must have gone to bed sober."
"I often do."
"You were always an eccentric landowner."
"Don't you talk. You are a caricature."
This banter was interrupted by Miss Gale, who came to tell Harrington Mademoiselle Klosking desired to see him, at his leisure.
He said he would come directly.
"Before you go," said Miss Gale, "let us come to an understanding. She had only two days' fever; but that fever, and the loss of blood, and the shock to her nerves, brought her to death's door by exhaustion. Now she is slowly recovering her strength, because she has a healthy stomach, and I give her no stimulants to spur and then weaken her, but choice and simple esculents, the effect of which I watch, and vary them accordingly. But the convalescent period is always one of danger, especially from chills to the body, and excitements to the brain. At no period are more patients thrown away for want of vigilance. Now I can guard against chills and other bodily things, but not against excitements--unless you co-operate. The fact is, we must agree to avoid speaking about Mr. Severne. We must be on our guard. We must parry; we must evade; we must be deaf, stupid, slippery; but no Severne--for five or six days more, at all events."
Thus forewarned, Vizard, in due course, paid his second visit to Ina Klosking.
He found her propped up with pillows this time. She begged him to be seated.
She had evidently something on her mind, and her nurses watched her like cats.
"You are fond of music, sir?"
"Not of all music. I adore good music, I hate bad, and I despise mediocre. Silence is golden, indeed, compared with poor music."
"You are right, sir. Have you good music in the house?"
"A little. I get all the operas, and you know there are generally one or two good things in an opera--among the rubbish. But the great bulk of our collection is rather old-fashioned. It is sacred music--oratorios, masses, anthems, services, chants. My mother was the collector. Her tastes were good, but narrow. Do you care for that sort of music?"
"Sacred music? Why, it is, of all music, the most divine, and soothes the troubled soul. Can I not see the books? I read music like words. By reading I almost hear."
"We will bring you up a dozen books to begin on."
He went down directly; and such was his pleasure in doing anything for the Klosking that he executed the order in person, brought up a little pile of folios and quartos, beautifully bound and lettered, a lady having been the collector.
Now, as he mounted the stairs, with his very chin upon the pile, who should he see looking over the rails at him but his sister Zoe.
She was sadly changed. There was a fixed ashen pallor on her cheek, and a dark circle under her eyes.
He stopped to look at her. "My poor child," said he, "you look very ill."
"I am very ill, dear."
"Would you not be better for a change?"
"Why coop yourself up in your own room? Why deny yourself a brother's sympathy?"
The girl trembled, and tears came to her eyes.
"Is it with me you sympathize?" said she.
"Can you doubt it, Zoe?"
Zoe hung her head a moment, and did not reply. Then she made a diversion. "What are those books? Oh, I see--your mother's music-books. Nothing is too good for her."
"Nothing in the way of music-books is too good for her. For shame! are you jealous of that unfortunate lady?"
Zoe made no reply.
She put her hands before her face, that Vizard might not see her mind.
Then he rested his books on a table, and came and took her head in his hands paternally. "Do not shut yourself up any longer. Solitude is dangerous to the afflicted. Be more with me than ever, and let this cruel blow bind us more closely, instead of disuniting us."
He kissed her lovingly, and his kind words set her tears flowing; but they did her little good--they were bitter tears. Between her and her brother there was now a barrier sisterly love could not pass. He hated and despised Edward Severne; and she only distrusted him, and feared he was a villain. She loved him still with every fiber of her heart, and pined for his explanation of all that seemed so dark.
So then he entered the sick-room with his music-books; and Zoe, after watching him in without seeming to do so, crept away to her own room.
Then there was rather a pretty little scene. Miss Gale and Miss Dover, on each side of the bed, held a heavy music-book, and Mademoiselle Klosking turned the leaves and read, when the composition was worth reading. If it was not, she quietly passed it over, without any injurious comment.
Vizard watched her from the foot of the bed, and could tell in a moment, by her face, whether the composition was good, bad, or indifferent. When bad, her face seemed to turn impassive, like marble; when good, to expand; and when she lighted on a masterpiece, she was almost transfigured, and her face shone with elevated joy.
This was a study to the enamored Vizard, and it did not escape the quick-sighted doctress. She despised music on its own merits, but she despised nothing that could be pressed into the service of medicine; and she said to herself, "I'll cure her with esculents and music."
The book was taken away to make room for another.
Then said Ina Klosking, "Mr. Vizard, I desire to say a word to you. Excuse me, my dear friends."
Miss Gale colored up. She had not foreseen a téte-à-téte between Vizard and her patient. However, there was no help for it, and she withdrew to a little distance with Fanny; but she said to Vizard, openly and expressively, "Remember!"
When they had withdrawn a little way, Ina Klosking fixed her eyes on Vizard, and said, in a low voice, "Your sister!"
Vizard started a little at the suddenness of this, but he said nothing: he did not know what to say.
When she had waited a little, and he said nothing, she spoke again. "Tell me something about her. Is she good? Forgive me: it is not that I doubt."
"She is good, according to her lights."
"Is she proud?"
"Is she just?"
"No. And I never met a woman that was."
"Indeed it is rare. Why does she not visit me?"
"I don't know"
"She blames me for all that has happened."
"I don't know, madam. My sister looks very ill, and keeps her own room. If she does not visit you, she holds equally aloof from us all. She has not taken a single meal with me for some days."
"Since I was your patient and your guest."
"Pray do not conclude from that--Who can interpret a woman?"
"Another woman. Enigmas to you, we are transparent to each other. Sir, will you grant me a favor? Will you persuade Miss Vizard to see me here alone--all alone? It will be a greater trial to me than to her, for I am weak. In this request I am not selfish. She can do nothing for me; but I can do a little for her, to pay the debt of gratitude I owe this hospitable house. May Heaven bless it, from the roof to the foundation stone!"
"I will speak to my sister, and she shall visit you--with the consent of your physician."
"It is well," said Ina Klosking, and beckoned her friends, one of whom, Miss Gale, proceeded to feel her pulse, with suspicious glances at Vizard. But she found the pulse calm, and said so.
Vizard took his leave and went straight to Zoe's room. She was not there. He was glad of that, for it gave him hopes she was going to respect his advice and give up her solitary life.
He went downstairs and on to the lawn to look for her. He could not see her anywhere.
At last, when he had given up looking for her, he found her in his study crouched in a corner.
She rose at sight of him and stood before him. "Harrington," said she, in rather a commanding way, "Aunt Maitland is ill, and I wish to go to her."
Harrington stared at her with surprise. "You are not well enough yourself."
"Quite well enough in body to go anywhere."
"Well, but--" said Harrington.
She caught him up impatiently. "Surely you cannot object to my visiting Aunt Maitland. She is dangerously ill. I had a second letter this morning--see." And she held him out a letter.
Harrington was in a difficulty. He felt sure this was not her real motive; but he did not like to say so harshly to an unhappy girl. He took a moderate course. "Not just now, dear," said he.
"What! am I to wait till she dies?" cried Zoe, getting agitated at his opposition.
"Be reasonable, dear. You know you are the mistress of this house. Do not desert me just now. Consider the position. It is a very chattering county. I entertain Mademoiselle Klosking; I could not do otherwise when she was nearly killed in my hall. But for my sister to go away while she remains here would have a bad effect."
"It is too late to think of that, Harrington. The mischief is done, and you must plead your eccentricity. Why should I bear the blame? I never approved it."
"You would have sent her to an inn, eh?"
"No; but Miss Gale offered to take her."
"Then I am to understand that you propose to mark your reprobation of my conduct by leaving my house."
"What! publicly? Oh no. You may say to yourself that your sister could not bear to stay under the same roof with Mr. Severne's mistress. But this chattering county shall never know my mind. My aunt is dangerously ill. She lives but thirty miles off. She is a fit object of pity. She is a--respectable--lady; she is all alone; no female physician, no flirt turned Sister of Charity, no woman-hater, to fetch and carry for her. And so I shall go to her. I am your sister, not your slave. If you grudge me your horses, I will go on foot."
Vizard was white with wrath, but governed himself like a man. "Go on, young lady!" said he; "go on! Jeer, and taunt, and wound the best brother any young madwoman ever had. But don't think I'll answer you as you deserve. I'm too cunning. If I was to say an unkind word to you, I should suffer the tortures of the damned. So go on!"
"No, no. Forgive me, Harrington. It is your opposition that drives me wild. Oh, have pity on me! I shall go mad if I stay here. Do, pray, pray, pray let me go to Aunt Maitland!"
"You shall go, Zoe. But I tell you plainly, this step will be a blow to our affection--the first."
Zoe cried at that. But as she did not withdraw her request, Harrington told her, with cold civility, that she must be good enough to be ready directly after breakfast to-morrow, and take as little luggage as she could with convenience to herself.
Horses were sent on that night to the "Fox," an inn half-way between Vizard Court and Miss Maitland's place.
In the morning a light barouche, with a sling for luggage, came round, and Zoe was soon seated in it. Then, to her surprise, Harrington came out and sat beside her.
She was pleased at this and said, "What! are you going with me, dear, all that way?"
"Yes, to save appearances," said he; and took out a newspaper to read.
This froze Zoe, and she retired within herself.
It was a fine fresh morning; the coachman drove fast; the air fanned her cheek; the motion was enlivening; the horses's hoofs rang quick and clear upon the road. Fresh objects met the eye every moment. Her heart was as sad and aching as before, but there arose a faint encouraging sense that some day she might be better, or things might take some turn.
When they had rolled about ten miles she said, in a low voice, "Harrington."
"You were right. Cooping one's self up is the way to go mad."
"Of course it is."
"I feel a little better now--a very little."
"I am glad of it."
But he was not hearty, and she said no more.
He was extremely attentive to her all the journey, and, indeed, had never been half so polite to her.
This, however, led to a result he did not intend nor anticipate. Zoe, being now cool, fell into a state of compunction and dismay. She saw his affection leaving her for her, and stiff politeness coming instead.
She leaned forward, put her hands on his knees, and looked, all scared, in his face. "Harrington," she cried, "I was wrong. What is Aunt Maitland to me? You are my all. Bid him turn the horses' heads and go home."
"Why, we are only six miles from the place."
"What does that matter? We shall have had a good long drive together, and I will dine with you after it; and I will ride or drive with you every day, if you will let me."
Vizard could not help smiling. He was disarmed. "You impulsive young monkey," said he, "I shall do nothing of the kind. In the first place, I couldn't turn back from anything; I'm only a man. In the next place, I have been thinking it over, as you have; and this is a good move of ours, though I was a little mortified at first. Occupation is the best cure of love, and this old lady will find you plenty. Besides, nursing improves the character. Look at that frivolous girl Fanny, how she has come out. And you know, Zoe, if you get sick of it in a day or two, you have only to write to me, and I will send for you directly. A short absence, with so reasonable a motive as visiting a sick aunt, will provoke no comments. It is all for the best."
This set Zoe at her ease, and brother and sister resumed their usual manners.
They reached Miss Maitland's house, and were admitted to her sick-room. She was really very ill, and thanked them so pathetically for coming to visit a poor lone old woman that now they were both glad they had come.
Zoe entered on her functions with an alacrity that surprised herself, and Vizard drove away. But he did not drive straight home. He had started from Vizard Court with other views. He had telegraphed Lord Uxmoor the night before, and now drove to his place, which was only five miles distant. He found him at home, and soon told him his errand. "Do you remember meeting a young fellow at my house, called Severne?"
"I do," said Lord Uxmoor, dryly enough.
"Well, he has turned out an impostor."
Uxmoor's eye flashed. He had always suspected Severne of being his rival and a main cause of his defeat. "An impostor?" said he: "that is rather a strong word. Certainly I never heard a gentleman tell such a falsehood as he volunteered about--what's the fellow's name?--a detective."
"Oh, Poikilus. That is nothing. That was one of his white lies. He is a villain all round, and a forger by way of climax."
"A forger! What, a criminal?"
"Rather! Here are his drafts. The drawer and acceptor do not exist. The whole thing was written by Edward Severne, whose indorsement figures on the bill. He got me to cash these bills. I deposit them with you, and I ask you for a warrant to commit him--if he should come this way."
"Is that likely?"
"Not at all; it is a hundred to one he never shows his nose again in Barfordshire. When he was found out, he bolted, and left his very clothes in my house. I packed them off to the 'Swan' at Taddington. He has never been heard of since; and I have warned him, by advertisement, that he will be arrested if ever he sets foot in Barfordshire."
"Well, then, I am not going to throw away a chance. The beggar had the impudence to spoon on my sister Zoe. That was my fault, not hers. He was an old college acquaintance, and I gave him opportunities--I deserve to be horsewhipped. However, I am not going to commit the same blunder twice. My sister is in your neighborhood for a few days."
"And perhaps you will be good enough to keep your eye on her."
"I feel much honored by such a commission. But you have not told me where Miss Vizard is."
"With her aunt, Miss Maitland, at Somerville Villa, near Bagley. Apropos, I had better tell you what she is there for, or your good dowager will be asking her to parties. She has come to nurse her aunt Maitland. The old lady is seriously ill, and all our young coquettes are going in for nursing. We have a sick lady at our house, I am sorry to say, and she is nursed like a queen by Doctress Gale and ex Flirt Fanny Dover. Now is fulfilled the saying that was said,
I spare you the rest, and simply remark that our Zoe, fired by the example of those two ladies, has devoted herself to nursing Aunt Maitland. It is very good of her, but experience tells me she will very soon find it extremely trying; and as she is a very pretty girl, and therefore a fit subject of male charity, you might pay her a visit now and then, and show her that this best of all possible worlds contains young gentlemen of distinction, with long and glossy beards, as well as peevish old women, who are extra selfish and tyrannical when they happen to be sick."
Uxmoor positively radiated as this programme was unfolded to him. Vizard observed that, and chuckled inwardly.
He then handed him the forged acceptances.
Lord Uxmoor begged him to write down the facts on paper, and also his application for the warrant. He did so. Lord Uxmoor locked the paper up, and the friends parted. Vizard drove off, easy in his mind, and congratulating himself, not unreasonably, on his little combination, by means of which he had provided his sister with a watch-dog, a companion, and an honorable lover all in one.
Uxmoor put on his hat and strode forth into his own grounds, with his heart beating high at this strange turn of things in favor of his love.
Neither foresaw the strange combinations which were to arise out of an event that appeared so simple and one-sided.
INA KLOSKING'S cure was retarded by the state of her mind. The excitement and sharp agony her physician had feared died away as the fever of the brain subsided; but then there settled down a grim, listless lethargy, which obstructed her return to health and vigor. Once she said to Rhoda Gale, "But I have nothing to get well for."
As a rule, she did not speak her mind, but thought a great deal. She often asked after Zoe; and her nurses could see that her one languid anxiety was somehow connected with that lady. Yet she did not seem hostile to her now, nor jealous. It was hard to understand her; she was reserved, and very deep.
The first relief to the deadly languor of her mind came to her from Music. That was no great wonder; but, strange to say, the music that did her good was neither old enough to be revered, nor new enough to be fashionable. It was English music too, and passé music. She came across a collection of Anglican anthems and services--written, most of it, toward the end of the last century and the beginning of this. The composers' names promised little: they were Blow, Nares, Green, Kent, King, Jackson, etc. The words and the music of these compositions seemed to suit one another; and, as they were all quite new to her, she went through them almost eagerly, and hummed several of the strains, and with her white but now thin hand beat time to others. She even sent for Vizard, and said to him, "You have a treasure here. Do you know these compositions?"
He inspected his treasure. "I remember," said he, "my mother used to sing this one, 'When the Eye saw Her, then it blessed Her;' and parts of this one, 'Hear my Prayer;' and, let me see, she used to sing this psalm, 'Praise the Lord,' by Jackson. I am ashamed to say I used to ask for 'Praise the Lord Jackson,' meaning to be funny, not devout."
"She did not choose ill," said Ina. "I thought I knew English music, yet here is a whole stream of it new to me. Is it esteemed?"
"I think it was once, but it has had its day."
"That is strange; for here are some immortal qualities. These composers had brains, and began at the right end; they selected grand and tuneful words, great and pious thoughts; they impregnated themselves with those words and produced appropriate music. The harmonies are sometimes thin, and the writers seem scarcely to know the skillful use of discords; but they had heart and invention; they saw their way clear before they wrote the first note; there is an inspired simplicity and fervor: if all these choice things are dead, they must have fallen upon bad interpreters."
"No doubt," said Vizard; "so please get well, and let me hear these pious strains, which my poor dear mother loved so well, interpreted worthily."
The Klosking's eyes filled. "That is a temptation," said she, simply. Then she turned to Rhoda Gale. "Sweet physician, he has done me good. He has given me something to get well for."
Vizard's heart yearned. "Do not talk like that," said he, buoyantly; then, in a broken voice, "Heaven forbid you should have nothing better to live for than that."
"Sir," said she, gravely, "I have nothing better to live for now than to interpret good music worthily."
There was a painful silence.
Ina broke it. She said, quite calmly, "First of all, I wish to know how others interpret these strains your mother loved, and I have the honor to agree with her."
"Oh," said Vizard, "we will soon manage that for you. These things are not defunct, only unfashionable. Every choir in England has sung them, and can sing them, after a fashion; so, at twelve o'clock to-morrow, look out--for squalls!"
He mounted his horse, rode into the cathedral town--distant eight miles--and arranged with the organist for himself, four leading boys, and three lay clerks. He was to send a carriage in for them after the morning service, and return them in good time for vespers.
Fanny told Ina Klosking, and she insisted on getting up.
By this time Doctress Gale had satisfied herself that a little excitement was downright good for her patient, and led to refreshing sleep. So they dressed her loosely but very warmly, and rolled her to the window on her invalid couch, set at a high angle. It was a fine clear day in October, keen but genial; and after muffling her well, they opened the window.
While she sat there, propped high, and inhaling the pure air, Vizard conveyed his little choir, by another staircase, into the antechamber; and, under his advice, they avoided preludes and opened in full chorus with Jackson's song of praise.
At the first burst of sacred harmony, Ina Klosking was observed to quiver all over.
They sung it rather coarsely, but correctly and boldly, and with a certain fervor. There were no operatic artifices to remind her of earth; the purity and the harmony struck her full. The great singer and sufferer lifted her clasped hands to God, and the tears flowed fast down her cheeks.
These tears were balm to that poor lacerated soul, tormented by many blows.
"O lacrymarum fons, tenero sacros
Ducemtium ortus ex animo, quater
Felix, in imo qui scatentem
Pectore, te, pia nympha, sensit."
Rhoda Gale, who hated music like poison, crept up to her, and, infolding her delicately, laid a pair of wet eyes softly on her shoulder.
Vizard now tapped at the door, and was admitted from the music-room. He begged Ina to choose another composition from her book. She marked a service and two anthems, and handed him the volume, but begged they might not be done too soon, one after the other. That would be quite enough for one day, especially if they would be good enough to repeat the hymn of praise to conclude; "for," said she, "these are things to be digested."
Soon the boys' pure voices rose again and those poor dead English composers, with prosaic names, found their way again to the great foreign singer's soul.
They sung an anthem, which is now especially despised by those great critics, the organists of the country--"My Song shall be of Mercy and Judgment."
The Klosking forgave the thinness of the harmony, and many little faults in the vocal execution. The words, no doubt, went far with her, being clearly spoken. She sat meditating, with her moist eyes raised, and her face transfigured, and at the end she murmured to Vizard, with her eyes still raised, "After all, they are great and pious words, and the music has at least this crowning virtue--it means the words." Then she suddenly turned upon him and said, "There is another person in this house who needs this consolation as much as I do. Why does she not come? But perhaps she is with the musicians."
"Whom do you mean?"
"Why, she is not in the house."
Ina Klosking started at that information, and bent her eyes keenly and inquiringly on him.
"She left two days ago."
"To nurse a sick aunt."
"Indeed! Had she no other reason?"
"Not that I know of," said Vizard; but he could not help coloring a little.
The little choir now sung a service, King in F. They sung "The Magnificat" rudely, and rather profanely, but recovered themselves in the "Dimittis."
When it was over, Ina whispered, "'To be a light to lighten the Gentiles.' That is an inspired duet. Oh, how it might be sung!"
"Of course it might," whispered Vizard; "so you have something to get well for."
"Yes, my friend--thanks to you and your sainted mother."
This, uttered in a voice which, under the healing influence of music, seemed to have regained some of its rich melody, was too much for our cynic, and he bustled off to hide his emotion, and invited the musicians to lunch.
All the servants had been listening on the stairs, and the hospitable old butler plied the boys with sparkling Moselle, which, being himself reared on mighty Port; he thought a light and playful wine--just the thing for women and children. So after luncheon they sung rather wild, and the Klosking told Vizard, dryly, that would do for the present.
Then he ordered the carriage for them, and asked Mademoiselle Klosking when she would like them again.
"When can I?" she inquired, rather timidly.
"Every day, if you like--Sundays and all."
"I must be content with every other day."
Vizard said he would arrange it so, and was leaving her; but she begged him to stay a moment.
"She would be safer here," said she, very gravely.
Vizard was taken aback by the suddenness of this return to a topic he was simple enough to think she had abandoned. However, he said, "She is safe enough. I have taken care of that, you may be sure."
"You have done well, sir," said Ina, very gravely.
She said no more to him; but just before dinner Fanny came in, and Miss Gale went for a walk in the garden. Ina pinned Fanny directly. "Where is Miss Vizard?" said she, quietly.
Fanny colored up; but seeing in a moment that fibs would be dangerous, said, mighty carelessly, "She is at Aunt Maitland's."
"Where does she live, dear?"
"In a poky little place called 'Somerville Villa.'"
"Far from this?"
"Not very. It is forty miles by the railway, but not thirty by the road; and Zoe went in the barouche all the way."
Mademoiselle Klosking thought a little, and then taking Fanny Dover's hand, said to her, very sweetly, "I beg you to honor me with your confidence, and tell me something. Believe me, it is for no selfish motive I ask you; but I think Miss Vizard is in danger. She is too far from her brother, and too far from me. Mr. Vizard says she is safe. Now, can you tell me what he means? How can she be safe? Is her heart turned to stone, like mine?"
"No, indeed," said Fanny. "Yes, I will be frank with you; for I believe you are wiser than any one of us. Zoe is not safe, left to herself. Her heart is anything but stone; and Heaven knows what wild, mad thing she might be led into. But I know perfectly well what Vizard means: no, I don't like to tell it you all; it will give you pain."
"There is little hope of that. I am past pain."
"Well, then--Miss Gale will scold me."
"No, she shall not."
"Oh, I know you have got the upper hand even of her; so if you promise I shall not be scolded, I'll tell you. You see, I had my misgivings about this very thing; and as soon as Vizard came home--it was he who took her to Aunt Maitland--I asked him what precautions he had taken to hinder that man from getting hold of her again. Well, then--oh, I ought to have begun by telling you Mr. Severne forged bills to get money out of Harrington."
"Oh, Harrington will never punish him, if he keeps his distance; but he has advertised in all the papers, warning him that if he sets foot in Barfordshire he will be arrested and sent to prison."
Ina Klosking shook her head. "When a man is in love with such a woman as that, dangers could hardly deter him."
