Infomotions, Inc.— Volume 2 / Meredith, George, 1828-1909

Author: Meredith, George, 1828-1909
Title: — Volume 2
Date: 2002-01-10
Contributor(s): Levine, Robert, 1933- [Translator]
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Title: Rhoda Fleming, v2

Author: George Meredith

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RHODA FLEMING

By George Meredith



BOOK 2

XII.      AT THE THEATRE.
XIII.     THE FARMER SPEAKS
XIV.      BETWEEN RHODA AND ROBERT
XV.       A VISIT TO WREXBY HALL
XVI.      AT FAIRLY PARK
XVII.     A YEOMAN OF THE OLD BREED
XVIII.    AN ASSEMBLY AT THE PILOT INN
XIX.      ROBERT SMITTEN LOW
XX.       MRS. LOVELL SHOWS A TAME BRUTE



CHAPTER XII

Edward's engagement at his Club had been with his unfortunate cousin
Algernon; who not only wanted a dinner but 'five pounds or so' (the hazy
margin which may extend illimitably, or miserably contract, at the
lender's pleasure, and the necessity for which shows the borrower to be
dancing on Fortune's tight-rope above the old abyss).

"Over claret," was to have been the time for the asking; and Algernon
waited dinnerless until the healthy-going minutes distended and swelled
monstrous and horrible as viper-bitten bodies, and the venerable Signior,
Time, became of unhealthy hue. For this was the first dinner which,
during the whole course of the young man's career, had ever been failing
to him.  Reflect upon the mournful gap!  He could scarcely believe in his
ill-luck.  He suggested it to himself with an inane grin, as one of the
far-away freaks of circumstances that had struck him--and was it not
comical?

He waited from the hour of six till the hour of seven.  He compared
clocks in the hall and the room.  He changed the posture of his legs
fifty times.  For a while he wrestled right gallantly with the apparent
menace of the Fates that he was to get no dinner at all that day; it
seemed incredibly derisive, for, as I must repeat, it had never happened
to him by any accident before. "You are born--you dine."  Such appeared
to him to be the positive regulation of affairs, and a most proper one,
--of the matters of course following the birth of a young being.

By what frightful mischance, then, does he miss his dinner?  By placing
the smallest confidence in the gentlemanly feeling of another man!
Algernon deduced this reply accurately from his own experience, and
whether it can be said by other "undined" mortals, does not matter in the
least.  But we have nothing to do with the constitutionally luckless: the
calamitous history of a simple empty stomach is enough. Here the tragedy
is palpable. Indeed, too sadly so, and I dare apply but a flash of the
microscope to the rageing dilemmas of this animalcule.  Five and twenty
minutes had signalled their departure from the hour of seven, when
Algernon pronounced his final verdict upon Edward's conduct by leaving
the Club.  He returned to it a quarter of an hour later, and lingered on
in desperate mood till eight.

He had neither watch in his pocket, nor ring on his finger, nor
disposable stud in his shirt.  The sum of twenty-one pence was in his
possession, and, I ask you, as he asked himself, how is a gentleman to
dine upon that?  He laughed at the notion.  The irony of Providence sent
him by a cook's shop, where the mingled steam of meats and puddings
rushed out upon the wayfarer like ambushed bandits, and seized him and
dragged him in, or sent him qualmish and humbled on his way.

Two little boys had flattened their noses to the whiteness of winkles
against the jealously misty windows.  Algernon knew himself to be
accounted a generous fellow, and remembering his reputation, he, as to
hint at what Fortune might do in his case, tossed some coppers to the
urchins, who ducked to the pavement and slid before the counter, in a
flash, with never a "thank ye" or the thought of it.

Algernon was incapable of appreciating this childish faith in the
beneficence of the unseen Powers who feed us, which, I must say for him,
he had shared in a very similar manner only two hours ago.  He laughed
scornfully: "The little beggars!" considering in his soul that of such is
humanity composed: as many a dinnerless man has said before, and will
again, to point the speech of fools.  He continued strolling on,
comparing the cramped misty London aspect of things with his visionary
free dream of the glorious prairies, where his other life was: the
forests, the mountains, the endless expanses; the horses, the flocks, the
slipshod ease of language and attire; and the grog-shops.  Aha!  There
could be no mistake about him as a gentleman and a scholar out there!
Nor would Nature shut up her pocket and demand innumerable things of him,
as civilization did. This he thought in the vengefulness of his outraged
mind.

Not only had Algernon never failed to dine every day of his life:
he had no recollection of having ever dined without drinking wine.  His
conception did not embrace the idea of a dinner lacking wine.  Possibly
he had some embodied understanding that wine did not fall to the lot of
every fellow upon earth: he had heard of gullets unrefreshed even by
beer: but at any rate he himself was accustomed to better things, and he
did not choose to excavate facts from the mass of his knowledge in order
to reconcile himself to the miserable chop he saw for his dinner in the
distance--a spot of meat in the arctic circle of a plate, not shone upon
by any rosy-warming sun of a decanter!

But metaphorical language, though nothing other will convey the extremity
of his misery, or the form of his thoughts, must be put aside.

"Egad, and every friend I have is out of town!" he exclaimed, quite
willing to think it part of the plot.

He stuck his hands in his pockets, and felt vagabond-like and reckless.
The streets were revelling in their winter muck.  The carriages rolling
by insulted him with their display of wealth.

He had democratic sentiments regarding them.  Oh for a horse upon the
boundless plains! he sighed to his heart.  He remembered bitterly how he
had that day ridden his stool at the bank, dreaming of his wilds, where
bailiff never ran, nor duns obscured the firmament.

And then there were theatres here--huge extravagant places! Algernon went
over to an entrance of one, to amuse his mind, cynically criticizing the
bill.  A play was going forward within, that enjoyed great popular
esteem, "The Holly Berries."  Seeing that the pit was crammed, Algernon
made application to learn the state of the boxes, but hearing that one
box was empty, he lost his interest in the performance.

As he was strolling forth, his attention was taken by a noise at the
pit-doors, which swung open, and out tumbled a tough little old man with
a younger one grasping his coat-collar, who proclaimed that he would
sicken him of pushing past him at the end of every act.

"You're precious fond of plays," sneered the junior.

"I'm fond of everything I pay for, young fellow," replied the shaken
senior; "and that's a bit of enjoyment you've got to learn--ain't it?"

"Well, don't you knock by me again, that's all," cried the choleric
youth.

"You don't think I'm likely to stop in your company, do you?"

"Whose expense have you been drinking at?"

"My country's, young fellow; and mind you don't soon feed at the table.
Let me go."

Algernon's hunger was appeased by the prospect of some excitement, and
seeing a vicious shake administered to the old man by the young one, he
cried, "Hands off!" and undertook policeman's duty; but as he was not in
blue, his authoritative mandate obtained no respect until he had
interposed his fist.

When he had done so, he recognized the porter at Boyne's Bank, whose
enemy retired upon the threat that there should be no more pushing past
him to get back to seats for the next act.

"I paid," said Anthony; "and you're a ticketer, and you ticketers sha'
n't stop me.  I'm worth a thousand of you. Holloa, sir," he cried to
Algernon; "I didn't know you.  I'm much obliged.  These chaps get tickets
given 'm, and grow as cocky in a theatre as men who pay.  He never had
such wine in him as I've got.  That I'd swear.  Ha! ha! I come out for an
airing after every act, and there's a whole pitfall of ticketers yelling
and tearing, and I chaff my way through and back clean as a red-hot
poker."

Anthony laughed, and rolled somewhat as he laughed.

"Come along, sir, into the street," he said, boring on to the pavement.
"It's after office hours.  And, ha! ha! what do you think?  There's old
farmer in there, afraid to move off his seat, and the girl with him,
sticking to him tight, and a good girl too.  She thinks we've had too
much.  We been to the Docks, wine-tasting: Port--Sherry: Sherry--Port!
and, ha! ha! 'what a lot of wine!' says farmer, never thinking how much
he's taking on board.  "I guessed it was night," says farmer, as we got
into the air, and to see him go on blinking, and stumbling, and saying to
me, 'You stand wine, brother Tony!'  I'm blest if I ain't bottled
laughter. So, says I, 'come and see "The Holly Berries," brother William
John; it's the best play in London, and a suitable winter piece.'  'Is
there a rascal hanged in the piece?' says he.  'Oh, yes!' I let him fancy
there was, and he--ha! ha! old farmer's sticking to his seat, solemn as a
judge, waiting for the gallows to come on the stage."

A thought quickened Algernon's spirit. It was a notorious secret among
the young gentlemen who assisted in maintaining the prosperity of Boyne's
Bank, that the old porter--the "Old Ant," as he was called--possessed
money, and had no objection to put out small sums for a certain interest.
Algernon mentioned casually that he had left his purse at home; and "by
the way," said he, "have you got a few sovereigns in your pocket?"

"What! and come through that crush, sir?"  Anthony negatived the question
decisively with a reference to his general knowingness.

Algernon pressed him; saying at last, "Well, have you got one?"

"I don't think I've been such a fool," said Anthony, feeling slowly about
his person, and muttering as to the changes that might possibly have been
produced in him by the Docks.

"Confound it, I haven't dined!" exclaimed Algernon, to hasten his
proceedings; but at this, Anthony eyed him queerly. "What have you been
about then, sir?"

"Don't you see I'm in evening dress?  I had an appointment to dine with a
friend.  He didn't keep it.  I find I've left my purse in my other
clothes."

"That's a bad habit, sir," was Anthony's comment.  "You don't care much
for your purse."

"Much for my purse, be hanged!" interjected Algernon.

"You'd have felt it, or you'd have heard it, if there 'd been any weight
in it," Anthony remarked.

"How can you hear paper?"

"Oh, paper's another thing. You keep paper in your mind, don't you--eh?
Forget pound notes?  Leave pound notes in a purse?  And you Sir William's
nephew, sir, who'd let you bank with him and put down everything in a
book, so that you couldn't forget, or if you did, he'd remember for you;
and you might change your clothes as often as not, and no fear of your
losing a penny."

Algernon shrugged disgustedly, and was giving the old man up as a bad
business, when Anthony altered his manner. "Oh! well, sir, I don't mind
letting you have what I've got.  I'm out for fun. Bother affairs!"

The sum of twenty shillings was handed to Algernon, after he had
submitted to the indignity of going into a public-house, and writing his
I.O.U. for twenty-three to Anthony Hackbut, which included interest.
Algernon remonstrated against so needless a formality; but Anthony put
the startling supposition to him, that he might die that night.  He
signed the document, and was soon feeding and drinking his wine.  This
being accomplished, he took some hasty puffs of tobacco, and returned to
the theatre, in the hope that the dark girl Rhoda was to be seen there;
for now that he had dined, Anthony's communication with regard to the
farmer and his daughter became his uppermost thought, and a young man's
uppermost thought is usually the propelling engine to his actions.

By good chance, and the aid of a fee, he obtained a front seat,
commanding an excellent side-view of the pit, which sat wrapt in
contemplation of a Christmas scene snow, ice, bare twigs, a desolate
house, and a woman shivering--one of man's victims.

It is a good public, that of Britain, and will bear anything, so long as
villany is punished, of which there was ripe promise in the oracular
utterances of a rolling, stout, stage-sailor, whose nose, to say nothing
of his frankness on the subject, proclaimed him his own worst enemy, and
whose joke, by dint of repetition, had almost become the joke of the
audience too; for whenever he appeared, there was agitation in pit and
gallery, which subsided only on his jovial thundering of the familiar
sentence; whereupon laughter ensued, and a quieting hum of satisfaction.

It was a play that had been favoured with a great run.  Critics had once
objected to it, that it was made to subsist on scenery, a song, and a
stupid piece of cockneyism pretending to be a jest, that was really no
more than a form of slapping the public on the back.  But the public
likes to have its back slapped, and critics, frozen by the Medusa-head of
Success, were soon taught manners.  The office of critic is now, in fact,
virtually extinct; the taste for tickling and slapping is universal and
imperative; classic appeals to the intellect, and passions not purely
domestic, have grown obsolete. There are captains of the legions, but no
critics. The mass is lord.

And behold our friend the sailor of the boards, whose walk is even as two
meeting billows, appears upon the lonely moor, and salts that uninhabited
region with nautical interjections.  Loose are his hose in one part,
tight in another, and he smacks them. It is cold; so let that be his
excuse for showing the bottom of his bottle to the glittering spheres.
He takes perhaps a sturdier pull at the liquor than becomes a manifest
instrument of Providence, whose services may be immediately required; but
he informs us that his ship was never known not to right itself when
called upon.

He is alone in the world, he tells us likewise.  If his one friend, the
uplifted flask, is his enemy, why then he feels bound to treat his enemy
as his friend.  This, with a pathetic allusion to his interior economy,
which was applauded, and the remark "Ain't that Christian?" which was
just a trifle risky; so he secured pit and gallery at a stroke by a
surpassingly shrewd blow at the bishops of our Church, who are, it can
barely be contested, in foul esteem with the multitude--none can say
exactly, for what reason--and must submit to be occasionally offered up
as propitiatory sacrifices.

This good sailor was not always alone in the world.  A sweet girl, whom
he describes as reaching to his kneecap, and pathetically believes still
to be of the same height, once called him brother Jack.  To hear that
name again from her lips, and a particular song!--he attempts it
ludicrously, yet touchingly withal.

Hark!  Is it an echo from a spirit in the frigid air?

The song trembled with a silver ring to the remotest corners of the
house.

At that moment the breathless hush of the audience was flurried by
hearing "Dahlia" called from the pit.

Algernon had been spying among the close-packed faces for a sight of
Rhoda.  Rhoda was now standing up amid gathering hisses and outcries.
Her eyes were bent on a particular box, across which a curtain was
hastily being drawn.  "My sister!" she sent out a voice of anguish, and
remained with clasped hands and twisted eyebrows, looking toward that one
spot, as if she would have flown to it.  She was wedged in the mass, and
could not move.

The exclamation heard had belonged to brother Jack, on the stage, whose
burst of fraternal surprise and rapture fell flat after it, to the
disgust of numbers keenly awakened for the sentiment of this scene.

Roaring accusations that she was drunk; that she had just escaped from
Bedlam for an evening; that she should be gagged and turned headlong out,
surrounded her; but she stood like a sculptured figure, vital in her eyes
alone.  The farmer put his arm about his girl's waist.  The instant,
however, that Anthony's head uprose on the other side of her, the evil
reputation he had been gaining for himself all through the evening
produced a general clamour, over which the gallery played, miauling, and
yelping like dogs that are never to be divorced from a noise. Algernon
feared mischief.  He quitted his seat, and ran out into the lobby.

Half-a-dozen steps, and he came in contact with some one, and they were
mutually drenched with water by the shock.  It was his cousin Edward,
bearing a glass in his hand.

Algernon's wrath at the sight of this offender was stimulated by the cold
bath; but Edward cut him short.

"Go in there;" he pointed to a box-door.  "A lady has fainted. Hold her
up till I come."

No time was allowed for explanation.  Algernon passed into the box, and
was alone with an inanimate shape in blue bournous.  The uproar in the
theatre raged; the whole pit was on its legs and shouting.  He lifted the
pallid head over one arm, miserably helpless and perplexed, but his
anxiety concerning Rhoda's personal safety in that sea of strife prompted
him to draw back the curtain a little, and he stood exposed.  Rhoda
perceived him. She motioned with both her hands in dumb supplication.  In
a moment the curtain closed between them.  Edward's sharp white face
cursed him mutely for his folly, while he turned and put the water to
Dahlia's lips, and touched her forehead with it.

"What's the matter?" whispered Algernon.

"We must get her out as quick as we can. This is the way with women!
Come! she's recovering."  Edward nursed her sternly as he spoke.

"If she doesn't, pretty soon, we shall have the pit in upon us," said
Algernon.  "Is she that girl's sister?"

"Don't ask damned questions."

Dahlia opened her eyes, staring placidly.

"Now you can stand up, my dear.  Dahlia! all's well.  Try," said Edward.

She sighed, murmuring, "What is the time?" and again, "What noise is it?"

Edward coughed in a vexed attempt at tenderness, using all his force to
be gentle with her as he brought her to her feet.  The task was difficult
amid the threatening storm in the theatre, and cries of "Show the young
woman her sister!" for Rhoda had won a party in the humane public.

"Dahlia, in God's name give me your help!" Edward called in her ear.

The fair girl's eyelids blinked wretchedly in protestation of her
weakness.  She had no will either way, and suffered herself to be led out
of the box, supported by the two young men.

"Run for a cab," said Edward; and Algernon went ahead.

He had one waiting for them as they came out.  They placed Dahlia on a
seat with care, and Edward, jumping in, drew an arm tightly about her.
"I can't cry," she moaned.

The cab was driving off as a crowd of people burst from the pit-doors,
and Algernon heard the voice of Farmer Fleming, very hoarse.  He had
discretion enough to retire.




CHAPTER XIII

Robert was to drive to the station to meet Rhoda and her father returning
from London, on a specified day.  He was eager to be asking cheerful
questions of Dahlia's health and happiness, so that he might dispel the
absurd general belief that he had ever loved the girl, and was now
regretting her absence; but one look at Rhoda's face when she stepped
from the railway carriage kept him from uttering a word on that subject,
and the farmer's heavier droop and acceptance of a helping hand into the
cart, were signs of bad import.

Mr. Fleming made no show of grief, like one who nursed it.  He took it to
all appearance as patiently as an old worn horse would do, although such
an outward submissiveness will not always indicate a placid spirit in
men.  He talked at stale intervals of the weather and the state of the
ground along the line of rail down home, and pointed in contempt or
approval to a field here and there; but it was as one who no longer had
any professional interest in the tilling of the land.

Doubtless he was trained to have no understanding of a good to be derived
by his communicating what he felt and getting sympathy. Once, when he was
uncertain, and a secret pride in Dahlia's beauty and accomplishments had
whispered to him that her flight was possibly the opening of her road to
a higher fortune, he made a noise for comfort, believing in his heart
that she was still to be forgiven.  He knew better now.  By holding his
peace he locked out the sense of shame which speech would have stirred
within him.

"Got on pretty smooth with old Mas' Gammon?" he expressed his hope; and
Robert said, "Capitally.  We shall make something out of the old man yet,
never fear."

Master Gammon was condemned to serve at the ready-set tea-table as a butt
for banter; otherwise it was apprehended well that Mrs. Sumfit would have
scorched the ears of all present, save the happy veteran of the furrows,
with repetitions of Dahlia's name, and wailings about her darling, of
whom no one spoke.  They suffered from her in spite of every precaution.

"Well, then, if I'm not to hear anything dooring meals--as if I'd swallow
it and take it into my stomach!--I'll wait again for what ye've got to
tell," she said, and finished her cup at a gulp, smoothing her apron.

The farmer then lifted his head.

"Mother, if you've done, you'll oblige me by going to bed," he said.  "We
want the kitchen."

