BELLES AND RINGERS
"BOUND TO WIN;" "FALSE CARDS;" "TWO KISSES;" "COURTSHIP," ETC.
LEVER BROTHERS, LTD.,
PORT SUNLIGHT, NEAR BIRKENHEAD.
THE CONSPIRATORS TRIUMPH
THE COMMONSTONE BALL
THE ROCKCLIFFE GAMES
AN EXCURSION TO TROTBURY
A SHORT CUT HOME
"THE PLAY'S THE THING!"
SATURDAY AT HURLINGHAM
MRS. WRIOTHESLEY'S LITTLE DINNER
THE RINGING OF THE BELLES
BELLES AND RINGERS.
Todborough Grange, the seat of Cedric Bloxam, Justice of the Peace, and whilom High Sheriff for East Fernshire, lies low. The original Bloxam, like the majority of our ancestors, had apparently a great dislike to an exposed situation; and either a supreme contempt for the science of sanitation, or a confused idea that water could be induced to run uphill, and so, not bothering his head on the subject of drainage, as indeed no one did in those days, he built his house in a hole, holding, I presume, that the hills were as good to look up at as the valleys to look down upon. It was an irregular pile of gabled red brick, of what could be only described as the composite order, having been added to by successive Bloxams at their own convenience, and without any regard to architectural design. It was surrounded by thick shrubberies, in which the laurels were broken by dense masses of rhododendrons. Beyond these again were several plantations, and up the hill on the east side of the house stretched a wood of some eighty acres or so in extent.
As a race, the Bloxams possessed some of the leading Anglo-Saxon characteristics; to wit, courage, obstinacy, and density—or perhaps I should rather say slowness—of understanding. The present proprietor had been married—I use the term advisedly—to Lady Mary Ditchin, a daughter of the Earl of Turfington, a family whose hereditary devotion to sport in all its branches had somewhat impoverished their estates. The ladies could all ride; and some twenty odd years ago, when Cedric Bloxam was hunting in the Vale of White Horse country, Lord Turfington and his family chanced to be doing the same. Lady Mary rode; Cedric Bloxam saw; and Lady Mary conquered. She had made him a very good wife, although as she grew older she unfortunately, as some of us do, grew considerably heavier; and when no longer able to expend her superfluous energies in the hunting-field, she developed into a somewhat ambitious and pushing woman. In this latter role I do not think she pleased Cedric Bloxam quite so well. She insisted upon his standing for the county. Bloxam demurred at first, and, as usual, in the end Lady Mary had her own way. He threw himself into the fight with all the pugnacity of his disposition, and, while his blood was up, revelled in the fray. He could speak to the farmers in a blunt homely way, which suited them; and they brought him in as one of the Conservative Members for East Fernshire. But on penetrating the perfidy of the wife of his bosom, Cedric Bloxam mused sadly over the honours that he had won. When Lady Mary had alternately coaxed and goaded him into contesting the eastern division of his county, she was seeking only the means to an end. They had previously contented themselves with about six weeks of London in May and June; but his wife now pointed out to him that, as a Member of Parliament, it was essential that he should have a house for the season. It was the thin end of the wedge, and though Cedric Bloxam lost his seat at the next general election, that "house for the season" remained as a memento of his entrance into public life.
"You see," said Lady Mary to her intimates, while talking the thing over, "it was absolutely necessary that something should be done. After he has done the Derby, Ascot, and the University Match, Cedric is always bored with London. The girls are growing up, and how are they ever to get properly married if they don't get their season in town, poor things! I began by suggesting masters; but that had no effect on Cedric—he only retorted, 'Send them to school;' so it was absolutely necessary to approach him in another manner, and I flatter myself I was equal to the occasion."
All this took place some six or seven years before the commencement of our story; and the result had fully warranted Lady Mary's machinations, as she had successfully married off her two elder daughters, and, as she had occasionally told her intimates, her chief object in life now was to see Blanche, the younger, suitably provided for. Lady Mary was in her way a stanch and devoted mother. Her duty towards her daughters, she considered, terminated when she had once seen them properly married. She had two sons—one in a dragoon regiment, and the younger in the Foreign Office—and she never neglected to cajole or flatter any one who, she thought, might in any way be capable of advancing their interests.