"That depends upon the man, I think. But Harrington has done better than that. He has provided her with a watch-dog--the best of all watch-dogs--another lover. Lord Uxmoor lives near Aunt Maitland, and he adores Zoe; so Harrington has commissioned him to watch her, and cure her, and all. I wish he'd cure me--an earl's coronet and twenty thousand a year!"
"You relieve my mind," said Ina. Then after a pause--"But let me ask you one question more. Why did you not tell me Miss Vizard was gone?"
"I don't know," said Fanny, coloring up. "She told me not."
"Why, the Vixen in command. She orders everybody."
"And why did she forbid you?"
"Yes, you do. Kiss me, dear. There, I will distress you with no more questions. Why should I? Our instincts seldom deceive us. Well, so be it: I have something more to get well for, and I will."
Fanny looked up at her inquiringly.
"Yes," said she; "the daughter of this hospitable house will never return to it while I am in it. Poor girl; she thinks she is the injured woman. So be it. I will get well--and leave it."
Fanny communicated this to Miss Gale, and all she said was, "She shall go no further than Hillstoke then; for I love her better than any man can love her."
Fanny did not tell Vizard; and he was downright happy, seeing the woman he loved recover, by slow degrees, her health, her strength, her color, her voice. Parting was not threatened. He did not realize that they should ever part at all. He had vague hopes that, while she was under his roof, opportunity might stand his friend, and she might requite his affection. All this would not bear looking into very closely: for that very reason he took particular care not to look into it very closely; but hoped all things, and was happy. In this condition he received a little shock.
A one-horse fly was driven up to the door, and a card brought in--
Vizard was always at home at Vizard Court, except to convicted Bores. Mr. Ashmead was shown into his study.
Vizard knew him at a glance. The velveteen coat had yielded to tweed; but another loud tie had succeeded to the one "that fired the air at Homburg." There, too, was the wash-leather face, and other traits Vizard professed to know an actress's lover by. Yes, it was the very man at sight of whom he had fought down his admiration of La Klosking, and declined an introduction to her. Vizard knew the lady better now. But still he was a little jealous even of her acquaintances, and thought this one unworthy of her; so he received him with stiff but guarded politeness, leaving him to open his business.
Ashmead, overawed by the avenue, the dozen gables, four-score chimneys, etc., addressed him rather obsequiously, but with a certain honest trouble, that soon softened the bad impression caused by his appearance.
"Sir," said he, "pray excuse this intrusion of a stranger, but I am in great anxiety. It is not for myself, but for a lady, a very distinguished lady, whose interests I am charged with. It is Mademoiselle Klosking, the famous singer."
Vizard maintained a grim silence.
"You may have heard of her."
"I almost fancy you once heard her sing--at Homburg."
"Then I am sure you must have admired her, being a gentleman of taste. Well, sir, it is near a fortnight since I heard from her."
"You will say what is that to you? But the truth is, she left me, in London, to do certain business for her, and she went down to this very place. I offered to come with her, but she declined. To be sure, it was a delicate matter, and not at all in my way. She was to write to me and report progress, and give me her address, that I might write to her; but nearly a fortnight has passed. I have not received a single letter. I am in real distress and anxiety. A great career awaits her in England, sir; but this silence is so mysterious, so alarming, that I begin actually to hope she has played the fool, and thrown it all up, and gone abroad with that blackguard."
"What blackguard, sir?"
Joseph drew in his horns. "I spoke too quick, sir," said he; "it is no business of mine. But these brilliant women are as mad as the rest in throwing away their affections. They prefer a blackguard to a good man. It is the rule. Excuse my plain speaking."
"Mr. Ashmead," said Vizard, "I may be able to answer your questions about this lady; but, before I do so, it is right I should know how far you possess her confidence. To speak plainly, have you any objection to tell me what is the precise relation between you and her?"
"Certainly not, sir. I am her theatrical agent."
"Is that all?"
"Not quite. I have been a good deal about her lately, and have seen her in deep distress. I think I may almost say I am her friend, though a very humble one."
Vizard did not yet quite realize the truth that this Bohemian had in his heart one holy spot--his pure devotion and unsexual friendship for that great artist. Still, his prejudices were disarmed, and he said, "Well, Mr. Ashmead, excuse my cross-questioning you. I will now give myself the pleasure of setting your anxieties at rest. Mademoiselle Klosking is in this house."
Ashmead stared at him, and then broke out, "In this house! O Lord! How can that be?"
"It happened in a way very distressing to us all, though the result is now so delightful. Mademoiselle Klosking called here on a business with which, perhaps, you are acquainted."
"I am, sir."
"Unfortunately she met with an accident in my very hall, an accident that endangered her life, sir; and of course we took charge of her. She has had a zealous physician and good nurses, and she is recovering slowly. She is quite out of danger, but still weak. I have no doubt she will be delighted to see you. Only, as we are all under the orders of her physician, and that physician is a woman, and a bit of a vixen, you must allow me to go and consult her first." Vizard retired, leaving Joseph happy, but mystified.
He was not long alone. In less than a minute he had for companions some well-buttered sandwiches made with smoked ham, and a bottle of old Madeira. The solids melted in his mouth, the liquid ran through his veins like oil charged with electricity and elixir vitoe.
By-and-by a female servant came for him, and ushered him into Ina Klosking's room.
She received him with undisguised affection, and he had much ado to keep from crying. She made him sit down near her in the vast embrasure of the window, and gave him a letter to read she had just written to him.
They compared notes very rapidly; but their discourse will not be given here, because so much of it would be repetition.
They were left alone to talk, and they did talk for more than an hour. The first interruption, indeed, was a recitativo with chords, followed by a verse from the leading treble.
Mr. Ashmead looked puzzled; the Klosking eyed him demurely.
Before the anthem concluded, Vizard tapped, and was admitted from the music-room. Ina smiled, and waved him to a chair. Both the men saw, by her manner, they were not to utter a sound while the music was going on. When it ceased, she said, "Do you approve that, my friend?"
"If it pleases you, madam," replied the wary Ashmead.
"It does more than please me; it does me good."
"That reconciles me to it at once."
"Oh, then you do not admire it for itself."
"Pray, speak plainly. I am not a tyrant, to impose my tastes."
"Well then, madam, I feel very grateful to anything that does you good: otherwise, I should say the music was--rather dreary; and the singing--very insipid."
The open struggle between Joseph's honesty and his awe of the Klosking tickled Vizard so that he leaned back in his chair and laughed heartily.
The Klosking smiled superior. "He means," said she, "that the music is not operatic, and the boys do not clasp their hands, and shake their shoulders, and sing passionately, as women do in a theater. Heaven forbid they should! If this world is all passion, there is another which is all peace; and these boys' sweet, artless tones are the nearest thing we shall get in this world to the unimpassioned voices of the angels. They are fit instruments for pious words set by composers, who, however obscure they may be, were men inspired, and have written immortal strains, which, as I hear them, seem hardly of this world--they are so free from all mortal dross."
Vizard assented warmly. Ashmead asked permission to hear another. They sung the "Magnificat" by King, in F.
"Upon my word," said Ashmead, "there is a deal of 'go' in that."
Then they sung the "Nuno Dimittis." He said, a little dryly, there was plenty of repose in that.
"My friend," said she, "there is--to the honor of the composer: the 'Magnificat' is the bright and lofty exultation of a young woman who has borne the Messiah, and does not foresee His sufferings, only the boon to the world and the glory to herself. But the 'Dimittis' is the very opposite. It is a gentle joy, and the world contentedly resigned by a good old man, fatigued, who has run his race, and longs to sleep after life's fever. When next you have the good fortune to hear that song, think you see the sun descending red and calm after a day of storms, and an aged Christian saying, 'Good-night,' and you will honor poor dead King as I do. The music that truly reflects great words was never yet small music, write it who may."
"You are right, madam." said Ashmead. "When I doubted its being good music, I suppose I meant salable."
"Ah, voilà!" said the Klosking. Then, turning to Vizard for sympathy, "What this faithful friend understands by good music is music that can be sold for a good deal of money."
"That is so," said Ashmead, stoutly. "I am a theatrical agent. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. You have tried it more than once, you know, but it would not work."
Ashmead amused Vizard, and he took him into his study, and had some more conversation with him. He even asked him to stay in the house; but Ashmead was shy, and there was a theater at Taddington. So he said he had a good deal of business to do; he had better make the "Swan" his headquarters. "I shall be at your service all the same, sir, or Mademoiselle Klosking's."
"Have a glass of Madeira, Mr. Ashmead."
"Well, sir, to tell the truth, I have had one or two."
"Then it knows the road."
"You are very good, sir. What Madeira! Is this the wine the doctors ran down a few years ago? They couldn't have tasted it."
"Well, it is like ourselves, improved by traveling. That has been twice to India."
"It will never go again past me," said Ashmead, gayly. "My mouth is a cape it will never weather."
He went to his inn.
Before he had been there ten minutes, up rattled a smart servant in a smart dogcart.
"Hamper--for Joseph Ashmead, Esquire."
"Anything to pay?"
"What for?--it's from Vizard Court."
And the dog-cart rattled away.
Joseph was in the hall, and witnessed this phenomenon. He said to himself, "I wish I had a vast acquaintance--ALL COUNTRY GENTLEMEN."
That afternoon Ina Klosking insisted on walking up and down the room, supported by Mesdemoiselles Gale and Dover. The result was fatigue and sleep; that is all.
"To-morrow," said she, "I will have but one live crutch. I must and will recover my strength."
In the evening she insisted on both ladies dining with Mr. Vizard. Here, too, she had her way.
Vizard was in very good spirits, and, when the servants were gone, complimented Miss Gale on her skill.
"Our skill, you mean," said she. "It was you who prescribed this new medicine of the mind, the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; and it was you who administered the Ashmead, and he made her laugh, or nearly--and that we have never been able to do. She must take a few grains of Ashmead every day. The worst of it is, I am afraid we shall cure her too quickly; and then we shall lose her. But that was to be expected. I am very unfortunate in my attachments; I always was. If I fall in love with a woman, she is sure to hate me, or else die, or else fly away. I love this one to distraction, so she is sure to desert me, because she couldn't misbehave, and I won't let her die."
"Well," said Vizard, "you know what to do--retard the cure. That is one of the arts of your profession."
"And so it is; but how can I, when I love her? No, we must have recourse to our benevolent tyrant again. He must get Miss Vizard back here, before my goddess is well enough to spread her wings and fly."
Vizard looked puzzled. "This," said he "sounds like a riddle, or female logic."
"It is both," said Rhoda. "Miss Dover, give him the mot d'énigme. I'm off--to the patient I adore."
She vanished swiftly, and Vizard looked to Fanny for a solution. But Fanny seemed rather vexed with Miss Gale, and said nothing. Then he pressed her to explain.
She answered him, with a certain reluctance, "Mademoiselle Klosking has taken into her head that Zoe will never return to this house while she is in it."
"Who put that into her head, now?" said Vizard, bitterly.
"Nobody, upon my honor. A woman's instinct."
"She is horrified at the idea of keeping your sister out of her own house, so she is getting well to go; and the strength of her will is such that she will get well."
"All the better; but Zoe will soon get tired of Somerville Villa. A little persuasion will bring her home, especially if you were to offer to take her place."
"Oh, I would do that, to oblige you, Harrington, if I saw any good at the end of it. But please think twice. How can Zoe and that lady ever stay under the same roof? How can they meet at your table, and speak to each other? They are rivals."
"They are both getting cured, and neither will ever see the villain again."
"I hope not; but who can tell? Well, never mind them. If their eyes are not opened by this time, they will get no pity from me. It is you I think of now." Then, in a hesitating way, and her cheeks mantling higher and higher with honest blushes--"You have suffered enough already from women. I know it is not my business, but it does grieve me to see you going into trouble again. What good can come of it? Her connection with that man, so recent, and so--strange. The world will interpret its own way. Your position in the county--every eye upon you. I see the way in--no doubt it is strewed with flowers; but I see no way out. Be brave in time, Harrington. It will not be the first time. She must be a good woman, somehow, or faces, eyes and voices, and ways, are all a lie. But if she is good, she is very unfortunate; and she will give you a sore heart for life, if you don't mind. I'd clinch my teeth and shut my eyes, and let her go in time."
Vizard groaned aloud, and at that a tear or two rolled down Fanny's burning cheeks.
"You are a good little girl," said Vizard, affectionately; "but I cannot."
He hung his head despondently and muttered, "I see no way out either. But I yield to fate. I feared her, and fled from her. She has followed me. I can resist no more. I drift. Some men never know happiness. I shall have had a happy fortnight, at all events. I thank you, and respect you for your advice; but I can't take it. So now I suppose you will be too much offended to oblige me."
"Oh dear, no."
"Would you mind writing to Aunt Maitland, and saying you would like to take Zoe's place?"
"I will do it with pleasure to oblige you. Besides, it will be a fib, and it is so long since I have told a good fib. When shall I write?"
"Oh, about the end of the week."
"Yes, that will be time enough. Miss Gale won't let her go till next week. Ah, after all, how nice and natural it is to be naughty! Fibs and flirtation, welcome home! This is the beauty of being good--and I shall recommend it to all my friends on this very account--you can always leave it off at a moment's notice, without any trouble. Now, naughtiness sticks to you like a burr."
So, with no more ado, this new Mentor became Vizard's accomplice, and they agreed to get Zoe back before the Klosking could get strong enough to move with her physician's consent.
As the hamper of Madeira was landed in the hall of the "Swan" inn, a genial voice cried, "You are in luck." Ashmead turned, and there was Poikilus peering at him from the doorway of the commercial room.
"What is the game now?" thought Ashmead. But what he said was, "Why, I know that face. I declare, it is the gent that treated me at Homburg. Bring in the hamper, Dick." Then to Poikilus, "Have ye dined yet?"
"No. Going to dine in half an hour. Roast gosling. Just enough for two."
"We'll divide it, if you like, and I'll stand a bottle of old Madeira. My old friend, Squire Vizard, has just sent it me. I'll just have a splash; dinner will be ready by then." He bustled out of the room, but said, as he went, "I say, old man, open the hamper, and put two bottles just within the smile of the fire."
He then went upstairs, and plunged his head in cold water, to clear his faculties for the encounter.
The friends sat down to dinner, and afterward to the Madeira, both gay and genial outside, but within full of design--their object being to pump one another.
In the encounter at Homburg, Ashmead had an advantage; Poikilus thought himself unknown to Ashmead. But this time there was a change. Poikilus knew by this time that La Klosking had gone to Vizard Court. How she had known Severne was there puzzled him a good deal; but he had ended by suspecting Ashmead, in a vague way.
The parties, therefore, met on even terms. Ashmead resolved to learn what he could about Severne, and Poikilus to learn what he could about Zoe Vizard and Mademoiselle Klosking.
Ashmead opened the ball: "Been long here?"
"Yes. Want to see if there's any chance of my getting paid for that job."
"Why, the Homburg job. Look here--I don't know why I should have any secrets from a good fellow like you; only you must not tell anybody else."
"Oh, honor bright!"
"Well, then, I am a detective."
"Ye don't mean that?"
"Good heavens! Well, I don't care. I haven't murdered anybody. Here's your health, Poikilus. I say, you could tell a tale or two."
"That I could. But I'm out of luck this time. The gentleman that employed me has mizzled, and he promised me fifty pounds. I came down here in hopes of finding him. Saw him once in this neighborhood."
"Well, you won't find him here, I don't think. You must excuse me, but your employer is a villain. He has knocked a lady down, and nearly killed her."
"You don't say that?"
"Yes; that beautiful lady, the singer, you saw in Homburg."
"What! the lady that said he should have his money?"
"Why, he must be mad."
"No. A scoundrel. That is all."
"Then she won't give him his money after that."
"Not if I can help it. But if she likes to pay you your commission, I shall not object to that."
"You are a good fellow."
"What is more, I shall see her to-morrow, and I will put the question to her for you."
Poikilus was profuse in his thanks, and said he began to think it was his only chance. Then he had a misgiving. "I have no claim on the lady," said he; "and I am afraid I have been a bad friend to her. I did not mean it, though, and the whole affair is dark to me."
"You are not very sharp, then, for a detective," said Ashmead. "Well, shut your mouth and open your eyes. Your Mr. Severne was the lady's lover, and preyed upon her. He left her; she was fool enough to love him still, and pined for him. He is a gambler, and was gambling by my side when Mademoiselle Klosking came in; so he cut his lucky, and left me fifty pounds to play for him, and she put the pot on, and broke the bank. I didn't know who he was, but we found it out by his photograph. Then you came smelling after the money, and we sold you nicely, my fine detective. We made it our business to know where you wrote to--Vizard Court. She went down there, and found him just going to be married to a beautiful young lady. She collared him. He flung her down, and cut her temple open--nearly killed her. She lies ill in the house, and the other young lady is gone away broken-hearted."
"How should I know? What is that to you?"
"Why don't you see? Wherever she is, he won't be far off. He likes her best, don't he?"
"It don't follow that she likes him, now she has found him out. He had better not go after her, or he'll get a skinful of broken bones. My friend, Squire Vizard, is the man to make short work with him, if he caught the blackguard spooning after his sister."
"And serve him right. Still, I wish I knew where that young lady is."
"I dare say I could learn if I made it my business."
Having brought the matter to that point, Poikilus left it, and simply made himself agreeable. He told Ashmead his experiences; and as they were, many of them, strange and dramatic, he kept him a delighted listener till midnight.
The next day Ashmead visited Mademoiselle Klosking, and found her walking up and down the room, with her hand on Miss Gale's shoulder.
She withdrew into the embrasure, and had some confidential talk with him. As a matter of course, he told her about Poikilus, and that he was hunting down Severne for his money.
"Indeed!" said the Klosking. "Please tell me every word that passed between you."
He did so, as nearly as he could remember.
Mademoiselle Klosking leaned her brow upon her hand a considerable time in thought. Then she turned on Ashmead, and said, quietly, "That Poikilus is still acting for him, and the one thing they desire to learn is where to find Miss Vizard, and delude her to her ruin."
"No, no," cried Ashmead violently; but the next moment his countenance fell. "You are wiser than I am," said he; "it may be. Confound the sneak! I'll give it him next time I see him! Why, he must love villainy for its own sake. I as good as said you would pay him his fifty pounds."
"What fifty pounds? His fifty pounds is a falsehood, like himself. Now, my friend, please take my instructions, my positive instructions."
"You will not change your friendly manner: show no suspicion nor anger. If they are cunning, we must be wise; and the wise always keep their temper. You will say Miss Vizard has gone to Ireland, but to what part is only known to her brother. Tell him this, and be very free and communicative on all other subjects; for this alone has any importance now. As for me, I can easily learn where Somerville Villa is, and in a day or two shall send you to look after her. One thing is clear--I had better lose no time in recovering my strength. Well, my will is strong. I will lose no time--your arm, monsieur;" and she resumed her promenade.
Ashmead, instructed as above, dined again with the detective; but out of revenge gave him but one bottle of Madeira. As they sipped it, he delivered a great many words; and in the middle of them said, "Oh, by-the-by, I asked after that poor young lady. Gone to Ireland, but they didn't know what part."
After dinner Ashmead went to the theater. When he came back Poikilus was gone.
So did Wisdom baffle Cunning that time.
But Cunning did not really leave the field: that very evening an aged man, in green spectacles, was inquiring about the postal arrangements to Vizard Court; and next day he might have been seen, in a back street of Taddington, talking to the village postman, and afterward drinking with him. It was Poikilus groping his way.
A FEW words avail to describe the sluggish waters of the Dead Sea, but what pen can portray the Indian Ocean lashed and tormented by a cyclone?
Even so a few words have sufficed to show that Ina Klosking's heart was all benumbed and deadened; and, with the help of insult, treachery, loss of blood, brain-fever, and self-esteem rebelling against villainy, had outlived its power of suffering poignant torture.
But I cannot sketch in a few words, nor paint in many, the tempest of passion in Zoe Vizard. Yet it is my duty to try and give the reader some little insight into the agony, the changes, the fury, the grief, the tempest of passion, in a virgin heart; in such a nature, the great passions of the mind often rage as fiercely, or even more so, than in older and experienced women.
Literally, Zoe Vizard loved Edward Severne one minute and hated him the next; gave him up for a traitor, and then vowed to believe nothing until she had heard his explanation; burned with ire at his silence, sickened with dismay at his silence. Then, for a while, love and faith would get the upper hand, and she would be quite calm. Why should she torment herself? An old sweetheart, abandoned long ago, had come between them; he had, unfortunately, done the woman an injury, in his wild endeavor to get away from her. Well, what business had she to use force? No doubt he was ashamed, afflicted at what he had done, being a man; or was in despair, seeing that lady installed in her brother's house, and her story, probably a parcel of falsehoods, listened to.
Then she would have a gleam of joy; for she knew he had not written to Ina Klosking. But soon Despondency came down like a dark cloud; for she said to herself, "He has left us both. He sees the woman he does not love will not let him have the one he does love; and so he has lost heart, and will have no more to say to either."
When her thoughts took this turn she would cry piteously; but not for long. She would dry her eyes, and burn with wrath all round; she would still hate her rival, but call her lover a coward--a contemptible coward.
After her day of raging, and grieving, and doubting, and fearing, and hoping, and despairing, night overtook her with an exhausted body, a bleeding heart, and weeping eyes. She had been so happy--on the very brink of paradise; and now she was deserted. Her pillow was wet every night. She cried in her very sleep; and when she woke in the morning her body was always quivering; and in the very act of waking came a horror, and an instinctive reluctance to face the light that was to bring another day of misery.
Such is a fair, though loose, description of her condition.
The slight fillip given to her spirits by the journey did her a morsel of good, but it died away. Having to nurse Aunt Maitland did her a little good at first. But she soon relapsed into herself, and became so distraite that Aunt Maitland, who was all self, being an invalid, began to speak sharply to her.
On the second day of her visit to Somerville Villa, as she sat brooding at the foot of her aunt's bed, suddenly she heard horses' feet, and then a ring at the hall-door. Her heart leaped. Perhaps he had come to explain all. He might not choose to go to Vizard Court. What if he had been watching as anxiously as herself, and had seized the first opportunity! In a moment her pale cheek rivaled carmine.
The girl brought up a card--
The color died away directly. "Say I am very sorry, but at this moment I cannot leave my aunt."
The girl stared with amazement, and took down the message.
Uxmoor rode away.
Zoe felt a moment's pleasure. No, if she could not see the right man, she would not see the wrong. That, at least, was in her power.
Nevertheless, in the course of the day, remembering Uxmoor's worth, and the pain she had already given him, she was almost sorry she had indulged herself at his expense.
Superfluous contrition! He came next day, as a matter of course. She liked him none the better for coming, but she went downstairs to him.
He came toward her, but started back and uttered an exclamation. "You are not well," he said, in tones of tenderness and dismay.
"Not very," she faltered; for his open manly concern touched her.
"And you have come here to nurse this old lady? Indeed, Miss Vizard, you need nursing yourself. You know it is some time since I had the pleasure of seeing you, and the change is alarming. May I send you Dr. Atkins, my mother's physician?"
"I am much obliged to you. No."
"Oh, I forgot. You have a physician of your own sex. Why is she not looking after you?"
"Miss Gale is better employed. She is at Vizard Court in attendance on a far more brilliant person--Mademoiselle Klosking, a professional singer. Perhaps you know her?"