"A-bed?" cried Mrs. Sumfit, with instantly ruffled lap.

"Upstairs, mother; when you've done--not before."

"Then bad's the noos!  Something have happened, William.  You 'm not
going to push me out?  And my place is by the tea-pot, which I cling to,
rememberin' how I seen her curly head grow by inches up above the table
and the cups.  Mas' Gammon," she appealed to the sturdy feeder, "five
cups is your number?"

Her hope was reduced to the prolonging of the service of tea, with Master
Gammon's kind assistance.

"Four, marm," said her inveterate antagonist, as he finished that amount,
and consequently put the spoon in his cup.

Mrs. Sumfit rolled in her chair.

"O Lord, Mas' Gammon!  Five, I say; and never a cup less so long as here
you've been."

"Four, marm. I don't know," said Master Gammon, with a slow nod of his
head, "that ever I took five cups of tea at a stretch. Not runnin'."

"I do know, Mas' Gammon. And ought to: for don't I pour out to ye?  It's
five you take, and please, your cup, if you'll hand it over."

"Four's my number, marm," Master Gammon reiterated resolutely.  He sat
like a rock.

"If they was dumplins," moaned Mrs. Sumfit, "not four, no, nor five, 'd
do till enough you'd had, and here we might stick to our chairs, but
you'd go on and on; you know you would."

"That's eatin', marm;" Master Gammon condescended to explain the nature
of his habits.  "I'm reg'lar in my drinkin'."

Mrs. Sumfit smote her hands together.  "O Lord, Mas' Gammon, the
wearisomest old man I ever come across is you.  More tea's in the pot,
and it ain't watery, and you won't be comfortable.  May you get
forgiveness from above! is all I say, and I say no more.  Mr. Robert,
perhaps you'll be so good as let me help you, sir?  It's good tea; and my
Dody," she added, cajolingly, "my home girl 'll tell us what she saw.
I'm pinched and starved to hear."

"By-and-by, mother," interposed the farmer; "tomorrow."  He spoke gently,
but frowned.

Both Rhoda and Robert perceived that they were peculiarly implicated in
the business which was to be discussed without Mrs. Sumfit's assistance.
Her father's manner forbade Rhoda from making any proposal for the relief
of the forlorn old woman.

"And me not to hear to-night about your play-going!" sighed Mrs. Sumfit.
"Oh, it's hard on me. I do call it cruel.  And how my sweet was dressed--
like as for a Ball."

She saw the farmer move his foot impatiently.

"Then, if nobody drinks this remaining cup, I will," she pursued.

No voice save her own was heard till the cup was emptied, upon which
Master Gammon, according to his wont, departed for bed to avoid the
seduction of suppers, which he shunned as apoplectic, and Mrs. Sumfit
prepared, in a desolate way, to wash the tea-things, but the farmer,
saying that it could be done in the morning, went to the door and opened
it for her.

She fetched a great sigh and folded her hands resignedly.  As she was
passing him to make her miserable enforced exit, the heavy severity of
his face afflicted her with a deep alarm; she fell on her knees, crying,--

"Oh, William! it ain't for sake of hearin' talk; but you, that went to
see our Dahly, the blossom, 've come back streaky under the eyes, and you
make the house feel as if we neighboured Judgement Day.  Down to tea you
set the first moment, and me alone with none of you, and my love for my
girl known well to you.  And now to be marched off!  How can I go a-bed
and sleep, and my heart jumps so?  It ain't Christian to ask me to.  I
got a heart, dear, I have.  Do give a bit of comfort to it.  Only a word
of my Dahly to me."

The farmer replied: "Mother, let's have no woman's nonsense.  What we've
got to bear, let us bear.  And you go on your knees to the Lord, and
don't be a heathen woman, I say.  Get up.  There's a Bible in your
bedroom.  Find you out comfort in that."

"No, William, no!" she sobbed, still kneeling: "there ain't a dose o'
comfort there when poor souls is in the dark, and haven't got patience
for passages.  And me and my Bible!--how can I read it, and not know my
ailing, and a'stract one good word, William? It'll seem only the devil's
shootin' black lightnings across the page, as poor blessed granny used to
say, and she believed witches could do it to you in her time, when they
was evil-minded.  No!  To-night I look on the binding of the Holy Book,
and I don't, and I won't, I sha' n't open it."

This violent end to her petition was wrought by the farmer grasping her
arm to bring her to her feet.

"Go to bed, mother."

"I shan't open it," she repeated, defiantly.  "And it ain't," she
gathered up her comfortable fat person to assist the words "it ain't
good--no, not the best pious ones--I shall, and will say it! as is al'ays
ready to smack your face with the Bible."

"Now, don't ye be angry," said the farmer.

She softened instantly.

"William, dear, I got fifty-seven pounds sterling, and odd shillings, in
a Savings-bank, and that I meant to go to Dahly, and not to yond' dark
thing sitting there so sullen, and me in my misery; I'd give it to you
now for news of my darlin'.  Yes, William; and my poor husband's cottage,
in Sussex--seventeen pound per annum.  That, if you'll be goodness
itself, and let me hear a word."

"Take her upstairs," said the farmer to Rhoda, and Rhoda went by her and
took her hands, and by dint of pushing from behind and dragging in front,
Mrs. Sumfit, as near on a shriek as one so fat and sleek could be, was
ejected.  The farmer and Robert heard her struggles and exclamations
along the passage, but her resistance subsided very suddenly.

"There's power in that girl," said the farmer, standing by the shut door.

Robert thought so, too.  It affected his imagination, and his heart began
to beat sickeningly.

"Perhaps she promised to speak--what has happened, whatever that may be,"
he suggested.

"Not she; not she.  She respects my wishes."

Robert did not ask what had happened.

Mr. Fleming remained by the door, and shut his mouth from a further word
till he heard Rhoda's returning footstep.  He closed the door again
behind her, and went up to the square deal table, leaned his body forward
on the knuckles of his trembling fist, and said, "We're pretty well
broken up, as it is.  I've lost my taste for life."

There he paused.  Save by the shining of a wet forehead, his face
betrayed nothing of the anguish he suffered.  He looked at neither of
them, but sent his gaze straight away under labouring brows to an arm of
the fireside chair, while his shoulders drooped on the wavering support
of his hard-shut hands.  Rhoda's eyes, ox-like, as were her father's,
smote full upon Robert's, as in a pang of apprehension of what was about
to be uttered.

It was a quick blaze of light, wherein he saw that the girl's spirit was
not with him.  He would have stopped the farmer at once, but he had not
the heart to do it, even had he felt in himself strength to attract an
intelligent response from that strange, grave, bovine fixity of look,
over which the human misery sat as a thing not yet taken into the dull
brain.

"My taste for life," the old man resumed, "that's gone.  I didn't bargain
at set-out to go on fighting agen the world.  It's too much for a man o'
my years.  Here's the farm.  Shall 't go to pieces?--I'm a farmer of
thirty year back--thirty year back, and more: I'm about no better'n a
farm labourer in our time, which is to-day.  I don't cost much.  I ask to
be fed, and to work for it, and to see my poor bit o' property safe, as
handed to me by my father.  Not for myself, 't ain't; though perhaps
there's a bottom of pride there too, as in most things.  Say it's for the
name.  My father seems to demand of me out loud, 'What ha' ye done with
Queen Anne's Farm, William?' and there's a holler echo in my ears.  Well;
God wasn't merciful to give me a son.  He give me daughters."

Mr. Fleming bowed his head as to the very weapon of chastisement.

"Daughters!"  He bent lower.

His hearers might have imagined his headless address to them to be also
without a distinct termination, for he seemed to have ended as abruptly
as he had begun; so long was the pause before, with a wearied lifting of
his body, he pursued, in a sterner voice:

"Don't let none interrupt me."  His hand was raised as toward where Rhoda
stood, but he sent no look with it; the direction was wide of her.

The aspect of the blank blind hand motioning to the wall away from her,
smote an awe through her soul that kept her dumb, though his next words
were like thrusts of a dagger in her side.

"My first girl--she's brought disgrace on this house.  She's got a mother
in heaven, and that mother's got to blush for her.  My first girl's gone
to harlotry in London."

It was Scriptural severity of speech.  Robert glanced quick with intense
commiseration at Rhoda.  He saw her hands travel upward till they fixed
in at her temples with crossed fingers, making the pressure of an iron
band for her head, while her lips parted, and her teeth, and cheeks, and
eyeballs were all of one whiteness.  Her tragic, even, in and out
breathing, where there was no fall of the breast, but the air was taken
and given, as it were the square blade of a sharp-edged sword, was
dreadful to see.  She had the look of a risen corpse, recalling some one
of the bloody ends of life.

The farmer went on,--

"Bury her!  Now you here know the worst.  There's my second girl. She's
got no stain on her; if people 'll take her for what she is herself.
She's idle.  But I believe the flesh on her bones she'd wear away for any
one that touched her heart.  She's a temper. But she's clean both in body
and in spirit, as I believe, and say before my God.  I--what I'd pray for
is, to see this girl safe. All I have shall go to her.  That is, to the
man who will--won't be ashamed--marry her, I mean!"

The tide of his harshness failed him here, and he began to pick his
words, now feeble, now emphatic, but alike wanting in natural expression,
for he had reached a point of emotion upon the limits of his nature, and
he was now wilfully forcing for misery and humiliation right and left, in
part to show what a black star Providence had been over him.

"She'll be grateful.  I shall be gone.  What disgrace I bring to their
union, as father of the other one also, will, I'm bound to hope, be
buried with me in my grave; so that this girl's husband shan't have to
complain that her character and her working for him ain't enough to cover
any harm he's like to think o' the connexion.  And he won't be troubled
by relationships after that.

"I used to think Pride a bad thing.  I thank God we've all got it in our
blood--the Flemings.  I thank God for that now, I do.  We don't face
again them as we offend.  Not, that is, with the hand out.  We go.  We're
seen no more.  And she'll be seen no more.  On that, rely.

"I want my girl here not to keep me in the fear of death.  For I fear
death while she's not safe in somebody's hands--kind, if I can get him
for her.  Somebody--young or old!"

The farmer lifted his head for the first time, and stared vacantly at
Robert.

"I'd marry her," he said, "if I was knowing myself dying now or to-morrow
morning, I'd marry her, rather than leave her alone--I'd marry her to
that old man, old Gammon."

The farmer pointed to the ceiling.  His sombre seriousness cloaked and
carried even that suggestive indication to the possible bridegroom's age
and habits, and all things associated with him, through the gates of
ridicule; and there was no laughter, and no thought of it.

"It stands to reason for me to prefer a young man for her husband.  He'll
farm the estate, and won't sell it; so that it goes to our blood, if not
to a Fleming.  If, I mean, he's content to farm soberly, and not play
Jack o' Lantern tricks across his own acres.  Right in one thing's right,
I grant; but don't argue right in all.  It's right only in one thing.
Young men, when they've made a true hit or so, they're ready to think
it's themselves that's right."

This was of course a reminder of the old feud with Robert, and
sufficiently showed whom the farmer had in view for a husband to Rhoda,
if any doubt existed previously.

Having raised his eyes, his unwonted power of speech abandoned him, and
he concluded, wavering in look and in tone,--

"I'd half forgotten her uncle.  I've reckoned his riches when I cared for
riches.  I can't say th' amount; but, all--I've had his word for it--all
goes to this--God knows how much!--girl.  And he don't hesitate to say
she's worth a young man's fancying.  May be so.  It depends upon ideas
mainly, that does.  All goes to her. And this farm.--I wish ye
good-night."

He gave them no other sign, but walked in his oppressed way quietly to
the inner door, and forth, leaving the rest to them.




CHAPTER XIV


The two were together, and all preliminary difficulties had been cleared
for Robert to say what he had to say, in a manner to make the saying of
it well-nigh impossible.  And yet silence might be misinterpreted by her.
He would have drawn her to his heart at one sign of tenderness.  There
came none.  The girl was frightfully torn with a great wound of shame.
She was the first to speak.

"Do you believe what father says of my sister?"

"That she--?"  Robert swallowed the words.  "No!" and he made a thunder
with his fist.

"No!"  She drank up the word.  "You do not?  No!  You know that Dahlia is
innocent?"

Rhoda was trembling with a look for the asseveration; her pale face eager
as a cry for life; but the answer did not come at once hotly as her
passion for it demanded.  She grew rigid, murmuring faintly: "speak!  Do
speak!"

His eyes fell away from hers.  Sweet love would have wrought in him to
think as she thought, but she kept her heart closed from him, and he
stood sadly judicial, with a conscience of his own, that would not permit
him to declare Dahlia innocent, for he had long been imagining the
reverse.

Rhoda pressed her hands convulsively, moaning, "Oh!" down a short deep
breath.

"Tell me what has happened?" said Robert, made mad by that reproachful
agony of her voice.  "I'm in the dark.  I'm not equal to you all.  If
Dahlia's sister wants one to stand up for her, and defend her, whatever
she has done or not done, ask me.  Ask me, and I'll revenge her.  Here am
I, and I know nothing, and you despise me because--don't think me rude or
unkind.  This hand is yours, if you will.  Come, Rhoda.  Or, let me hear
the case, and I'll satisfy you as best I can.  Feel for her?  I feel for
her as you do.  You don't want me to stand a liar to your question?  How
can I speak?"

A woman's instinct at red heat pierces the partial disingenuousness which
Robert could only have avoided by declaring the doubts he entertained.
Rhoda desired simply to be supported by his conviction of her sister's
innocence, and she had scorn of one who would not chivalrously advance
upon the risks of right and wrong, and rank himself prime champion of a
woman belied, absent, and so helpless.  Besides, there was but one virtue
possible in Rhoda's ideas, as regarded Dahlia: to oppose facts, if
necessary, and have her innocent perforce, and fight to the death them
that dared cast slander on the beloved head.

Her keen instinct served her so far.

His was alive when she refused to tell him what had taken place during
their visit to London.

She felt that a man would judge evil of the circumstances. Her father and
her uncle had done so: she felt that Robert would. Love for him would
have prompted her to confide in him absolutely.  She was not softened by
love; there was no fire on her side to melt and make them run in one
stream, and they could not meet.

"Then, if you will not tell me," said Robert, "say what you think of your
father's proposal?  He meant that I may ask you to be my wife.  He used
to fancy I cared for your sister.  That's false.  I care for her--yes; as
my sister too; and here is my hand to do my utmost for her, but I love
you, and I've loved you for some time.  I'd be proud to marry you and
help on with the old farm. You don't love me yet--which is a pretty hard
thing for me to see to be certain of.  But I love you, and I trust you.
I like the stuff you're made of--and nice stuff I'm talking to a young
woman," he added, wiping his forehead at the idea of the fair and
flattering addresses young women expect when they are being wooed.

As it was, Rhoda listened with savage contempt of his idle talk. Her
brain was beating at the mystery and misery wherein Dahlia lay engulfed.
She had no understanding for Robert's sentimentality, or her father's
requisition.  Some answer had to be given, and she said,--

"I'm not likely to marry a man who supposes he has anything to pardon."

"I don't suppose it," cried Robert.

"You heard what father said."

"I heard what he said, but I don't think the same.  What has Dahlia to do
with you?"

He was proceeding to rectify this unlucky sentence.  All her covert
hostility burst out on it.

"My sister?--what has my sister to do with me?--you mean!--you mean--you
can only mean that we are to be separated and thought of as two people;
and we are one, and will be till we die.  I feel my sister's hand in
mine, though she's away and lost.  She is my darling for ever and ever.
We're one!"

A spasm of anguish checked the girl.

"I mean," Robert resumed steadily, "that her conduct, good or bad,
doesn't touch you.  If it did, it'd be the same to me.  I ask you to take
me for your husband.  Just reflect on what your father said, Rhoda."

The horrible utterance her father's lips had been guilty of flashed
through her, filling her with mastering vindictiveness, now that she had
a victim.

"Yes!  I'm to take a husband to remind me of what he said."

Robert eyed her sharpened mouth admiringly; her defence of her sister had
excited his esteem, wilfully though she rebutted his straightforward
earnestness and he had a feeling also for the easy turns of her neck, and
the confident poise of her figure.

"Ha! well!" he interjected, with his eyebrows queerly raised, so that she
could make nothing of his look.  It seemed half maniacal, it was so
ridged with bright eagerness.

"By heaven! the task of taming you--that's the blessing I'd beg for in my
prayers!  Though you were as wild as a cat of the woods, by heaven!  I'd
rather have the taming of you than go about with a leash of quiet"--he
checked himself--"companions."

Such was the sudden roll of his tongue, that she was lost in the
astounding lead he had taken, and stared.

"You're the beauty to my taste, and devil is what I want in a woman!  I
can make something out of a girl with a temper like yours.  You don't
know me, Miss Rhoda.  I'm what you reckon a good young man.  Isn't that
it?"

Robert drew up with a very hard smile.

"I would to God I were!  Mind, I feel for you about your sister. I like
you the better for holding to her through thick and thin. But my
sheepishness has gone, and I tell you I'll have you whether you will or
no.  I can help you and you can help me.  I've lived here as if I had no
more fire in me than old Gammon snoring on his pillow up aloft; and who
kept me to it?  Did you see I never touched liquor?  What did you guess
from that?--that I was a mild sort of fellow?  So I am: but I haven't got
that reputation in other parts.  Your father 'd like me to marry you, and
I'm ready.  Who kept me to work, so that I might learn to farm, and be a
man, and be able to take a wife?  I came here--I'll tell you how.  I was
a useless dog.  I ran from home and served as a trooper.  An old aunt of
mine left me a little money, which just woke me up and gave me a lift of
what conscience I had, and I bought myself out.

"I chanced to see your father's advertisement--came, looked at you all,
and liked you--brought my traps and settled among you, and lived like a
good young man.  I like peace and orderliness, I find.  I always thought
I did, when I was dancing like mad to hell.  I know I do now, and you're
the girl to keep me to it.  I've learnt that much by degrees.  With any
other, I should have been playing the fool, and going my old ways, long
ago.  I should have wrecked her, and drunk to forget.  You're my match.
By-and-by you'll know, me yours!  You never gave me, or anybody else that
I've seen, sly sidelooks.

"Come!  I'll speak out now I'm at work.  I thought you at some girl's
games in the Summer.  You went out one day to meet a young gentleman.
Offence or no offence, I speak and you listen.  You did go out.  I was in
love with you then, too.  I saw London had been doing its mischief.  I
was down about it.  I felt that he would make nothing of you, but I chose
to take the care of you, and you've hated me ever since.

"That Mr. Algernon Blancove's a rascal.  Stop!  You'll say as much as you
like presently.  I give you a warning--the man's a rascal.  I didn't play
spy on your acts, but your looks.  I can read a face like yours, and it's
my home, my home!--by heaven, it is.  Now, Rhoda, you know a little more
of me.  Perhaps I'm more of a man than you thought.  Marry another, if
you will; but I'm the man for you, and I know it, and you'll go wrong if
you don't too.  Come! let your father sleep well.  Give me your hand."

