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may be, I know no more than the dead. But her words was theseI'm tellin' you her werry words-If you can make sure of seeing Mr. Ryfe, says she, that's you, Mr. Thomas, any time afore to-night, says she, tell him, as I must have a word with him in priwate atween him and me this werry evening, or it would have been better for both of us, poor things, says she, if we'd 'a never been born!'
Tom Ryfe stared.
'What do you mean?' he said. 'Am I to understand that the-the lady who spoke to you was desirous of an interview with me here in chambers, or where?'
'An' a born lady she is an' were !' answered Dorothea, incoherent, and therefore in the acute lawyer's opinion more likely to be telling the truth. A beautiful lady, too, tall, and pale, 'aughty and 'andsome(Tom started)-dressed in 'alfmourning, with a black-and-white parasol in her 'and. It's to see you priwate, Mr. Thomas, as she bade me to warn of you. To-night at height in the Birdcage Walk, without fail, says she, for it's life and death as is the matter, or marriage, says she, which is sometimes wuss nor both.'
Dorothea then removed herself, her pail, and her scrubbing-brushes to one side, as though inviting him to follow out his assignation without delay.
I ask yer pardon,' said she, 'Mr. Thomas, if I done wrong. But the young lady she seemed so anxious and aggrawated-like. No offence, sir, I 'umbly 'ope, and she guv' me 'alf a sovereign.'
And I'll give you another,' exclaimed Tom, placing a coin of that value in Dorothea's damp hot hand. 'The Birdcage Walk, at eight. And it's past six now. Thank you, Dorothea. I've no doubt it's all right. I'll start at once.'
Leaving Gray's Inn, the warm tears filled his eyes to think he had so misjudged her. Evidently she was in some difficulty, some complication; she had no opportunity of confiding to him, and hence her apparent heartlessness, the inconsistency of her conduct which he
had been unable to understand. Obviously she loved him still, and the conviction filled him with rapture, all the more thrilling and intense for his late misgivings.
He pulled her written promise from his pocket, and kissed it passionately, reading it over and over again in the fading light. A prayer rose from heart to lip for the woman he loved, while he looked up to the crimson glories of the western sky. Do such prayers fall back in the form of curses on the heads of those who betray, haunting them in their sorrows-at their need-worst of all in their supreme moments of happiness and joy? God forbid! Rather let us believe that, true to their heaven-born nature, they are blessings for those who give and those who receive.
Some two hours later, Tom Ryfe found himself pacing to and fro, under the trees in the Birdcage Walk, with a happier heart, though it beat so fast, than had been within his waistcoat for weeks.
It was getting very dark, and even beneath the gas-lamps it was difficult to distinguish the figure of man or woman, flitting through the deep shadows cast by trees still thick with their summer foliage. Tom, peering anxiously into the obscure, could make out nothing but a policeman, a foot-guardsman with a clothesbasket, and a drunken slattern carrying her baby upside-down.
He was growing anxious. Big Ben's booming tones had already warned him it was a quarter-past eight, when, suddenly, so close to him he could almost touch it, loomed the figure of a woman.
'Miss Bruce," he exclaimed'Mand-is it you?'
Turning his own body, so as to take advantage of a dim ray from the nearest gaslight, he was aware that the woman, shorter and stouter than Miss Bruce, had muffled herself in a cloak, and was closely veiled.
'You have a letter-a message,' he continued in a whisper. 'It's all right. I'm the party you expected to meet-here-at eight-under the trees.'
with my missus under the trees?' growled a brutal voice over his shoulder, while Tom felt he was helplessly pinioned by a pair of strong arms from behind, that crushed and bruised him like iron. Ere he could twist his hands free to show fight, which he meant to do pretty fiercely, he found himself baffled, blinded, suffocated, by a handkerchief thrust into his face, while a strong, pungent, yet not altogether unpleasant flavour of ether filled eyes, mouth, and nostrils, till it permeated to his very lungs. Then with every pulsation of the blood Big Ben seemed to be striking inside his brain, till something gave way with a great whizz! like the mainspring of a watch, and Tom Ryfe was perfectly quiet and comfortable henceforth.