"I saw her at Homburg."
"Well, she met with an accident in our hall--a serious one; and Harrington took her in, and has placed all his resources--his lady physician and all--at her service: he is so fond of Music."
A certain satirical bitterness peered through these words, but honest Uxmoor did not notice it. He said, "Then I wish you would let me be your doctor--for want of a better."
"And you think you can cure me?" said Zoe, satirically.
"It does seem presumptuous. But, at least, I could do you a little good if you could be got to try my humble prescription."
"What is it?" asked Zoe, listlessly.
"It is my mare Phillis. She is the delight of every lady who mounts her. She is thorough-bred, lively, swift, gentle, docile, amiable, perfect. Ride her on these downs an hour or two very day. I'll send her over to-morrow. May I?"
"If you like. Rosa would pack up my riding-habit."
"Rosa was a prophetess."
Next day came Phillis, saddled and led by a groom on horseback, and Uxmoor soon followed on an old hunter. He lifted Zoe to her saddle, and away they rode, the groom following at a respectful distance.
When they got on the downs they had a delightful canter; but Zoe, in her fevered state of mind, was not content with that. She kept increasing the pace, till the old hunter could no longer live with the young filly; and she galloped away from Lord Uxmoor, and made him ridiculous in the eyes of his groom.
The truth is, she wanted to get away from him.
He drew the rein, and stood stock-still. She made a circuit of a mile, and came up to him with heightened color and flashing eyes, looking beautiful.
"Well?" said she. "Don't you like galloping?"
"Yes, but I don't like cruelty."
"Look at the mare's tail how it is quivering, and her flanks panting! And no wonder. You have been over twice the Derby course at a racing pace. Miss Vizard, a horse is not a steam engine."
"I'll never ride her again," said Zoe. "I did not come here to be scolded. I will go home."
They walked slowly home in silence. Uxmoor hardly knew what to say to her; but at last he murmured, apologetically, "Never mind the poor mare, if you are better for galloping her."
She waited a moment before she spoke, and then she said, "Well, yes; I am better. I'm better for my ride, and better for my scolding. Good-by." (Meaning forever.)
"Good-by," said he, in the same tone. Only he sent the mare next day, and followed her on a young thorough-bred.
"What!" said Zoe; "am I to have another trial?"
"And another after that."
So this time she would only canter very slowly, and kept stopping every now and then to inquire, satirically, if that would distress the mare.
But Uxmoor was too good-humored to quarrel for nothing. He only laughed, and said, "You are not the only lady who takes a horse for a machine."
These rides did her bodily health some permanent good; but their effect on her mind was fleeting. She was in fair spirits when she was actually bounding through the air, but she collapsed afterward.
At first, when she used to think that Severne never came near her, and Uxmoor was so constant, she almost hated Uxmoor--so little does the wrong man profit by doing the right thing for a woman. I admit that, though not a deadly woman-hater myself.
But by-and-by she was impartially bitter against them both; the wrong man for doing the right thing, and the right man for not doing it.
As the days rolled by, and Severne did not appear, her indignation and wounded pride began to mount above her love. A beautiful woman counts upon pursuit, and thinks a man less than man if he does not love her well enough to find her, though hid in the caves of ocean or the labyrinths of Bermondsey.
She said to herself, "Then he has no explanation to offer. Another woman has frightened him away from me. I have wasted my affections on a coward." Her bosom boiled with love, and contempt, and wounded pride; and her mind was tossed to and fro like a leaf in a storm. She began, by force of will, to give Uxmoor some encouragement; only, after it she writhed and wept.
At last, finding herself driven to and fro like a leaf, she told Miss Maitland all, and sought counsel of her. She must have something to lean on.
The old lady was better by this time, and spoke kindly to her. She said Mr. Severne was charming, and she was not bound to give him up because another lady had past claims on him. But it appeared to her that Mr. Severne himself had deserted her. He had not written to her. Probably he knew something that had not yet transpired, and had steeled himself to the separation for good reasons. It was a decision she must accept. Let her then consider how forlorn is the condition of most deserted women compared with hers. Here was a devoted lover, whom she esteemed, and who could offer her a high position and an honest love. If she had a mother, that mother would almost force her to engage herself at once to Lord Uxmoor. Having no mother, the best thing she could do would be to force herself--to say some irrevocable words, and never look back. It was the lot of her sex not to marry the first love, and to be all the happier in the end for that disappointment, though at the time it always seemed eternal.
All this, spoken in a voice of singular kindness by one who used to be so sharp, made Zoe's tears flow gently and somewhat cooled her raging heart.
She began now to submit, and only cry at intervals, and let herself drift; and Uxmoor visited her every day, and she found it impossible not to esteem and regard him. Nevertheless, one afternoon, just about his time, she was seized with such an aversion to his courtship, and such a revolt against the slope she seemed gliding down, that she flung on her bonnet and shawl, and darted out of the house to escape him. She said to the servant, "I am gone for a walk, if anybody calls."
Uxmoor did call, and, receiving this message, he bit his lip, sent the horse home and walked up to the windmill, on the chance of seeing her anywhere. He had already observed she was never long in one mood; and as he was always in the same mind, he thought perhaps he might be tolerably welcome, if he could meet her unexpected.
Meantime Zoe walked very fast to get away from the house as soon as possible, and she made a round of nearly five miles, walking through two villages, and on her return lost her way. However, a shepherd showed her a bridle-road which, he told her, would soon take her to Somerville Villa, through "the small pastures;" and, accordingly, she came into a succession of meadows not very large. They were all fenced and gated; but the gates were only shut, not locked. This was fortunate; for they were new five-barred gates, and a lady does not like getting over these, even in solitude. Her clothes are not adapted.
There were sheep in some of these, cows in others, and the pastures wonderfully green and rich, being always well manured, and fed down by cattle.
Zoe's love of color was soothed by these emerald fields, dotted with white sheep and red cows.
In the last field, before the lane that led to the village, a single beast was grazing. Zoe took no notice of him, and walked on; but he took wonderful notice of her, and stared, then gave a disagreeable snort. He took offense at her Indian shawl, and, after pawing the ground and erecting his tail, he came straight at her at a tearing trot, and his tail out behind him.
Zoe saw, and screamed violently, and ran for the gate ahead, which, of course, was a few yards further from her than the gate behind. She ran for her life; but the bull, when he saw that, broke into a gallop directly, and came up fast with her. She could not escape.
At that moment a man vaulted clean over the gate, tore a pitchfork out of a heap of dung that luckily stood in the corner, and boldly confronted the raging bull just in time; for at that moment Zoe lost heart, and crouched, screaming, in the side ditch, with her hands before her eyes.
The new-comer, rash as his conduct seemed, was country-bred and knew what he was about: he drove one of the prongs clean through the great cartilage of the bull's mouth, and was knocked down like a nine-pin, with the broken staff of the pitch-fork in his hand; and the bull reared in the air with agony, the prong having gone clean through his upper lip in two places, and fastened itself, as one fastens a pin, in that leathery but sensitive organ.
Now Uxmoor was a university athlete; he was no sooner down than up. So, when the bull came down from his rearing, and turned to massacre his assailant, he was behind him, and seizing his tail, twisted it, and delivered a thundering blow on his backbone, and followed it up by a shower of them on his ribs. "Run to the gate, Zoe!" he roared. Whack! whack! whack!--"Run to the gate, I tell you!"--whack!--whack!--whack!--whack!--whack!
Thus ordered, Zoe Vizard, who would not have moved of herself, being in a collapse of fear, scudded to the gate, got on the right side of it, and looked over, with two eyes like saucers. She saw a sight incredible to her. Instead of letting the bull alone, now she was safe, Uxmoor was sticking to him like a ferret. The bull ran, tossing his nose with pain and bellowing: Uxmoor dragged by the tail and compelled to follow in preposterous, giant strides, barely touching the ground with the point of his toe, pounded the creature's ribs with such blows as Zoe had never dreamed possible. They sounded like flail on wooden floor, and each blow was accompanied with a loud jubilant shout. Presently, being a five's player, and ambidexter, he shifted his hand, and the tremendous whacks resounded on the bull's left side. The bull, thus belabored, and resounding like the big drum, made a circuit of the field, but found it all too hot: he knew his way to a certain quiet farmyard; he bolted, and came bang at Zoe once more, with furious eyes and gore-distilling nostrils.
But this time she was on the right side of the gate.
Yet she drew back in dismay as the bull drew near: and she was right; for, in his agony and amazement, the unwieldy but sinewy brute leaped the five-barred gate, and cleared it all but the top rail; that he burst through, as if it had been paper, and dragged Uxmoor after him, and pulled him down, and tore him some yards along the hard road on his back, and bumped his head against a stone, and so got rid of him: then pounded away down the lane, snorting, and bellowing, and bleeding; the prong still stuck through his nostrils like a pin.
Zoe ran to Uxmoor with looks of alarm and tender concern, and lifted his head to her tender bosom; for his clothes were torn, and his cheeks and hands bleeding. But he soon shook off his confusion, and rose without assistance.
"Have you got over your fright?" said he; "that is the question."
"Oh yes! yes! It is only you I am alarmed for. It is much better I should be killed than you."
"Killed! I never had better fun in my life. It was glorious. I stuck to him, and hit--there, I have not had anything I could hit as hard as I wanted to, since I used to fight with my cousin Jack at Eton. Oh, Miss Vizard, it was a whirl of Elysium! But I am sorry you were frightened. Let me take you home."
"Oh, yes, but not that way; that is the way the monster went!" quivered Zoe.
"Oh, he has had enough of us."
"But I have had too much of him. Take me some other road--a hundred miles round. How I tremble!"
"So you do. Take my arm.--No, putting the tips of your fingers on it is no use; take it really--you want support. Be courageous, now--we are very near home."
Zoe trembled, and cried a little, to conclude the incident, but walked bravely home on Uxmoor's arm.
In the hall at Somerville Villa she saw him change color, and insisted on his taking some port wine.
"I shall be very glad," said he.
A decanter was brought. He filled a large tumbler and drank it off like water.
This was the first intimation he gave Zoe that he was in pain, and his nerves hard tried; nor did she indeed arrive at that conclusion until he had left her.
Of course, she carried all this to Aunt Maitland. That lady was quite moved by the adventure. She sat up in bed, and listened with excitement and admiration. She descanted on Lord Uxmoor's courage and chivalry, and congratulated Zoe that such a pearl of manhood had fallen at her feet. "Why, child," said she, "surely, after this, you will not hesitate between this gentleman and a beggarly adventurer, who has nothing, not even the courage of a man. Turn your back on all such rubbish, and be the queen of the county. I'd be content to die to-morrow if I could see you Countess of Uxmoor."
"You shall live, and see it, dear aunt," said Zoe, kissing her.
"Well," said Miss Maitland, "if anything can cure me, that will. And really," said she, "I feel better ever since that brave fellow began to bring you to your senses."
Admiration and gratitude being now added to esteem, Zoe received Lord Uxmoor next day with a certain timidity and half tenderness she had never shown before; and, as he was by nature a rapid wooer, he saw his chance, and stayed much longer than usual, and at last hazarded a hope that he might be allowed to try and win her heart.
Thereupon she began to fence, and say that love was all folly. He had her esteem and her gratitude, and it would be better for both of them to confine their sentiments within those rational bounds.
"That I cannot do," said Uxmoor; "so I must ask your leave to be ambitious. Let me try and conquer your affection."
"As you conquered the bull?"
"Yes; only not so rudely, nor so quickly, I'll be bound."
"Well, I don't know why I should object. I esteem you more than anybody in the world. You are my beau ideal of a man. If you can make me love you, all the better for me. Only, I am afraid you cannot."
"May I try?"
"Yes," said Zoe, bushing carnation.
"May I come every day?"
"Twice a day, if you like."
"I think I shall succeed--in time."
"I hope you may."
Then he kissed her hand devotedly--the first time in his life--and went away on wings.
Zoe flew up to her aunt Maitland, flushed and agitated. "Aunt, I am as good as engaged to him. I have said such unguarded things. I'm sure he will understand it that I consent to receive his addresses as my lover. Not that I really said so."
"I hope," said Aunt Maitland, "that you have committed yourself somehow or other, and cannot go back."
"I think I have. Yes; it is all over. I cannot go back now."
Then she burst out crying. Then she was near choking, and had to smell her aunt's salts, while still the tears ran fast.
Miss Maitland received this with perfect composure. She looked on them as the last tears of regret given to a foolish attachment at the moment of condemning it forever. She was old, and had seen these final tears shed by more than one loving woman just before entering on her day of sunshine.
And now Zoe must be alone, and vent her swelling heart. She tied a handkerchief round her head and darted into the garden. She went round and round it with fleet foot and beating pulses.
The sun began to decline, and a cold wind to warn her in. She came, for the last time, to a certain turn of the gravel walk, where there was a little iron gate leading into the wooded walk from the meadows.
At that gate she found a man. She started back, and leaned against the nearest tree, with her hands behind her.
It was Edward Severne--all in black, and pale as death; but not paler than her own face turned in a moment.
Indeed, they looked at each other like two ghosts.
ZOE was the first to speak, or rather to gasp. "Why do you come here?"
"Because you are here."
"And how dare you come where I am?--now your falsehood is found out and flung into my very face!"
"I have never been false to you. At this moment I suffer for my fidelity."
"You suffer? I am glad of it. How?"
"In many ways: but they are all light, compared with my fear of losing your love."
"I will listen to no idle words," said Zoe sternly. "A lady claimed you before my face; why did you not stand firm like a man, and say, 'You have no claim on me now; I have a right to love another, and I do?' Why did you fly?--because you were guilty."
"No," said he, doggedly. "Surprised and confounded, but not guilty. Fool! idiot! that I was. I lost my head entirely. Yes, it is hopeless. You must despise me. You have a right to despise me."
"Don't tell me," said Zoe: "you never lose your head. You are always self-possessed and artful. Would to Heaven I had never seen you!" She was violent.
He gave her time. "Zoe," said he, after a while, "if I had not lost my head, should I have ill-treated a lady and nearly killed her?"
"Ah!" said Zoe, sharply, "that is what you have been suffering from--remorse. And well you may. You ought to go back to her, and ask her pardon on your knees. Indeed, it is all you have left to do now."
"I know I ought."
"Then do what you ought. Good-by."
"I cannot. I hate her."
"What, because you have broken her heart, and nearly killed her?"
"No; but because she has come between me and the only woman I ever really loved, or ever can."
"She would not have done that if you had not given her the right. I see her now; she looked justice, and you looked guilt. Words are idle, when I can see her face before me still. No woman could look like that who was in the wrong. But you--guilt made you a coward: you were false to her and false to me; and so you ran away from us both. You would have talked either of us over, alone; but we were together: so you ran away. You have found me alone now, so you are brave again; but it is too late. I am undeceived. I decline to rob Mademoiselle Klosking of her lover; so good-by."
And this time she was really going, but he stopped her. "At least don't go with a falsehood on your lips," said he, coldly.
"Yes, it is a falsehood. How can you pretend I left that lady for you, when you know my connection with her had entirely ceased ten months before I ever saw your face?"
This staggered Zoe a moment; so did the heat and sense of injustice he threw into his voice.
"I forgot that," said she, naïvely. Then, recovering herself, "You may have parted with her; but it does not follow that she consented. Fickle men desert constant women. It is done every day."
"You are mistaken again," said he. "When I first saw you, I had ceased to think of Mademoiselle Klosking; but it was not so when I first left her. I did not desert her. I tore myself from her. I had a great affection for her."
"You dare to tell me that. Well, at all events, it is the truth. Why did you leave her, then?"
"Out of self-respect. I was poor, she was rich and admired. Men sent her bouquets and bracelets, and flattered her behind the scenes, and I was lowered in my own eyes: so I left her. I was unhappy for a time; but I had my pride to support me, and the wound was healed long before I knew what it was to love, really to love."
There was nothing here that Zoe could contradict. She kept silence, and was mystified.
Then she attacked him on another quarter. "Have you written to her since you behaved like a ruffian to her?"
"No. And I never will, come what may. It is wicked of me; but I hate her. I am compelled to esteem her. But I hate her."
Zoe could quite understand that; but in spite of that she said, "Of course you do. Men always hate those they have used ill. Why did you not write to me? Had a mind to be impartial, I suppose?"
"I had reason to believe it would have been intercepted."
"For shame! Vizard is incapable of such a thing."
"Ah, you don't know how he is changed. He looks on me as a mad dog. Consider, Zoe: do, pray, take the real key to it all. He is in love with Mademoiselle Klosking, madly in love with her: and I have been so unfortunate as to injure her--nearly to kill her. I dare say he thinks it is on your account he hates me; but men deceive themselves. It is for her he hates me"
"Ay. Think for a moment, and you will see it is. You are not in his confidence. I am sure he has never told you that he ordered his keepers to shoot me down if I came about the house at night."
"Oh no, no!" cried Zoe.
"Do you know he has raised the country against me, and has warrants out against me for forgery, because I was taken in by a rogue who gave me bills with sham names on them, and I got Vizard to cash them? As soon as we found out how I had been tricked, my uncle and I offered at once to pay him back his money. But no! he prefers to keep the bills as a weapon."
Zoe began to be puzzled a little. But she said, "You have been a long time discovering all these grievances. Why have you held no communication all this time?"
"Because you were inaccessible. Does not your own heart tell you that I have been all these weeks trying to communicate, and unable? Why, I came three times under your window at night, and you never, never would look out."
"I did look out ever so often."
"If I had been you, I should have looked ten thousand times. I only left off coming when I heard the keepers were ordered to shoot me down. Not that I should have cared much, for I am desperate. But I had just sense enough left to see that, if my dead body had been brought bleeding into your hall some night, none of you would ever have been happy again. Your eyes would have been opened, all of you. Well, Zoe, you left Vizard Court; that I learned: but it was only this morning I could find out where you were gone: and you see I am here--with a price upon my head. Please read Vizard's advertisements."
She took them and read them. A hot flush mounted to her cheek.
"You see," said he, "I am to be imprisoned if I set my foot in Barfordshire. Well, it will be false imprisonment, and Mademoiselle Klosking's lover will smart for it. At all events, I shall take no orders but from you. You have been deceived by appearances. I shall do all I can to undeceive you, and if I cannot, there will be no need to imprison me for a deceit of which I was the victim, nor to shoot me like a dog for loving you. I will take my broken heart quietly away, and leave Barfordshire, and England, and the world, for aught I care."
Then he cried: and that made her cry directly.
"Ah!" she sighed, "we are unfortunate. Appearances are so deceitful. I see I have judged too hastily, and listened too little to my own heart, that always made excuses. But it is too late now."
"Why too late?"
"It all looked so ugly, and you were silent. We are unfortunate. My brother would never let us marry; and, besides-- Oh, why did you not come before?"
"I might as well say, Why did you not look out of your window? You could have done it without risking your life, as I did. Or why did you not advertise. You might have invited an explanation from 'E. S.,' under cover to so-and-so."
"Ladies never think of such things. You know that very well."
"Oh, I don't complain; but I do say that those who love should not be ready to reproach; they should put a generous construction. You might have known, and you ought to have known, that I was struggling to find you, and torn with anguish at my impotence."
"No, no. I am so young and inexperienced, and all my friends against you. It is they who have parted us."
"How can they part us, if you love me still as I love you?"
"Because for the last fortnight I have not loved you, but hated you, and doubted you, and thought my only chance of happiness was to imitate your indifference: and while I was thinking so, another person has come forward; one whom I have always esteemed: and now, in my pity and despair, I have given him hopes." She hid her burning face in her hands.
"I see; you are false to me, and therefore you have suspected me of being false to you."
At that she raised her head high directly. "Edward, you are unjust. Look in my face, and you may see what I have suffered before I could bring myself to condemn you."
"What! your paleness, that dark rim under your lovely eyes--am I the cause?"
"Indeed you are. But I forgive you. You are sadly pale and worn too. Oh, how unfortunate we are!"
"Do not cry, dearest," said he. "Do not despair. Be calm, and let me know the worst. I will not reproach you, though you have reproached me. I love you as no woman can love. Come, tell me."
"Then the truth is, Lord Uxmoor has renewed his attention to me."
"He has been here every day."
"Aunt Maitland was on his side, and spoke so kindly to me, and he saved my life from a furious bull. He is brave, noble, good, and he loves me. I have committed myself. I cannot draw back with honor."
"But from me you can, because I am poor and hated, and have no title. If you are committed to him, you are engaged to me."
"I am; so now I can go neither way. If I had poison, I would take it this moment, and end all."
"For God's sake, don't talk so. I am sure you exaggerate. You cannot, in those few days, have pledged your faith to another. Let me see your finger. Ah! there's my ring on it still: bless you, my own darling Zoe--bless you;" and he covered her hand with kisses, and bedewed it with his ever-ready tears.
The girl began to melt, and all power to ooze out of her, mind and body. She sighed deeply and said, "What can I do--I don't say with honor and credit, but with decency. What can I do?"
"Tell me, first, what you have said to him that you consider so compromising."
Zoe, with many sighs, replied: "I believe--I said--I was unhappy. And so I was. And I owned--that I admired--and esteemed him. And so I do. And then of course he wanted more, and I could not give more; and he asked might he try and make me love him; and--I said--I am afraid I said--he might, if he could."
"And a very proper answer, too."
"Ah! but I said he might come every day. It is idle to deceive ourselves: I have encouraged his addresses. I can do nothing now with credit but die, or go into a convent."
"When did you say this?"
"This very day."
"Then he has never acted on it."
"No, but he will. He will be here tomorrow for certain."
"Then your course is plain. You must choose to-night between him and me. You must dismiss him by letter, or me upon this spot. I have not much fortune to offer you, and no coronet; but I love you, and you have seen me reject a lovely and accomplished woman, whom I esteem as much as you do this lord. Reject him? Why, you have seen me fling her away from me like a dog sooner than leave you in a moment's doubt of my love: if you cannot write a civil note declining an earl for me, your love in not worthy of mine, and I will begone with my love. I will not take it to Mademoiselle Klosking, though I esteem her as you do this lord; but, at all events, I will take it away from you, and leave you my curse instead, for a false, fickle girl that could not wait one little month, but must fall, with her engaged ring on her finger, into another man's arms. Oh, Zoe! Zoe! who could have believed this of you?"
"Don't reproach me. I won't bear it," she cried, wildly.
"I hope not to have to reproach you," said he, firmly; "I cannot conceive your hesitating."
"I am worn out. Love has been too great a torment. Oh, if I could find peace!"
Again her tears flowed.
He put on a sympathizing air. "You shall have peace. Dismiss him as I tell you, and he will trouble you no more; shake hands with me, and say you prefer him, and I will trouble you no more. But with two lovers, peace is out of the question, and so is self-respect. I know I could not vacillate between you and Mademoiselle Klosking or any other woman."
"Ah, Edward, if I do this, you ought to love me very dearly."
"I shall. Better than ever--if possible."
"And never make me jealous again."
"I never shall, dearest. Our troubles are over."
"Edward, I have been very unhappy. I could not bear these doubts again."
"You shall never be unhappy again."
"I must do what you require, I suppose. That is how it always ends. Oh dear! oh dear!"
"Zoe, it must be done. You know it must."