All through this surprising speech of Robert's, which was a revelation of
one who had been previously dark to her, she had steeled her spirit as
she felt herself being borne upon unexpected rapids, and she marvelled
when she found her hand in his.

Dismayed, as if caught in a trap, she said,--

"You know I've no love for you at all."

"None--no doubt," he answered.

The fit of verbal energy was expended, and he had become listless, though
he looked frankly at her and assumed the cheerfulness which was failing
within him.

"I wish to remain as I am," she faltered, surprised again by the equally
astonishing recurrence of humility, and more spiritually subdued by it.
"I've no heart for a change.  Father will understand.  I am safe."

She ended with a cry: "Oh! my dear, my own sister!  I wish you were safe.
Get her here to me and I'll do what I can, if you're not hard on her.
She's so beautiful, she can't do wrong.  My Dahlia's in some trouble.
Mr. Robert, you might really be her friend?"

"Drop the Mister," said Robert.

"Father will listen to you," she pleaded.  "You won't leave us? Tell him
you know I am safe.  But I haven't a feeling of any kind while my
sister's away.  I will call you Robert, if you like."  She reached her
hand forth.

"That's right," he said, taking it with a show of heartiness: "that's a
beginning, I suppose."

She shrank a little in his sensitive touch, and he added: "Oh never fear.
I've spoken out, and don't do the thing too often. Now you know me,
that's enough.  I trust you, so trust me.  I'll talk to your father.
I've got a dad of my own, who isn't so easily managed.  You and I,
Rhoda--we're about the right size for a couple.  There--don't be
frightened!  I was only thinking--I'll let go your hand in a minute.  If
Dahlia's to be found, I'll find her.  Thank you for that squeeze.  You'd
wake a dead man to life, if you wanted to.  To-morrow I set about the
business.  That's settled.  Now your hand's loose.  Are you going to say
good night?  You must give me your hand again for that.  What a rough
fellow I must seem to you!  Different from the man you thought I was?
I'm just what you choose to make me, Rhoda; remember that.  By heaven! go
at once, for you're an armful--"

She took a candle and started for the door.

"Aha! you can look fearful as a doe.  Out! make haste!"

In her hurry at his speeding gestures, the candle dropped; she was going
to pick it up, but as he approached, she stood away frightened.

"One kiss, my girl," he said.  "Don't keep me jealous as fire. One! and
I'm a plighted man.  One!--or I shall swear you know what kisses are.
Why did you go out to meet that fellow?  Do you think there's no danger
in it?  Doesn't he go about boasting of it now, and saying--that girl!
But kiss me and I'll forget it; I'll forgive you.  Kiss me only once, and
I shall be certain you don't care for him.  That's the thought maddens me
outright.  I can't bear it now I've seen you look soft.  I'm stronger
than you, mind."  He caught her by the waist.

"Yes," Rhoda gasped, "you are.  You are only a brute."

"A brute's a lucky dog, then, for I've got you!"

"Will you touch me?"

"You're in my power."

"It's a miserable thing, Robert."

"Why don't you struggle, my girl?  I shall kiss you in a minute."

"You're never my friend again."

"I'm not a gentleman, I suppose!"

"Never! after this."

"It isn't done.  And first you're like a white rose, and next you're like
a red.  Will you submit?"

"Oh! shame!" Rhoda uttered.

"Because I'm not a gentleman?"

"You are not."

"So, if I could make you a lady--eh? the lips 'd be ready in a trice.
You think of being made a lady--a lady!"

His arm relaxed in the clutch of her figure.

She got herself free, and said: "We saw Mr. Blancove at the theatre with
Dahlia."

It was her way of meeting his accusation that she had cherished an
ambitious feminine dream.

He, to hide a confusion that had come upon him, was righting the fallen
candle.

"Now I know you can be relied on; you can defend yourself," he said, and
handed it to her, lighted.  "You keep your kisses for this or that young
gentleman.  Quite right.  You really can defend yourself.  That's all I
was up to.  So let us hear that you forgive me.  The door's open.  You
won't be bothered by me any more; and don't hate me overmuch."

"You might have learned to trust me without insulting me, Robert," she
said.

"Do you fancy I'd take such a world of trouble for a kiss of your lips,
sweet as they are?"

His blusterous beginning ended in a speculating glance at her mouth.

She saw it would be wise to accept him in his present mood, and go; and
with a gentle "Good night," that might sound like pardon, she passed
through the doorway.




CHAPTER XV

Next day, while Squire Blancove was superintending the laying down of
lines for a new carriage drive in his park, as he walked slowly up the
green slope he perceived Farmer Fleming, supported by a tall young man;
and when the pair were nearer, he had the gratification of noting
likewise that the worthy yeoman was very much bent, as with an acute
attack of his well-known chronic malady of a want of money.

The squire greatly coveted the freehold of Queen Anne's Farm.  He had
made offers to purchase it till he was tired, and had gained for himself
the credit of being at the bottom of numerous hypothetical cabals to
injure and oust the farmer from his possession.  But if Naboth came with
his vineyard in his hand, not even Wrexby's rector (his quarrel with whom
haunted every turn in his life) could quote Scripture against him for
taking it at a proper valuation.

The squire had employed his leisure time during service in church to
discover a text that might be used against him in the event of the
farmer's reduction to a state of distress, and his, the squire's, making
the most of it.  On the contrary, according to his heathenish reading of
some of the patriarchal doings, there was more to be said in his favour
than not, if he increased his territorial property: nor could he,
throughout the Old Testament, hit on one sentence that looked like a
personal foe to his projects, likely to fit into the mouth of the rector
of Wrexby.

"Well, farmer," he said, with cheerful familiarity, "winter crops looking
well?  There's a good show of green in the fields from my windows, as
good as that land of yours will allow in heavy seasons."

To this the farmer replied, "I've not heart or will to be round about,
squire.  If you'll listen to me--here, or where you give command."

"Has it anything to do with pen and paper, Fleming?  In that case you'd
better be in my study," said the squire.

"I don't know that it have.  I don't know that it have."  The farmer
sought Robert's face.

"Best where there's no chance of interruption," Robert counselled, and
lifted his hat to the squire.

"Eh?  Well, you see I'm busy."  The latter affected a particular
indifference, that in such cases, when well acted (as lords of money can
do--squires equally with usurers), may be valued at hundreds of pounds in
the pocket.  "Can't you put it off?  Come again to-morrow."

"To-morrow's a day too late," said the farmer, gravely.  Whereto
replying, "Oh! well, come along in, then," the squire led the way.

"You're two to one, if it's a transaction," he said, nodding to Robert to
close the library door.  "Take seats.  Now then, what is it?  And if I
make a face, just oblige me by thinking nothing about it, for my gout's
beginning to settle in the leg again, and shoots like an electric
telegraph from purgatory."

He wheezed and lowered himself into his arm-chair; but the farmer and
Robert remained standing, and the farmer spoke:--

"My words are going to be few, squire.  I've got a fact to bring to your
knowledge, and a question to ask."

Surprise, exaggerated on his face by a pain he had anticipated, made the
squire glare hideously.

"Confound it, that's what they say to a prisoner in the box. Here's a
murder committed:--Are you the guilty person?  Fact and question!  Well,
out with 'em, both together."

"A father ain't responsible for the sins of his children," said the
farmer.

"Well, that's a fact," the squire emphasized.  "I've always maintained
it; but, if you go to your church, farmer--small blame to you if you
don't; that fellow who preaches there--I forget his name--stands out for
just the other way.  You are responsible, he swears.  Pay your son's
debts, and don't groan over it:--He spent the money, and you're the chief
debtor; that's his teaching. Well: go on.  What's your question?"

"A father's not to be held responsible for the sins of his children,
squire.  My daughter's left me.  She's away.  I saw my daughter at the
theatre in London.  She saw me, and saw her sister with me.  She
disappeared.  It's a hard thing for a man to be saying of his own flesh
and blood.  She disappeared.  She went, knowing her father's arms open to
her.  She was in company with your son."

The squire was thrumming on the arm of his chair.  He looked up vaguely,
as if waiting for the question to follow, but meeting the farmer's
settled eyes, he cried, irritably, "Well, what's that to me?"

"What's that to you, squire?"

"Are you going to make me out responsible for my son's conduct? My son's
a rascal--everybody knows that.  I paid his debts once, and I've finished
with him.  Don't come to me about the fellow. If there's a greater curse
than the gout, it's a son."

"My girl," said the farmer, "she's my flesh and blood, and I must find
her, and I'm here to ask you to make your son tell me where she's to be
found.  Leave me to deal with that young man--leave you me! but I want my
girl."

"But I can't give her to you," roared the squire, afflicted by his two
great curses at once.  "Why do you come to me?  I'm not responsible for
the doings of the dog.  I'm sorry for you, if that's what you want to
know.  Do you mean to say that my son took her away from your house?"

"I don't do so, Mr. Blancove.  I'm seeking for my daughter, and I see her
in company with your son."

"Very well, very well," said the squire; "that shows his habits; I can't
say more.  But what has it got to do with me?"

The farmer looked helplessly at Robert.

"No, no," the squire sung out, "no interlopers, no interpreting here.  I
listen to you.  My son--your daughter.  I understand that, so far.  It's
between us two.  You've got a daughter who's gone wrong somehow: I'm
sorry to hear it.  I've got a son who never went right; and it's no
comfort to me, upon my word.  If you were to see the bills and the
letters I receive! but I don't carry my grievances to my neighbours.  I
should think, Fleming, you'd do best, if it's advice you're seeking, to
keep it quiet.  Don't make a noise about it.  Neighbours' gossip I find
pretty well the worst thing a man has to bear, who's unfortunate enough
to own children."

The farmer bowed his head with that bitter humbleness which characterized
his reception of the dealings of Providence toward him.

"My neighbours 'll soon be none at all," he said.  "Let 'em talk.  I'm
not abusing you, Mr. Blancove.  I'm a broken man: but I want my poor lost
girl, and, by God, responsible for your son or not, you must help me to
find her.  She may be married, as she says.  She mayn't be.  But I must
find her."

The squire hastily seized a scrap of paper on the table and wrote on it.

"There!" he handed the paper to the farmer; "that's my son's address,
'Boyne's Bank, City, London.'  Go to him there, and you'll find him
perched on a stool, and a good drubbing won't hurt him.  You've my hearty
permission, I can assure you: you may say so.  'Boyne's Bank.'  Anybody
will show you the place.  He's a rascally clerk in the office, and
precious useful, I dare swear.  Thrash him, if you think fit."

"Ay," said the farmer, "Boyne's Bank.  I've been there already. He's
absent from work, on a visit down into Hampshire, one of the young
gentlemen informed me; Fairly Park was the name of the place: but I came
to you, Mr. Blancove; for you're his father."

"Well now, my good Fleming, I hope you think I'm properly punished for
that fact."  The squire stood up with horrid contortions.

Robert stepped in advance of the farmer.

"Pardon me, sir," he said, though the squire met his voice with a
prodigious frown; "this would be an ugly business to talk about, as you
observe.  It would hurt Mr. Fleming in these parts of the country, and he
would leave it, if he thought fit; but you can't separate your name from
your son's--begging you to excuse the liberty I take in mentioning it--
not in public: and your son has the misfortune to be well known in one or
two places where he was quartered when in the cavalry.  That matter of
the jeweller--"

"Hulloa," the squire exclaimed, in a perturbation.

"Why, sir, I know all about it, because I was a trooper in the regiment
your son, Mr. Algernon Blancove, quitted: and his name, if I may take
leave to remark so, won't bear printing.  How far he's guilty before Mr.
Fleming we can't tell as yet; but if Mr. Fleming holds him guilty of an
offence, your son 'll bear the consequences, and what's done will be done
thoroughly.  Proper counsel will be taken, as needn't be said.  Mr.
Fleming applied to you first, partly for your sake as well as his own.
He can find friends, both to advise and to aid him."

"You mean, sir," thundered the squire, "that he can find enemies of mine,
like that infernal fellow who goes by the title of Reverend, down below
there.  That'll do, that will do; there's some extortion at the bottom of
this.  You're putting on a screw."

"We're putting on a screw, sir," said Robert, coolly.

"Not a penny will you get by it."

Robert flushed with heat of blood.

"You don't wish you were a young man half so much as I do just now," he
remarked, and immediately they were in collision, for the squire made a
rush to the bell-rope, and Robert stopped him. "We're going," he said;
"we don't want man-servants to show us the way out.  Now mark me, Mr.
Blancove, you've insulted an old man in his misery: you shall suffer for
it, and so shall your son, whom I know to be a rascal worthy of
transportation.  You think Mr. Fleming came to you for money.  Look at
this old man, whose only fault is that he's too full of kindness; he came
to you just for help to find his daughter, with whom your rascal of a son
was last seen, and you swear he's come to rob you of money. Don't you
know yourself a fattened cur, squire though you be, and called gentleman?
England's a good place, but you make England a hell to men of spirit.
Sit in your chair, and don't ever you, or any of you cross my path; and
speak a word to your servants before we're out of the house, and I stand
in the hall and give 'em your son's history, and make Wrexby stink in
your nostril, till you're glad enough to fly out of it.  Now, Mr.
Fleming, there's no more to be done here; the game lies elsewhere."

Robert took the farmer by the arm, and was marching out of the enemy's
territory in good order, when the squire, who had presented many
changeing aspects of astonishment and rage, arrested them with a call.
He began to say that he spoke to Mr. Fleming, and not to the young
ruffian of a bully whom the farmer had brought there: and then asked in a
very reasonable manner what he could do--what measures he could adopt to
aid the farmer in finding his child.  Robert hung modestly in the
background while the farmer laboured on with a few sentences to explain
the case, and finally the squire said, that his foot permitting (it was
an almost pathetic reference to the weakness of flesh), he would go down
to Fairly on the day following and have a personal interview with his
son, and set things right, as far as it lay in his power, though he was
by no means answerable for a young man's follies.

He was a little frightened by the farmer's having said that Dahlia,
according to her own declaration was married, and therefore himself the
more anxious to see Mr. Algernon, and hear the truth from his estimable
offspring, whom he again stigmatized as a curse terrible to him as his
gouty foot, but nevertheless just as little to be left to his own
devices.  The farmer bowed to these observations; as also when the squire
counselled him, for his own sake, not to talk of his misfortune all over
the parish.

"I'm not a likely man for that, squire; but there's no telling where
gossips get their crumbs.  It's about.  It's about."

"About my son?" cried the squire.

"My daughter!"

"Oh, well, good-day," the squire resumed more cheerfully.  "I'll go down
to Fairly, and you can't ask more than that."

When the farmer was out of the house and out of hearing, he rebuked
Robert for the inconsiderate rashness of his behaviour, and pointed out
how he, the farmer, by being patient and peaceful, had attained to the
object of his visit.  Robert laughed without defending himself.

"I shouldn't ha' known ye," the farmer repeated frequently; "I shouldn't
ha' known ye, Robert."

"No, I'm a trifle changed, may be," Robert agreed.  "I'm going to claim a
holiday of you.  I've told Rhoda that if Dahlia's to be found, I'll find
her, and I can't do it by sticking here.  Give me three weeks.  The
land's asleep.  Old Gammon can hardly turn a furrow the wrong way.
There's nothing to do, which is his busiest occupation, when he's not
interrupted at it."

"Mas' Gammon's a rare old man," said the farmer, emphatically.

"So I say.  Else, how would you see so many farms flourishing!"

"Come, Robert: you hit th' old man hard; you should learn to forgive."

"So I do, and a telling blow's a man's best road to charity.  I'd forgive
the squire and many another, if I had them within two feet of my fist."

"Do you forgive my girl Rhoda for putting of you off?"

Robert screwed in his cheek.

"Well, yes, I do," he said.  "Only it makes me feel thirsty, that's all."

The farmer remembered this when they had entered the farm.

"Our beer's so poor, Robert," he made apology; "but Rhoda shall get you
some for you to try, if you like.  Rhoda, Robert's solemn thirsty."

"Shall I?" said Rhoda, and she stood awaiting his bidding.

"I'm not a thirsty subject," replied Robert.  "You know I've avoided
drink of any kind since I set foot on this floor.  But when I drink," he
pitched his voice to a hard, sparkling heartiness, "I drink a lot, and
the stuff must be strong.  I'm very much obliged to you, Miss Rhoda, for
what you're so kind as to offer to satisfy my thirst, and you can't give
better, and don't suppose that I'm complaining; but your father's right,
it is rather weak, and wouldn't break the tooth of my thirst if I drank
at it till Gammon left off thinking about his dinner."

With that he announced his approaching departure.

The farmer dropped into his fireside chair, dumb and spiritless. A shadow
was over the house, and the inhabitants moved about their domestic
occupations silent as things that feel the thunder-cloud.  Before sunset
Robert was gone on his long walk to the station, and Rhoda felt a woman's
great envy of the liberty of a man, who has not, if it pleases him not,
to sit and eat grief among familiar images, in a home that furnishes its
altar-flame.




CHAPTER XVI

Fairly, Lord Elling's seat in Hampshire, lay over the Warbeach river; a
white mansion among great oaks, in view of the summer sails and winter
masts of the yachting squadron.  The house was ruled, during the
congregation of the Christmas guests, by charming Mrs. Lovell, who
relieved the invalid Lady of the house of the many serious cares
attending the reception of visitors, and did it all with ease.  Under her
sovereignty the place was delightful, and if it was by repute pleasanter
to young men than to any other class, it will be admitted that she
satisfied those who are loudest in giving tongue to praise.

Edward and Algernon journeyed down to Fairly together, after the
confidence which the astute young lawyer had been compelled to repose in
his cousin.  Sir William Blancove was to be at Fairly, and it was at his
father's pointed request that Edward had accepted Mrs. Lovell's
invitation.  Half in doubt as to the lady's disposition toward him,
Edward eased his heart with sneers at the soft, sanguinary graciousness
they were to expect, and racked mythology for spiteful comparisons; while
Algernon vehemently defended her with a battering fire of British
adjectives in superlative.  He as much as hinted, under instigation, that
he was entitled to defend her; and his claim being by-and-by yawningly
allowed by Edward, and presuming that he now had Edward in his power and
need not fear him, he exhibited his weakness in the guise of a costly
gem, that he intended to present to Mrs. Lovell--an opal set in a cross
pendant from a necklace; a really fine opal, coquetting with the lights
of every gem that is known: it shot succinct red flashes, and green, and
yellow; the emerald, the amethyst, the topaz lived in it, and a remote
ruby; it was veined with lightning hues, and at times it slept in a milky
cloud, innocent of fire, quite maidenlike.

"That will suit her," was Edward's remark.

"I didn't want to get anything common," said Algernon, making the gem
play before his eyes.

"A pretty stone," said Edward.