Five minutes afterwards a belated bricklayer lounging home with his mate observed two persons, man and woman, supporting between them a limp, helpless figure, obviously incapable of sense or motion. Said the bricklayer, 'That's a stiffun, Bill, to all appearance.'
'Stiff-un be d-d!' retorted Bill; 'he's only jolly drunk. I wish I was too!'
The bricklayer seemed a man of reflection; for half a mile or so he held his peace, then, with a backward nod of the head, to indicate his meaning, observed solemnly
'I wouldn't take that chap's headache when he comes to, no, not to be as jolly drunk as he is this minnit -I wouldn't!"
THE COMING QUEEN.'
And whenever she comes she will find me waiting
To do her homage-my queen-my queen!'
How many an aspiring heart has breathed the high, chivalrous sentiment, never before so touchingly expressed, as in the words of this beautiful song? How many a gallant, generous nature has desired with unspeakable longing to lay its wealth of loyalty and devotion at her feet who is to prove the coming queen of its affections, the ladye of
its love? And for how many is the unwavering worship, the unfailing faith, the venture of wealth and honour, the risk of life and limb, right royally rewarded according to its merits and its claim?
I am not sure that implicit belief, unquestioning obedience, are the qualities most esteemed by those illustrious personages on whom they are lavished; and I think that the rebel who sends in his adhesion on his own terms is sometimes treated with more courtesy and consideration than the stanch vassal whose fidelity remains unaffected by coldness, ingratitude, or neglect.
Dick Stanmore, reading in the 'Morning Post' an eloquent account of Viscount Bearwarden's marriage to Miss Bruce, with the festivities consequent thereon, felt that he had sadly wasted his loyalty, if indeed this lady were the real sovereign to whom the homage of his heart was due. He began now to entertain certain misgivings on that score. What if he had over-estimated his own admiration and the force of her attractions? Perhaps his real queen had not come to him after all. It might be she was advancing even now in her maiden majesty, as yet unseen, but shedding before her a soft and mellow radiance, a tender quiver of light and warmth, like that which flushes the horizon at the break of a summer's day.
His dark hour had been cold and dismal enough. There is nothing to be ashamed of in the confession. Dick suffered severely, as every manly nature must suffer when deceived by a woman. He did not blame the woman-why should he? but he felt that a calamity had befallen him, the heaviest of his young experience, and he bore it as best he might.
'Calum non animum' is a very old proverb: his first impulse, no doubt, was to change the scene, and seek under other skies an altered frame of mind, in defiance of Horace and his worldly wisdom so rarely at fault. In these days a code of behaviour has been established by society to meet every eventuality of life. When your fortunes are impaired you winter at Rome; when
your liver is affected you travel in Germany; when your heart is broke you start at once for India. There is something unspeakably soothing, I imagine, in the swing of an elephant as he crashes through jungle, beating it out for tigers; something consolatory to wounded feelings in the grin of a heavy old tusker, lumbering along, half sulky, half defiant, winking a little blood-red eye at the pig-sticker, pushing his Arab to speed with a loose rein ere he delivers the meditated thrust that shall win first spear. Snipe, too, killed by the despairing lover while standing in a paddy-field up to his knees in water, with a tropical sun beating on his head, to be eaten afterwards in military society, not undiluted by pale ale and brandypawnee, afford a relief to the finer feelings of his nature as delightful as it is unaccountable; while those more adventurous spirits who, penetrating far into the mountainous regions of the north-west frontier, persecute the wild sheep or the eland, and even make acquaintance with the lordly ibex rocketing' down from crag to crag, breaking the force and impetus of his leap by alighting on horns and forehead, would seem to gain in their life of hardship and adventure an immunity from the common evil' which lasts them well into middle age.
Dick Stanmore's first impulse, therefore, was to secure a berth in the P. and O. steamer at once. Then he reflected that it would not be a bad plan to stop at Constantinopleone of the Egean islands, Messina -or, indeed, why go farther than Marseilles? If you come to that, Paris was the very place for a short visit. A man might spend a fortnight there pleasantly enough, even in the hot weather, and it would be a complete change; the eventual result of these deliberations being a resolve to go down and look after his landed property in the West of England. I believe that in this determination Mr. Stanmore showed more wisdom than his friends had hitherto given him credit for possessing. At his own place he had his own affairs to interest him, a good deal of business to attend to,
above all, constant opportunities of doing good. This it is, I fancy, which constitutes the real pith and enjoyment of a country gentleman's life-which imparts zest and flavour to the marking of trees, the setting of trimmers, the shooting of partridges, nay, even to the joyous excitement of fox-hunting itself.