"I warn you I shall do it as kindly as I can."
"Of course you will. You ought to."
"I must go in now. I feel very cold."
"How soon to-morrow will you meet me here?"
"When you please," said she, languidly.
"At ten o'clock?"
Then there was a tender parting, and Zoe went slowly in. She went to her own room, just to think it all over alone. She caught sight of her face in the glass. Her cheeks had regained color, and her eyes were bright as stars. She stopped and looked at herself. "There now," said she, "and I seem to myself to live again. I was mad to think I could ever love any man but him. He is my darling, my idol."
There was no late dinner at Somerville Villa. Indeed, ladies, left to themselves, seldom dine late. Nature is strong in them, and they are hungriest when the sun is high. At seven o'clock Zoe Vizard was seated at her desk trying to write to Lord Uxmoor. She sighed, she moaned, she began, and dropped the pen and hid her face. She became almost wild; and in that state she at last dashed off what follows:
"DEAR LORD UXMOOR--For pity's sake, forgive the mad words I said to you today. It is impossible. I can do no more than admire and esteem you. My heart is gone from me forever. Pray forgive me, though I do not deserve it; and never see me nor look at me again. I ask pardon for my vacillation. It has been disgraceful; but it has ended, and I was under a great error, which I cannot explain to you, when I led you to believe I had a heart to give you. My eyes are opened. Our paths lie asunder. Pray, pray forgive me, if it is possible. I will never forgive myself, nor cease to bless and revere you, whom I have used so ill.
That day Uxmoor dined alone with his mother, for a wonder, and he told her how Miss Vizard had come round; he told her also about the bull, but so vilely that she hardly comprehended he had been in any danger: these encounters are rarely described to the life, except by us who avoid them--except on paper.
Lady Uxmoor was much pleased. She was a proud, politic lady, and this was a judicious union of two powerful houses in the county, and one that would almost command the elections. But, above all, she knew her son's heart was in the match, and she gave him a mother's sympathy.
As she retired, she kissed him and said, "When you are quite sure of the prize, tell me, and I will call upon her."
Being alone, Lord Uxmoor lighted a cigar and smoked it in measureless content. The servant brought him a note on a salver. It had come by hand. Uxmoor opened it and read every word straight through, down to "Zoe Vizard;" read it, and sat petrified.
He read it again. He felt a sort of sickness come over him. He swallowed a tumbler of port, a wine he rarely touched; but he felt worse now than after the bullfight. This done, he rose and stalked like a wounded lion into the drawing-room, which was on the same floor, and laid the letter before his mother.
"You are a woman too," said he, a little helplessly. "Tell me--what on earth does this mean?"
The dowager read it slowly and keenly, and said, "It means--another man."
"Ah!" said Uxmoor, with a sort of snarl.
"Have you seen any one about her?"
"No; not lately. At Vizard Court there was. But that is all over now, I conclude. It was a Mr. Severne, an adventurer, a fellow that was caught out in a lie before us all. Vizard tells me a lady came and claimed him before Miss Vizard, and he ran away."
"An unworthy attachment, in short?"
"Very unworthy, if it was an attachment at all."
"Was he at Vizard Court when she declined your hand?"
"Did he remain, after you went?"
"I suppose so. Yes, he must have."
"Then the whole thing is clear: that man has come forward again unexpectedly, or written, and she dismisses you. My darling, there is but one thing for you to do. Leave her, and thank her for telling you in time. A less honorable fool would have hidden it, and then we might have had a Countess of Uxmoor in the Divorce Court some day or other.
"I had better go abroad," said Uxmoor, with a groan. "This country is poisoned for me."
"Go, by all means. Let Janneway pack up your things to-morrow."
"I should like to kill that fellow first."
"You will not even waste a thought on him, if you are my son."
"You are right, mother. What am I to say to her?"
"Not a word."
"What, not answer her letter? It is humble enough, I am sure--poor soul! Mother, I am wretched, but I am not bitter, and my rival will revenge me."
"Uxmoor, your going abroad is the only answer she shall have. The wisest man, in these matters, who ever lived has left a rule of conduct to every well-born man--a rule which, believe me, is wisdom itself:
"Le bruit est pour le fat, la plainte est pour le sot;
L'honnête homme trompé s'éloigne, et ne dit mot."
You will make a tour, and not say a word to Miss Vizard, good, bad, nor indifferent. I insist upon that."
"Very well. Thank you, dear mother; you guide me, and don't let me make a fool of myself, for I am terribly cut up. You will be the only Countess of Uxmoor in my day."
Then he knelt at her feet, and she kissed his head and cried over him; but her tears only made this proud lady stronger.
Next day he started on his travels.
Now, but for Zoe, he would on no account have left England just then; for he was just going to build model cottages in his own village, upon designs of his own, each with a little plot, and a public warehouse or granary, with divisions for their potatoes and apples, etc. However, he turned this over in his mind while he was packing; he placed certain plans and papers in his dispatch box, and took his ticket to Taddington, instead of going at once to London. From Taddington he drove over to Hillstoke and asked for Miss Gale. They told him she was fixed at Vizard Court. That vexed him: he did not want to meet Vizard. He thought it the part of a Jerry Sneak to go and howl to a brother against his sister. Yet if Vizard questioned him, how could he conceal there was something wrong? However, he went down to Vizard Court; but said to the servant who opened the door, "I am rather in a hurry, sir: do you think you could procure me a few minutes with Miss Gale? You need not trouble Mr. Vizard."
"Yes, my laud. Certainly, my laud. Please step in the morning-room, my laud. Mr. Vizard is out."
That was fortunate, and Miss Gale came down to him directly.
Fanny took that opportunity to chatter and tell Mademoiselle Klosking all about Lord Uxmoor and his passion for Zoe. "And he will have her, too," said she, boldly.
Lord Uxmoor told Miss Gale he had called upon business. He was obliged to leave home for a time, and wished to place his projects under the care of a person who could really sympathize with them, and make additions to them, if necessary. "Men," said he, "are always making oversights in matters of domestic comfort: besides, you are full of ideas. I want you to be viceroy with full power, and act just as you would if the village belonged to you."
Rhoda colored high at the compliment.
"Wells, cows, granary, real education--what you like" said he. "I know your mind. Begin abolishing the lower orders in the only way they can be got rid of--by raising them in comfort, cleanliness, decency, and knowledge. Then I shall not be missed. I'm going abroad."
"Yes. Here are my plans: alter them for the better if you can. All the work to be done by the villagers. Weekly wages. We buy materials. They will be more reconciled to improved dwellings when they build them themselves. Here are the addresses of the people who will furnish money. It will entail traveling; but my people will always meet you at the station, if you telegraph from Taddington. You accept? A thousand thanks. I am afraid I must be off."
She went into the hall with him, half bewildered, and only at the door found time to ask after Zoe Vizard.
"A little better, I think, than when she came."
"Does she know you are going abroad?"
"No; I don't think she does, yet. It was settled all in a hurry."
He escaped further questioning by hurrying away.
Miss Gale was still looking after him, when Ina Klosking came down, dressed for a walk, and leaning lightly on Miss Dover's arm. This was by previous consent of Miss Gale.
"Well, dear," said Fanny, "what did he say to you?"
"Something that has surprised and puzzled me very much." She then related the whole conversation, with her usual precision.
Ina Klosking observed quietly to Fanny that this did not look like successful wooing.
"I don't know that," said Fanny, stoutly. "Oh, Miss Gale, did you not ask him about her?"
"Certainly I did; and he said she was better than when she first came."
"There!" said Fanny, triumphantly.
Miss Gale gave her a little pinch, and she dropped the subject.
Vizard returned, and found Mademoiselle Klosking walking on his gravel. He offered her his arm, and was a happy man, parading her very slowly, and supporting her steps, and purring his congratulations into her ear. "Suppose I were to invite you to dinner, what would you say?"
"I think I should say, 'To-morrow.'"
"And a very good answer, too. To-morrow shall be a fête."
"You spoil me?"
"That is impossible."
It was strange to see them together; he so happy, she so apathetic, yet gracious.
Next morning came a bit of human nature--a letter from Zoe to Fanny, almost entirely occupied with praises of Lord Uxmoor. She told the bull story better than I have--if possible--and, in short, made Uxmoor a hero of romance.
Fanny carried this in triumph to the other ladies, and read it out. "There!" said she. "Didn't I tell you?"
Rhoda read the letter, and owned herself puzzled. "I am not, then," said Fanny: "they are engaged--over the bull; like Europa and I forgot who--and so he is not afraid to go abroad now. That is just like the men. They cool directly the chase is over."
Now the truth was that Zoe was trying to soothe her conscience with elegant praises of the man she had dismissed, and felt guilty.
Ina Klosking said little. She was puzzled too at first. She asked to see Zoe's handwriting. The letter was handed to her. She studied the characters. "It is a good hand," she said; "nothing mean there." And she gave it back.
But, with a glance, she had read the address, and learned that the post town was Bagley.
All that day, at intervals, she brought her powerful understanding to bear on the paradox; and though she had not the facts and the clew I have given the reader, she came near the truth in an essential matter. She satisfied herself that Lord Uxmoor was not engaged to Zoe Vizard. Clearly, if so, he would not leave England for months. She resolved to know more; and just before dinner she wrote a line to Ashmead, and requested him to call on her immediately.
That day she dined with Vizard and the ladies. She sat at Vizard's right hand, and he told her how proud, and happy he was to see her there.
She blushed faintly, but made no reply.
She retired soon after dinner.
All next day she expected Ashmead.
He did not come.
She dined with Vizard next day, and retired to the drawing-room. The piano was opened, and she played one or two exquisite things, and afterward tried her voice, but only in scales, and somewhat timidly, for Miss Gale warned her she might lose it or spoil it if she strained the vocal chord while her whole system was weak.
Next day Ashmead came with apologies.
He had spent a day in the cathedral town on business. He did not tell her how he had spent that day, going about puffing her as the greatest singer of sacred music in the world, and paving the way to her engagement at the next festival. Yet the single-hearted Joseph had really raised that commercial superstructure upon the sentiments she had uttered on his first visit to Vizard Court.
Ina now held a private conference with him. "I think," said she, "I have heard you say you were once an actor."
"I was, madam, and a very good one, too."
"Cela va sans dire. I never knew one that was not. At all events, you can disguise yourself."
"Anything, madam, from Grandfather Whitehead to a boy in a pinafore. Famous for my make-ups."
"I wish you to watch a certain house, and not be recognized by a person who knows you."
"Well, madam, nothing is infra dig, if done for you; nothing is distasteful if done for you."
"Thank you, my friend. I have thought it well to put my instructions on paper."
"Ay, that is the best way."
She handed him the instructions. He read them, and his eyes sparkled. "Ah, this is a commission I undertake with pleasure, and I'll execute it with zeal."
He left her, soon after, to carry out these instructions, and that very evening he was in the wardrobe of the little theater, rummaging out a suitable costume, and also in close conference with the wigmaker.
Next day Vizard had his mother's sables taken out and aired, and drove Mademoiselle Klosking into Taddington in an open carriage. Fanny told her they were his mother's sables, and none to compare with them in the country.
On returning, she tried her voice to the harmonium in her own antechamber, and found it was gaining strength--like herself.
Meantime Zoe Vizard met Severne in the garden, and told him she had written to Lord Uxmoor, and he would never visit her again. But she did not make light of the sacrifice this time. She had sacrificed her own self-respect as well as Uxmoor's, and she was sullen and tearful.
He had to be very wary and patient, or she would have parted with him too, and fled from both of them to her brother.
Uxmoor's wounded pride would have been soothed could he have been present at the first interview of this pair. He would have seen Severne treated with a hauteur and a sort of savageness he himself was safe from, safe in her unshaken esteem.
But the world is made for those who can keep their temper, especially the female part of the world.
Sad, kind, and loving, but never irritable, Severne smoothed down and soothed and comforted the wounded girl; and, seeing her two or three times a day--for she was completely mistress of her time--got her completely into his power again.
Uxmoor did not reply.
She had made her selection. Love beckoned forward. It was useless to look back.
Love was omnipotent. They both began to recover their good looks as if by magic; and as Severne's passion, though wicked, was earnest, no poor bird was ever more completely entangled by bird-lime than Zoe was caught by Edward Severne.
Their usual place of meeting was the shrubbery attached to Somerville Villa. The trees, being young, made all the closer shade, and the gravel-walk meandered, and shut them out from view.
Severne used to enter this shrubbery by a little gate leading from the meadow, and wait under the trees till Zoe came to him. Vizard's advertisements alarmed him, and he used to see the coast clear before he entered the shrubbery, and also before he left it. He was so particular in this that, observing one day an old man doddering about with a basket, he would not go in till he had taken a look at him. He found it was an ancient white-haired villager gathering mushrooms. The old fellow was so stiff, and his hand so trembling, that it took him about a minute to gather a single fungus.
To give a reason for coming up to him, Severne said, "How old are you, old man?"
"I be ninety, measter, next Martinmas-day."
"Only ninety?" said our Adonis, contemptuously; "you look a hundred and ninety."
He would have been less contemptuous had he known that the mushrooms were all toad-stools, and the village centenaire was Mr. Joseph Ashmead, resuming his original arts, and playing Grandfather Whitehead on the green grass.
MADEMOISELLE KLOSKING told Vizard the time drew near when she must leave his hospitable house.
"Say a month hence," said he.
She shook her head.
"Of course you will not stay to gratify me," said he, half sadly, half bitterly. "But you will have to stay a week or two longer par ordonnance du médecin."
"My physician is reconciled to my going. We must all bow to necessity."
This was said too firmly to admit a reply. "The old house will seem very dark again whenever you do go," said Vizard, plaintively.
"It will soon be brightened by her who is its true and lasting light," was the steady reply.
A day or two passed with nothing to record, except that Vizard hung about Ina Klosking, and became, if possible, more enamored of her and more unwilling to part with her.
Mr. Ashmead arrived one afternoon about three o'clock, and was more than an hour with her. They conversed very earnestly, and when he went, Miss Gale found her agitated.
"This will not do," said she.
"It will pass, my friend," said Ina. "I will sleep."
She laid herself down and slept three hours before dinner.
She arose refreshed, and dined with the little party; and on retiring to the drawing-room, she invited Vizard to join them at his convenience. He made it his convenience in ten minutes.
Then she opened the piano, played an introduction, and electrified them all by singing the leading song in Siebel. She did not sing it so powerfully as in the theater; she would not have done that even if she could: but still she sung it out, and nobly. It seemed a miracle to hear such singing in a room.
Vizard was in raptures.
They cooled suddenly when she reminded him what he had said, that she must stay till she could sing Siebel's song. "I keep to the letter of the contract," said she. "My friends, this is my last night at Vizard Court."
"Please try and shake that resolution," said Vizard, gravely, to Mesdemoiselles Dover and Gale.
"They cannot," said Ina. "It is my destiny. And yet," said she, after a pause, "I would not have you remember me by that flimsy thing. Let me sing you a song your mother loved; let me be remembered in this house, as a singer, by that."
Then she sung Handel's song:
"What though I trace each herb and flower
That decks the morning dew?
Did I not own Jehovah's power,
How vain were all I knew."
She sung it with amazing purity, volume, grandeur, and power; the lusters rang and shook, the hearts were thrilled, and the very souls of the hearers ravished. She herself turned a little pale in singing it, and the tears stood in her eyes.
The song and its interpretation were so far above what passes for music that they all felt compliments would be an impertinence. Their eyes and their long drawn breath paid the true homage to that great master rightly interpreted--a very rare occurrence.
"Ah!" said she; "that was the hand could brandish Goliath's spear."
"And this is how you reconcile us to losing you," said Vizard. "You might stay, at least, till you had gone through my poor mother's collection."
"Ah! I wish I could. But I cannot. I must not. My Fate forbids it."
"'Fate' and 'destiny,'" said Vizard, "stuff and nonsense. We make our own destiny. Mine is to be eternally disappointed, and happiness snatched out of my hands."
He had no sooner made this pretty speech than he was ashamed of it, and stalked out of the room, not to say any more unwise things.
This burst of spleen alarmed Fanny Dover. "There," said she, "now you cannot go. He is very angry."
Ina Klosking said she was sorry for that; but he was too just a man to be angry with her long: the day would come when he would approve her conduct. Her lip quivered a little as she said this, and the water stood in her eyes: and this was remembered and understood, long after, both by Miss Dover and Rhoda Gale.
"When does your Royal Highness propose to start?" inquired Rhoda Gale, very obsequiously, and just a little bitterly.
"To-morrow at half-past nine o'clock, dear friend," said Ina.
"Then you will not go without me. You will get the better of Mr. Vizard, because he is only a man; but I am a woman, and have a will as well as you. If you make a journey to-morrow, I go with you. Deny me, and you shan't go at all." Her eyes flashed defiance.
Ina moved one step, took Rhoda's little defiant head, and kissed her cheek. "Sweet physician and kind friend, of course you shall go with me, if you will, and be a great blessing to me."
This reconciled Miss Gale to the proceedings. She packed up a carpet-bag, and was up early, making provisions of every sort for her patient's journey: air pillows, soft warm coverings, medicaments, stimulants, etc., in a little bag slung across her shoulders. Thus furnished, and equipped in a uniform suit of gray cloth and wideawake hat, she cut a very sprightly and commanding figure, but more like Diana than Hebe.
The Klosking came down, a pale Juno, in traveling costume; and a quarter of an hour before the time a pair-horse fly was at the door and Mr. Ashmead in the hall.
The ladies were both ready.
But Vizard had not appeared.
This caused an uneasy discussion.
"He must be very angry," said Fanny, in a half whisper.
"I cannot go while he is," sighed La Klosking. "There is a limit even to my courage."
"Mr. Harris," said Rhoda, "would you mind telling Mr. Vizard?"
"Well, miss," said Harris, softly, "I did step in and tell him. Which he told me to go to the devil, miss--a hobservation I never knew him to make before."
This was not encouraging. Yet the Klosking quietly inquired where he was.
"In there, ma'am," said Harris. "In his study."
Mademoiselle Klosking, placed between two alternatives, decided with her usual resolution. She walked immediately to the door and tapped at it; then, scarcely waiting for an instant, opened it and walked in with seeming firmness, though her heart was beating rather high.
The people outside looked at one another. "I wonder whether he will tell her to go to the devil," said Fanny, who was getting tired of being good.
"No use," said Miss Gale; "she doesn't know the road."
When La Klosking entered the study, Vizard was seated, disconsolate, with two pictures before him. His face was full of pain, and La Klosking's heart smote her. She moved toward him, hanging her head, and said, with inimitable sweetness and tenderness, "Here is a culprit come to try and appease you."
There came a time that he could hardly think of these words and her penitent, submissive manner with dry eyes. But just then his black dog had bitten him, and he said, sullenly, "Oh, never mind me. It was always so. Your sex have always made me smart for-- If flying from my house before you are half recovered gives you half the pleasure it gives me pain and mortification, say no more about it."
"Ah! why say it gives me pleasure? my friend, you cannot really think so."
"I don't know what to think. You ladies are all riddles."
"Then I must take you into my confidence, and, with some reluctance, I own, let you know why I leave this dear, kind roof to-day."
Vizard's generosity took the alarm. "No," said, "I will not extort your reasons. It is a shame of me. Your bare will ought to be law in this house; and what reasons could reconcile me to losing you so suddenly? You are the joy of our eyes, the delight of our ears, the idol of all our hearts. You will leave us, and there will be darkness and gloom, instead of sunshine and song. Well, go; but you cannot soften the blow with reasons."
Mademoiselle Klosking flushed, and her bosom heaved; for this was a strong man, greatly moved. With instinctive tact, she saw the best way to bring him to his senses was to give him a good opening to retreat.
"Ah, monsieur," said she, "you are trop grand seigneur. You entertain a poor wounded singer in a chamber few princes can equal. You place everything at her disposal; such a physician and nurse as no queen can command; a choir to sing to her; royal sables to keep the wind from her, and ladies to wait on her. And when you have brought her back to life, you say to yourself, She is a woman; she will not be thoroughly content unless you tell her she is adorable. So, out of politeness, you descend to the language of gallantry. This was not needed. I dispense with that kind of comfort. I leave your house because it is my duty, and leave it your grateful servant and true friend to my last hour."
She had opened the door, and Vizard could now escape. His obstinacy and his heart would not let him.
"Do not fence with me," said he. "Leave that to others. It is beneath you. If you had been content to stay, I would have been content to show my heart by halves. But when you offer to leave me, you draw from me an avowal I can no longer restrain, and you must and shall listen to it. When I saw you on the stage at Homburg, I admired you and loved you that very night. But I knew from experience how seldom in women outward graces go with the virtues of the soul. I distrusted my judgment. I feared you and I fled you. But our destiny brought you here, and when I held you, pale and wounded, in my very arms, my heart seemed to go out of my bosom."
"Oh, no more! no more, pray!" cried Mademoiselle Klosking.
But the current of love was not to be stemmed. "Since that terrible hour I have been in heaven, watching your gradual and sure recovery; but you have recovered only to abandon me, and your hurry to leave me drives me to desperation. No, I cannot part with you. You must not leave me, either this day or any day. Give me your hand, and stay here forever, and be the queen of my heart and of my house."
For some time La Klosking had lost her usual composure. Her bosom heaved tumultuously, and her hands trembled. But at this distinct proposal the whole woman changed. She drew herself up, with her pale cheek flushing and her eyes glittering.
"What, sir?" said she. "Have you read me so ill? Do you not know I would rather be the meanest drudge that goes on her knees and scrubs your floors, than be queen of your house, as you call it? Ah, Jesu, are all men alike, then; that he whom I have so revered, whose mother's songs I have sung to him, makes me a proposal dishonorable to me and to himself?"
"Dishonorable!" cried Vizard. "Why, what can any man offer to any woman more honorable than I offer you? I offer you my heart and my hand, and I say, do not go, my darling. Stay here forever, and be my queen, my goddess, my wife!"
"YOUR WIFE?" She stared wildly at him. "Your wife? Am I dreaming, or are you?"
"Neither. Do you think I can be content with less than that? Ina, I adore you."
She put her hand to her head. "I know not who is to blame for this," said she, and she trembled visibly.
"I'll take the blame," said he, gayly.
Said Ina, very gravely. "You, who do me the honor to offer me your name, have you asked yourself seriously what has been the nature of my relation with Edward Severne?"
"No!" cried Vizard, violently; "and I do not mean to. I see you despise him now; and I have my eyes and my senses to guide me in choosing a wife. I choose you--if you will have me."
She listened, then turned her moist eyes full upon him, and said to him, "This is the greatest honor ever befell me. I cannot take it."
"Not take it?"
"No; but that is my misfortune. Do not be mortified. You have no rival in my esteem. What shall I say, my friend?--at least I may call you that. If I explain now, I shall weep much, and lose my strength. What shall I do? I think--yes, that will be best--you shall go with me to-day."
"To the end of the world!"
"Something tells me you will know all, and forgive me."
"Shall I take my bag?"
"You might take an evening dress and some linen."
"Very well. I won't keep you a moment," said he, and went upstairs with great alacrity.
She went into the hall, with her eyes bent on the ground, and was immediately pinned by Rhoda Gale, whose piercing eye, and inquisitive finger on her pulse, soon discovered that she had gone through a trying scene. "This is a bad beginning of an imprudent journey," said she: "I have a great mind to countermand the carriage."