"Do you think so?"

"Very pretty indeed."

"Harlequin pattern."

"To be presented to Columbine!"

"The Harlequin pattern is of the best sort, you know.  Perhaps you like
the watery ones best?  This is fresh from Russia.  There's a set I've my
eye on.  I shall complete it in time.  I want Peggy Lovell to wear the
jolliest opals in the world.  It's rather nice, isn't it?"

"It's a splendid opal," said Edward.

"She likes opals," said Algernon.

"She'll take your meaning at once," said Edward.

"How?  I'll be hanged if I know what my meaning is, Ned."

"Don't you know the signification of your gift?"

"Not a bit."

"Oh! you'll be Oriental when you present it."

"The deuce I shall!"

"It means, 'You're the prettiest widow in the world.'"

"So she is.  I'll be right there, old boy."

"And, 'You're a rank, right-down widow, and no mistake; you're everything
to everybody; not half so innocent as you look: you're green as jealousy,
red as murder, yellow as jaundice, and put on the whiteness of a virgin
when you ought to be blushing like a penitent.'  In short, 'You have no
heart of your own, and you pretend to possess half a dozen: you're devoid
of one steady beam, and play tricks with every scale of colour: you're an
arrant widow, and that's what you are.'  An eloquent gift, Algy."

"Gad, if it means all that, it'll be rather creditable to me," said
Algernon.  "Do opals mean widows?"

"Of course," was the answer.

"Well, she is a widow, and I suppose she's going to remain one, for she's
had lots of offers.  If I marry a girl I shall never like her half as
much as Peggy Lovell.  She's done me up for every other woman living.
She never lets me feel a fool with her; and she has a way, by Jove, of
looking at me, and letting me know she's up to my thoughts and isn't
angry.  What's the use of my thinking of her at all?  She'd never go to
the Colonies, and live in a log but and make cheeses, while I tore about
on horseback gathering cattle."

"I don't think she would," observed Edward, emphatically; "I don't think
she would."

"And I shall never have money.  Confound stingy parents!  It's a question
whether I shall get Wrexby: there's no entail.  I'm heir to the
governor's temper and his gout, I dare say.  He'll do as he likes with
the estate.  I call it beastly unfair."

Edward asked how much the opal had cost.

"Oh, nothing," said Algernon; "that is, I never pay for jewellery."

Edward was curious to know how he managed to obtain it.

"Why, you see," Algernon explained, "they, the jewellers--I've got two or
three in hand--the fellows are acquainted with my position, and they
speculate on my expectations.  There is no harm in that if they like it.
I look at their trinkets, and say, 'I've no money;' and they say, 'Never
mind;' and I don't mind much.  The understanding is, that I pay them when
I inherit."

"In gout and bad temper?"

"Gad, if I inherit nothing else, they'll have lots of that for
indemnification.  It's a good system, Ned; it enables a young fellow like
me to get through the best years of his life--which I take to be his
youth--without that squalid poverty bothering him. You can make presents,
and wear a pin or a ring, if it takes your eye.  You look well, and you
make yourself agreeable; and I see nothing to complain of in that."

"The jewellers, then, have established an institution to correct one of
the errors of Providence."

"Oh! put it in your long-winded way, if you like," said Algernon; "all I
know is, that I should often have wanted a five-pound note, if--that is,
if I hadn't happened to be dressed like a gentleman.  With your
prospects, Ned, I should propose to charming Peggy tomorrow morning
early.  We mustn't let her go out of the family.  If I can't have her,
I'd rather you would."

"You forget the incumbrances on one side," said Edward, his face
darkening.

"Oh! that's all to be managed," Algernon rallied him.  "Why, Ned, you'll
have twenty thousand a-year, if you have a penny; and you'll go into
Parliament, and give dinners, and a woman like Peggy Lovell 'd intrigue
for you like the deuce."

"A great deal too like," Edward muttered.

"As for that pretty girl," continued Algernon; but Edward peremptorily
stopped all speech regarding Dahlia.  His desire was, while he made
holiday, to shut the past behind a brazen gate; which being communicated
sympathetically to his cousin, the latter chimed to it in boisterous
shouts of anticipated careless jollity at Fairly Park, crying out how
they would hunt and snap fingers at Jews, and all mortal sorrows, and
have a fortnight, or three weeks, perhaps a full month, of the finest
life possible to man, with good horses, good dinners, good wines, good
society, at command, and a queen of a woman to rule and order everything.
Edward affected a disdainful smile at the prospect; but was in reality
the weaker of the two in his thirst for it.

They arrived at Fairly in time to dress for dinner, and in the
drawing-room Mrs. Lovell sat to receive them.  She looked up to Edward's
face an imperceptible half-second longer than the ordinary form of
welcome accords--one of the looks which are nothing at all when there is
no spiritual apprehension between young people, and are so much when
there is.  To Algernon, who was gazing opals on her, she simply gave her
fingers.  At her right hand, was Sir John Capes, her antique devotee; a
pure milky-white old gentleman, with sparkling fingers, who played Apollo
to his Daphne, and was out of breath.  Lord Suckling, a boy with a
boisterous constitution, and a guardsman, had his place near her left
hand, as if ready to seize it at the first whisper of encouragement or
opportunity.  A very little lady of seventeen, Miss Adeline Gosling,
trembling with shyness under a cover of demureness, fell to Edward's lot
to conduct down to dinner, where he neglected her disgracefully.  His
father, Sir William, was present at the table, and Lord Elling, with whom
he was in repute as a talker and a wit.  Quickened with his host's
renowned good wine (and the bare renown of a wine is inspiriting), Edward
pressed to be brilliant.  He had an epigrammatic turn, and though his
mind was prosaic when it ran alone, he could appear inventive and
fanciful with the rub of other minds.  Now, at a table where good talking
is cared for, the triumphs of the excelling tongue are not for a moment
to be despised, even by the huge appetite of the monster Vanity.  For a
year, Edward had abjured this feast.  Before the birds appeared and the
champagne had ceased to make its circle, he felt that he was now at home
again, and that the term of his wandering away from society was one of
folly.  He felt the joy and vigour of a creature returned to his element.
Why had he ever quitted it? Already he looked back upon Dahlia from a
prodigious distance.  He knew that there was something to be smoothed
over; something written in the book of facts which had to be smeared out,
and he seemed to do it, while he drank the babbling wine and heard
himself talk.  Not one man at that table, as he reflected, would consider
the bond which held him in any serious degree binding.  A lady is one
thing, and a girl of the class Dahlia had sprung from altogether another.
He could not help imagining the sort of appearance she would make there;
and the thought even was a momentary clog upon his tongue.  How he used
to despise these people!  Especially he had despised the young men as
brainless cowards in regard to their views of women and conduct toward
them.  All that was changed.  He fancied now that they, on the contrary,
would despise him, if only they could be aware of the lingering sense he
entertained of his being in bondage under a sacred obligation to a
farmer's daughter.

But he had one thing to discover, and that was, why Sir William had made
it a peculiar request that he should come to meet him here.  Could the
desire possibly be to reconcile him with Mrs. Lovell?  His common sense
rejected the idea at once: Sir William boasted of her wit and tact, and
admired her beauty, but Edward remembered his having responded tacitly to
his estimate of her character, and Sir William was not the man to court
the alliance of his son with a woman like Mrs. Lovell.  He perceived that
his father and the fair widow frequently took counsel together. Edward
laughed at the notion that the grave senior had himself become
fascinated, but without utterly scouting it, until he found that the
little lady whom he had led to dinner the first day, was an heiress; and
from that, and other indications, he exactly divined the nature of his
father's provident wishes.  But this revelation rendered Mrs. Lovell's
behaviour yet more extraordinary.  Could it be credited that she was
abetting Sir William's schemes with all her woman's craft?  "Has she,"
thought Edward, "become so indifferent to me as to care for my welfare?"
He determined to put her to the test.  He made love to Adeline Gosling.
Nothing that he did disturbed the impenetrable complacency of Mrs.
Lovell.  She threw them together as she shuffled the guests.  She really
seemed to him quite indifferent enough to care for his welfare.  It was a
point in the mysterious ways of women, or of widows, that Edward's
experience had not yet come across.  All the parties immediately
concerned were apparently so desperately acquiescing in his suit, that he
soon grew uneasy.  Mrs. Lovell not only shuffled him into places with the
raw heiress, but with the child's mother; of whom he spoke to Algernon as
of one too strongly breathing of matrimony to appease the cravings of an
eclectic mind.

"Make the path clear for me, then," said Algernon, "if you don't like the
girl.  Pitch her tales about me.  Say, I've got a lot in me, though I
don't let it out.  The game's up between you and Peggy Lovell, that's
clear.  She don't forgive you, my boy."

"Ass!" muttered Edward, seeing by the light of his perception, that he
was too thoroughly forgiven.

A principal charm of the life at Fairly to him was that there was no one
complaining.  No one looked reproach at him.  If a lady was pale and
reserved, she did not seem to accuse him, and to require coaxing.  All
faces here were as light as the flying moment, and did not carry the
shadowy weariness of years, like that burdensome fair face in the London
lodging-house, to which the Fates had terribly attached themselves.  So,
he was gay.  He closed, as it were, a black volume, and opened a new and
a bright one.  Young men easily fancy that they may do this, and that
when the black volume is shut the tide is stopped.  Saying, "I was a
fool," they believe they have put an end to the foolishness.  What father
teaches them that a human act once set in motion flows on for ever to the
great account?  Our deathlessness is in what we do, not in what we are.
Comfortable Youth thinks otherwise.

The days at a well-ordered country-house, where a divining lady rules,
speed to the measure of a waltz, in harmonious circles, dropping like
crystals into the gulfs of Time, and appearing to write nothing in his
book.  Not a single hinge of existence is heard to creak.  There is no
after-dinner bill.  You are waited on, without being elbowed by the
humanity of your attendants.  It is a civilized Arcadia.  Only, do not
desire, that you may not envy.  Accept humbly what rights of citizenship
are accorded to you upon entering.  Discard the passions when you cross
the threshold.  To breathe and to swallow merely, are the duties which
should prescribe your conduct; or, such is the swollen condition of the
animal in this enchanted region, that the spirit of man becomes
dangerously beset.

Edward breathed and swallowed, and never went beyond the prescription,
save by talking.  No other junior could enter the library, without
encountering the scorn of his elders; so he enjoyed the privilege of
hearing all the scandal, and his natural cynicism was plentifully fed.
It was more of a school to him than he knew.

These veterans, in their arm-chairs, stripped the bloom from life, and
showed it to be bare bones: They took their wisdom for an experience of
the past: they were but giving their sensations in the present.  Not to
perceive this, is Youth's, error when it hears old gentlemen talking at
their ease.

On the third morning of their stay at Fairly, Algernon came into Edward's
room with a letter in his hand.

"There! read that!" he said.  "It isn't ill-luck; it's infernal
persecution!  What, on earth!--why, I took a close cab to the station.
You saw me get out of it.  I'll swear no creditor of mine knew I was
leaving London.  My belief is that the fellows who give credit have spies
about at every railway terminus in the kingdom.  They won't give me three
days' peace.  It's enough to disgust any man with civilized life; on my
soul, it is!"

Edward glanced at the superscription of the letter.  "Not posted," he
remarked.

"No; delivered by some confounded bailiff, who's been hounding me."

"Bailiffs don't generally deal in warnings."

"Will you read it!" Algernon shouted.

The letter ran thus:--

     "Mr. Algernon Blancove,--

     "The writer of this intends taking the first opportunity of meeting
     you, and gives you warning, you will have to answer his question
     with a Yes or a No; and speak from your conscience.  The
     respectfulness of his behaviour to you as a gentleman will depend
     upon that."

Algernon followed his cousin's eye down to the last letter in the page.

"What do you think of it?" he asked eagerly.

Edward's broad thin-lined brows were drawn down in gloom. Mastering some
black meditation in his brain, he answered Algernon's yells for an
opinion,--

"I think--well, I think bailiffs have improved in their manners, and show
you they are determined to belong to the social march in an age of
universal progress.  Nothing can be more comforting."

"But, suppose this fellow comes across me?"

"Don't know him."

"Suppose he insists on knowing me?"

"Don't know yourself."

"Yes; but hang it! if he catches hold of me?"

"Shake him off."

"Suppose he won't let go?"

"Cut him with your horsewhip."

"You think it's about a debt, then?"

"Intimidation, evidently."

"I shall announce to him that the great Edward Blancove is not to be
intimidated.  You'll let me borrow your name, old Ned.  I've stood by you
in my time.  As for leaving Fairly, I tell you I can't.  It's too
delightful to be near Peggy Lovell."

Edward smiled with a peculiar friendliness, and Algernon went off, very
well contented with his cousin.




CHAPTER XVII

Within a mile of Fairly Park lay the farm of another yeoman; but he was
of another character.  The Hampshireman was a farmer of renown in his
profession; fifth of a family that had cultivated a small domain of one
hundred and seventy acres with sterling profit, and in a style to make
Sutton the model of a perfect farm throughout the country.  Royal eyes
had inspected his pigs approvingly; Royal wits had taken hints from
Jonathan Eccles in matters agricultural; and it was his comforting joke
that he had taught his Prince good breeding.  In return for the service,
his Prince had transformed a lusty Radical into a devoted Royalist.
Framed on the walls of his parlours were letters from his Prince,
thanking him for specimen seeds and worthy counsel: veritable autograph
letters of the highest value.  The Prince had steamed up the salt river,
upon which the Sutton harvests were mirrored, and landed on a spot marked
in honour of the event by a broad grey stone; and from that day Jonathan
Eccles stood on a pinnacle of pride, enabling him to see horizons of
despondency hitherto unknown to him.  For he had a son, and the son was a
riotous devil, a most wild young fellow, who had no taste for a farmer's
life, and openly declared his determination not to perpetuate the Sutton
farm in the hands of the Eccleses, by running off one day and entering
the ranks of the British army.

Those framed letters became melancholy objects for contemplation, when
Jonathan thought that no posterity of his would point them out gloryingly
in emulation.  Man's aim is to culminate; but it is the saddest thing in
the world to feel that we have accomplished it.  Mr. Eccles shrugged with
all the philosophy he could summon, and transferred his private
disappointment to his country, whose agricultural day was, he said,
doomed.  "We shall be beaten by those Yankees."  He gave Old England
twenty years of continued pre-eminence (due to the impetus of the present
generation of Englishmen), and then, said he, the Yankees will flood the
market.  No more green pastures in Great Britain; no pretty clean-footed
animals; no yellow harvests; but huge chimney pots everywhere; black
earth under black vapour, and smoke-begrimed faces.  In twenty years'
time, sooty England was to be a gigantic manufactory, until the Yankees
beat us out of that field as well; beyond which Jonathan Eccles did not
care to spread any distinct border of prophecy; merely thanking the Lord
that he should then be under grass.  The decay of our glory was to be
edged with blood; Jonathan admitted that there would be stuff in the
fallen race to deliver a sturdy fight before they went to their doom.

For this prodigious curse, England had to thank young Robert, the erratic
son of Jonathan.

It was now two years since Robert had inherited a small legacy of money
from an aunt, and spent it in waste, as the farmer bitterly supposed.  He
was looking at some immense seed-melons in his garden, lying about in
morning sunshine--a new feed for sheep, of his own invention,--when the
call of the wanderer saluted his ears, and he beheld his son Robert at
the gate.

"Here I am, sir," Robert sang out from the exterior.

"Stay there, then," was his welcome.

They were alike in their build and in their manner of speech.  The accost
and the reply sounded like reports from the same pistol.  The old man was
tall, broad-shouldered, and muscular--a grey edition of the son, upon
whose disorderly attire he cast a glance, while speaking, with settled
disgust.  Robert's necktie streamed loose; his hair was uncombed; a
handkerchief dangled from his pocket.  He had the look of the prodigal,
returned with impudence for his portion instead of repentance.

"I can't see how you are, sir, from this distance," said Robert, boldly
assuming his privilege to enter.

"Are you drunk?" Jonathan asked, as Robert marched up to him.

"Give me your hand, sir."

"Give me an answer first.  Are you drunk?"

Robert tried to force the complacent aspect of a mind unabashed, but felt
that he made a stupid show before that clear-headed, virtuously-living
old, man of iron nerves.  The alternative to flying into a passion, was
the looking like a fool.

"Come, father," he said, with a miserable snigger, like a yokel's smile;
"here I am at last.  I don't say, kill the fatted calf, and take a lesson
from Scripture, but give me your hand.  I've done no man harm but myself-
-damned if I've done a mean thing anywhere! and there's no shame to you
in shaking your son's hand after a long absence."

Jonathan Eccles kept both hands firmly in his pockets.

"Are you drunk?" he repeated.

Robert controlled himself to answer, "I'm not."

"Well, then, just tell me when you were drunk last."

"This is a pleasant fatherly greeting!" Robert interjected.

"You get no good by fighting shy of a simple question, Mr. Bob," said
Jonathan.

Robert cried querulously, "I don't want to fight shy of a simple
question."

"Well, then; when were you drunk last? answer me that."

"Last night."

Jonathan drew his hand from his pocket to thump his leg.

"I'd have sworn it!"

All Robert's assurance had vanished in a minute, and he stood like a
convicted culprit before his father.

"You know, sir, I don't tell lies.  I was drunk last night.  I couldn't
help it."

"No more could the little boy."

"I was drunk last night.  Say, I'm a beast."

"I shan't!" exclaimed Jonathan, making his voice sound as a defence to
this vile charge against the brutish character.

"Say, I'm worse than a beast, then," cried Robert, in exasperation.
"Take my word that it hasn't happened to me to be in that state for a
year and more.  Last night I was mad.  I can't give you any reasons.  I
thought I was cured but I've trouble in my mind, and a tide swims you
over the shallows--so I felt.  Come, sir--father, don't make me mad
again."

"Where did you get the liquor?" inquired Jonathan.

"I drank at 'The Pilot.'"

"Ha! there's talk there of 'that damned old Eccles' for a month to come--
'the unnatural parent.'  How long have you been down here?"

"Eight and twenty hours."

"Eight and twenty hours.  When are you going?"

"I want lodging for a night."

"What else?"

"The loan of a horse that'll take a fence."

"Go on."

"And twenty pounds."

"Oh!" said Jonathan.  "If farming came as easy to you as face, you'd be a
prime agriculturalist.  Just what I thought!  What's become of that money
your aunt Jane was fool enough to bequeath to you?"

"I've spent it."

"Are you a Deserter?"

For a moment Robert stood as if listening, and then white grew his face,
and he swayed and struck his hands together.  His recent intoxication had
unmanned him.

"Go in--go in," said his father in some concern, though wrath was
predominant.

"Oh, make your mind quiet about me."  Robert dropped his arms. "I'm
weakened somehow--damned weak, I am--I feel like a woman when my father
asks me if I've been guilty of villany.  Desert?  I wouldn't desert from
the hulks.  Hear the worst, and this is the worst: I've got no money--I
don't owe a penny, but I haven't got one."