This, too, is a wondrous salve for such wounds as those under which Dick Stanmore was now smarting. The very comparison of our own sorrows with those of others has a tendency to decrease their proportions and diminish their importance. How can I prate of my cut finger in presence of your broken leg? and how utterly ridiculous would have seemed Mr. Stanmore's sentimental sorrows to one of his own labourers keeping a wife and half-a-dozen children on eleven shillings a week?
In the whole moral physic-shop there is no anodyne like duty, sweetened with a little charity towards your neighbours. Amusement and dissipation simply aggravate the evil. Personal danger, while its excitement braces nerve and intellect for the time, is an overpowerful stimulant for the imagination, and leaves a reaction sadly softening to the heart. Successful ambition, gratified vanity, what are these with none to share the triumph? But put the sufferer through a steady course of daily duties, engrossing in their nature, stupefying in the monotony of their routine, and insensibly, while his attention is distracted from Self and selfish feelings, he gathers strength, day by day, till at last he is able to look his sorrow in the face, and fight it fairly, as he would any other honourable foe. The worst is over then, and victory a mere question of time.
So Dick Stanmore, setting to work with a will, found sleep and appetite and bodily strength come back rapidly enough. He had moments of pain, no doubt, particularly when he woke in the morning. Also at intervals during the day, when the breeze sighed through his woods, or the sweet-briar's fragrance stole on his senses more heavily than usual. Once, when a gipsy-girl blessed his handsome face, adding, in the fer
vour of her gratitude, a thousand good wishes for the lass he loved, as must love him dear, sure-lie !'but for very shame he could have cried like a child.
Such relapses, however, were of rarer occurrence every week. It was not long before he told himself that he had been through the worst of his ordeal, and could meet Lady Bearwarden now without looking like a fool. In this more rational frame of mind Mr. Stanmore arrived in London on business at that period of settled weather and comparative stagnation called by tradesmen the 'dead time of year,' and found his late-acquired philosophy put somewhat unexpectedly to the proof.
He was staring at a shop-window in Oxford Street, studying, indeed, the print of a patent mowingmachine, but thinking, I fear, more of past scenes in certain well-lit rooms, on slippery floors, than of the velvet lawns at home, when a barouche drew up to the kerb-stone with such trampling of hoofs, such pulling about of horses' mouths, such a jerk and vibration of the whole concern, as denoted a smart carriage with considerable pretension, a body-coachman of no ordinary calibre.
Dick turned sharply round, and there, not five yards off, was the pale face, proud, dreamy, and beautiful as of old. Had she seen him? He hardly knew, for he was sick at heart, growing white to his very lips-he, a strong healthy man, with as much courage as his neighbours. Horribly ashamed of himself he felt. And well he might be! but with more wisdom than he had hitherto shown, he made a snatch at his hat, and took refuge in immediate retreat.
It was his only chance. How, indeed, could he have met her manfully and with dignity, while every nerve and fibre quivered at her presence? How endure the shame of betraying in his manner that he loved her very dearly still? It gave him, indeed, a sharp and cruel pang, to think that it had come to thisthat the face he had so worshipped he must now fly from like a culprit -that for his own sake, in sheer selfdefence, he must avoid her presence,
as if he had committed against her some deadly injury-against her, for whom, even now, he would willingly have laid down his life! Poor Dick! he little knew, but it was the last pang he was destined to feel from his untoward attachment, and it punished him far more severely than he deserved.
Blundering hastily up a by-street, he ran into the very arms of a gentleman who had turned aside to apply a latch-key at the door of a rambling, unfurnished-looking house, sadly in want of paint, whitewash, and general repair. The gentleman, with an exclamation of delight, put both hands on Mr. Stanmore's shoulders.
This is a piece of luck!' exclaimed the latter. Why, it's "old Sir Simon the King!""
His mind reverted insensibly to the pleasant Oxford days, and he used a nickname universally bestowed on his friend by the men of his college.