"No, no," said Ina; "I will sleep in the railway and recover myself."
The ladies now got into the carriage; Ashmead insisted on going upon the box; and Vizard soon appeared, and took his seat opposite Miss Gale and Mademoiselle Klosking. The latter whispered her doctress: "It would be wise of me not to speak much at present." La Gale communicated this to Vizard, and they drove along in dead silence. But they were naturally curious to know where they were going; so they held some communication with their eyes. They very soon found they were going to Taddington Station.
Then came a doubt--were they going up or down?
That was soon resolved.
Mr. Ashmead had hired a saloon carriage for them, with couches and conveniences.
They entered it; and Mademoiselle Klosking said to Miss Gale, "It is necessary that I should sleep."
"You shall," said Miss Gale.
While she was arranging the pillows and things, La Klosking said to Vizard, "We artists learn to sleep when we have work to do. Without it I should not be strong enough this day." She said this in a half-apologetic tone, as one anxious not to give him any shadow of offense.
She was asleep in five minutes; and Miss Gale sat watching her at first, but presently joined Vizard at the other end, and they whispered together. Said she, "What becomes of the theory that women have no strength of will? There is Mademoiselle Je le veux in person. When she wants to sleep, she sleeps; and look at you and me--do you know where we are going?"
"No more do I. The motive power is that personification of divine repose there. How beautiful she is with her sweet lips parted, and her white teeth peeping, and her upper and lower lashes wedded, and how graceful!"
"She is a goddess," said Vizard. "I wish I had never seen her. Mark my words, she will give me the sorest heart of all."
"I hope not," said Rhoda, very seriously.
Ina slept sweetly for nearly two hours, and all that time her friends could only guess where they were going.
At last the train stopped, for the sixth time, and Ashmead opened the door.
This worthy, who was entirely in command of the expedition, collected the luggage, including Vizard's bag, and deposited it at the station. He then introduced the party to a pair-horse fly, and mounted the box.
When they stopped at Bagley, Vizard suspected where they were going.
When he saw the direction the carriage took, he knew it, and turned very grave indeed.
He even regretted that he had put himself so blindly under the control of a woman. He cast searching glances at Mademoiselle Klosking to try and discover what on earth she was going to do. But her face was as impenetrable as marble. Still, she never looked less likely to do anything rash or in bad taste. Quietness was the main characteristic of her face, when not rippled over by a ravishing sweetness; but he had never seen her look so great, and lofty, and resolute as she looked now; a little stern, too, as one who had a great duty to do, and was inflexible as iron. When truly feminine features stiffen into marble like this, beauty is indeed imperial, and worthy of epic song; it rises beyond the wing of prose.
My reader is too intelligent not to divine that she was steeling herself to a terrible interview with Zoe Vizard--terrible mainly on account of the anguish she knew she must inflict.
But we can rarely carry out our plans exactly as we trace them--unexpected circumstances derange them or expand them; and I will so far anticipate as to say that in this case a most unexpected turn of events took La Klosking by surprise.
Whether she proved equal to the occasion these pages will show very soon.
POIKILUS never left Taddington--only the "Swan." More than once he was within sight of Ashmead unobserved. Once, indeed, that gentleman, who had a great respect for dignitaries, saluted him; for at that moment Poikilus happened to be a sleek dignitary of the Church of England. Poikilus, when quite himself, wore a mustache, and was sallow, and lean as a weasel; but he shaved and stuffed and colored for the dean. Shovel-hat, portly walk, and green spectacles did the rest. Grandfather Whitehead saluted. His reverence chuckled.
Poikilus kept Severne posted by letter and wire as to many things that happened outside Vizard Court; but he could not divine the storm that was brewing inside Ina Klosking's room. Yet Severne defended himself exactly as he would have done had he known all. He and Zoe spent Elysian hours, meeting twice a day in the shrubbery, and making love as if they were the only two creatures in the world; but it was blind Elysium only to one of them--Severne was uneasy and alarmed the whole time. His sagacity showed him it could not last, and there was always a creeping terror on him. Would not Uxmoor cause inquiries? Would he not be sure to tell Vizard? Would not Vizard come there to look after Zoe, or order her back to Vizard Court? Would not the Klosking get well, and interfere once more? He passed the time between heaven and hell; whenever he was not under the immediate spell of Zoe's presence, a sort of vague terror was always on him. He looked all round him, wherever he went.
This terror, and his passion, which was now as violent as it was wicked, soon drove him to conceive desperate measures. But, by masterly self-government, he kept them two days to his own bosom. He felt it was too soon to raise a fresh and painful discussion with Zoe. He must let her drink unmixed delight, and get a taste for it; and then show her on what conditions alone it could be had forever.
It was on the third day after their reconciliation she found him seated on a bench in the shrubbery, lost in thought, and looking very dejected. She was close to him before he noticed; then he sprung up, stared at her, and began to kiss her hands violently, and even her very dress.
"It is you," said he, "once more."
"Yes, dear," said Zoe, tenderly; "did you think I would not come?"
"I did not know whether you could come. I feel that my happiness cannot last long. And, Zoe dear, I have had a dream. I dreamed we were taken prisoners, and carried to Vizard Court, and on the steps stood Vizard and Mademoiselle Klosking arm-in-arm; I believe they were man and wife. And you were taken out and led, weeping, into the house, and I was left there raging with agony. And then that lady put out her finger in a commanding way, and I was whirled away into utter darkness, and I heard you moan, and I fought, and dashed my head against the carriage, and I felt my heart burst, and my whole body filled with some cold liquid, and I went to sleep, and I heard a voice say, 'It is all over; his trouble is ended.' I was dead."
This narrative, and his deep dejection, set Zoe's tears flowing. "Poor Edward!" she sighed. "I would not survive you. But cheer up, dear; it was only a dream. We are not slaves. I am not dependent on any one. How can we be parted?"
"We shall, unless we use our opportunity, and make it impossible to part us. Zoe, do not slight my alarm and my misgivings; such warnings are prophetic. For Heaven's sake, make one sacrifice more, and let us place our happiness beyond the reach of man!"
"Only tell me how."
"There is but one way--marriage."
Zoe blushed high, and panted a little, but said nothing.
"Ah!" said he, piteously, "I ask too much."
"How can you say that?" said Zoe. "Of course I shall marry you, dearest. What! do you think I could do what I have done for anybody but my husband that is to be?"
"I was mad to think otherwise," said he, "but I am in low spirits, and full of misgivings. Oh, the comfort, the bliss, the peace of mind, the joy, if you would see our hazardous condition, and make all safe by marrying me to-morrow."
"To-morrow! Why, Edward, are you mad? How can we be married, so long as my brother is so prejudiced against you?"
"If we wait his consent, we are parted forever. He would forgive us after it--that is certain. But he would never consent. He is too much under the influence of his--of Mademoiselle Klosking."
"Indeed, I cannot hope he will consent beforehand," sighed Zoe; "but I have not the courage to defy him; and if I had, we could not marry all in a moment, like that. We should have to be cried in church."
"That is quite gone out among ladies and gentlemen."
"Not in our family. Besides, even a special license takes time, I suppose. Oh no, I could not be married in a clandestine, discreditable way. I am a Vizard--please remember that. Would you degrade the woman you honor with your choice?"
And her red cheeks and flashing eyes warned him to desist.
"God forbid!" said he. "If that is the alternative, I consent to lose her--and lose her I shall."
He then affected to dismiss the subject, and said, "Let me enjoy the hours that are left me. Much misery or much bliss can be condensed in a few days. I will enjoy the blessed time, and we will wait for the chapter of accidents that is sure to part us." Then he acted reckless happiness, and broke down at last.
She cried, but showed no sign of yielding. Her pride and self-respect were roused and on their defense.
The next day he came to her quietly sad. He seemed languid and listless, and to care for nothing. He was artful enough to tell her, on the information of Poikilus, that Vizard had hired the cathedral choir three times a week to sing to his inamorata; and that he had driven her about Taddington, dressed like a duchess, in a whole suit of sables.
At that word the girl turned pale.
He observed, and continued: "And it seems these sables are known throughout the county. There were several carriages in the town, and my informant heard a lady say they were Mrs. Vizard's sables, worth five hundred guineas--a Russian princess gave them her."
"It is quite true," said Zoe. "His mother's sables! Is it possible!"
"They all say he is caught at last, and this is to be the next Mrs. Vizard."
"They may well say so, if he parades her in his mother's sables," said Zoe, and could not conceal her jealousy and her indignation. "I never dared so much as ask his permission to wear them," said she.
"And if you had, he would have told you the relics of a saint were not to be played with."
"That is just what he would have said, I do believe." The female heart was stung.
"Ah, well," said Severne, "I am sure I should not grudge him his happiness, if you would see things as he does, and be as brave as he is."
"Thank you," said Zoe. "Women cannot defy the world as men do." Then, passionately, "Why do you torment me so? why do you urge me so? a poor girl, all alone, and far from advice. What on earth would you have me do?"
"Secure us against another separation, unite us in bliss forever."
"And so I would if I could; you know I would. But it is impossible."
"No, Zoe; it is easy. There are two ways: we can reach Scotland in eight hours; and there, by a simple writing and declaration before witnesses, we are man and wife."
"A Gretna Green marriage?"
"It is just as much a legal marriage as if a bishop married us at St. Paul's. However, we could follow it up immediately by marriage in a church, either in Scotland or the North of England But there is another way: we can be married at Bagley, any day, before the registrar."
"Is that a marriage--a real marriage?"
"As real, as legal, as binding as a wedding in St. Paul's."
"Nobody in this county has ever been married so. I should blush to be seen about after it."
"Our first happy year would not be passed in this country. We should go abroad for six months."
"Ay, fly from shame."
"On our return we should be received with open arms by my own people in Huntingdonshire, until your people came round, as they always do."
He then showed her a letter, in which his pearl of a cousin said they would receive his wife with open arms, and make her as happy as they could. Uncle Tom was coming home from India, with two hundred thousand pounds; he was a confirmed old bachelor, and Edward his favorite, etc.
Zoe faltered a little: so then he pressed her hard with love, and entreaties, and promises, and even hysterical tears; then she began to cry--a sure sign of yielding. "Give me time," she said--"give me time."
He groaned, and said there was no time to lose. Otherwise he never would have urged her so.
For all that, she could not be drawn to a decision. She must think over such a step. Next morning, at the usual time, he came to know his fate. But she did not appear. He waited an hour for her. She did not come. He began to rage and storm, and curse his folly for driving her so hard.
At last she came, and found him pale with anxiety, and looking utterly miserable. She told him she had passed a sleepless night, and her head had ached so in the morning she could not move.
"My poor darling!" said he; "and I am the cause. Say no more about it, dear one. I see you do not love me as I love you, and I forgive you."
She smiled sadly at that, for she was surer of her own love than his.
Zoe had passed a night of torment and vacillation; and but for her brother having paraded Mademoiselle Klosking in his mother's sables, she would, I think, have held out. But this turned her a little against her brother; and, as he was the main obstacle to her union with Severne, love and pity conquered. Yet still Honor and Pride had their say. "Edward," said she, "I love you with all my heart, and share your fears that accident may separate us. I will let you decide for both of us. But, before you decide, be warned of one thing. I am a girl no longer, but a woman who has been distracted with many passions. If any slur rests on my fair name, deeply as I love you now, I shall abhor you then."
He turned pale, for her eye flashed dismay into his craven soul.
He said nothing; and she continued: "If you insist on this hasty, half-clandestine marriage, then I consent to this--I will go with you before the registrar, and I shall come back here directly. Next morning early we will start for Scotland, and be married that other way before witnesses. Then your fears will be at an end, for you believe in these marriages; only as I do not--for I look on these legal marriages merely as solemn betrothals--I shall be Miss Zoe Vizard, and expect you to treat me so, until I have been married in a church, like a lady."
"Of course you shall," said he; and overwhelmed her with expressions of gratitude, respect, and affection.
This soothed her troubled mind, and she let him take her hand and pour his honeyed flatteries into her ear, as he walked her slowly up and down.
She could hardly tear herself away from the soft pressure of his hand and the fascination of his tongue, and she left him, more madly in love with him than ever, and ready to face anything but dishonor for him. She was to come out at twelve o'clock, and walk into Bagley with him to betroth herself to him, as she chose to consider it, before the stipendiary magistrate, who married couples in that way. Of the two marriages she had consented to, merely as preliminaries to a real marriage, Zoe despised this the most; for the Scotch marriage was, at all events, ancient, and respectable lovers had been driven to it again and again.
She was behind her time, and Severne thought her courage had failed her, after all. But no: at half-past twelve she came out, and walked briskly toward Bagley.
He was behind her, and followed her. She took his arm nervously. "Let me feel you all the way," she said, "to give me courage."
So they walked arm-in-arm; and, as they went, his courage secretly wavered, her's rose at every step.
About half a mile from the town they met a carriage and pair.
At sight of them a gentleman on the box tapped at the glass window, and said, hurriedly, "Here they are together."
Mademoiselle Klosking said, "Stop the carriage": then, pausing a little, "Mr. Vizard--on your word of honor, no violence."
The carriage was drawn up, Ashmead opened the door in a trice, and La Klosking, followed by Vizard, stepped out, and stood like a statue before Edward Severne and Zoe Vizard.
Severne dropped her arm directly, and was panic-stricken.
Zoe uttered a little scream at the sight of Vizard; but the next moment took fire at her rival's audacity, and stepped boldly before her lover, with flashing eyes and expanded nostrils that literally breathed defiance.
"YOU infernal scoundrel!" roared Vizard, and took a stride toward Severne.
"No violence," said Ina Klosking, sternly: "it will be an insult to this lady and me."
"Very well, then," said Vizard, grimly, "I must wait till I catch him alone."
"Meantime, permit me to speak, sir," said Ina. "Believe me, I have a better right than even you."
"Then pray ask my sister why I find her on that villain's arm."
"I should not answer her," said Zoe, haughtily. "But my brother I will. Harrington, all this vulgar abuse confirms me in my choice: I take his arm because I have accepted his hand. I am going into Bagley with him to become his wife."
This announcement took away Vizard's breath for a moment, and Ina Klosking put in her word. "You cannot do that: pray he warned. He is leading you to infamy."
"Infamy! What, because he cannot give me a suit of sables? Infamy! because we prefer virtuous poverty to vice and wealth?"
"No, young lady," said Ina, coloring faintly at the taunt; "but because you could only be his paramour; not his wife. He is married already."
At these words, spoken with that power Ina Klosking could always command, Zoe Vizard turned ashy pale. But she fought on bravely.
"Married? It is false! To whom?"
"I thought so. Now I know it is not true. He left you months before we ever knew him."
"Look at him. He does not say it is false."
Zoe turned on Severne, and at his face her own heart quaked. "Are you married to this lady?" she asked; and her eyes, dilated to their full size, searched his every feature.
"Not that I know of," said he, impudently.
"Is that the serious answer you expected, Miss Vizard?" said Ina, keenly: then to Severne, "You are unwise to insult the woman on whom, from this day, you must depend for bread. Miss Vizard, to you I speak, and not to this shameless man. For your mother's sake, do me justice. I have loved him dearly; but now I abhor him. Would I could break the tie that binds us and give him to you, or to any lady who would have him! But I cannot. And shall I hold my tongue, and let you be ruined and dishonored? I am an older woman than you, and bound by gratitude to all your house. Dear lady, I have taxed my strength to save you. I feel that strength waning. Pray read this paper, and consent to save yourself."
"I will read it," said Rhoda Gale, interfering. "I know German. It is an authorized duplicate certifying the marriage of Edward Severne, of Willingham, in Huntingdonshire, England, to Ina Ferris, daughter of Walter Ferris and Eva Klosking, of Zutzig, in Denmark. The marriage was solemnized at Berlin, and here are the signatures of several witnesses: Eva Klosking; Fräulein Graafe; Züg, the Capellmeister; Vicomte Meurice, French attaché; Count Hompesch, Bavarian plenipotentiary; Herr Formes."
Ina explained, in a voice that was now feeble, "I was a public character; my marriage was public: not like the clandestine union which is all he dared offer to this well-born lady."
"The Bavarian and French ministers are both in London," said Vizard, eagerly. "We can easily learn if these signatures are forged, like your acceptances."
But, if one shadow of doubt remained, Severne now removed it; he uttered a scream of agony, and fled as if the demons of remorse and despair were spurring him with red-hot rowels.
"There, you little idiot!" roared Vizard; "does that open you eyes?"
"Oh, Mr. Vizard," said Ina, reproachfully, "for pity's sake, think only of her youth, and what she has to suffer. I can do no more for her: I feel--so--faint."
Ashmead and Rhoda supported her into the carriage. Vizard, touched to the heart by Ina's appeal, held out his eloquent arms to his stricken sister, and she tottered to him, and clung to him, all limp and broken, and wishing she could sink out of the sight of all mankind. He put his strong arm round her, and, though his own heart was desolate and broken, he supported that broken flower of womanhood, and half led, half lifted her on, until he laid her on a sofa in Somerville Villa. Then, for the first time, he spoke to her. "We are both desolate, now, my child. Let us love one another. I will be ten times tenderer to you than I ever have been." She gave a great sob, but she was past speaking.
Ina Klosking, Miss Gale, and Ashmead returned in the carriage to Bagley. Half a mile out of the town they found a man lying on the pathway, with his hat off, and white as a sheet. It was Edward Severne. He had run till he dropped.
Ashmead got down and examined him. He came back to the carriage door, looking white enough himself. "It is all over," said he; "the man is dead."
Miss Gale was out in a moment and examined him. "No," said she. "The heart does not beat perceptibly; but he breathes. It is another of those seizures. Help me get him into the carriage."
This was done, and the driver ordered to go a foot's pace.
The stimulants Miss Gale had brought for Ina Klosking were now applied to revive this malefactor; and both ladies actually ministered to him with compassionate faces. He was a villain; but he was superlatively handsome, and a feather might turn the scale of life or death.
The seizure, though really appalling to look at, did not last long. He revived a little in the carriage, and was taken, still insensible, but breathing hard, into a room in the railway hotel. When he was out of danger, Miss Gale felt Ina Klosking's pulse, and insisted on her going to Taddington by the next train and leaving Severne to the care of Mr. Ashmead.
Ina, who, in truth, was just then most unfit for any more trials, feebly consented, but not until she had given Ashmead some important instructions respecting her malefactor, and supplied him with funds. Miss Gale also instructed Ashmead how to proceed in case of a relapse, and provided him with materials.
The ladies took a train, which arrived soon after; and, being so fortunate as to get a lady's carriage all to themselves, they sat intertwined and rocking together, and Ina Klosking found relief at last in a copious flow of tears.
Rhoda got her to Hillstoke, cooked for her, nursed her, lighted fires, aired her bed, and these two friends slept together in each other's arms.
Ashmead had a hard time of it with Severne. He managed pretty well with him at first, because he stupefied him with brandy before he had come to his senses, and in that state got him into the next train. But as the fumes wore off, and Severne realized his villainy, his defeat, and his abject condition between the two women he had wronged, he suddenly uttered a yell and made a spring at the window. Ashmead caught him by his calves, and dragged him so powerfully down that his face struck the floor hard and his nose bled profusely. The hemorrhage and the blow quieted him for a time, and then Ashmead gave him more brandy, and got him to the "Swan" in a half-lethargic lull. This faithful agent, and man of all work, took a private sitting room with a double bedded room adjoining it, and ordered a hot supper with champagne and madeira. Severne lay on a sofa moaning.
The waiter stared. "Trouble!" whispered Ashmead, confidentially. "Take no notice. Supper as quick as possible."
By-and-by Severne started up and began to rave and tear about the room, cursing his hard fate, and ended in a kind of hysterical fit. Ashmead, being provided by Miss Gale with salts and aromatic vinegar, etc., applied them, and ended by dashing a tumbler of water right into his face, which did him more good than chemistry.
Then he tried to awaken manhood in the fellow. "What are you howling about?" said he. "Why, you are the only sinner, and you are the least sufferer. Come, drop sniveling, and eat a bit. Trouble don't do on an empty stomach."
Severne said he would try, but begged the waiter might not be allowed to stare at a broken-hearted man.
"Broken fiddlesticks!" said honest Joe.
Severne tried to eat, but could not. But he could drink, and said so.
Ashmead gave him champagne in tumblers, and that, on his empty stomach, set him raving, and saying life was hell to him now. But presently he fell to weeping bitterly. In which condition Ashmead forced him to bed, and there he slept heavily. In the morning Ashmead sat by his bedside, and tried to bring him to reason. "Now, look here," said he, "you are a lucky fellow, if you will only see it. You have escaped bigamy and a jail, and, as a reward for your good conduct to your wife, and the many virtues you have exhibited in a short space of time, I am instructed by that lady to pay you twenty pounds every Saturday at twelve o'clock. It is only a thousand a year; but don't you be down-hearted; I conclude she will raise your salary as you advance. You must forge her name to a heavy check, rob a church, and abduct a schoolgirl or two--misses in their teens and wards of Chancery preferred--and she will make it thirty, no doubt;" and Joe looked very sour.
"That for her twenty pounds a week!" cried this injured man. "She owes me two thousand pounds and more. She has been my enemy, and her own. The fool!--to go and peach! She had only to hold her tongue, and be Mrs. Vizard, and then she would have had a rich husband that adores her, and I should have had my darling beautiful Zoe, the only woman I ever loved or ever shall."
"Oh," said Ashmead, "then you expected your wife to commit bigamy, and so make it smooth to you."
"Of course I did," was the worthy Severne's reply; "and so she would, if she had had a grain of sense. See what a contrast now. We are all unhappy--herself included--and it is all her doing."
"Well, young man," said Ashmead, drawing a long breath; "didn't I tell you you are a lucky fellow? You have got twenty pounds a week, and that blest boon, 'a conscience void of offense.' You are a happy man. Here's a strong cup of tea for you: just you drink it, and then get up and take the train to the little village. There kindred spirits and fresh delights await you. You are not to adorn Barfordshire any longer: that is the order."
"Well, I'll go to London--but not without you."
"Me! What do you want of me?"
"You are a good fellow, and the only friend I have left. But for you, I should be dead, or mad. You have pulled me through."
"Through the window I did. Lord, forgive me for it," said Joseph. "Well, I'll go up to town with you; but I can't be always tied to your tail. I haven't got twenty pounds a week. To be sure," he added, dryly, "I haven't earned it. That is one comfort."
He telegraphed Hillstoke, and took Severne up to London.
There the Bohemian very soon found he could live, and even derive some little enjoyment from his vices--without Joseph Ashmead. He visited him punctually every Saturday, and conversed delightfully. If he came any other day, it was sure to be for an advance: he never got it.
FANNY DOVER was sent for directly to Somerville Villa; and, three days after the distressing scene I have endeavored to describe, Vizard brought his wrecked sister home. Her condition was pitiable; and the moment he reached Vizard Court he mounted his horse and rode to Hillstoke to bring Miss Gale down to her.
There he found Ina Klosking, with her boxes at the door, waiting for the fly that was to take her away.
It was a sad interview. He thanked her deeply for her noble conduct to his sister, and then he could not help speaking of his own disappointment.