"And I won't give you one," Jonathan appended; and they stood facing one
another in silence.

A squeaky voice was heard from the other side of the garden hedge of
clipped yew.

"Hi! farmer, is that the missing young man?" and presently a neighbour,
by name John Sedgett, came trotting through the gate, and up the garden
path.

"I say," he remarked, "here's a rumpus.  Here's a bobbery up at Fairly.
Oh! Bob Eccles!  Bob Eccles!  At it again!"

Mr. Sedgett shook his wallet of gossip with an enjoying chuckle. He was a
thin-faced creature, rheumy of eye, and drawing his breath as from a
well; the ferret of the village for all underlying scandal and tattle,
whose sole humanity was what he called pitifully 'a peakin' at his chest,
and who had retired from his business of grocer in the village upon the
fortune brought to him in the energy and capacity of a third wife to
conduct affairs, while he wandered up and down and knitted people
together--an estimable office in a land where your house is so grievously
your castle.

"What the devil have you got in you now?" Jonathan cried out to him.

Mr. Sedgett was seized by his complaint and demanded commiseration, but,
recovering, he chuckled again.

"Oh, Bob Eccles!  Don't you never grow older?  And the first day down
among us again, too.  Why, Bob, as a military man, you ought to
acknowledge your superiors.  Why, Stephen Bilton, the huntsman, says,
Bob, you pulled the young gentleman off his horse--you on foot, and him
mounted.  I'd ha' given pounds to be there.  And ladies present!  Lord
help us!  I'm glad you're returned, though.  These melons of the
farmer's, they're a wonderful invention; people are speaking of 'em right
and left, and says, says they, Farmer Eccles, he's best farmer going--
Hampshire ought to be proud of him--he's worth two of any others: that
they are fine ones!  And you're come back to keep 'em up, eh, Bob?  Are
ye, though, my man?"

"Well, here I am, Mr. Sedgett," said Robert, "and talking to my father."

"Oh! I wouldn't be here to interrupt ye for the world."  Mr. Sedgett made
a show of retiring, but Jonathan insisted upon his disburdening himself
of his tale, saying: "Damn your raw beginnings, Sedgett!  What's been up?
Nobody can hurt me."

"That they can't, neighbour; nor Bob neither, as far as stand up man to
man go.  I give him three to one--Bob Eccles!  He took 'em when a boy.
He may, you know, he may have the law agin him, and by George! if he do--
why, a man's no match for the law.  No use bein' a hero to the law.  The
law masters every man alive; and there's law in everything, neighbour
Eccles; eh, sir?  Your friend, the Prince, owns to it, as much as you or
me.  But, of course, you know what Bob's been doing.  What I dropped in
to ask was, why did ye do it, Bob?  Why pull the young gentleman off his
horse?  I'd ha' given pounds to be there!"

"Pounds o' tallow candles don't amount to much," quoth Robert.

"That's awful bad brandy at 'The Pilot,'" said Mr. Sedgett, venomously.

"Were you drunk when you committed this assault?" Jonathan asked his son.

"I drank afterwards," Robert replied.

"'Pilot' brandy's poor consolation," remarked Mr. Sedgett.

Jonathan had half a mind to turn his son out of the gate, but the
presence of Sedgett advised him that his doings were naked to the world.

"You kicked up a shindy in the hunting-field--what about?  Who mounted
ye?"

Robert remarked that he had been on foot.

"On foot--eh? on foot!" Jonathan speculated, unable to realize the image
of his son as a foot-man in the hunting-field, or to comprehend the
insolence of a pedestrian who should dare to attack a mounted huntsman.
"You were on foot?  The devil you were on foot!  Foot?  And caught a man
out of his saddle?"

Jonathan gave up the puzzle. He laid out his fore finger decisively,--

"If it's an assault, mind, you stand damages.  My land gives and my land
takes my money, and no drunken dog lives on the produce. A row in the
hunting-field's un-English, I call it."

"So it is, sir," said Robert.

"So it be, neighbour," said Mr. Sedgett.

Whereupon Robert took his arm, and holding the scraggy wretch forward,
commanded him to out with what he knew.

"Oh, I don't know no more than what I've told you."  Mr. Sedgett twisted
a feeble remonstrance of his bones, that were chiefly his being, at the
gripe; "except that you got hold the horse by the bridle, and wouldn't
let him go, because the young gentleman wouldn't speak as a gentleman,
and--oh! don't squeeze so hard--"

"Out with it!" cried Robert.

"And you said, Steeve Bilton said, you said, 'Where is she?' you said,
and he swore, and you swore, and a lady rode up, and you pulled, and she
sang out, and off went the gentleman, and Steeve said she said, "For
shame.""

"And it was the truest word spoken that day!" Robert released him.  "You
don't know much, Mr. Sedgett; but it's enough to make me explain the
cause to my father, and, with your leave, I'll do so."

Mr. Sedgett remarked: "By all means, do;" and rather preferred that his
wits should be accused of want of brightness, than that he should miss a
chance of hearing the rich history of the scandal and its origin.
Something stronger than a hint sent him off at a trot, hugging in his
elbows.

"The postman won't do his business quicker than Sedgett 'll tap this tale
upon every door in the parish," said Jonathan.

"I can only say I'm sorry, for your sake;" Robert was expressing his
contrition, when his father caught him up,--

"Who can hurt me?--my sake?  Have I got the habits of a sot?--what you'd
call 'a beast!' but I know the ways o' beasts, and if you did too, you
wouldn't bring them in to bear your beastly sins.  Who can hurt me?--
You've been quarrelling with this young gentleman about a woman--did you
damage him?"

"If knuckles could do it, I should have brained him, sir," said Robert.

"You struck him, and you got the best of it?"

"He got the worst of it any way, and will again."

"Then the devil take you for a fool! why did you go and drink I could
understand it if you got licked.  Drown your memory, then, if that filthy
soaking's to your taste; but why, when you get the prize, we'll say, you
go off headlong into a manure pond?--There!  except that you're a damned
idiot!"  Jonathan struck the air, as to observe that it beat him, but for
the foregoing elucidation: thundering afresh, "Why did you go and drink?"

"I went, sir, I went--why did I go?" Robert slapped his hand despairingly
to his forehead.  "What on earth did I go for?--because I'm at sea, I
suppose.  Nobody cares for me.  I'm at sea, and no rudder to steer me.  I
suppose that's it.  So, I drank.  I thought it best to take spirits on
board.  No; this was the reason--I remember: that lady, whoever she was,
said something that stung me.  I held the fellow under her eyes, and
shook him, though she was begging me to let him off.  Says she--but I've
drunk it clean out of my mind."

"There, go in and look at yourself in the glass," said Jonathan.

"Give me your hand first,"--Robert put his own out humbly.

"I'll be hanged if I do," said Jonathan firmly.  "Bed and board you shall
have while I'm alive, and a glass to look at yourself in; but my hand's
for decent beasts.  Move one way or t' other: take your choice."

Seeing Robert hesitate, he added, "I shall have a damned deal more
respect for you if you toddle."  He waved his hand away from the
premises.

"I'm sorry you've taken so to swearing of late, sir," said Robert.

"Two flints strike fire, my lad.  When you keep distant, I'm quiet enough
in my talk to satisfy your aunt Anne."

"Look here, sir; I want to make use of you, so I'll go in."

"Of course you do," returned Jonathan, not a whit displeased by his son's
bluntness; "what else is a father good for?  I let you know the limit,
and that's a brick wall; jump it, if you can.  Don't fancy it's your aunt
Jane you're going in to meet."

Robert had never been a favourite with his aunt Anne, who was Jonathan's
housekeeper.

"No, poor old soul! and may God bless her in heaven!" he cried.

"For leaving you what you turned into a thundering lot of liquor to
consume--eh?"

"For doing all in her power to make a man of me; and she was close on it-
-kind, good old darling, that she was!  She got me with that money of
hers to the best footing I've been on yet--bless her heart, or her
memory, or whatever a poor devil on earth may bless an angel for!  But
here I am."

The fever in Robert blazed out under a pressure of extinguishing tears.

"There, go along in," said Jonathan, who considered drunkenness to be the
main source of water in a man's eyes.  "It's my belief you've been at it
already this morning."

Robert passed into the house in advance of his father, whom he quite
understood and appreciated.  There was plenty of paternal love for him,
and a hearty smack of the hand, and the inheritance of the farm, when he
turned into the right way.  Meantime Jonathan was ready to fulfil his
parental responsibility, by sheltering, feeding, and not publicly abusing
his offspring, of whose spirit he would have had a higher opinion if
Robert had preferred, since he must go to the deuce, to go without
troubling any of his relatives; as it was, Jonathan submitted to the
infliction gravely.  Neither in speech nor in tone did he solicit from
the severe maiden, known as Aunt Anne, that snub for the wanderer whom he
introduced, which, when two are agreed upon the infamous character of a
third, through whom they are suffering, it is always agreeable to hear.
He said, "Here, Anne; here's Robert.  He hasn't breakfasted."

"He likes his cold bath beforehand," said Robert, presenting his cheek to
the fleshless, semi-transparent woman.

Aunt Anne divided her lips to pronounce a crisp, subdued "Ow!" to
Jonathan after inspecting Robert; and she shuddered at sight of Robert,
and said "Ow!" repeatedly, by way of an interjectory token of
comprehension, to all that was uttered; but it was a horrified "No!" when
Robert's cheek pushed nearer.

"Then, see to getting some breakfast for him," said Jonathan. "You're not
anyway bound to kiss a drunken--"

"Dog's the word, sir," Robert helped him.  "Dogs can afford it.  I never
saw one in that state; so they don't lose character."

He spoke lightly, but dejection was in his attitude.  When his aunt Anne
had left the room, he exclaimed,--

"By jingo! women make you feel it, by some way that they have. She's a
religious creature.  She smells the devil in me."

"More like, the brandy," his father responded.

"Well!  I'm on the road, I'm on the road!" Robert fetched a sigh.

"I didn't make the road," said his father.

"No, sir; you didn't.  Work hard: sleep sound that's happiness. I've
known it for a year.  You're the man I'd imitate, if I could.  The devil
came first the brandy's secondary.  I was quiet so long.  I thought
myself a safe man."

He sat down and sent his hair distraught with an effort at smoothing it.

"Women brought the devil into the world first.  It's women who raise the
devil in us, and why they--"

He thumped the table just as his aunt Anne was preparing to spread the
cloth.

"Don't be frightened, woman," said Jonathan, seeing her start fearfully
back.  "You take too many cups of tea, morning and night--hang the
stuff!"

"Never, never till now have you abused me, Jonathan," she whimpered,
severely.

"I don't tell you to love him; but wait on him.  That's all.  And I'll
about my business.  Land and beasts--they answer to you."

Robert looked up.

"Land and beasts!  They sound like blessed things.  When next I go to
church, I shall know what old Adam felt.  Go along, sir.  I shall break
nothing in the house."

"You won't go, Jonathan?" begged the trembling spinster.

"Give him some of your tea, and strong, and as much of it as he can
take--he wants bringing down," was Jonathan's answer; and casting a
glance at one of the framed letters, he strode through the doorway, and
Aunt Anne was alone with the flushed face and hurried eyes of her nephew,
who was to her little better than a demon in the flesh.  But there was a
Bible in the room.

An hour later, Robert was mounted and riding to the meet of hounds.




CHAPTER XVIII

A single night at the Pilot Inn had given life and vigour to Robert's old
reputation in Warbeach village, as the stoutest of drinkers and dear
rascals throughout a sailor-breeding district, where Dibdin was still
thundered in the ale-house, and manhood in a great degree measured by the
capacity to take liquor on board, as a ship takes ballast.  There was a
profound affectation of deploring the sad fact that he drank as hard as
ever, among the men, and genuine pity expressed for him by the women of
Warbeach; but his fame was fresh again.  As the Spring brings back its
flowers, Robert's presence revived his youthful deeds.  There had not
been a boxer in the neighbourhood like Robert Eccles, nor such a champion
in all games, nor, when he set himself to it, such an invincible drinker.
It was he who thrashed the brute, Nic Sedgett, for stabbing with his
clasp-knife Harry Boulby, son of the landlady of the Pilot Inn; thrashed
him publicly, to the comfort of all Warbeach.  He had rescued old Dame
Garble from her burning cottage, and made his father house the old
creature, and worked at farming, though he hated it, to pay for her
subsistence.  He vindicated the honour of Warbeach by drinking a match
against a Yorkshire skipper till four o'clock in the morning, when it was
a gallant sight, my boys, to see Hampshire steadying the defeated
North-countryman on his astonished zigzag to his flattish-bottomed
billyboy, all in the cheery sunrise on the river--yo-ho! ahoy!

Glorious Robert had tried, first the sea, and then soldiering. Now let us
hope he'll settle to farming, and follow his rare old father's ways, and
be back among his own people for good.  So chimed the younger ones, and
many of the elder.

Danish blood had settled round Warbeach.  To be a really popular hero
anywhere in Britain, a lad must still, I fear, have something of a
Scandinavian gullet; and if, in addition to his being a powerful drinker,
he is pleasant in his cups, and can sing, and forgive, be freehanded, and
roll out the grand risky phrases of a fired brain, he stamps himself, in
the apprehension of his associates, a king.

Much of the stuff was required to deal King Robert of Warbeach the
capital stroke, and commonly he could hold on till a puff of cold air
from the outer door, like an admonitory messenger, reminded him that he
was, in the greatness of his soul, a king of swine; after which his way
of walking off, without a word to anybody, hoisting his whole stature,
while others were staggering, or roaring foul rhymes, or feeling
consciously mortal in their sensation of feverishness, became a theme for
admiration; ay, and he was fresh as an orchard apple in the morning!
there lay his commandership convincingly.  What was proved overnight was
confirmed at dawn.

Mr. Robert had his contrast in Sedgett's son, Nicodemus Sedgett, whose
unlucky Christian name had assisted the wits of Warbeach in bestowing on
him a darkly-luminous relationship.  Young Nic loved also to steep his
spirit in the bowl; but, in addition to his never paying for his luxury,
he drank as if in emulation of the colour of his reputed patron, and
neighbourhood to Nic Sedgett was not liked when that young man became
thoughtful over his glass.

The episode of his stabbing the landlady's son Harry clung to him
fatally.  The wound was in the thigh, and nothing serious.  Harry was up
and off to sea before Nic had ceased to show the marks of Robert's
vengeance upon him; but blood-shedding, even on a small scale, is so
detested by Englishmen, that Nic never got back to his right hue in the
eyes of Warbeach.  None felt to him as to a countryman, and it may be
supposed that his face was seen no more in the house of gathering, the
Pilot Inn.

He rented one of the Fairly farms, known as the Three-Tree Farm,
subsisting there, men fancied, by the aid of his housekeeper's money.
For he was of those evil fellows who disconcert all righteous prophecy,
and it was vain for Mrs. Boulby and Warbeach village to declare that no
good could come to him, when Fortune manifestly kept him going.

He possessed the rogue's most serviceable art: in spite of a countenance
that was not attractive, this fellow could, as was proved by evidence,
make himself pleasing to women.  "The truth of it is," said Mrs. Boulby,
at a loss for any other explanation, and with a woman's love of sharp
generalization, "it's because my sex is fools."

He had one day no money to pay his rent, and forthwith (using for the
purpose his last five shillings, it was said) advertized for a
housekeeper; and before Warbeach had done chuckling over his folly, an
agreeable woman of about thirty-five was making purchases in his name;
she made tea, and the evening brew for such friends as he could collect,
and apparently paid his rent for him, after a time; the distress was not
in the house three days.  It seemed to Warbeach an erratic proceeding on
the part of Providence, that Nic should ever be helped to swim; but our
modern prophets have small patience, and summon Destiny to strike without
a preparation of her weapons or a warning to the victim.

More than Robert's old occasional vice was at the bottom of his
popularity, as I need not say.  Let those who generalize upon ethnology
determine whether the ancient opposition of Saxon and Norman be at an
end; but it is certain, to my thinking, that when a hero of the people
can be got from the common popular stock, he is doubly dear.  A
gentleman, however gallant and familiar, will hardly ever be as much
beloved, until he dies to inform a legend or a ballad: seeing that death
only can remove the peculiar distinctions and distances which the people
feel to exist between themselves and the gentleman-class, and which, not
to credit them with preternatural discernment, they are carefully taught
to feel.  Dead Britons are all Britons, but live Britons are not quite
brothers.

It was as the son of a yeoman, showing comprehensible accomplishments,
that Robert took his lead.  He was a very brave, a sweet-hearted, and a
handsome young man, and he had very chivalrous views of life, that were
understood by a sufficient number under the influence of ale or brandy,
and by a few in default of that material aid; and they had a family pride
in him. The pride was mixed with fear, which threw over it a tender
light, like a mother's dream of her child.  The people, I have said, are
not so lost in self-contempt as to undervalue their best men, but it must
be admitted that they rarely produce young fellows wearing the undeniable
chieftain's stamp, and the rarity of one like Robert lent a hue of
sadness to him in their thoughts.

Fortune, moreover, the favourer of Nic Sedgett, blew foul whichever the
way Robert set his sails.  He would not look to his own advantage; and
the belief that man should set his little traps for the liberal hand of
his God, if he wishes to prosper, rather than strive to be merely
honourable in his Maker's eye, is almost as general among poor people as
it is with the moneyed classes, who survey them from their height.

When jolly Butcher Billing, who was one of the limited company which had
sat with Robert at the Pilot last night, reported that he had quitted the
army, he was hearkened to dolefully, and the feeling was universal that
glorious Robert had cut himself off from his pension and his hospital.

But when gossip Sedgett went his rounds, telling that Robert was down
among them again upon the darkest expedition their minds could conceive,
and rode out every morning for the purpose of encountering one of the
gentlemen up at Fairly, and had already pulled him off his horse and laid
him in the mud, calling him scoundrel and challenging him either to yield
his secret or to fight; and that he followed him, and was out after him
publicly, and matched himself against that gentleman, who had all the
other gentlemen, and the earl, and the law to back him, the little place
buzzed with wonder and alarm.  Faint hearts declared that Robert was now
done for.  All felt that he had gone miles beyond the mark.  Those were
the misty days when fogs rolled up the salt river from the winter sea,
and the sun lived but an hour in the clotted sky, extinguished near the
noon.

Robert was seen riding out, and the tramp of his horse was heard as he
returned homeward.  He called no more at the Pilot. Darkness and mystery
enveloped him.  There were nightly meetings under Mrs. Boulby's roof, in
the belief that he could not withstand her temptations; nor did she
imprudently discourage them; but the woman at last overcame the landlady
within her, and she wailed: "He won't come because of the drink.  Oh! why
was I made to sell liquor, which he says sends him to the devil, poor
blessed boy? and I can't help begging him to take one little drop.  I
did, the first night he was down, forgetting his ways; he looked so
desperate, he did, and it went on and went on, till he was primed, and me
proud to see him get out of his misery.  And now he hates the thought of
me."