'And what can you be doing here at this time of year?' asked Simon. 'In the first place, how came you to be in London? In the second, how did you ever get so far along Oxford Street? In the third, being here, won't you come up to the paintingroom? I'll show you my sketches; I'll give you some 'baccy-I haven't forgot Iffley Lock and your vile habit of stopping to drink. I can even supply you with beer! We'll have a smoke, and a talk over old times.'
'Willingly,' answered Dick, declining the beer, however, on the plea that such potations only went well with boating or cricket, and followed the painter upstairs into an exceedingly uncomfortable room, of which the principal object of furniture seemed to be an easel, bearing a sketch, apparently to be transferred hereafter into some unfinished picture.
Dick was in no frame of mind to converse upon his own affairs; accepting the proffered cigar, and taking the only seat in the place, he preferred listening to his friend, who got to work at once, and talked disjointedly while he painted.
'I can't complain,' said Simon, in
answer to the other's questions concerning his prosperity and success. 'I was always a plodding sort of fellow, as you remember. Not a genius-I don't think I've the divine gift. Sometimes I hope it may come. I've worked hard, I grant you-very hard, but I've had extraordinary luck-marvellous! What do you think of that imp's tail?Isn't it a trifle too long?'
'I'm no judge of imps,' answered Dick. He's horribly ugly. Go on about yourself.'
'Well, as I was saying,' continued Simon, foreshortening his imp the while, my luck has been wonderful. It all began with you. If you hadn't gone fishing there, I should never have seen Norway. If I hadn't seen it I couldn't have painted it.'
'I'm not sure that follows,' interrupted Dick.
Well, I shouldn't have painted it, then,' resumed the artist. And the credit I got for those Norway sketches was perfectly absurd. I see their faults now. They're cold and crude, and one or two are quite contrary to the first principles of art. I should like to paint them all over again. But still, if I hadn't been to Norway, I shouldn't be here now.'
'No more should I,' observed Dick, puffing out a volume of smoke. 'I should have been "marry-ed to a mermy-ed" by this time, if you had shown a proper devotion to your art, and the customary indifference to your friend.'
'Oh! that was nothing,' said the painter, blushing. Any other fellow could have pulled you out just as well. I say, Stanmore, how jolly it was over there! Those were happy days. And yet I don't wish to have them back again-do you?"
Dick sighed and held his peace. For him it seemed that the light heart and joyous carelessness of that bright youthful time was gone, never to come again.
I have learned so much since then,' continued Simon, putting a little grey into his imp's muzzle, ' and unlearned so much, too, which is better still. Mannerism, Stanmore, mannerism is the great
enemy of art. Now I'll explain what I mean in two words. In the first place, you observe the light from that chink streaming down on my imp's back-well, in the picture, you know—'
'Where is the picture?' exclaimed Dick, whose cigar was finished, and who had no scruples in thus unceremoniously interrupting a professional lecture which previous experience told him might be wearisome. 'Let's see it! Let's see all the pictures. Illustration's better than argument, and I can't understand anything unless it's set before me in bright colours, under my very nose.'
Good-natured Simon desisted from his occupation at once, and began lifting picture after picture, as they stood in layers against the wall, to place them in a favourable light for the inspection of his friend. Many and discursive were his criticisms on these, the progressive results of eye, and hand, and brain, improving every day. Here the drawing was faulty, there the tints were coarse. This betrayed mannerism, that lacked power, and in a very ambitious landscape enriched with wood, water, and mountain, a patchy sky spoiled the effect of the whole.
Nevertheless it seemed that he was himself not entirely dissatisfied with hs work, and whenever his friend entured on the diffident criticisn of an amateur, Simon demonstrated at great length that each fault, as he pointed it out, was in truth singular merit and beauty in the picture.
Presently, with a face of increased importance, he moved a large oblong canvas from its hiding-place, to prop it artistically at such an angle as showed the lights and shades of its finished portion to the best advantage. Then he fell back a couple of paces, contemplating it in silence with his head on one side, and so waited for his friend's opinion.
But Dick was mute. Something in this picture woke up the pain of a recent wound festering in his heart, and yet through all the smart and tingling came a strange sensation of relief, like that with which a styptic salves a sore.
'What do you think of it?' asked