Mademoiselle Klosking, on this occasion, was simple, sad, and even tender, within prudent limits. She treated this as a parting forever, and therefore made no secret of her esteem for him. "But," said she, "I hope one day to hear you have found a partner worthy of you. As for me, who am tied for life to one I despise, and can never love again, I shall seek my consolation in music, and, please God, in charitable actions."
He kissed her hand at parting, and gave her a long, long look of miserable regret that tried her composure hard, and often recurred to her memory.
She went up to London, took a small suburban house, led a secluded life, and devoted herself to her art, making a particular study now of sacred music; she collected volumes of it, and did not disdain to buy it at bookstalls, or wherever she could find it.
Ashmead worked for her, and she made her first appearance in a new oratorio. Her songs proved a principal feature in the performance.
Events did not stand still in Barfordshire; but they were tame, compared with those I have lately related, and must be dispatched in fewer words.
Aunt Maitland recovered unexpectedly from a severe illness, and was a softened woman: she sent Fanny off to keep Zoe company. That poor girl had a bitter time, and gave Doctress Gale great anxiety. She had no brain fever, but seemed quietly, insensibly, sinking into her grave. No appetite, and indeed was threatened with atrophy at one time. But she was so surrounded with loving-kindness that her shame diminished, her pride rose, and at last her agony was blunted, and only a pensive languor remained to show that she had been crushed, and could not be again the bright, proud, high-spirited beauty of Barfordshire.
For many months she never mentioned either Edward Severne, Ina Klosking, or Lord Uxmoor.
It was a long time before she went outside the gates of her own park. She seemed to hate the outer world.
Her first visit was to Miss Gale; that young lady was now very happy. She had her mother with her. Mrs. Gale had defeated the tricky executor, and had come to England with a tidy little capital, saved out of the fire by her sagacity and spirit.
Mrs. Gale's character has been partly revealed by her daughter. I have only to add she was a homely, well-read woman, of few words, but those few--grape-shot. Example--she said to Zoe, "Young lady, excuse an old woman's freedom, who might be your mother: the troubles of young folk have a deal of self in them; more than you could believe. Now just you try something to take you out of self, and you will be another creature."
"Ah," sighed Zoe, "would to Heaven I could!"
"Oh," said Mrs. Gale, "anybody with money can do it, and the world so full of real trouble. Now, my girl tells me you are kind to the poor: why not do something like Rhoda is doing for this lord she is overseer, or goodness knows what, to?"
Rhoda (defiantly), "Viceroy."
"You have money, and your brother will not refuse you a bit o' land. Why not build some of these new-fangled cottages, with fancy gardens, and dwarf palaces for a cow and a pig? Rhoda, child, if I was a poor woman, I could graze a cow in the lanes hereabouts, and feed a pig in the woods. Now you do that for the poor, Miss Vizard, and don't let my girl think for you. Breed your own ideas. That will divert you from self, my dear, and you will begin to find it--there--just as if a black cloud was clearing away from your mind, and letting your heart warm again."
Zoe caught at the idea, and that very day asked Vizard timidly whether he would let her have some land to build a model cottage or two on.
Will it be believed that the good-natured Vizard made a wry face? "What, two proprietors in Islip!" For a moment or two he was all squire. But soon the brother conquered. "Well," said he, "I can't give you a fee-simple; I must think of my heirs: but I will hold a court, and grant you a copy-hold; or I'll give you a ninety-nine years' lease at a pepper-corn. There's a slip of three acres on the edge of the Green. You shall amuse yourself with that." He made it over to her directly, for a century, at ten shillings a year; and, as he was her surviving trustee, he let her draw in advance on her ten thousand pounds.
Mapping out the ground with Rhoda, settling the gardens and the miniature pastures, and planning the little houses and outhouses, and talking a great deal, compared with what she transacted, proved really a certain antidote to that lethargy of woe which oppressed her: and here, for a time, I must leave her, returning slowly to health of body, and some tranquillity of mind; but still subject to fits of shame, and gnawed by bitter regrets.
THE reputation Mademoiselle Klosking gained in the new oratorio, aided by Ashmead's exertions, launched her in a walk of art that accorded with her sentiments.
She sung in the oratorio whenever it could be performed, and also sung select songs from it, and other sacred songs at concerts.
She was engaged at a musical festival in the very cathedral town whose choir had been so consoling to her. She entered with great zeal into this engagement, and finding there was a general desire to introduce the leading chorister-boy to the public in a duet, she surprised them all by offering to sing the second part with him, if he would rehearse it carefully with her at her lodgings. He was only too glad, as might be supposed. She found he had a lovely voice, but little physical culture. He read correctly, but did not even know the nature of the vocal instrument and its construction, which is that of a bagpipe. She taught him how to keep his lungs full in singing, yet not to gasp, and by this simple means enabled him to sing with more than twice the power he had ever exercised yet. She also taught him the swell, a figure of music he knew literally nothing about.
When, after singing a great solo, to salvos of applause, Mademoiselle Klosking took the second part with this urchin, the citizens and all the musical people who haunt a cathedral were on the tiptoe of expectation. The boy amazed them, and the rich contralto that supported him and rose and swelled with him in ravishing harmony enchanted them. The vast improvement in the boy's style did not escape the hundreds of persons who knew him, and this duet gave La Klosking a great personal popularity.
Her last song, by her own choice, was, "What though I trace" (Handel), and the majestic volume that rang through the echoing vault showed with what a generous spirit she had subdued that magnificent organ not to crush her juvenile partner in the preceding duet.
Among the persons present was Harrington Vizard. He had come there against his judgment; but he could not help it.
He had been cultivating a dull tranquillity, and was even beginning his old game of railing on women, as the great disturbers of male peace. At the sight of her, and the sound of her first notes, away went his tranquillity, and he loved her as ardently as ever. But when she sung his mother's favorite, and the very roof rang, and three thousand souls were thrilled and lifted to heaven by that pure and noble strain, the rapture could not pass away from this one heart; while the ear ached at the cessation of her voice, the heart also ached, and pined, and yearned.
He ceased to resist. From that day he followed her about to her public performances all over the Midland Counties; and she soon became aware of his presence. She said nothing till Ashmead drew her attention; then, being compelled to notice it, she said it was a great pity. Surely he must have more important duties at home.
Ashmead wanted to recognize him, and put him into the best place vacant; but La Klosking said, "No. I will be more his friend than to lend him the least encouragement."
At the end of that tour she returned to London.
While she was there in her little suburban house, she received a visit from Mr. Edward Severne. He came to throw himself at her feet and beg forgiveness. She said she would try and forgive him. He then implored her to forget the past. She told him that was beyond her power. He persisted, and told her he had come to his senses; all his misconduct now seemed a hideous dream, and he found he had never really loved any one but her. So then he entreated her to try him once more; to give him back the treasure of her love.
She listened to him like a woman of marble. "Love where I despise!" said she. "Never. The day has gone by when these words can move me. Come to me for the means of enjoying yourself--gambling, drinking, and your other vices--and I shall indulge you. But do not profane the name of love. I forbid you ever to enter my door on that errand. I presume you want money. There is a hundred pounds. Take it; and keep out of my sight till you have wasted it."
He dashed the notes proudly down. She turned her back on him, and glided into another room.
When she returned, he was gone, and the hundred pounds had managed to accompany him.
He went straight from her to Ashmead and talked big. He would sue for restitution of conjugal rights.
"Don't do that, for my sake," said Ashamed. "She will fly the country like a bird, and live in some village on bread and milk."
"Oh, I would not do you an ill turn for the world," said the Master of Arts. "You have been a kind friend to me. You saved my life. It is imbittered by remorse, and recollections of the happiness I have thrown away, and the heart I have wronged. No matter!"
This visit disturbed La Klosking, and disposed her to leave London. She listened to a brilliant offer that was made her, through Ashmead, by the manager of the Italian Opera, who was organizing a provincial tour. The tour was well advertised in advance, and the company opened to a grand house at Birmingham.
Mademoiselle Klosking had not been long on the stage when she discovered her discarded husband in the stalls, looking the perfection of youthful beauty. The next minute she saw Vizard in a private box. Mr. Severne applauded her loudly, and flung her a bouquet. Mr. Vizard fixed his eyes on her, beaming with admiration, but made no public demonstration.
The same incident repeated itself every night she sung, and at every town.
At last she spoke about it to Ashmead, in the vague, suggestive way her sex excels in. "I presume you have observed the people in front."
"Yes, madam. Two in particular."
"Could you not advise him to desist?"
"Which of 'em, madam?"
"Mr. Vizard, of course. He is losing his time, and wasting sentiments it is cruel should be wasted."
Ashmead said he dared not take any liberty with Mr. Vizard.
So the thing went on.
Severne made acquaintance with the manager, and obtained the entrée behind the scenes. He brought his wife a bouquet every night, and presented it to her with such reverence and grace, that she was obliged to take it and courtesy, or seem rude to the people about.
Then she wrote to Miss Gale and begged her to come if she could.
Miss Gale, who had all this time been writing her love-letters twice a week, immediately appointed her mother viceroy, and went to her friend. Ina Klosking explained the situation to her with a certain slight timidity and confusion not usual to her; and said, "Now, dear, you have more courage than the rest of us; and I know he has a great respect for you; and, indeed, Miss Dover told me he would quite obey you. Would it not be the act of a friend to advise him to cease this unhappy-- What good can come of it? He neglects his own duties, and disturbs me in mine. I sometimes ask myself would it not be kinder of me to give up my business, or practice it elsewhere--Germany, or even Italy.
"Does he call on you?"
"Does he write to you?"
"Oh no. I wish he would. Because then I should be able to reply like a true friend, and send him away. Consider, dear, it is not like a nobody dangling after a public singer; that is common enough. We are all run after by idle men; even Signorina Zubetta, who has not much voice, nor appearance, and speaks a Genoese patois when she is not delivering a libretto. But for a gentleman of position, with a heart of gold and the soul of an emperor, that he should waste his time and his feelings so, on a woman who can never be anything to him, it is pitiable."
"Well, but, after all, it is his business; and he is not a child: besides, remember he is really very fond of music. If I were you I'd look another way, and take no notice."
"But I cannot."
"Ah! And why not, pray?"
"Because he always takes a box on my left hand, two from the stage. I can't think how he gets it at all the theaters. And then he fixes his eyes on me so, I cannot help stealing a look. He never applauds, nor throws me bouquets. He looks: oh, you cannot conceive how he looks, and the strange effect it is beginning to produce on me."
"He mesmerizes you?"
"I know not. But it is a growing fascination. Oh, my dear physician, interfere. If it goes on, we shall be more wretched than ever." Then she enveloped Rhoda in her arms, and rested a hot cheek against hers.
"I see," said Rhoda. "You are afraid he will make you love him."
"I hope not. But artists are impressionable; and being looked at so, by one I esteem, night after night, when my nerves are strung--cela m'agace;" and she gave a shiver, and then was a little hysterical; and that was very unlike her.
Rhoda kissed her, and said resolutely she would stop it.
"You will not tell him it is offensive to me?"
"Pray do not give him unnecessary pain."
"He is not to be mortified."
"I shall miss him sadly."
"Naturally. Especially at each new place. Only conceive: one is always anxious on the stage; and it is one thing to come before a public all strangers, and nearly all poor judges; it is another to see, all ready for your first note, a noble face bright with intelligence and admiration--the face of a friend. Often that one face is the only one I allow myself to see. It hides the whole public."
"Then don't you be silly and send it away. I'll tell you the one fault of your character: you think too much of other people, and too little of yourself. Now, that is contrary to the scheme of nature. We are sent into the world to take care of number one."
"What!" said Ina; "are we to be all self-indulgence? Is there to be no principle, no womanly prudence, foresight, discretion? No; I feel the sacrifice: but no power shall hinder me from making it. If you cannot persuade him, I'll do like other singers. I will be ill, and quit the company."
"Don't do that," said Rhoda. "Now you have put on your iron look, it is no use arguing--I know that to my cost. There--I will talk to him. Only don't hurry me; let me take my opportunity."
This being understood, Ina would not part with her for the present, but took her to the theater. She dismissed her dresser, at Rhoda's request, and Rhoda filled that office. So they could talk freely.
Rhoda had never been behind the scenes of a theater before, and she went prying about, ignoring the music, for she was almost earless. Presently, whom should she encounter but Edward Severne. She started and looked at him like a basilisk. He removed his hat and drew back a step with a great air of respect and humility. She was shocked and indignant with Ina for letting him be about her. She followed her off the stage into her dressing room, and took her to task. "I have seen Mr. Severne here."
"He comes every night."
"And you allow him?"
"It is the manager."
"But he would not admit him, if you objected."
"I am afraid to do that."
"We should have an esclandre. I find he has had so much consideration for me as to tell no one our relation; and as he has never spoken to me, I do the most prudent thing I can, and take no notice. Should he attempt to intrude himself on me, then it will be time to have him stopped in the hall, and I shall do it coúte que coúte. Ah, my dear friend, mine is a difficult and trying position."
After a very long wait, Ina went down and sung her principal song, with the usual bravas and thunders of applause. She was called on twice, and as she retired, Severne stepped forward, and, with a low, obsequious bow, handed her a beautiful bouquet. She took it with a stately courtesy, but never looked nor smiled.
Rhoda saw that and wondered. She thought to herself, "That is carrying politeness a long way. To be sure, she is half a foreigner."
Having done his nightly homage, Severne left the theater, and soon afterward the performance concluded, and Ina took her friend home. Ashmead was in the hall to show his patroness to her carriage--a duty he never failed in. Rhoda shook hands with him, and he said, "Delighted to see you here, miss. You will be a great comfort to her."
The two friends communed till two o'clock in the morning: but the limits of my tale forbid me to repeat what passed.
Suffice it to say that Rhoda was fairly puzzled by the situation; but, having a great regard for Vizard, saw clearly enough that he ought to be sent back to Islip. She thought that perhaps the very sight of her would wound his pride, and, finding his mania discovered by a third person, he would go of his own accord: so she called on him.
My lord received her with friendly composure, and all his talk was about Islip. He did not condescend to explain his presence at Carlisle. He knew that qui s'excuse s'accuse, and left her to remonstrate. She had hardly courage for that, and hoped it might be unnecessary.
She told Ina what she had done. But her visit was futile: at night there was Vizard in his box.
Next day the company opened in Manchester. Vizard was in his box there--Severne in front, till Ina's principal song. Then he came round and presented his bouquet. But this time he came up to Rhoda Gale, and asked her whether a penitent man might pay his respects to her in the morning.
She said she believed there were very few penitents in the world.
"I know one," said he.
"Well, I don't, then," said the virago. "But you can come, if you are not afraid."
Of course Ina Klosking knew of this appointment two minutes after it was made. She merely said, "Do not let him talk you over."
"He is not so likely to talk me over as you," said Rhoda.
"You are mistaken," was Ina's reply. "I am the one person he will never deceive again."
Rhoda Gale received his visit: he did not beat about the bush, nor fence at all. He declared at once what he came for. He said, "At the first sight of you, whom I have been so ungrateful to, I could not speak; but now I throw myself on your forgiveness. I think you must have seen that my ingratitude has never sat light on me."
"I have seen that you were terribly afraid of me," said she.
"I dare say I was. But I am not afraid of you now; and here, on my knees, I implore you to forgive my baseness, my ingratitude. Oh, Miss Gale, you don't know what it is to be madly in love; one has no principle, no right feeling, against a real passion: and I was madly in love with her. It was through fear of losing her I disowned my physician, my benefactress, who had saved my life. Miserable wretch! It was through fear of losing her that I behaved like a ruffian to my angel wife, and would have committed bigamy, and been a felon. What was all this but madness? You, who are so wise, will you not forgive me a crime that downright insanity was the cause of?"
"Humph! if I understand right, you wish me to forgive you for looking in my face, and saying to the woman who had saved your life, 'I don't know you?'"
"Yes--if you can. No: now you put it in plain words, I see it is not to be forgiven."
"You are mistaken. It was like a stab to my heart, and I cried bitterly over it."
"Then I deserve to be hanged; that is all."
"But, on consideration, I believe it is as much your nature to be wicked as it is my angel Ina's to be good. So I forgive you that one thing, you charming villain." She held out her hand to him in proof of her good faith.
He threw himself on his knees directly, and kissed and mumbled her hand, and bedewed it with hysterical tears.
"Oh, don't do that," said she; "or I'm bound to give you a good kick. I hate she men."
"Give me a moment," said he, "and I will be a man again."
He sat with his face in his hands, gulping a little.
"Come," said she, cocking her head like a keen jackdaw; "now let us have the real object of your visit."
"No, no," said he, inadvertently--"another time will do for that. I am content with your forgiveness. Now I can wait."
"Can you ask? Do you consider this a happy state of things?"
"Certainly not. But it can't be helped: and we have to thank you for it."
"It could be helped in time. If you would persuade her to take the first step."
"Not to disown her husband. To let him at least be her friend--her penitent, humble friend. We are man and wife. If I were to say so publicly, she would admit it. In this respect at least I have been generous: will she not be generous too? What harm could it do her if we lived under the same roof, and I took her to the theater, and fetched her home, and did little friendly offices for her?"
"And so got the thin edge of the wedge in, eh? Mr. Severne, I decline all interference in a matter so delicate, and in favor of a person who would use her as ill as ever, if he once succeeded in recovering her affections."
So then she dismissed him peremptorily.
But, true to Vizard's interest, she called on him again, and, after a few preliminaries, let him know that Severne was every night behind the scenes.
A spasm crossed his face. "I am quite aware of that," said he. "But he is never admitted into her house."
"How do you know?"
"He is under constant surveillance."
"No. Thief-takers. All from Scotland Yard."
"And love brings men down to this. What is it for?"
"When I am sure of your co-operation, I will let you know my hopes."
"He doubts my friendship," said Rhoda sorrowfully.
"No; only your discretion."
"I will be discreet."
"Well, then, sooner or later, he is sure to form some improper connection or other; and then I hope you will aid me in persuading her to divorce him."
"That is not so easy in this country. It is not like our Western States, where, the saying is, they give you five minutes at a railway station for di--vorce."
"You forget she is a German Protestant and the marriage was in that country. It will be easy enough."
"Very well; dismiss it from your mind. She will never come before the public in that way. Nothing you nor I could urge would induce her."
Vizard replied, doggedly, "I will never despair, so long as she keeps him out of her house."
Rhoda told Ina Klosking this, and said, "Now it is in your own hands. You have only to let your charming villain into your house, and Mr. Vizard will return to Islip."
Ina Klosking buried her face in her hands, and thought.
At night, Vizard in his box, as usual. Severne behind the scenes with his bouquet. But this night he stayed for the ballet, to see a French danseuse who had joined them. He was acquainted with her before, and had a sprightly conversation with her. In other words, he renewed an old flirtation.
The next opera night all went as usual. Vizard in the box, looking sadder than usual. Rhoda's good sense had not been entirely wasted. Severne, with his bouquet, and his grave humility, until the play ended, and La Klosking passed out into the hall. Her back was hardly turned when Mademoiselle Lafontaine, dressed for the ballet, in a most spicy costume, danced up to her old friend, and slapped his face very softly with a rose, then sprung away and stood on her defense.
"I'll have that rose," cried Severne.
"And a kiss into the bargain."
"C'est ce que nous verrons."
He chased her. She uttered a feigned "Ah!" and darted away. He followed her; she crossed the scene at the back, where it was dark, bounded over an open trap, which she saw just in time, but Severne, not seeing it, because she was between him and it, fell through it, and, striking the mazarine, fell into the cellar, fifteen feet below the stage.
The screams of the dancers soon brought a crowd round the trap, and reached Mademoiselle Klosking just as she was going out to her carriage. "There!" she cried. "Another accident!" and she came back, making sure it was some poor carpenter come to grief, as usual. On such occasions her purse was always ready.
They brought Severne up sensible, but moaning, and bleeding at the temple, and looking all streaky about the face.
They were going to take him to the infirmary; but Mademoiselle Klosking, with a face of angelic pity, said, "No; he bleeds, he bleeds. He must go to my house."
They stared a little; but it takes a good deal to astonish people in a theater.
Severne was carried out, his head hastily bandaged, and he was lifted into La Klosking's carriage. One of the people of the theater was directed to go on the box, and La Klosking and Ashmead supported him, and he was taken to her lodgings. She directed him to be laid on a couch, and a physician sent for, Miss Gale not having yet returned from Liverpool, whither she had gone to attend a lecture.
Ashmead went for the physician. But almost at the door he met Miss Gale and Mr. Vizard.
"Miss," said he, "you are wanted. There has been an accident. Mr. Severne has fallen through a trap, and into the cellar."
"No bones broken?"
"Not he: he has only broken his head; and that will cost her a broken heart."
"Where is he?"
"Where I hoped never to see him again.
"What! in her house?" said Rhoda and, hurried off at once.
"Mr. Ashmead," said Vizard, "a word with you."
"By all means, sir," said Ashmead, "as we go for the doctor. Dr. Menteith has a great name. He lives close by your hotel, sir."
As they went, Vizard asked him what he meant by saying this accident would cost her a broken heart.
"Why, sir," said Ashmead, "he is on his good behavior to get back; has been for months begging and praying just to be let live under the same roof. She has always refused. But some fellows have such luck. I don't say he fell down a trap on purpose; but he has done it, and no broken bones, but plenty of blood. That is the very thing to overcome a woman's feelings; and she is not proof against pity. He will have her again. Why, she is his nurse now; and see how that will work. We have a week's more business here; and, by bad luck, a dead fortnight, all along of Dublin falling through unexpectedly. He is as artful as Old Nick; he will spin out that broken head of his and make it last all the three weeks; and she will nurse him, and he will be weak, and grateful, and cry, and beg her pardon six times a day, and she is only a woman, after all: and they are man and wife, when all is done: the road is beaten. They will run upon it again, till his time is up to play the rogue as bad as ever."
"You torture me," said Vizard.
"I am afraid I do, sir. But I feel it my duty. Mr. Vizard, you are a noble gentleman, and I am only what you see; but the humblest folk will have their likes and dislikes, and I have a great respect for you, sir. I can't tell you the mixture of things I feel when I see you in the same box every night. Of course, I am her agent, and the house would not be complete without you; but as a man I am sorry. Especially now that she has let him into her house. Take a humble friend's advice, sir, and cut it. Don't you come between any woman and her husband, especially a public lady. She will never be more to you than she is. She is a good woman, and he must keep gaining ground. He has got the pull. Rouse all your pride, sir, and your manhood, and you have got plenty of both, and cut it; don't look right nor left, but cut it--and forgive my presumption."
Vizard was greatly moved. "Give me your hand," he said; "you are a worthy man. I'll act on your advice, and never forget what I owe you. Stick to me like a leech, and see me off by the next train, for I am going to tear my heart out of my bosom."
Luckily there was a train in half an hour, and Ashmead saw him off; then went to supper. He did not return to Ina's lodgings. He did not want to see Severne nursed. He liked the fellow, too; but he saw through him clean; and he worshiped Ina Klosking.
AT one o'clock next day, Ashmead received a note from Mademoiselle Klosking, saying, "Arrange with Mr. X---- to close my tour with Manchester. Pay the fortnight, if required." She was with the company at a month's notice on either side, you must understand.