In her despair she encouraged Sedgett to visit her bar and parlour, and
he became everywhere a most important man.

Farmer Eccles's habits of seclusion (his pride, some said), and more
especially the dreaded austere Aunt Anne, who ruled that household, kept
people distant from the Warbeach farm-house, all excepting Sedgett, who
related that every night on his return, she read a chapter from the Bible
to Robert, sitting up for him patiently to fulfil her duty; and that the
farmer's words to his son had been: "Rest here; eat and drink, and ride
my horse; but not a penny of my money do you have."

By the help of Steeve Bilton, the Fairly huntsman, Sedgett was enabled to
relate that there was a combination of the gentlemen against Robert,
whose behaviour none could absolutely approve, save the landlady and
jolly Butcher Billing, who stuck to him with a hearty blind faith.

"Did he ever," asked the latter, "did Bob Eccles ever conduct himself
disrespectful to his superiors?  Wasn't he always found out at his
wildest for to be right--to a sensible man's way of thinking?--though
not, I grant ye, to his own interests--there's another tale."  And Mr.
Billing's staunch adherence to the hero of the village was cried out to
his credit when Sedgett stated, on Stephen Bilton's authority, that
Robert's errand was the defence of a girl who had been wronged, and whose
whereabout, that she might be restored to her parents, was all he wanted
to know.  This story passed from mouth to mouth, receiving much ornament
in the passage.  The girl in question became a lady; for it is required
of a mere common girl that she should display remarkable character before
she can be accepted as the fitting companion of a popular hero.  She
became a young lady of fortune, in love with Robert, and concealed by the
artifice of the offending gentleman whom Robert had challenged.  Sedgett
told this for truth, being instigated to boldness of invention by
pertinacious inquiries, and the dignified sense which the whole story
hung upon him.

Mrs. Boulby, who, as a towering woman, despised Sedgett's weak frame, had
been willing to listen till she perceived him to be but a man of fiction,
and then she gave him a flat contradiction, having no esteem for his
custom.

"Eh! but, Missis, I can tell you his name--the gentleman's name," said
Sedgett, placably.  "He's a Mr. Algernon Blancove, and a cousin by
marriage, or something, of Mrs. Lovell."

"I reckon you're right about that, goodman," replied Mrs. Boulby, with
intuitive discernment of the true from the false, mingled with a desire
to show that she was under no obligation for the news.  "All t' other's a
tale of your own, and you know it, and no more true than your rigmaroles
about my brandy, which is French; it is, as sure as my blood's British."

"Oh! Missis," quoth Sedgett, maliciously, "as to tales, you've got
witnesses enough it crassed chann'l.  Aha! Don't bring 'em into the box.
Don't you bring 'em into ne'er a box."

"You mean to say, Mr. Sedgett, they won't swear?"

"No, Missis; they'll swear, fast and safe, if you teach 'em. Dashed if
they won't run the Pilot on a rock with their swearin'.  It ain't a good
habit."

"Well, Mr. Sedgett, the next time you drink my brandy and find the
consequences bad, you let me hear of it."

"And what'll you do, Missis, may be?"

Listeners were by, and Mrs. Boulby cruelly retorted; "I won't send you
home to your wife;" which created a roar against this hen-pecked man.

"As to consequences, Missis, it's for your sake I'm looking at them,"
Sedgett said, when he had recovered from the blow.

"You say that to the Excise, Mr. Sedgett; it, belike, 'll make 'em
sorry."

"Brandy's your weak point, it appears, Missis."

"A little in you would stiffen your back, Mr. Sedgett."

"Poor Bob Eccles didn't want no stiffening when he come down first,"
Sedgett interjected.

At which, flushing enraged, Mrs. Boulby cried: "Mention him, indeed!  And
him and you, and that son of your'n--the shame of your cheeks if people
say he's like his father.  Is it your son, Nic Sedgett, thinks to inform
against me, as once he swore to, and to get his wage that he may step out
of a second bankruptcy? and he a farmer!  You let him know that he isn't
feared by me, Sedgett, and there's one here to give him a second dose,
without waiting for him to use clasp-knives on harmless innocents."

"Pacify yourself, ma'am, pacify yourself," remarked Sedgett, hardened
against words abroad by his endurance of blows at home. "Bob Eccles, he's
got his hands full, and he, maybe, 'll reach the hulks before my Nic do,
yet.  And how 'm I answerable for Nic, I ask you?"

"More luck to you not to be, I say; and either, Sedgett, you does woman's
work, gossipin' about like a cracked bell-clapper, or men's the biggest
gossips of all, which I believe; for there's no beating you at your work,
and one can't wish ill to you, knowing what you catch."

"In a friendly way, Missis,"--Sedgett fixed on the compliment to his
power of propagating news--"in a friendly way.  You can't accuse me of
leavin' out the "l" in your name, now, can you?  I make that
observation,"--the venomous tattler screwed himself up to the widow
insinuatingly, as if her understanding could only be seized at close
quarters, "I make that observation, because poor Dick Boulby, your
lamented husband--eh! poor Dick!  You see, Missis, it ain't the tough
ones last longest: he'd sing, 'I'm a Sea Booby,' to the song, 'I'm a
green Mermaid:' poor Dick! 'a-shinin' upon the sea-deeps.'  He kept the
liquor from his head, but didn't mean it to stop down in his leg."

"Have you done, Mr. Sedgett?" said the widow, blandly.

"You ain't angry, Missis?"

"Not a bit, Mr. Sedgett; and if I knock you over with the flat o' my
hand, don't you think so."

Sedgett threw up the wizened skin of his forehead, and retreated from the
bar.  At a safe distance, he called: "Bad news that about Bob Eccles
swallowing a blow yesterday!"

Mrs. Boulby faced him complacently till he retired, and then observed to
those of his sex surrounding her, "Don't "woman-and-dog-and-walnut-tree"
me!  Some of you men 'd be the better for a drubbing every day of your
lives.  Sedgett yond' 'd be as big a villain as his son, only for what he
gets at home."

That was her way of replying to the Parthian arrow; but the barb was
poisoned.  The village was at fever heat concerning Robert, and this
assertion that he had swallowed a blow, produced almost as great a
consternation as if a fleet of the enemy had been reported off Sandy
Point.

Mrs. Boulby went into her parlour and wrote a letter to Robert, which she
despatched by one of the loungers about the bar, who brought back news
that three of the gentlemen of Fairly were on horseback, talking to
Farmer Eccles at his garden gate.  Affairs were waxing hot.  The
gentlemen had only to threaten Farmer Eccles, to make him side with his
son, right or wrong.  In the evening, Stephen Bilton, the huntsman,
presented himself at the door of the long parlour of the Pilot, and loud
cheers were his greeting from a full company.

"Gentlemen all," said Stephen, with dapper modesty; and acted as if no
excitement were current, and he had nothing to tell.

"Well, Steeve?" said one, to encourage him.

"How about Bob, to-day?" said another.

Before Stephen had spoken, it was clear to the apprehension of the whole
room that he did not share the popular view of Robert. He declined to
understand who was meant by "Bob."  He played the questions off; and then
shrugged, with, "Oh, let's have a quiet evening."

It ended in his saying, "About Bob Eccles?  There, that's summed up
pretty quick--he's mad."

"Mad!" shouted Warbeach.

"That's a lie," said Mrs. Boulby, from the doorway.

"Well, mum, I let a lady have her own opinion."  Stephen nodded to her.
"There ain't a doubt as t' what the doctors 'd bring him in I ain't
speaking my ideas alone.  It's written like the capital letters in a
newspaper.  Lunatic's the word!  And I'll take a glass of something warm,
Mrs. Boulby.  We had a stiff run to-day."

"Where did ye kill, Steeve?" asked a dispirited voice.

"We didn't kill at all: he was one of those "longshore dog-foxes, and got
away home on the cliff."  Stephen thumped his knee.  "It's my belief the
smell o' sea gives 'em extra cunning."

"The beggar seems to have put ye out rether--eh, Steeve?"

So it was generally presumed: and yet the charge of madness was very
staggering; madness being, in the first place, indefensible, and
everybody's enemy when at large; and Robert's behaviour looked extremely
like it.  It had already been as a black shadow haunting enthusiastic
minds in the village, and there fell a short silence, during which
Stephen made his preparations for filling and lighting a pipe.

"Come; how do you make out he's mad?"

Jolly Butcher Billing spoke; but with none of the irony of confidence.

"Oh!" Stephen merely clapped both elbows against his sides.

Several pairs of eyes were studying him.  He glanced over them in turn,
and commenced leisurely the puff contemplative.

"Don't happen to have a grudge of e'er a kind against old Bob, Steeve?"

"Not I!"

Mrs. Boulby herself brought his glass to Stephen, and, retreating, left
the parlour-door open.

"What causes you for to think him mad, Steeve?"

A second "Oh!" as from the heights dominating argument, sounded from
Stephen's throat, half like a grunt.  This time he condescended to add,--

"How do you know when a dog's gone mad?  Well, Robert Eccles, he's gone
in like manner.  If you don't judge a man by his actions, you've got no
means of reckoning.  He comes and attacks gentlemen, and swears he'll go
on doing it."

"Well, and what does that prove?" said jolly Butcher Billing.

Mr. William Moody, boatbuilder, a liver-complexioned citizen, undertook
to reply.

"What does that prove?  What does that prove when the midshipmite was
found with his head in the mixedpickle jar?  It proved that his head was
lean, and t' other part was rounder."

The illustration appeared forcible, but not direct, and nothing more was
understood from it than that Moody, and two or three others who had been
struck by the image of the infatuated young naval officer, were going
over to the enemy.  The stamp of madness upon Robert's acts certainly
saved perplexity, and was the easiest side of the argument.  By this time
Stephen had finished his glass, and the effect was seen.

"Hang it!" he exclaimed, "I don't agree he deserves shooting.  And he may
have had harm done to him.  In that case, let him fight.  And I say, too,
let the gentleman give him satisfaction."

"Hear! hear!" cried several.

"And if the gentleman refuse to give him satisfaction in a fair stand-up
fight, I say he ain't a gentleman, and deserves to be treated as such.
My objection's personal.  I don't like any man who spoils sport, and
ne'er a rascally vulpeci' spoils sport as he do, since he's been down in
our parts again.  I'll take another brimmer, Mrs. Boulby."

"To be sure you will, Stephen," said Mrs. Boulby, bending as in a curtsey
to the glass; and so soft with him that foolish fellows thought her cowed
by the accusation thrown at her favourite.

"There's two questions about they valpecies, Master Stephen," said Farmer
Wainsby, a farmer with a grievance, fixing his elbow on his knee for
serious utterance.  "There's to ask, and t' ask again.  Sport, I grant
ye.  All in doo season.  But," he performed a circle with his pipe stem,
and darted it as from the centre thereof toward Stephen's breast, with
the poser, "do we s'pport thieves at public expense for them to keep
thievin'--black, white, or brown--no matter, eh?  Well, then, if the
public wunt bear it, dang me if I can see why individles shud bear it.
It ent no manner o' reason, net as I can see; let gentlemen have their
opinion, or let 'em not.  Foxes be hanged!"

Much slow winking was interchanged.  In a general sense, Farmer Wainsby's
remarks were held to be un-English, though he was pardoned for them as
one having peculiar interests at stake.

"Ay, ay! we know all about that," said Stephen, taking succour from the
eyes surrounding him.

"And so, may be, do we," said Wainsby.

"Fox-hunting 'll go on when your great-grandfather's your youngest son,
farmer; or t' other way."

"I reckon it'll be a stuffed fox your chil'ern 'll hunt, Mr. Steeve; more
straw in 'em than bow'ls."

"If the country," Stephen thumped the table, "were what you'd make of it,
hang me if my name 'd long be Englishman!"

"Hear, hear, Steeve!" was shouted in support of the Conservative
principle enunciated by him.

"What I say is, flesh and blood afore foxes!"

Thus did Farmer Wainsby likewise attempt a rallying-cry; but Stephen's
retort, "Ain't foxes flesh and blood?" convicted him of clumsiness, and,
buoyed on the uproar of cheers, Stephen pursued, "They are; to kill 'em
in cold blood's beast-murder, so it is. What do we do?  We give 'em a
fair field--a fair field and no favour!  We let 'em trust to the
instincts Nature, she's given 'em; and don't the old woman know best?  If
they cap, get away, they win the day.  All's open, and honest, and
aboveboard.  Kill your rats and kill your rabbits, but leave foxes to
your betters. Foxes are gentlemen.  You don't understand?  Be hanged if
they ain't!  I like the old fox, and I don't like to see him murdered and
exterminated, but die the death of a gentleman, at the hands of
gentlemen--"

"And ladies," sneered the farmer.

All the room was with Stephen, and would have backed him uproariously,
had he not reached his sounding period without knowing it, and thus
allowed his opponent to slip in that abominable addition.

"Ay, and ladies," cried the huntsman, keen at recovery.  "Why shouldn't
they?  I hate a field without a woman in it; don't you? and you? and you?
And you, too, Mrs. Boulby?  There you are, and the room looks better for
you--don't it, lads?  Hurrah!"

The cheering was now aroused, and Stephen had his glass filled again in
triumph, while the farmer meditated thickly over the ruin of his argument
from that fatal effort at fortifying it by throwing a hint to the
discredit of the sex, as many another man has meditated before.

"Eh! poor old Bob!" Stephen sighed and sipped.  "I can cry that with any
of you.  It's worse for me to see than for you to hear of him.  Wasn't I
always a friend of his, and said he was worthy to be a gentleman, many a
time?  He's got the manners of a gentleman now; offs with his hat, if
there's a lady present, and such a neat way of speaking.  But there,
acting's the thing, and his behaviour's beastly bad!  You can't call it
no other.  There's two Mr. Blancoves up at Fairly, relations of Mrs.
Lovell's--whom I'll take the liberty of calling My Beauty, and no offence
meant: and it's before her that Bob only yesterday rode up--one of the
gentlemen being Mr. Algernon, free of hand and a good seat in the saddle,
t' other's Mr. Edward; but Mr. Algernon, he's Robert Eccles's man--up
rides Bob, just as we was tying Mr. Reenard's brush to the pommel of the
lady's saddle, down in Ditley Marsh; and he bows to the lady.  Says he--
but he's mad, stark mad!"

Stephen resumed his pipe amid a din of disappointment that made the walls
ring and the glasses leap.

"A little more sugar, Stephen?" said Mrs. Boulby, moving in lightly from
the doorway.

"Thank ye, mum; you're the best hostess that ever breathed."

"So she be; but how about Bob?" cried her guests--some asking whether he
carried a pistol or flourished a stick.

"Ne'er a blessed twig, to save his soul; and there's the madness written
on him;" Stephen roared as loud as any of them.  "And me to see him
riding in the ring there, and knowing what the gentleman had sworn to do
if he came across the hunt; and feeling that he was in the wrong!  I
haven't got a oath to swear how mad I was.  Fancy yourselves in my place.
I love old Bob.  I've drunk with him; I owe him obligations from since I
was a boy up'ard; I don't know a better than Bob in all England.  And
there he was: and says to Mr. Algernon, 'You know what I'm come for.'  I
never did behold a gentleman so pale--shot all over his cheeks as he was,
and pinkish under the eyes; if you've ever noticed a chap laid hands on
by detectives in plain clothes.  Smack at Bob went Mr. Edward's whip."

"Mr. Algernon's," Stephen was corrected.

"Mr. Edward's, I tell ye--the cousin.  And right across the face. My
Lord! it made my blood tingle."

A sound like the swish of a whip expressed the sentiments of that
assemblage at the Pilot.

"Bob swallowed it?"

"What else could he do, the fool?  He had nothing to help him but his
hand.  Says he, 'That's a poor way of trying to stop me.  My business is
with this gentleman;' and Bob set his horse at Mr. Algernon, and Mrs.
Lovell rode across him with her hand raised; and just at that moment up
jogged the old gentleman, Squire Blancove, of Wrexby: and Robert Eccles
says to him, 'You might have saved your son something by keeping your
word.'  It appears according to Bob, that the squire had promised to see
his son, and settle matters.  All Mrs. Lovell could do was hardly enough
to hold back Mr. Edward from laying out at Bob.  He was like a white
devil, and speaking calm and polite all the time.  Says Bob, 'I'm willing
to take one when I've done with the other;' and the squire began talking
to his son, Mrs. Lovell to Mr. Edward, and the rest of the gentlemen all
round poor dear old Bob, rather bullying--like for my blood; till Bob
couldn't help being nettled, and cried out, 'Gentlemen, I hold him in my
power, and I'm silent so long as there's a chance of my getting him to
behave like a man with human feelings.'  If they'd gone at him then, I
don't think I could have let him stand alone: an opinion's one thing, but
blood's another, and I'm distantly related to Bob; and a man who's always
thinking of the value of his place, he ain't worth it.  But Mrs. Lovell,
she settled the case--a lady, Farmer Wainsby, with your leave.  There's
the good of having a lady present on the field.  That's due to a lady!"

"Happen she was at the bottom of it," the farmer returned Stephen's nod
grumpily.

"How did it end, Stephen, my lad?" said Butcher Billing, indicating a
"never mind him."

"It ended, my boy, it ended like my glass here--hot and strong stuff,
with sugar at the bottom.  And I don't see this, so glad as I saw that,
my word of honour on it!  Boys all!" Stephen drank the dregs.

Mrs. Boulby was still in attendance.  The talk over the circumstances was
sweeter than the bare facts, and the replenished glass enabled Stephen to
add the picturesque bits of the affray, unspurred by a surrounding
eagerness of his listeners--too exciting for imaginative effort.  In
particular, he dwelt on Robert's dropping the reins and riding with his
heels at Algernon, when Mrs. Lovell put her horse in his way, and the
pair of horses rose like waves at sea, and both riders showed their
horsemanship, and Robert an adroit courtesy, for which the lady thanked
him with a bow of her head.

"I got among the hounds, pretending to pacify them, and call 'em
together," said Stephen, "and I heard her say--just before all was over,
and he turned off--I heard her say: 'Trust this to me: I will meet you.'
I'll swear to them exact words, though there was more, and a 'where' in
the bargain, and that I didn't hear.  Aha! by George! thinks I, old Bob,
you're a lucky beggar, and be hanged if I wouldn't go mad too for a
minute or so of short, sweet, private talk with a lovely young widow lady
as ever the sun did shine upon so boldly--oho!

          You've seen a yacht upon the sea,
          She dances and she dances, O!
          As fair is my wild maid to me...

Something about 'prances, O!' on her horse, you know, or you're a hem'd
fool if you don't.  I never could sing; wish I could!  It's the joy of
life!  It's utterance!  Hey for harmony!"

"Eh! brayvo! now you're a man, Steeve! and welcomer and welcomest; yi--
yi, O!" jolly Butcher Billing sang out sharp.  "Life wants watering.
Here's a health to Robert Eccles, wheresoever and whatsoever! and ne'er a
man shall say of me I didn't stick by a friend like Bob.  Cheers, my
lads!"

Robert's health was drunk in a thunder, and praises of the purity of the
brandy followed the grand roar.  Mrs. Boulby received her compliments on
that head.

"'Pends upon the tide, Missis, don't it?" one remarked with a grin broad
enough to make the slyness written on it easy reading.

"Ah! first a flow and then a ebb," said another.

         "It's many a keg I plant i' the mud,
          Coastguardsman, come! and I'll have your blood!"

Instigation cried, "Cut along;" but the defiant smuggler was deficient in
memory, and like Steeve Bilton, was reduced to scatter his concluding
rhymes in prose, as "something about;" whereat jolly Butcher Billing, a
reader of song-books from a literary delight in their contents, scraped
his head, and then, as if he had touched a spring, carolled,--

         "In spite of all you Gov'ment pack,
          I'll land my kegs of the good Cognyac"--

"though," he took occasion to observe when the chorus and a sort of
cracker of irrelevant rhymes had ceased to explode; "I'm for none of them
games.  Honesty!--there's the sugar o' my grog."

"Ay, but you like to be cock-sure of the stuff you drink, if e'er a man
did," said the boatbuilder, whose eye blazed yellow in this frothing
season of song and fun.

"Right so, Will Moody!" returned the jolly butcher: "which means--not
wrong this time!"

"Then, what's understood by your sticking prongs into your hostess here
concerning of her brandy?  Here it is--which is enough, except for
discontented fellows."

"Eh, Missus?" the jolly butcher appealed to her, and pointed at Moody's
complexion for proof.

It was quite a fiction that kegs of the good cognac were sown at low
water, and reaped at high, near the river-gate of the old Pilot Inn
garden; but it was greatly to Mrs. Boulby's interest to encourage the
delusion which imaged her brandy thus arising straight from the very
source, without villanous contact with excisemen and corrupting dealers;
and as, perhaps, in her husband's time, the thing had happened, and still
did, at rare intervals, she complacently gathered the profitable fame of
her brandy being the best in the district.

"I'm sure I hope you're satisfied, Mr. Billing," she said.

The jolly butcher asked whether Will Moody was satisfied, and Mr. William
Moody declaring himself thoroughly satisfied, "then I'm satisfied too!"
said the jolly butcher; upon which the boatbuilder heightened the laugh
by saying he was not satisfied at all; and to escape from the execrations
of the majority, pleaded that it was because his glass was empty: thus
making his peace with them.  Every glass in the room was filled again.

The young fellows now loosened tongue; and Dick Curtis, the promising
cricketer of Hampshire, cried, "Mr. Moody, my hearty!  that's your fourth
glass, so don't quarrel with me, now!"

"You!" Moody fired up in a bilious frenzy, and called him a this and that
and t' other young vagabond; for which the company, feeling the ominous
truth contained in Dick Curtis's remark more than its impertinence, fined
Mr. Moody in a song. He gave the--

         "So many young Captains have walked o'er my pate,
          It's no wonder you see me quite bald, sir,"

with emphatic bitterness, and the company thanked him. Seeing him stand
up as to depart, however, a storm of contempt was hurled at him; some
said he was like old Sedgett, and was afraid of his wife; and some, that
he was like Nic Sedgett, and drank blue.

          "You're a bag of blue devils, oh dear! oh dear!"

sang Dick to the tune of "The Campbells are coming."

"I ask e'er a man present," Mr. Moody put out his fist, "is that to be
borne?  Didn't you," he addressed Dick Curtis,--"didn't you sing into my
chorus--"

          'It's no wonder to hear how you squall'd, sir?'

"You did!"

"Don't he,"--Dick addressed the company, "make Mrs. Boulby's brandy look
ashamed of itself in his face?  I ask e'er a gentleman present."

Accusation and retort were interchanged, in the course of which, Dick
called Mr. Moody Nic Sedgett's friend; and a sort of criminal inquiry was
held.  It was proved that Moody had been seen with Nic Sedgett; and then
three or four began to say that Nic Sedgett was thick with some of the
gentlemen up at Fairly;--just like his luck!  Stephen let it be known
that he could confirm this fact; he having seen Mr. Algernon Blancove
stop Nic on the road and talk to him.

"In that case," said Butcher Billing, "there's mischief in a state of
fermentation.  Did ever anybody see Nic and the devil together?"

"I saw Nic and Mr. Moody together," said Dick Curtis.  "Well, I'm only
stating a fact," he exclaimed, as Moody rose, apparently to commence an
engagement, for which the company quietly prepared, by putting chairs out
of his way: but the recreant took his advantage from the error, and got
away to the door, pursued.

"Here's an example of what we lose in having no President," sighed the
jolly butcher.  "There never was a man built for the chair like Bob
Eccles I say!  Our evening's broke up, and I, for one, 'd ha' made it
morning.  Hark, outside; By Gearge! they're snowballing."

An adjournment to the front door brought them in view of a white and
silent earth under keen stars, and Dick Curtis and the bilious
boatbuilder, foot to foot, snowball in hand.  A bout of the smart
exercise made Mr. Moody laugh again, and all parted merrily, delivering
final shots as they went their several ways.

"Thanks be to heaven for snowing," said Mrs. Boulby; "or when I should
have got to my bed, Goodness only can tell!"  With which, she closed the
door upon the empty inn.




CHAPTER XIX

The night was warm with the new-fallen snow, though the stars sparkled
coldly.  A fleet of South-westerly rainclouds had been met in mid-sky by
a sharp puff from due North, and the moisture had descended like a woven
shroud, covering all the land, the house-tops, and the trees.

Young Harry Boulby was at sea, and this still weather was just what a
mother's heart wished for him.  The widow looked through her bed-room
window and listened, as if the absolute stillness must beget a sudden
cry.  The thought of her boy made her heart revert to Robert.  She was
thinking of Robert when the muffled sound of a horse at speed caused her
to look up the street, and she saw one coming--a horse without a rider.
The next minute he was out of sight.

Mrs. Boulby stood terrified.  The silence of the night hanging everywhere
seemed to call on her for proof that she had beheld a real earthly
spectacle, and the dead thump of the hooves on the snow-floor in passing
struck a chill through her as being phantom-like.  But she had seen a
saddle on the horse, and the stirrups flying, and the horse looked
affrighted.  The scene was too earthly in its suggestion of a tale of
blood.  What if the horse were Robert's?  She tried to laugh at her
womanly fearfulness, and had almost to suppress a scream in doing so.
There was no help for it but to believe her brandy as good and
efficacious as her guests did, so she went downstairs and took a
fortifying draught; after which her blood travelled faster, and the event
galloped swiftly into the recesses of time, and she slept.

While the morning was still black, and the streets without a sign of
life, she was aroused by a dream of some one knocking at her grave-stone.
"Ah, that brandy!" she sighed.  "This is what a poor woman has to pay for
custom!"  Which we may interpret as the remorseful morning confession of
a guilt she had been the victim of over night.  She knew that good brandy
did not give bad dreams, and was self-convicted.  Strange were her
sensations when the knocking continued; and presently she heard a voice
in the naked street below call in a moan, "Mother!"

"My darling!" she answered, divided in her guess at its being Harry or
Robert.

A glance from the open window showed Robert leaning in the quaint old
porch, with his head bound by a handkerchief; but he had no strength to
reply to a question at that distance, and when she let him in he made two
steps and dropped forward on the floor.

Lying there, he plucked at her skirts.  She was shouting for help, but
with her ready apprehension of the pride in his character, she knew what
was meant by his broken whisper before she put her ear to his lips, and
she was silent, miserable sight as was his feeble efforts to rise on an
elbow that would not straighten.

His head was streaming with blood, and the stain was on his neck and
chest.  He had one helpless arm; his clothes were torn as from a fierce
struggle.

"I'm quite sensible," he kept repeating, lest she should relapse into
screams.

"Lord love you for your spirit!" exclaimed the widow, and there they
remained, he like a winged eagle, striving to raise himself from time to
time, and fighting with his desperate weakness.  His face was to the
ground; after a while he was still.  In alarm the widow stooped over him:
she feared that he had given up his last breath; but the candle-light
showed him shaken by a sob, as it seemed to her, though she could scarce
believe it of this manly fellow.  Yet it proved true; she saw the very
tears.  He was crying at his helplessness.

"Oh, my darling boy!" she burst out; "what have they done to ye? the
cowards they are! but do now have pity on a woman, and let me get some
creature to lift you to a bed, dear.  And don't flap at me with your hand
like a bird that's shot.  You're quite, quite sensible, I know; quite
sensible, dear; but for my sake, Robert, my Harry's good friend, only for
my sake, let yourself be a carried to a clean, nice bed, till I get Dr.
Bean to you.  Do, do."

Her entreaties brought on a succession of the efforts to rise, and at
last, getting round on his back, and being assisted by the widow, he sat
up against the wall.  The change of posture stupified him with a
dizziness.  He tried to utter the old phrase, that he was sensible, but
his hand beat at his forehead before the words could be shaped.

"What pride is when it's a man!" the widow thought, as he recommenced the
grievous struggle to rise on his feet; now feeling them up to the knee
with a questioning hand, and pausing as if in a reflective wonder, and
then planting them for a spring that failed wretchedly; groaning and
leaning backward, lost in a fit of despair, and again beginning, patient
as an insect imprisoned in a circle.

The widow bore with his man's pride, until her nerves became afflicted by
the character of his movements, which, as her sensations conceived them,
were like those of a dry door jarring loose.  She caught him in her arms:
"It's let my back break, but you shan't fret to death there, under my
eyes, proud or humble, poor dear," she said, and with a great pull she
got him upright.  He fell across her shoulder with so stiff a groan that
for a moment she thought she had done him mortal injury.

"Good old mother," he said boyishly, to reassure her.

"Yes; and you'll behave to me like a son," she coaxed him.

They talked as by slow degrees the stairs were ascended.

"A crack o' the head, mother--a crack o' the head," said he.

"Was it the horse, my dear?"

"A crack o' the head, mother."

"What have they done to my boy Robert?"

"They've,"--he swung about humorously, weak as he was and throbbing with
pain--"they've let out some of your brandy, mother...got into my head."

"Who've done it, my dear?"

"They've done it, mother."

"Oh, take care o' that nail at your foot; and oh, that beam to your poor
poll--poor soul! he's been and hurt himself again.  And did they do it to
him? and what was it for?" she resumed in soft cajolery.

"They did it, because--"

"Yes, my dear; the reason for it?"

"Because, mother, they had a turn that way."

"Thanks be to Above for leaving your cunning in you, my dear," said the
baffled woman, with sincere admiration.  "And Lord be thanked, if you're
not hurt bad, that they haven't spoilt his handsome face," she added.

In the bedroom, he let her partially undress him, refusing all doctor's
aid, and commanding her to make no noise about him.  and then he lay down
and shut his eyes, for the pain was terrible--galloped him and threw him
with a shock--and galloped him and threw him again, whenever his thoughts
got free for a moment from the dizzy aching.

"My dear," she whispered, "I'm going to get a little brandy."

She hastened away upon this mission.

He was in the same posture when she returned with bottle and glass.

She poured out some, and made much of it as a specific, and of the great
things brandy would do; but he motioned his hand from it feebly, till she
reproached him tenderly as perverse and unkind.

"Now, my dearest boy, for my sake--only for my sake.  Will you? Yes, you
will, my Robert!"

"No brandy, mother."

"Only one small thimbleful?"

"No more brandy for me!"

"See, dear, how seriously you take it, and all because you want the
comfort."

"No brandy," was all he could say.

She looked at the label on the bottle.  Alas! she knew whence it came,
and what its quality.  She could cheat herself about it when herself only
was concerned--but she wavered at the thought of forcing it upon Robert
as trusty medicine, though it had a pleasant taste, and was really, as
she conceived, good enough for customers.

She tried him faintly with arguments in its favour; but his resolution
was manifested by a deaf ear.

With a perfect faith in it she would, and she was conscious that she
could, have raised his head and poured it down his throat. The crucial
test of her love for Robert forbade the attempt.  She burst into an
uncontrollable fit of crying.

"Halloa! mother," said Robert, opening his eyes to the sad candlelight
surrounding them.

"My darling boy! whom I do love so; and not to be able to help you!  What
shall I do--what shall I do!"

With a start, he cried, "Where's the horse!"

"The horse?"

"The old dad 'll be asking for the horse to-morrow."

"I saw a horse, my dear, afore I turned to my prayers at my bedside,
coming down the street without his rider.  He came like a rumble of
deafness in my ears.  Oh, my boy, I thought, Is it Robert's horse?--
knowing you've got enemies, as there's no brave man has not got 'em
--which is our only hope in the God of heaven!"

"Mother, punch my ribs."

He stretched himself flat for the operation, and shut his mouth.

"Hard, mother!--and quick!--I can't hold out long."

"Oh! Robert," moaned the petrified woman "strike you?"

"Straight in the ribs.  Shut your fist and do it--quick."

My dear!--my boy!--I haven't the heart to do it!"

"Ah!" Robert's chest dropped in; but tightening his muscles again, he
said, "now do it--do it!"

"Oh! a poke at a poor fire puts it out, dear.  And make a murderess of
me, you call mother!  Oh! as I love the name, I'll obey you, Robert.
But!--there!"

"Harder, mother."

"There!--goodness forgive me!"

"Hard as you can--all's right."

"There!--and there!--oh!--mercy!"

"Press in at my stomach."

She nerved herself to do his bidding, and, following his orders, took his
head in her hands, and felt about it.  The anguish of the touch wrung a
stifled scream from him, at which she screamed responsive.  He laughed,
while twisting with the pain.

"You cruel boy, to laugh at your mother," she said, delighted by the
sound of safety in that sweet human laughter.  "Hey! don't ye shake your
brain; it ought to lie quiet.  And here's the spot of the wicked blow--
and him in love--as I know he is!  What would she say if she saw him now?
But an old woman's the best nurse--ne'er a doubt of it."

She felt him heavy on her arm, and knew that he had fainted. Quelling her
first impulse to scream, she dropped him gently on the pillow, and rapped
to rouse up her maid.

The two soon produced a fire and hot water, bandages, vinegar in a basin,
and every crude appliance that could be thought of, the maid followed her
mistress's directions with a consoling awe, for Mrs. Boulby had told her
no more than that a man was hurt.

"I do hope, if it's anybody, it's that ther' Moody," said the maid.

"A pretty sort of a Christian you think yourself, I dare say," Mrs.
Boulby replied.

"Christian or not, one can't help longin' for a choice, mum.  We ain't
all hands and knees."

"Better for you if you was," said the widow.  "It's tongues, you're to
remember, you're not to be.  Now come you up after me--and you'll not
utter a word.  You'll stand behind the door to do what I tell you.
You're a soldier's daughter, Susan, and haven't a claim to be excitable."

"My mother was given to faints," Susan protested on behalf of her
possible weakness.

"You may peep."  Thus Mrs. Boulby tossed a sop to her frail woman's
nature.

But for her having been appeased by the sagacious accordance of this
privilege, the maid would never have endured to hear Robert's voice in
agony, and to think that it was really Robert, the beloved of Warbeach,
who had come to harm.  Her apprehensions not being so lively as her
mistress's, by reason of her love being smaller, she was more terrified
than comforted by Robert's jokes during the process of washing off the
blood, cutting the hair from the wound, bandaging and binding up the
head.

His levity seemed ghastly; and his refusal upon any persuasion to see a
doctor quite heathenish, and a sign of one foredoomed.

She believed that his arm was broken, and smarted with wrath at her
mistress for so easily taking his word to the contrary.  More than all,
his abjuration of brandy now when it would do him good to take it, struck
her as an instance of that masculine insanity in the comprehension of
which all women must learn to fortify themselves.  There was much
whispering in the room, inarticulate to her, before Mrs. Boulby came out;
enjoining a rigorous silence, and stating that the patient would drink
nothing but tea.

"He begged," she said half to herself, "to have the window blinds up in
the morning, if the sun wasn't strong, for him to look on our river
opening down to the ships."

"That looks as if he meant to live," Susan remarked.

"He!" cried the widow, "it's Robert Eccles.  He'd stand on his last
inch."

"Would he, now!" ejaculated Susan, marvelling at him, with no question as
to what footing that might be.

"Leastways," the widow hastened to add, "if he thought it was only devils
against him.  I've heard him say, 'It's a fool that holds out against
God, and a coward as gives in to the devil;' and there's my Robert
painted by his own hand."

"But don't that bring him to this so often, Mum?" Susan ruefully
inquired, joining teapot and kettle.

"I do believe he's protected," said the widow.

With the first morning light Mrs. Boulby was down at Warbeach Farm, and
being directed to Farmer Eccles in the stables, she found the sturdy
yeoman himself engaged in grooming Robert's horse.

"Well, Missis," he said, nodding to her; "you win, you see.  I thought
you would; I'd have sworn you would.  Brandy's stronger than blood, with
some of our young fellows."

"If you please, Mr. Eccles," she replied, "Robert's sending of me was to
know if the horse was unhurt and safe."

"Won't his legs carry him yet, Missis?"

"His legs have been graciously spared, Mr. Eccles; it's his head."

"That's where the liquor flies, I'm told."

"Pray, Mr. Eccles, believe me when I declare he hasn't touched a drop of
anything but tea in my house this past night."

"I'm sorry for that; I'd rather have him go to you.  If he takes it, let
him take it good; and I'm given to understand that you've a reputation
that way.  Just tell him from me, he's at liberty to play the devil with
himself, but not with my beasts."

The farmer continued his labour.

"No, you ain't a hard man, surely," cried the widow.  "Not when I say he
was sober, Mr. Eccles; and was thrown, and made insensible?"

"Never knew such a thing to happen to him, Missis, and, what's more, I
don't believe it.  Mayhap you're come for his things: his Aunt Anne's
indoors, and she'll give 'em up, and gladly.  And my compliments to
Robert, and the next time he fancies visiting Warbeach, he'd best forward
a letter to that effect."

Mrs. Boulby curtseyed humbly.  "You think bad of me, sir, for keeping a
public; but I love your son as my own, and if I might presume to say so,
Mr. Eccles, you will be proud of him too before you die.  I know no more
than you how he fell yesterday, but I do know he'd not been drinking, and
have got bitter bad enemies."

"And that's not astonishing, Missis."

"No, Mr. Eccles; and a man who's brave besides being good soon learns
that."

"Well spoken, Missis."

"Is Robert to hear he's denied his father's house?"