Instead of going to the manager, he went at once, in utter dismay, to Mademoiselle Klosking, and there learned in substance what I must now briefly relate.
Miss Gale found Edward Severne deposited on a sofa. Ina was on her knees by his side, sponging his bleeding temple, with looks of gentle pity. Strange to say, the wound was in the same place as his wife's, but more contused, and no large vein was divided. Miss Gale soon stanched that. She asked him where his pain was. He said it was in his head and his back; and he cast a haggard, anxious look on her.
"Take my arm," said she. "Now, stand up."
He tried, but could not, and said his legs were benumbed. Miss Gale looked grave.
"Lay him on my bed," said La Klosking. "That is better than these hard couches."
"You are right," said Miss Gale. "Ring for the servants. He must be moved gently."
He was carried in, and set upon the edge of the bed, and his coat and waistcoat taken off. Then he was laid gently down on the bed, and covered with a down quilt.
Doctress Gale then requested Ina to leave the room, while she questioned the patient.
Ina retired. In a moment or two Miss Gale came out to her softly.
At sight of her face, La Klosking said, "Oh, dear; it is more serious than we thought."
"Collect all your courage, for I cannot lie, either to patient or friend."
"And you are right," said La Klosking, trembling. "I see he is in danger."
"Worse than that. Where there's danger there is hope. Here there is none. HE IS A DEAD MAN!"
"Oh, no! no!"
"He has broken his back, and nothing can save him. His lower limbs have already lost sensation. Death will creep over the rest. Do not disturb your mind with idle hopes. You have two things to thank God for--that you took him into your own house, and that he will die easily. Indeed, were he to suffer, I should stupefy him at once, for nothing can hurt him."
Ina Klosking turned faint and her knees gave way under her. Rhoda ministered to her; and while she was so employed, Dr. Menteith was announced. He was shown in to the patient, and the accident described to him. He questioned the patient, and examined him alone.
He then came out, and said he would draw a prescription. He did so.
"Doctor," said La Klosking, "tell me the truth. It cannot be worse than I fear."
"Madam," said the doctor, "medicine can do nothing for him. The spinal cord is divided. Give him anything he fancies, and my prescription if he suffers pain, not otherwise. Shall I send you a nurse?"
"No," said Mademoiselle Klosking, "we will nurse him night and day."
He retired, and the friends entered on their sad duties.
When Severne saw them both by his bedside, with earnest looks of pity, he said, "Do not worry yourselves. I'm booked for the long journey. Ah, well, I shall die where I ought to have lived, and might have, if I had not been a fool."
Ina wept bitterly.
They nursed him night and day. He suffered little, and when he did, Miss Gale stupefied the pain at once; for, as she truly said, "Nothing can hurt him." Vitality gradually retired to his head, and lingered there a whole day. But, to his last moment, the art of pleasing never abandoned him. Instead of worrying for this or that every moment, he showed in this desperate condition singular patience and well-bred fortitude. He checked his wife's tears; assured her it was all for the best, and that he was reconciled to the inevitable. "I have had a happier time than I deserve," said he, "and now I have a painless death, nursed by two sweet women. My only regret is that I shall not be able to repay your devotion, Ina, nor become worthy of your friendship, Miss Gale."
He died without fear, it being his conviction that he should return after death to the precise condition in which he was before birth; and when they begged him to see a clergyman, he said, "Pray do not give yourselves or him that trouble. I can melt back into the universe without his assistance."
He even died content; for this polished Bohemian had often foreseen that, if he lived long, he should die miserably.
But the main feature of his end was his extraordinary politeness. He paid Miss Gale compliments just as if he were at his ease on a sofa: and scarce an hour before his decease he said, faintly, "I declare--I have been so busy--dying--I have forgotten to send my kind regards to good Mr. Ashmead. Pray tell him I did not forget his kindness to me."
He just ceased to live, so quiet was his death, and a smile rested on his dead features, and they were as beautiful as ever.
So ended a fair, pernicious creature, endowed too richly with the art of pleasing, and quite devoid of principle. Few bad men knew right so well, and went so wrong. Ina buried her face for hours on his bed, and kissed his cold features and hand. She had told him before he died she would recall all her resolutions, if he would live. But he was gone. Death buries a man's many faults, and his few virtues rise again. She mourned him sincerely, and would not be comforted; she purchased a burying place forever, and laid him in it; then she took her aching heart far away, and was lost to the public and to all her English friends.
The faithful Rhoda accompanied her half way to London; then returned to her own duties in Barfordshire.
I MUST now retrograde a little to relate something rather curious, and I hope not uninteresting.
Zoe Vizard had been for some time acting on Mrs. Gale's advice; building, planning for the good of the poor, and going out of herself more and more. She compared notes constantly with Miss Gale, and conceived a friendship for her. It had been a long time coming, because at first she disliked Miss Gale's manners very much. But that lady had nursed her tenderly, and now advised her, and Zoe, who could not do anything by halves, became devoted to her.
As she warmed to her good work, she gave signs of clearer judgment. She never mentioned Severne; but she no longer absolutely avoided Ina Klosking's name; and one day she spoke of her as a high-principled woman; for which the Gale kissed her on the spot.
One name she often uttered, and always with regret and self-reproach--Lord Uxmoor's. I think that, now she was herself building and planning for the permanent improvement of the poor, she felt the tie of a kindred sentiment. Uxmoor was her predecessor in this good work, too; and would have been her associate, if she had not been so blind. This thought struck deep in her. Her mind ran more and more on Uxmoor, his manliness, his courage in her defense, and his gentlemanly fortitude and bravery in leaving her, without a word, at her request. Running over all these, she often blushed with shame, and her eyes filled with sorrow at thinking of how she had treated him; and lost him forever by not deserving him.
She even made oblique and timid inquiries, but could learn nothing of him, except that he sent periodical remittances to Miss Gale, for managing his improvements. These, however, came in through a country agent from a town agent, and left no clew.
But one fine day, with no warning except to his own people, Lord Uxmoor came home; and the next day rode to Hillstoke to talk matters over with Miss Gale. He was fortunate enough to find her at home. He thanked her for the zeal and enthusiasm she had shown, and the progress his works had made under her supervision.
He was going away without even mentioning the Vizard family.
But the crafty Gale detained him. "Going to Vizard Court?" said she.
"No," said he, very dryly.
"Ah, I understand; but perhaps you would not mind going with me as far as Islip. There is something there I wish you to see."
"Humph? Is it anything very particular? Because--"
"It is. Three cottages rising, with little flower gardens in front. Square plots behind, and arrangements for breeding calves, with other ingenious novelties. A new head come into our business, my lord."
"You have converted Vizard? I thought you would. He is a satirical fellow, but he will listen to reason."
"No, it is not Mr. Vizard; indeed, it is no convert of mine. It is an independent enthusiast. But I really believe your work at home had some hand in firing her enthusiasm."
"A lady! Do I know her?"
"You may. I suppose you know everybody in Barfordshire. Will you come? Do!"
"Of course I will come, Miss Gale. Please tell one of your people to walk my horse down after us."
She had her hat on in a moment, and walked him down to Islip.
Her tongue was not idle on the road. "You don't ask after the people," said she. "There's poor Miss Vizard. She had a sad illness. We were almost afraid we should lose her."
"Heaven forbid!" said Uxmoor, startled by this sudden news.
"Mademoiselle Klosking got quite well; and oh! what do you think? Mr. Severne turned out to be her husband."
"What is that?" shouted Uxmoor, and stopped dead short. "Mr. Severne a married man!"
"Yes; and Mademoiselle Klosking a married woman."
"You amaze me. Why, that Mr. Severne was paying his attentions to Miss Vizard."
"So I used to fancy," said Rhoda carelessly. "But you see it came out he was married, and so of course she packed him off with a flea in his ear."
"Did she? When was that?"
"Let me see, it was the 17th of October."
"Why, that was the very day I left England."
"How odd! Why did you not stay another week? Gentlemen are so impatient. Never mind, that is an old story now. Here we are; those are the cottages. The workmen are at dinner. Ten to one the enthusiast is there: this is her time. You stay here. I'll go and see."
She went off on tiptoe, and peeped and pried here and there, like a young witch. Presently she took a few steps toward him, with her finger mysteriously to her lips, and beckoned him. He entered into the pantomime--she seemed so earnest in it--and came to her softly.
"Do just take a peep in at that opening for a door," said she, "then you'll see her; her back is turned. She is lovely; only, you know, she has been ill, and I don't think she is very happy."
Uxmoor thought this peeping at enthusiasts rather an odd proceeding, but Miss Gale had primed his curiosity, and he felt naturally proud of a female pupil. He stepped up lightly, looked in at the door, and, to his amazement, saw Zoe Vizard sitting on a carpenter's bench, with her lovely head in the sun's rays. He started, then gazed, then devoured her with his eyes.
What! was this his pupil?
How gentle and sad she seemed! All his stoicism melted at the sight of her. She sat in a sweet, pensive attitude, pale and drooping, but, to his fancy, lovelier than ever. She gave a little sigh. His heart yearned. She took out a letter, read it slowly, and said, softly and slowly, "Poor fellow!" He thought he recognized his own handwriting, and could stand no more. He rushed, in, and was going to speak to her; but she screamed, and no conjurer ever made a card disappear quicker than she did that letter, as she bounded away like a deer, and stood, blushing scarlet, and palpitating all over.
Uxmoor was ashamed of his brusquerie. "What a brute I am to frighten you like this!" said he. "Pray forgive me; but the sight of you, after all these weary months--and you said 'Poor fellow!'"
"Did I?" said Zoe, faintly, looking scared.
"Yes, sweet Zoe, and you were reading a letter."
"I thought the poor fellow might be myself. Not that I am to be pitied, if you think of me still."
"I do, then--very often. Oh, Lord Uxmoor, I want to go down on my knees to you."
"That is odd, now; for it is exactly what I should like to do to you."
"What for? It is I who have behaved so ill."
"Never mind that; I love you."
"But you mustn't. You must love some worthy person."
"Oh, you leave that to me. I have no other intention. But may I just see whose letter you were reading?"
"Oh, pray don't ask me."
"I insist on knowing."
"I will not tell you. There it is." She gave it to him with a guilty air, and hid her face.
"Dear Zoe, suppose I were to repeat the offer I made here?"
"I advise you not," said she, all in a flurry.
"Because. Because--I might say 'Yes.'"
"Well, then I'll take my chance once more. Zoe, will you try and love me?"
"Try? I believe I do love you, or nearly. I think of you very often."
"Then you will do something to make me happy."
"Will you marry me?"
"Yes, that I will," said Zoe, almost impetuously; "and then," with a grand look of conscious beauty, "I can make you forgive me."
Uxmoor, on this, caught her in his arms, and kissed her with such fire that she uttered a little stifled cry of alarm; but it was soon followed by a sigh of complacency, and she sunk, resistless, on his manly breast.
So, after two sieges, he carried that fair citadel by assault.
Then let not the manly heart despair, nor take a mere brace of "Noes" from any woman. Nothing short of three negatives is serious.
They walked out in arm-in-arm and very close to each other; and he left her, solemnly engaged.
Leaving this pair to the delights of courtship, and growing affection on Zoe's side--for a warm attachment of the noblest kind did grow, by degrees, out of her penitence, and esteem, and desire to repair her fault--I must now take up the other thread of this narrative, and apologize for having inverted the order of events; for it was, in reality, several days after this happy scene that Mademoiselle Klosking sent for Miss Gale.
VIZARD, then, with Ashmead, returned home in despair; and Zoe, now happy in her own mind, was all tenderness and sisterly consolation. They opened their hearts to each other, and she showed her wish to repay the debt she owed him. How far she might have succeeded, in time, will never be known. For he had hardly been home a week, when Miss Gale returned, all in black, and told him Severne was dead and buried.
He was startled, and even shocked, remembering old times; but it was not in human nature he should be sorry. Not to be indecorously glad at so opportune an exit was all that could be expected from him.
When she had given him the details, his first question was, "How did she bear it?"
"She is terribly cut up--more than one would think possible; for she was ice and marble to him before he was hurt to death."
"Where is she?"
"Gone to London. She will write to me, I suppose--poor dear. But one must give her time."
From that hour Vizard was in a state of excitement, hoping to hear from Ina Klosking, or about her; but unwilling, from delicacy, to hurry matters.
At last he became impatient, and wrote to Ashmead, whose address he had, and said, frankly, he had a delicacy in intruding on Mademoiselle Klosking, in her grief. Yet his own feelings would not allow him to seem to neglect her. Would Mr. Ashmead, then, tell him where she was, as she had not written to any one in Barfordshire--not even to her tried friend, Miss Gale.
He received an answer by return of post.
"DEAR SIR--I am grieved to tell you that Mademoiselle Klosking has retired from public life. She wrote to me, three weeks ago, from Dover, requesting me to accept, as a token of her esteem, the surplus money I hold in hand for her--I always drew her salary--and bidding me farewell. The sum included her profits by psalmody, minus her expenses, and was so large it could never have been intended as a mere recognition of my humble services; and I think I have seldom felt so down-hearted as on receiving this princely donation. It has enabled me to take better offices, and it may be the foundation of a little fortune; but I feel that I have lost the truly great lady who has made a man of me. Sir, the relish is gone for my occupation: I can never be so happy as I was in working the interests of that great genius, whose voice made our leading soprani sound like whistles, and who honored me with her friendship. Sir, she was not like other leading ladies. She never bragged, never spoke ill of any one; and you can testify to her virtue and her discretion.
"I am truly sorry to learn from you that she has written to no one in Barfordshire. I saw, by her letter to me, she had left the stage; but her dropping you all looks as if she had left the world. I do hope she has not been so mad as to go into one of those cursed convents.
"Mr. Vizard, I will now write to friends in all the Continental towns where there is good music. She will not be able to keep away from that long. I will also send photographs; and hope we may hear something. If not, perhaps a judicious advertisement might remind her that she is inflicting pain upon persons to whom she is dear. I am, sir, your obliged and grateful servant,
Here was a blow. I really believe Vizard felt this more deeply than all his other disappointments.
He brooded over it for a day or two; and then, as he thought Miss Gale a very ill-used person, though not, of course, so ill-used as himself, he took her Ashmead's letter.
"This is nice!" said she. "There--I must give up loving women. Besides, they throw me over the moment a man comes, if it happens to be the right one."
"Unnatural creatures!" said Vizard.
"Ungrateful, at all events."
"Do you think she has gone into a convent?"
"Not she. In the first place, she is a Protestant; and, in the second, she is not a fool."
"I will advertise."
"Do you think I am going to sit down with my hands before me, and lose her forever?"
"No, indeed; I don't think you are that sort of a man at all, ha! ha!"
"Oh, Miss Gale, pity me. Tell me how to find her. That Fanny Dover says women are only enigmas to men; they understand one another."
"What," said Rhoda, turning swiftly on him; "does that little chit pretend to read my noble Ina?"
"If she cannot, perhaps you can. You are so shrewd. Do tell me, what does it all mean?"
"It means nothing at all, I dare say; only a woman's impulse. They are such geese at times, every one of them."
"Oh, if I did but know what country she is in, I would ransack it."
"Hum!--countries are biggish places."
"I don't care."
"What will you give me to tell you where she is at this moment?"
"All I have in the world."
"That is sufficient. Well, then, first assign me your estates; then fetch me an ordnance map of creation, and I will put my finger on her."
"You little mocking fiend, you!"
"I am not. I'm a tall, beneficent angel; and I'll tell you where she is--for nothing. Keep your land: who wants it?--it is only a bother."
"For pity's sake, don't trifle with me."
"I never will, where your heart is interested. She is at Zutzig."
"Ah, you good girl! She has written to you."
"Not a line, the monster! And I'll serve her out. I'll teach her to play hide-and-seek with Gale, M.D.!"
"Zutzig!" said Vizard; "how can you know?"
"What does that matter? Well, yes--I will reveal the mental process. First of all, she has gone to her mother."
"How do you know that?"
"Oh, dear, dear, dear! Because that is where every daughter goes in trouble. I should--she has. Fancy you not seeing that--why, Fanny Dover would have told you that much in a moment. But now you will have to thank my mother for teaching me Attention, the parent of Memory. Pray, sir, who were the witnesses to that abominable marriage of hers?"
"I remember two, Baron Hompesch--"
"No, Count Hompesch."
"And Count Meurice."
"Viscount. What, have you forgotten Herr Formes, Fräulein Graafe, Züg the Capellmeister, and her very mother? Come now, whose daughter is she?"
"I forget, I'm sure."
"Walter Ferris and Eva Klosking, of Zutzig, in Denmark. Pack--start for Copenhagen. Consult an ordnance map there. Find out Zutzig. Go to Zutzig, and you have got her. It is some hole in a wilderness, and she can't escape."
"You clever little angel! I'll be there in three days. Do you really think I shall succeed?"
"Your own fault if you don't. She has run into a cul-de-sac through being too clever; and, besides, women sometimes run away just to be caught, and hide on purpose to be found. I should not wonder if she has said to herself, 'He will find me if he loves me so very, very much--I'll try him.'"
"Not a word more, angelic fox," said Vizard; "I'm off to Zutzig."
He went out on fire. She opened the window and screeched after him, "Everything is fair after her behavior to me. Take her a book of those spiritual songs she is so fond of. 'Johnny comes marching home,' is worth the lot, I reckon."
Away went Vizard; found Copenhagen with ease; Zutzig with difficulty, being a small village. But once there, he soon found the farmhouse of Eva Klosking. He drove up to the door. A Danish laborer came out from the stable directly; and a buxom girl, with pale golden hair, opened the door. These two seized his luggage, and conveyed it into the house, and the hired vehicle to the stable. Vizard thought it must be an inn.
The girl bubbled melodious sounds, and ran off and brought a sweet, venerable name. Vizard recognized Eva Klosking at once. The old lady said, "Few strangers come here--are you not English?"
"It is Mr. Vizard--is it not?"
"Ah, sir, my daughter will welcome you, but not more heartily than I do. My child has told me all she owes to you"--then in Danish, "God bless the hour you come under this roof."
Vizard's heart beat tumultuously, wondering how Ina Klosking would receive him. The servant had told her a tall stranger was come. She knew in a moment who it was; so she had the advantage of being prepared.
She came to him, her cheeks dyed with blushes, and gave him both hands. "You here!" said she; "oh, happy day! Mother, he must have the south chamber. I will go and prepare it for him. Tecla!--Tecla!"--and she was all hostess. She committed him to her mother, while she and the servant went upstairs.
He felt discomfited a little. He wanted to know, all in a moment, whether she would love him.
However, Danish hospitality has its good side. He soon found out he might live the rest of his days there if he chose.
He soon got her alone, and said, "You knew I should find you, cruel one."
"How could I dream of such a thing?" said she, blushing.
"Oh, Love is a detective. You said to yourself, 'If he loves me as I ought to be loved, he will search Europe for me; but he will find me.'"
"Oh, then it was not to be at peace and rest on my mother's bosom I came here; it was to give you the trouble of running after me. Oh, fie!"
"You are right. I am a vain fool."
"No, that you are not. After all, how do I know all that was in my heart? (Ahem!) Be sure of this, you are very welcome. I must go and see about your dinner."
In that Danish farmhouse life was very primitive. Eva Klosking, and both her daughters, helped the two female servants, or directed them, in every department. So Ina, who was on her defense, had many excuses for escaping Vizard, when he pressed her too hotly. But at last she was obliged to say, "Oh, pray, my friend--we are in Denmark: here widows are expected to be discreet."
"But that is no reason why the English fellows who adore them should be discreet."
"Perhaps not: but then the Danish lady runs away."
Which she did.
But, after the bustle of the first day, he had so many opportunities. He walked with her, sat with her while she worked, and hung over her, entranced, while she sung. He produced the book from Vizard Court without warning, and she screamed with delight at sight of it, and caught his hand in both hers and kissed it. She reveled in those sweet strains which had comforted her in affliction: and oh, the eyes she turned on him after singing any song in this particular book! Those tender glances thrilled him to the very marrow.
To tell the honest truth, his arrival was a godsend to Ina Klosking. When she first came home to her native place, and laid her head on her mother's bosom, she was in Elysium. The house, the wood fires, the cooing doves, the bleating calves, the primitive life, the recollections of childhood--all were balm to her, and she felt like ending her days there. But, as the days rolled on, came a sense of monotony and excessive tranquillity. She was on the verge of ennui when Vizard broke in upon her.
From that moment there was no stagnation. He made life very pleasant to her; only her delicacy took the alarm at his open declarations; she thought them so premature.
At last he said to her, one day, "I begin to fear you will never love me as I love you."
"Who knows?" said she. "Time works wonders."
"I wonder," said he, "whether you will ever marry any other man?"
Ina was shocked at that. "Oh, my friend, how could I--unless," said she, with a sly side-glance, "you consented."
"Consent? I'd massacre him."
Ina turned toward him. "You asked my hand at a time when you thought me--I don't know what you thought--that is a thing no woman could forget. And now you have come all this way for me. I am yours, if you can wait for me."
He caught her in his arms. She disengaged herself, gently, and her hand rested an unnecessary moment on his shoulder. "Is that how you understand 'waiting?'" said she, with a blush, but an indulgent smile.
"What is the use waiting?"
"It is a matter of propriety."
"How long are we to wait?"
"Only a few months. My friend, it is like a boy to be too impatient. Alas! would you marry me in my widow's cap?"
"Of course I would. Now, Ina, love, a widow who has been two years separated from her husband!"
"Certainly, that makes a difference--in one's own mind. But one must respect the opinion of the world. Dear friend, it is of you I think, though I speak of myself."
"You are an angel. Take your own time. After all, what does it matter? I don't leave Zutzig without you."
Ina's pink tint and sparkling eyes betrayed anything but horror at that insane resolution. However, she felt it her duty to say that it was unfortunate she should always be the person to distract him from his home duties.
"Oh, never mind them," said this single-hearted lover. "I have appointed Miss Gale viceroy."
However, one day he had a letter from Zoe, telling him that Lord Uxmoor was now urging her to name the day; but she had declined to do that, not knowing when it might suit him to be at Vizard Court. "But, dearest," said she, "mind, you are not to hurry home for me. I am very happy as I am, and I hope you will soon be as happy, love. She is a noble woman."
The latter part of this letter tempted Vizard to show it to Ina. He soon found his mistake. She kissed it, and ordered him off. He remonstrated. She put on, for the first time in Denmark, her marble look, and said, "You will lessen my esteem, if you are cruel to your sister. Let her name the wedding-day at once; and you must be there to give her away, and bless her union, with a brother's love."
He submitted, but a little sullenly, and said it was very hard.
He wrote to his sister, accordingly, and she named the day, and Vizard settled to start for home, and be in time.
As to the proprieties, he had instructed Miss Maitland and Fanny Dover, and given them and La Gale carte blanche. It was to be a magnificent wedding.
This being excitement, Fanny Dover was in paradise. Moreover, a rosy-cheeked curate had taken the place of the venerable vicar, and Miss Dover's threat to flirt out the stigma of a nun was executed with promptitude, zeal, pertinacity, and the dexterity that comes of practice. When the day came for his leaving Zutzig, Vizard was dejected. "Who knows when we may meet again?" said he.