"I never said that, Mrs. Boulby.  Here's my principle--My house is open
to my blood, so long as he don't bring downright disgrace on it, and then
any one may claim him that likes I won't give him money, because I know
of a better use for it; and he shan't ride my beasts, because he don't
know how to treat 'em.  That's all."

"And so you keep within the line of your duty, sir," the widow summed his
speech.

"So I hope to," said the farmer.

"There's comfort in that," she replied.

"As much as there's needed," said he.

The widow curtseyed again.  "It's not to trouble you, sir, I called.
Robert--thanks be to Above!--is not hurt serious, though severe."

"Where's he hurt?" the farmer asked rather hurriedly.

"In the head, it is."

"What have you come for?"

"First, his best hat."

"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the farmer.  "Well, if that 'll mend his head
it's at his service, I'm sure."

Sick at his heartlessness, the widow scattered emphasis over her
concluding remarks.  "First, his best hat, he wants; and his coat and
clean shirt; and they mend the looks of a man, Mr. Eccles; and it's to
look well is his object: for he's not one to make a moan of himself, and
doctors may starve before he'd go to any of them.  And my begging prayer
to you is, that when you see your son, you'll not tell him I let you know
his head or any part of him was hurt.  I wish you good morning, Mr.
Eccles."

"Good morning to you, Mrs. Boulby.  You're a respectable woman."

"Not to be soaped," she murmured to herself in a heat.

The apparently medicinal articles of attire were obtained from Aunt Anne,
without a word of speech on the part of that pale spinster.  The
deferential hostility between the two women acknowledged an intervening
chasm.  Aunt Anne produced a bundle, and placed the hat on it, upon which
she had neatly pinned a tract, "The Drunkard's Awakening!"  Mrs. Boulby
glanced her eye in wrath across this superscription, thinking to herself,
"Oh, you good people! how you make us long in our hearts for trouble with
you."  She controlled the impulse, and mollified her spirit on her way
home by distributing stray leaves of the tract to the outlying heaps of
rubbish, and to one inquisitive pig, who was looking up from a
badly-smelling sty for what the heavens might send him.

She found Robert with his arm doubled over a basin, and Susan sponging
cold water on it.

"No bones broken, mother!" he sang out.  "I'm sound; all right again.
Six hours have done it this time.  Is it a thaw?  You needn't tell me
what the old dad has been saying.  I shall be ready to breakfast in half
an hour."

"Lord, what a big arm it is!" exclaimed the widow.  "And no wonder, or
how would you be a terror to men?  You naughty boy, to think of stirring!
Here you'll lie."

"Ah, will I?" said Robert: and he gave a spring, and sat upright in the
bed, rather white with the effort, which seemed to affect his mind, for
he asked dubiously, "What do I look like, mother?"

She brought him the looking-glass, and Susan being dismissed, he examined
his features.

"Dear!" said the widow, sitting down on the bed; "it ain't much for me to
guess you've got an appointment."

"At twelve o'clock, mother."

"With her?" she uttered softly.

"It's with a lady, mother."

"And so many enemies prowling about, Robert, my dear!  Don't tell me they
didn't fall upon you last night.  I said nothing, but I'd swear it on the
Book.  Do you think you can go?"

"Why, mother, I go by my feelings, and there's no need to think at all,
or God knows what I should think."

The widow shook her head.  "Nothing 'll stop you, I suppose?"

"Nothing inside of me will, mother."

"Doesn't she but never mind.  I've no right to ask, Robert; and if I have
curiosity, it's about last night, and why you should let villains escape.
But there's no accounting for a man's notions; only, this I say, and I do
say it, Nic Sedgett, he's at the bottom of any mischief brewed against
you down here.  And last night Stephen Bilton, or somebody, declared that
Nic Sedgett had been seen up at Fairly."

"Selling eggs, mother.  Why shouldn't he?  We mustn't complain of his
getting an honest livelihood."

"He's black-blooded, Robert; and I never can understand why the Lord did
not make him a beast in face.  I'm told that creature's found pleasing by
the girls."

"Ugh, mother, I'm not."

"She won't have you, Robert?"

He laughed. "We shall see to-day."

"You deceiving boy!" cried the widow; "and me not know it's Mrs. Lovell
you're going to meet! and would to heaven she'd see the worth of ye, for
it's a born lady you ought to marry."

"Just feel in my pockets, mother, and you won't be so ready with your
talk of my marrying.  And now I'll get up.  I feel as if my legs had to
learn over again how to bear me.  The old dad, bless his heart! gave me
sound wind and limb to begin upon, so I'm not easily stumped, you see,
though I've been near on it once or twice in my life."

Mrs. Boulby murmured, "Ah! are you still going to be at war with those
gentlemen, Robert?"

He looked at her steadily, while a shrewd smile wrought over his face,
and then taking her hand, he said, "I'll tell you a little; you deserve
it, and won't tattle.  My curse is, I'm ashamed to talk about my
feelings; but there's no shame in being fond of a girl, even if she
refuses to have anything to say to you, is there?  No, there isn't.  I
went with my dear old aunt's money to a farmer in Kent, and learnt
farming; clear of the army first, by--But I must stop that burst of
swearing.  Half the time I've been away, I was there.  The farmer's a
good, sober, downhearted man--a sort of beaten Englishman, who don't know
it, tough, and always backing.  He has two daughters: one went to London,
and came to harm, of a kind.  The other I'd prick this vein for and bleed
to death, singing; and she hates me!  I wish she did.  She thought me
such a good young man!  I never drank; went to bed early, was up at work
with the birds.  Mr. Robert Armstrong!  That changeing of my name was
like a lead cap on my head.  I was never myself with it, felt hang-dog--
it was impossible a girl could care for such a fellow as I was.  Mother,
just listen: she's dark as a gipsy.  She's the faithfullest,
stoutest-hearted creature in the world.  She has black hair, large brown
eyes; see her once!  She's my mate.  I could say to her, 'Stand there;
take guard of a thing;' and I could be dead certain of her--she'd perish
at her post.  Is the door locked?  Lock the door; I won't be seen when I
speak of her.  Well, never mind whether she's handsome or not.  She isn't
a lady; but she's my lady; she's the woman I could be proud of.  She
sends me to the devil!  I believe a woman 'd fall in love with her
cheeks, they are so round and soft and kindly coloured.  Think me a fool;
I am.  And here am I, away from her, and I feel that any day harm may
come to her, and she 'll melt, and be as if the devils of hell were
mocking me.  Who's to keep harm from her when I'm away?  What can I do
but drink and forget?  Only now, when I wake up from it, I'm a crawling
wretch at her feet.  If I had her feet to kiss!  I've never kissed her-
-never!  And no man has kissed her.  Damn my head! here's the ache coming
on.  That's my last oath, mother.  I wish there was a Bible handy, but
I'll try and stick to it without.  My God! when I think of her, I fancy
everything on earth hangs still and doubts what's to happen.  I'm like a
wheel, and go on spinning.  Feel my pulse now.  Why is it I can't stop
it?  But there she is, and I could crack up this old world to know what's
coming.  I was mild as milk all those days I was near her.  My comfort
is, she don't know me.  And that's my curse too!  If she did, she'd know
as clear as day I'm her mate, her match, the man for her.  I am, by
heaven!--that's an oath permitted.  To see the very soul I want, and to
miss her!  I'm down here, mother; she loves her sister, and I must learn
where her sister's to be found.  One of those gentlemen up at Fairly's
the guilty man.  I don't say which; perhaps I don't know.  But oh, what a
lot of lightnings I see in the back of my head!"

Robert fell back on the pillow.  Mrs. Boulby wiped her eyes.  Her
feelings were overwhelmed with mournful devotion to the passionate young
man; and she expressed them practically: "A rump-steak would never digest
in his poor stomach!"

He seemed to be of that opinion too, for when, after lying till eleven,
he rose and appeared at the breakfast-table, he ate nothing but crumbs of
dry bread.  It was curious to see his precise attention to the neatness
of his hat and coat, and the nervous eye he cast upon the clock, while
brushing and accurately fixing these garments.  The hat would not sit as
he was accustomed to have it, owing to the bruise on his head, and he
stood like a woman petulant with her milliner before the glass; now
pressing the hat down till the pain was insufferable, and again trying
whether it presented him acceptably in the enforced style of his wearing
it.  He persisted in this, till Mrs. Boulby's exclamation of wonder
admonished him of the ideas received by other eyes than his own.  When we
appear most incongruous, we are often exposing the key to our characters;
and how much his vanity, wounded by Rhoda, had to do with his proceedings
down at Warbeach, it were unfair to measure just yet, lest his finer
qualities be cast into shade, but to what degree it affected him will be
seen.

Mrs. Boulby's persuasions induced him to take a stout silver-topped
walking-stick of her husband's, a relic shaped from the wood of the Royal
George; leaning upon which rather more like a Naval pensioner than he
would have cared to know, he went forth to his appointment with the lady.




CHAPTER XX

The park-sward of Fairly, white with snow, rolled down in long sweeps to
the salt water: and under the last sloping oak of the park there was a
gorse-bushed lane, green in Summer, but now bearing cumbrous blossom--
like burdens of the crisp snow-fall. Mrs. Lovell sat on horseback here,
and alone, with her gauntleted hand at her waist, charmingly habited in
tone with the landscape. She expected a cavalier, and did not perceive
the approach of a pedestrian, but bowed quietly when Robert lifted his
hat.

"They say you are mad.  You see, I trust myself to you."

"I wish I could thank you for your kindness, madam."

"Are you ill?"

"I had a fall last night, madam."

The lady patted her horse's neck.

"I haven't time to inquire about it.  You understand that I cannot give
you more than a minute."

She glanced at her watch.

"Let us say five exactly.  To begin: I can't affect to be ignorant of the
business which brings you down here.  I won't pretend to lecture you
about the course you have taken; but, let me distinctly assure you, that
the gentleman you have chosen to attack in this extraordinary manner, has
done no wrong to you or to any one.  It is, therefore, disgracefully
unjust to single him out.  You know he cannot possibly fight you.  I
speak plainly."

"Yes, madam," said Robert.  "I'll answer plainly.  He can't fight a man
like me.  I know it.  I bear him no ill-will.  I believe he's innocent
enough in this matter, as far as acts go."

"That makes your behaviour to him worse!"

Robert looked up into her eyes.

"You are a lady.  You won't be shocked at what I tell you."

"Yes, yes," said Mrs. Lovell, hastily: "I have learnt--I am aware of the
tale.  Some one has been injured or, you think so.  I don't accuse you of
madness, but, good heavens! what means have you been pursuing!  Indeed,
sir, let your feelings be as deeply engaged as possible, you have gone
altogether the wrong way to work."

"Not if I have got your help by it, madam."

"Gallantly spoken."

She smiled with a simple grace.  The next moment she consulted her watch.

"Time has gone faster than I anticipated.  I must leave you.  Let this be
our stipulation"

She lowered her voice.

"You shall have the address you require.  I will undertake to see her
myself, when next I am in London.  It will be soon.  In return, sir,
favour me with your word of honour not to molest this gentleman any
further.  Will you do that?  You may trust me."

"I do, madam, with all my soul!" said Robert.

"That's sufficient.  I ask no more.  Good morning."

Her parting bow remained with him like a vision.  Her voice was like the
tinkling of harp-strings about his ears.  The colour of her riding-habit
this day, harmonious with the snow-faced earth, as well as the gentle
mission she had taken upon herself, strengthened his vivid fancy in
blessing her as something quite divine.

He thought for the first time in his life bitterly of the great fortune
which fell to gentlemen in meeting and holding equal converse with so
adorable a creature; and he thought of Rhoda as being harshly earthly;
repulsive in her coldness as that black belt of water contrasted against
the snow on the shores.

He walked some paces in the track of Mrs. Lovell's horse, till his doing
so seemed too presumptuous, though to turn the other way and retrace his
steps was downright hateful: and he stood apparently in profound
contemplation of a ship of war and the trees of the forest behind the
masts.  Either the fatigue of standing, or emotion, caused his head to
throb, so that he heard nothing, not even men's laughter; but looking up
suddenly, he beheld, as in a picture, Mrs. Lovell with some gentlemen
walking their horses toward him.  The lady gazed softly over his head,
letting her eyes drop a quiet recognition in passing; one or two of the
younger gentlemen stared mockingly.

Edward Blancove was by Mrs. Lovell's side.  His eyes fixed upon Robert
with steady scrutiny, and Robert gave him a similar inspection, though
not knowing why.  It was like a child's open look, and he was feeling
childish, as if his brain had ceased to act.  One of the older gentlemen,
with a military aspect, squared his shoulders, and touching an end of his
moustache, said, half challengingly,--

"You are dismounted to-day?"

"I have only one horse," Robert simply replied.

Algernon Blancove came last.  He neither spoke nor looked at his enemy,
but warily clutched his whip.  All went by, riding into line some paces
distant; and again they laughed as they bent forward to the lady,
shouting.

"Odd, to have out the horses on a day like this," Robert thought, and
resumed his musing as before.  The lady's track now led him homeward, for
he had no will of his own.  Rounding the lane, he was surprised to see
Mrs. Boulby by the hedge.  She bobbed like a beggar woman, with a rueful
face.

"My dear," she said, in apology for her presence, "I shouldn't ha'
interfered, if there was fair play.  I'm Englishwoman enough for that.
I'd have stood by, as if you was a stranger.  Gentlemen always give fair
play before a woman.  That's why I come, lest this appointment should ha'
proved a pitfall to you. Now you'll come home, won't you; and forgive
me?"

"I'll come to the old Pilot now, mother," said Robert, pressing her hand.

"That's right; and ain't angry with me for following of you?"

"Follow your own game, mother."

"I did, Robert; and nice and vexed I am, if I'm correct in what I heard
say, as that lady and her folk passed, never heeding an old woman's ears.
They made a bet of you, dear, they did."

"I hope the lady won," said Robert, scarce hearing.

"And it was she who won, dear.  She was to get you to meet her, and give
up, and be beaten like, as far as I could understand their chatter;
gentlefolks laugh so when they talk; and they can afford to laugh, for
they has the best of it.  But I'm vexed; just as if I'd felt big and had
burst.  I want you to be peaceful, of course I do; but I don't like my
boy made a bet of."

"Oh, tush, mother," said Robert impatiently.

"I heard 'em, my dear; and complimenting the lady they was, as they
passed me.  If it vexes you my thinking it, I won't, dear; I reelly
won't.  I see it lowers you, for there you are at your hat again.  It is
lowering, to be made a bet of.  I've that spirit, that if you was well
and sound, I'd rather have you fighting 'em. She's a pleasant enough lady
to look at, not a doubt; small-boned, and slim, and fair."

Robert asked which way they had gone.

"Back to the stables, my dear; I heard 'em say so, because one gentleman
said that the spectacle was over, and the lady had gained the day; and
the snow was balling in the horses' feet; and go they'd better, before my
lord saw them out.  And another said, you were a wild man she'd tamed;
and they said, you ought to wear a collar, with Mrs. Lovell's, her name,
graved on it.  But don't you be vexed; you may guess they're not my
Robert's friends.  And, I do assure you, Robert, your hat's neat, if
you'd only let it be comfortable: such fidgeting worries the brim. You're
best in appearance--and I always said it--when stripped for boxing.  Hats
are gentlemen's things, and becomes them like as if a title to their
heads; though you'd bear being Sir Robert, that you would; and for that
matter, your hat is agreeable to behold, and not like the run of our
Sunday hats; only you don't seem easy in it.  Oh, oh! my tongue's a yard
too long.  It's the poor head aching, and me to forget it.  It's because
you never will act invalidy; and I remember how handsome you were one day
in the field behind our house, when you boxed a wager with Simon Billet,
the waterman; and you was made a bet of then, for my husband betted on
you; and that's what made me think of comparisons of you out of your hat
and you in it."

Thus did Mrs. Boulby chatter along the way.  There was an eminence a
little out of the road, overlooking the Fairly stables.  Robert left her
and went to this point, from whence he beheld the horsemen with the
grooms at the horses' heads.

"Thank God, I've only been a fool for five minutes!" he summed up his
sensations at the sight.  He shut his eyes, praying with all his might
never to meet Mrs. Lovell more.  It was impossible for him to combat the
suggestion that she had befooled him; yet his chivalrous faith in women
led him to believe, that as she knew Dahlia's history, she would
certainly do her best for the poor girl, and keep her word to him.
The throbbing of his head stopped all further thought.  It had become
violent.  He tried to gather his ideas, but the effort was like that of
a light dreamer to catch the sequence of a dream, when blackness follows
close up, devouring all that is said and done.  In despair, he thought
with kindness of Mrs. Boulby's brandy.

"Mother," he said, rejoining her, "I've got a notion brandy can't hurt a
man when he's in bed.  I'll go to bed, and you shall brew me some; and
you'll let no one come nigh me; and if I talk light-headed, it's blank
paper and scribble, mind that."

The widow promised devoutly to obey all his directions; but he had begun
to talk light-headed before he was undressed.  He called on the name of a
Major Waring, of whom Mrs. Boulby had heard him speak tenderly as a
gentleman not ashamed to be his friend; first reproaching him for not
being by, and then by the name of Percy, calling to him endearingly, and
reproaching himself for not having written to him.

"Two to one, and in the dark!" he kept moaning "and I one to twenty,
Percy, all in broad day.  Was it fair, I ask?"

Robert's outcries became anything but "blank paper and scribble" to the
widow, when he mentioned Nic Sedgett's name, and said: "Look over his
right temple he's got my mark a second time."

Hanging by his bedside, Mrs. Boulby strung together, bit by bit, the
history of that base midnight attack, which had sent her glorious boy
bleeding to her.  Nic Sedgett; she could understand, was the accomplice
of one of the Fairly gentlemen; but of which one, she could not discover,
and consequently set him down as Mr. Algernon Blancove.

By diligent inquiry, she heard that Algernon had been seen in company
with the infamous Nic, and likewise that the countenance of Nicodemus was
reduced to accept the consolation of a poultice, which was confirmation
sufficient.  By nightfall Robert was in the doctor's hands, unconscious
of Mrs. Boulby's breach of agreement.  His father and his aunt were
informed of his condition, and prepared, both of them, to bow their heads
to the close of an ungodly career.  It was known over Warbeach, that
Robert lay in danger, and believed that he was dying.




ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

A fleet of South-westerly rainclouds had been met in mid-sky
Borrower to be dancing on Fortune's tight-rope above the old abyss
Childish faith in the beneficence of the unseen Powers who feed us
Dead Britons are all Britons, but live Britons are not quite brothers
He had no recollection of having ever dined without drinking wine
He tried to gather his ideas, but the effort was like that of a light dreamer
Land and beasts!  They sound like blessed things
My first girl--she's brought disgrace on this house
Then, if you will not tell me
To be a really popular hero anywhere in Britain (must be a drinker)
You're a rank, right-down widow, and no mistake




End of this Project Gutenberg Etext of Rhoda Fleming, v2
by George Meredith


Colophon

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