Ina consoled him. "Do not be sad, dear friend. You are doing your duty; and as you do it partly to please me, I ought to try and reward you; ought I not?" And she gave him a strange look.
"I advise you not to press that question," said he.
At the very hour of parting, Ina's eyes were moist with tenderness, but there was a smile on her face very expressive; yet he could not make out what it meant. She did not cry. He thought that hard. It was his opinion that women could always cry. She might have done the usual thing just to gratify him.
He reached home in good time: and played the grand seigneur--nobody could do it better when driven to it--to do honor to his sister. She was a peerless bride: she stood superior with ebon locks and coal black eyes, encircled by six bridemaids--all picked blondes. The bevy, with that glorious figure in the middle, seemed one glorious and rare flower.
After the wedding, the breakfast; and then the traveling carriage; the four liveried postilions bedecked with favors.
But the bride wept on Vizard's neck; and a light seemed to leave the house when she was gone. The carriages kept driving away one after another till four o'clock: and then Vizard sat disconsolate in his study, and felt very lonely.
Yet a thing no bigger than a leaf sufficed to drive away this somber mood, a piece of amber-colored paper scribbled on with a pencil: a telegram from Ashmead: "Good news: lost sheep turned up. Is now with her mother at Claridge's Hotel."
Then Vizard was in raptures. Now he understood Ina's composure, and the half sly look she had given him, and her dry eyes at parting, and other things. He tore up to London directly, with a telegram flying ahead: burst in upon her, and had her in his arms in a moment, before her mother: she fenced no longer, but owned he had gained her love, as he had deserved it in every way.
She consented to be married that week in London: only she asked for a Continental tour before entering Vizard Court as his wife; but she did not stipulate even for that--she only asked it submissively, as one whose duty it now was to obey, not dictate.
They were married in St. George's Church very quietly, by special license. Then they saw her mother off, and crossed to Calais. They spent two happy months together on the Continent, and returned to London.
But Vizard was too old-fashioned, and too proud of his wife, to sneak into Vizard Court with her. He did not make it a county matter; but he gave the village such a fête as had not been seen for many a day. The preparations were intrusted to Mr. Ashmead, at Ina's request. "He will be sure to make it theatrical," she said; "but perhaps the simple villagers will admire that, and it will amuse you and me, love: and the poor dear old Thing will be in his glory--I hope he will not drink too much."
Ashmead was indeed in his glory. Nothing had been seen in a play that he did not electrify Islip with, and the surrounding villages. He pasted large posters on walls and barn doors, and his small bills curled round the patriarchs of the forest and the roadside trees, and blistered the gate posts.
The day came. A soapy pole, with a leg of mutton on high for the successful climber. Races in sacks. Short blindfold races with wheelbarrows. Pig with a greasy tail, to be won by him who could catch him and shoulder him, without touching any other part of him; bowls of treacle for the boys to duck heads in and fish out coins; skittles, nine pins, Aunt Sally, etc., etc., etc.
But what astonished the villagers most was a May-pole, with long ribbons, about which ballet girls, undisguised as Highlanders, danced, and wound and unwound the party-colored streamers, to the merry fiddle, and then danced reels upon a platform, then returned to their little tent: but out again and danced hornpipes undisguised as Jacky Tars.
Beer flowed from a sturdy regiment of barrels. "The Court" kitchen and the village bakehouse kept pouring forth meats, baked, boiled, and roast; there was a pile of loaves like a haystack; and they roasted an ox whole on the Green; and, when they found they were burning him raw, they fetched the butcher, like sensible fellows, and dismembered the giant, and so roasted him reasonably.
In the midst of the reveling and feasting, Vizard and Mrs. Vizard were driven into Islip village in the family coach, with four horses streaming with ribbons.
They drove round the Green, bowing and smiling in answer to the acclamations and blessings of the poor, and then to Vizard Court. The great doors flew open. The servants, male and female, lined the hall on both sides, and received her bowing and courtesying low, on the very spot where she had nearly met her death; her husband took her hand and conducted her in state to her own apartment.
It was open house to all that joyful day, and at night magnificent fireworks on the sweep, seen from the drawing-room by Mrs. Vizard, Miss Maitland, Miss Gale, Miss Dover, and the rosy-cheeked curate, whom she had tied to her apron-strings.
At two in the morning, Mr. Harris showed Mr. Ashmead to his couch. Both gentlemen went upstairs a little graver than any of our modern judges, and firm as a rock; but their firmness resembled that of a roof rather than a wall; for these dignities as they went made one inverted V--so, A.
It is time the "Woman-hater" drew to a close, for the woman-hater is spoiled. He begins sarcastic speeches, from force of habit, but stops short in the middle. He is a very happy man, and owes it to a woman, and knows it. He adores her; and to love well is to be happy. But, besides that, she watches over his happiness and his good with that unobtrusive but minute vigilance which belongs to her sex, and is often misapplied, but not so very often as cynics say. Even the honest friendship between him and the remarkable woman he calls his "viragos" gives him many a pleasant hour. He is still a humorist, though cured of his fling at the fair sex. His last tolerable hit was at the monosyllabic names of the immortal composers his wife had disinterred in his library. Says he to parson Denison, hot from Oxford, "They remind me of the Oxford poets in the last century:
"Alma novem celebres genuit Rhedyeina poetas.
Bubb, Stubb, Grubb, Crabbe, Trappe. Brome, Carey, Tickell, Evans."
As for Ina Vizard, La Klosking no longer, she has stepped into her new place with her native dignity, seemliness and composure. At first, a few county ladies put their little heads together, and prepared to give themselves airs; but the beauty, dignity, and enchanting grace of Mrs. Vizard swept this little faction away like small dust. Her perfect courtesy, her mild but deep dislike of all feminine back-biting, her dead silence about the absent, except when she can speak kindly--these rare traits have forced, by degrees, the esteem and confidence of her own sex. As for the men, they accepted her at once with enthusiasm. She and Lady Uxmoor are the acknowledged belles of the county. Lady Uxmoor's face is the most admired; but Mrs. Vizard comes next, and her satin shoulders, statuesque bust and arms, and exquisite hand, turn the scale with some. But when she speaks, she charms; and when she sings, all competition dies.
She is faithful to music, and especially to sacred music. She is not very fond of singing at parties, and sometimes gives offense by declining. Music sets fools talking, because it excites them, and then their folly comes out by the road nature has provided. But when Mrs. Vizard has to sing in one key, and people talk in five other keys, that gives this artist such physical pain that she often declines, merely to escape it. It does not much mortify her vanity, she has so little.
She always sings in church, and sings out, too, when she is there; and plays the harmonium. She trains the villagers--girls, boys and adults--with untiring good humor and patience.
Among her pupils are two fine voices--Tom Wilder, a grand bass, and the rosy-cheeked curate, a greater rarity still, a genuine counter-tenor.
These two can both read music tolerably; but the curate used to sing everything, however full of joy, with a pathetic whine, for which Vizard chaffed him in vain; but Mrs. Vizard persuaded him out of it, where argument and satire failed.
People come far and near to hear the hymns at Islip Church, sung in full harmony--trebles, tenors, counter-tenor, and bass.
A trait--she allows nothing to be sung in church unrehearsed. The rehearsals are on Saturday night, and never shirked, such is the respect for "Our Dame." To be sure, "Our Dame" fills the stomachs and wets the whistles of her faithful choir on Saturday nights.
On Sunday nights there are performances of sacred music in the great dining-hall. But these are rather more ambitious than those in the village church. The performers meet on that happy footing of camaraderie the fine arts create, the superior respect shown to Mrs. Vizard being mainly paid to her as the greater musician. They attack anthems and services; and a trio, by the parson, the blacksmith, and "Our Dame," is really an extraordinary treat, owing to the great beauty of the voices. It is also piquant to hear the female singer constantly six, and often ten, notes below the male counter-tenor; but then comes Wilder with his diapason, and the harmony is noble; the more so that Mrs. Vizard rehearses her pupils in the swell--a figure too little practiced in music, and nowhere carried out as she does it.
One night the organist of Barford was there. They sung Kent's service in F, and Mrs. Vizard still admired it. She and the parson swelled in the duet, "To be a Light to lighten the Gentiles," etc. Organist approved the execution, but said the composition was a meager thing, quite out of date. "We have much finer things now by learned men of the day."
"Ah," said she, "bring me one."
So, next Sunday, he brought her a learned composition, and played it to her, preliminary to their singing it. But she declined it on the spot. "What!" said she. "Mr. X., would you compare this meaningless stuff with Kent in F? Why, in Kent, the dominant sentiment of each composition is admirably preserved. His 'Magnificat' is lofty jubilation, with a free, onward rush. His 'Dimittis' is divine repose after life's fever. But this poor pedant's 'Magnificat' begins with a mere crash, and then falls into the pathetic--an excellent thing in its place, but not in a song of triumph. As to his 'Dimittis,' it simply defies the words. This is no Christian sunset. It is not good old Simeon gently declining to his rest, content to close those eyes which had seen the world's salvation. This is a tempest, and all the windows rattling, and the great Napoleon dying, amid the fury of the elements, with 'téte d'armée!' on his dying lips, and 'battle' in his expiring soul. No, sir; if the learned Englishmen of this day can do nothing nearer the mark than DOLEFUL MAGNIFICATS and STORMY NUNC DIMITTISES, I shall stand faithful to poor dead Kent, and his fellows--they were my solace in sickness and sore trouble."
In accordance with these views of vocal music, and desirous to expand its sphere, Mrs. Vizard has just offered handsome prizes in the county for the best service, in which the dominant sentiment of the words shall be as well preserved as in Kent's despised service; and another prize to whoever can set any famous short secular poem, or poetical passage (not in ballad meter), to good and appropriate music.
This has elicited several pieces. The composers have tried their hands on Dryden's Ode; on the meeting of Hector and Andromache (Pope's "Homer"); on two short poems of Tennyson; etc., etc.
But it is only the beginning of a good thing. The pieces, are under consideration. Vizard says the competitors are trifiers. He shall set Mr. Arnold's version of "Hero and Leander" to the harp, and sing it himself. This, he intimates, will silence competition and prove an era. I think so too, if his music should happen to equal the lines in value. But I hardly think it will, because the said Vizard, though he has taste and ear, does not know one note from another. So I hope "Hero and Leander" will fall into abler hands; and in any case, I trust Mrs. Vizard will succeed in her worthy desire to enlarge, very greatly, the sphere and the nobility of vocal music. It is a desire worthy of this remarkable character, of whom I now take my leave with regret.
I must own that regret is caused in part by my fear that I may not have done her all the justice I desired.
I have long felt and regretted that many able female writers are doing much to perpetuate the petty vices of a sex, which, after all, is at present but half educated, by devoting three thick volumes to such empty women as Biography, though a lower art than Fiction, would not waste three pages on. They plead truth and fidelity to nature. "We write the average woman, for the average woman to read," say they. But they are not consistent; for the average woman is under five feet, and rather ugly. Now these paltry women are all beautiful--[Greek], as Homer hath it.
Fiction has just as much right to select large female souls as Biography or Painting has; and to pick out a selfish, shallow, illiterate creature, with nothing but beauty, and bestow three enormous volumes on her, is to make a perverse selection, beauty being, after all, rarer in women than wit, sense, and goodness. It is as false and ignoble in art, as to marry a pretty face without heart and brains is silly in conduct.
Besides, it gives the female reader a low model instead of a high one, and so does her a little harm; whereas a writer ought to do good--or try, at all events.
Having all this in my mind, and remembering how many noble women have shone like stars in every age and every land, and feeling sure that, as civilization advances, such women will become far more common, I have tried to look ahead and paint La Klosking.
But such portraiture is difficult. It is like writing a statue.
"Qui mihi non credit faciat licet ipse periclum,
Mox fuerit studis æquior ille meis."
Harrington Vizard, Esq., caught Miss Fanny Dover on the top round but one of the steps of his library. She looked down, pinkish, and said she was searching for "Tillotson's Sermons."
"What on earth can you want of them?"
"To improve my mind, to be sure," said the minx.
Vizard said, "Now you stay there, miss--don't you move;" and he sent for Ina. She came directly, and he said, "Things have come to a climax. My lady is hunting for 'Tillotson's Sermons.' Poor Denison!" (That was the rosy curate's name.)
"Well," said Fanny, turning red, "I told you I should. Why should I be good any longer? All the sick are cured one way or other, and I am myself again."
"Humph!" said Vizard. "Unfortunately for your little plans of conduct, the heads of this establishment, here present, have sat in secret committee, and your wings are to be clipped--by order of council."
"La!" said Fanny, pertly.
Vizard imposed silence with a lordly wave. "It is a laughable thing; but this divine is in earnest. He has revealed his hopes and fears to me."
"Then he is a great baby," said Fanny, coming down the steps. "No, no; we are both too poor." And she vented a little sigh.
"Not you. The vicar has written to vacate. Now, I don't like you much, because you never make me laugh; but I'm awfully fond of Denison; and, if you will marry my dear Denison, you shall have the vicarage; it is a fat one."
"And," said Mrs. Vizard, "he permits me to furnish it for you. You and I will make it 'a bijou.' "
Fanny kissed them both, impetuously: then said she would have a little cry. No sooner said than done. In due course she was Mrs. Denison, and broke a solemn vow that she never would teach girls St. Matthew.
Like coquettes in general, who have had their fling at the proper time, she makes a pretty good wife; but she has one fault--she is too hard upon girls who flirt.
Mr. Ashmead flourishes. Besides his agency she sometimes treats for a new piece, collects a little company, and tours the provincial theaters. He always plays them a week at Taddington, and with perfect gravity loses six pounds per night. Then he has a "bespeak," Vizard or Uxmoor turn about. There is a line of carriages; the snobs crowd in to see the gentry. Vizard pays twenty pounds for his box, and takes twenty pounds' worth of tickets, and Joseph is in his glory, and stays behind the company to go to Islip Church next day, and spend a happy night at the Court. After that he says he feels good for three or four days.
Mrs. Gale now leases the Hillstoke farm of Vizard, and does pretty well. She breeds a great many sheep and cattle. The high ground and sheltering woods suit them. She makes a little money every year, and gets a very good house for nothing. Doctress Gale is still all eyes, and notices everything. She studies hard, and practices a little. They tried to keep her out of the Taddington infirmary; but she went, almost crying, to Vizard, and he exploded with wrath. He consulted Lord Uxmoor, and between them the infirmary was threatened with the withdrawal of eighty annual subscriptions if they persisted. The managers caved directly, and Doctress Gale is a steady visitor.
A few mothers are coming to their senses and sending for her to their unmarried daughters. This is the main source of her professional income. She has, however, taken one enormous fee from a bon vivant, whose life she saved by esculents. She told him at once he was beyond the reach of medicine, and she could do nothing for him unless he chose to live in her house, and eat and drink only what she should give him. He had a horror of dying, though he had lived so well; so he submitted, and she did actually cure that one glutton. But she says she will never do it again. "After forty years of made dishes they ought to be content to die; it is bare justice," quoth Rhoda Gale, M.D.
An apothecary in Barford threatened to indict this Gallic physician. But the other medical men dissuaded him, partly from liberality, partly from discretion: the fine would have been paid by public subscription twenty times over and nothing gained but obloquy. The doctress would never have yielded.
She visits, and prescribes, and laughs at the law, as love is said to laugh at locksmiths.
To be sure, in this country, a law is no law, when it has no foundation in justice, morality, or public policy.
Happy in her position, and in her friends, she now reviews past events with the candor of a mind that loves truth sincerely. She went into Vizard's study one day, folded her arms, and delivered herself as follows: "I guess there's something I ought to say to you. When I told you about our treatment at Edinburgh, the wound still bled, and I did not measure my words as I ought, professing science. Now I feel a call to say that the Edinburgh school was, after all, more liberal to us than any other in Great Britain or Ireland. The others closed the door in our faces. This school opened it half. At first there was a liberal spirit; but the friends of justice got frightened, and the unionists stronger. We were overpowered at every turn. But what I omitted to impress on you, is, that when we were defeated, it was always by very small majorities. That was so even with the opinions of the judges, which have been delivered since I told you my tale. There were six jurists, and only seven pettifoggers. It was so all through. Now, for practical purposes, the act of a majority is the act of a body. It must be so. It is the way of the world: but when an accurate person comes to describe a business, and deal with the character of a whole university, she is not to call the larger half the whole, and make the matter worse than it was. That is not scientific. Science discriminates."
I am not sorry the doctress offered this little explanation; it accords with her sober mind and her veneration of truth. But I could have dispensed with it for one. In Britain, when we are hurt, we howl; and the deuce is in it if the weak may not howl when the strong overpower them by the arts of the weak.
Should that part of my tale rouse any honest sympathy with this English woman who can legally prescribe, consult, and take fees, in France, but not in England, though she could eclipse at a public examination nine-tenths of those who can, it may be as well to inform them that, even while her narrative was in the press, our Government declared it would do something for the relief of medical women, but would sleep upon it.
This is, on the whole, encouraging. But still, where there is no stimulus of faction or personal interest to urge a measure, but only such "unconsidered trifles" as public justice and public policy, there are always two great dangers: 1. That the sleep may know no waking; 2. That after too long a sleep the British legislator may jump out of bed all in a hurry, and do the work ineffectually; for nothing leads oftener to reckless haste than long delay.
I hope, then, that a few of my influential readers will be vigilant, and challenge a full discussion by the whole mind of Parliament, so that no temporary, pettifogging half-measure may slip into a thin house--like a weasel into an empty barn--and so obstruct for many years legislation upon durable principle. The thing lies in a nutshell. The Legislature has been entrapped. It never intended to outlaw women in the matter. The persons who have outlawed them are all subjects, and the engines of outlawry have been "certificates of attendance on lectures," and "public examinations." By closing the lecture room and the examination hall to all women--learned or unlearned--a clique has outlawed a population, under the letter, not the spirit, of a badly written statute. But it is for the three estates of the British realm to leave off scribbling statutes, and learn to write them, and to bridle the egotism of cliques, and respect the nation. The present form of government exists on that understanding, and so must all forms of government in England. And it is so easy. It only wants a little singleness of mind and common sense. Years ago certificates of attendance on various lectures were reasonably demanded. They were a slight presumptive evidence of proficiency, and had a supplementary value, because the public examinations were so loose and inadequate; but once establish a stiff, searching, sufficient, incorruptible, public examination, and then to have passed that examination is not presumptive, but demonstrative, proof of proficiency, and swallows up all minor and merely presumptive proofs.
There is nothing much stupider than anachronism. What avail certificates of lectures in our day? either the knowledge obtained at the lectures enables the pupil to pass the great examination, or it does not. If it does, the certificate is superfluous; if it does not, the certificate is illusory.
What the British legislator, if for once he would rise to be a lawgiver, should do, and that quickly, is to throw open the medical schools to all persons for matriculation. To throw open all hospitals and infirmaries to matriculated students, without respect of sex, as they are already open, by shameless partiality and transparent greed, to unmatriculated women, provided they confine their ambition to the most repulsive and unfeminine part of medicine, the nursing of both sexes, and laying out of corpses.
Both the above rights, as independent of sex as other natural rights, should be expressly protected by "mandamus," and "suit for damages." The lecturers to be compelled to lecture to mixed classes, or to give separate lectures to matriculated women for half fees, whichever those lecturers prefer. Before this clause all difficulties would melt, like hail in the dog days. Male modesty is a purely imaginary article, set up for a trade purpose, and will give way to justice the moment it costs the proprietors fifty per cent. I know my own sex from hair to heel, and will take my Bible oath of that.
Of the foreign matriculated student, British or European, nothing should be demanded hut the one thing, which matters one straw--viz., infallible proofs of proficiency in anatomy, surgery, medicine, and its collaterals, under public examination. This, which is the only real safeguard, and the only necessary safeguard to the public, and the only one the public ask, should he placed, in some degree, under the sure control of Government without respect of cities; and much greater vigilance exercised than ever has been yet. Why, under the system which excludes learned women, male dunces have been personated by able students, and so diplomas stolen again and again. The student, male or female, should have power to compel the examiners, by mandamus and other stringent remedies, to examine at fit times and seasons. In all the paper work of these examinations, the name, and of course the sex, of the student should he concealed from the examiners. There is a very simple way of doing it.
Should a law be passed on this broad and simple basis, that law will stand immortal, with pettifogging acts falling all around, according to the custom of the country. The larger half of the population will no longer be unconstitutionally juggled, under cover of law, out of their right to take their secret ailments to a skilled physician of their own sex, and compelled to go, blushing, writhing, and, after all, concealing and fibbing, to a male physician; the picked few no longer robbed of their right to science, reputation, and Bread.
The good effect on the whole mind of woman would be incalculable. Great prizes of study and genius offered to the able few have always a salutary and wonderful operation on the many who never gain them; it would be great and glad tidings to our whole female youth to say, "You need not be frivolous idlers; you need not give the colts fifty yards' start for the Derby--I mean, you need not waste three hours of the short working day in dressing and undressing, and combing your hair. You need not throw away the very seed-time of life on music, though you are unmusical to the backbone; nor yet on your three C's--croquet, crochet, and coquetry: for Civilization and sound Law have opened to you one great, noble, and difficult profession with three branches, two of which Nature intended you for. The path is arduous, but flowers grow beside it, and the prize is great."
I say that this prize, and frequent intercourse with those superior women who have won it, would leaven the whole sex with higher views of life than enter their heads at present; would raise their self-respect, and set thousands of them to study the great and noble things that are in medicine, and connected with it, instead of childish things.
Is there really one manly heart that would grudge this boon to a sex which is the nurse and benefactress of every man in his tender and most precarious years?
Realize the hard condition of women. Among barbarians their lot is unmixed misery; with us their condition is better, but not what it ought to be, because we are but half civilized, and so their lot is still very unhappy compared with ours.
And we are so unreasonable. We men cannot go straight ten yards without rewards as well as punishments. Yet we could govern our women by punishments alone. They are eternally tempted to folly, yet snubbed the moment they would be wise. A million shops spread their nets, and entice them by their direst foible. Their very mothers--for want of medical knowledge in the sex--clasp the fatal, idiotic corset on their growing bodies, though thin as a lath. So the girl grows up, crippled in the ribs and lungs by her own mother; and her life, too, is in stays--cabined, cribbed, confined: unless she can paint, or act, or write novels, every path of honorable ambition is closed to her. We treat her as we do our private soldiers--the lash, but no promotion; and our private soldiers are the scum of Europe for that very reason, and no other.
I say that to open the study and practice of medicine to women folk, under the infallible safeguard of a stiff public examination, will be to rise in respect for human rights to the level of European nations, who do not brag about just freedom half as loud as we do, and to respect the constitutional rights of many million citizens, who all pay the taxes like men, and, by the contract with the State implied in that payment, buy the clear human right they have yet to go down on their knees for. It will also import into medical science a new and less theoretical, but cautious, teachable, observant kind of intellect; it will give the larger half of the nation an honorable ambition, and an honorable pursuit, toward which their hearts and instincts are bent by Nature herself; it will tend to elevate this whole sex, and its young children, male as well as female, and so will advance the civilization of the world, which in ages past, in our own day, and in all time, hath, and doth, and will, keep step exactly with the progress of women toward mental equality with men.
END OF "A WOMAN-HATER."
Return to Index for This Novel
Return to Charles Reade Main Page