The Bloxams had come down from town to entertain a few friends during the Easter holidays at Todborough, and Lady Mary was now sitting in the oriel window of the morning-room engaged in an animated tete-a-tete with one of her most intimate friends, Mr. Pansey Cottrell. Mr. Pansey Cottrell had been a man about town for the last thirty years, mixing freely everywhere in the very best society. It must have been a pure matter of whim if Pansey Cottrell ever paid for his own dinner during a London season—or, for the matter of that, even out of it—as he had only to name the week that suited him to be a welcome guest at scores of country houses. Nothing would have been more difficult than to explain why it was that Pansey Cottrell should be as essential to a fashionable dinner party as the epergne. Nothing more puzzling to account for than why his volunteering his presence in a country house should be always deemed a source of gratulation to the hostess. He was a man of no particular birth and no particular conversational powers; and unless due to his being thoroughly au courant with all the very latest gossip of the London world, his success can only be put down as past understanding. Neophytes who did not know Pansey Cottrell, when they met him in a country house, would gaze with awe-struck curiosity at the sheaf of correspondence awaiting him on the side-table, and wondered what news he would unfold to them that morning. But the more experienced knew better. Pansey Cottrell always came down late, and never talked at breakfast. He kept his budget of scandal invariably for the dinner-table and smoking-room. Such was Pansey Cottrell, as he appeared to the general public, though he possessed an unsuspected attribute, known only to some few of the initiated, and of which as yet Lady Mary had only an inkling.
A portly well-preserved gentleman, with iron-grey hair, and nothing particularly striking about him but a pair of keen dark eyes, he sits in the window, listening with a half-incredulous smile to the voluble speech of his buxom hostess.
"Well," exclaimed Lady Mary, in reply to some observation of her companion's, "I tell you, Pansey" (she had known him from her childhood, and always called him Pansey, as indeed did many other middle-aged matrons)—"I tell you, Pansey," she repeated, "it is all a mistake; the majority of young men in our world do not marry whom they please: they may think so, but in the majority of cases they marry whom we please. The bell responds to the clapper; but who is it that makes the clapper to speak? The ringer. Do you see the force of my illustration?"
"If I fail to see its force," he replied, "I, of course, perfectly understand your illustration; and in this case Miss Blanche is of course the belle, you the ringer, and Mr. Beauchamp the clapper."
"Just so," replied Lady Mary, laughing. "Look at Diana, my eldest. She thinks she married Mannington; he thinks he married her; and I know I married them. People are always talking of Shakespeare's 'knowledge of human nature,' more especially those who never read him. Why don't they take a leaf out of his book? Do you suppose Beatrice nowadays, when she is told Benedick is dying for love of her, don't believe it, and that Benedick cannot be fooled in like manner? Go to—as they said in those times."
"And you would fain play Leonato to this Benedick," replied Pansey Cottrell. "Is this Beauchamp of whom you speak one of the Suffolk Beauchamps?"
"Yes; his father has a large property in the south of the county; and this Lionel Beauchamp is the eldest son, a good-looking young fellow, with a healthy taste for country life; just the man to suit dear Blanche admirably."
"And when do you expect him?"
"Oh, he ought to be here this evening in time for dinner," replied Lady Mary. "He seemed rather struck with Blanche in London, so I asked him down here for the Easter holidays, thinking it a nice opportunity of throwing them more together."
"I see," replied Mr. Cottrell, laughing; "you think in these cases it is just as well to assist nature by a little judicious forcing."
"Exactly. You see, a good-looking girl has such a pull in a country house, and when she is the only good-looking one, has it all her own way; and I need scarcely say I have taken care of that."
"Ahem! Todborough lies dangerously near to that most popular of watering-places, Commonstone," observed Cottrell; "and there is always attractive mettle to be found there."
"But I don't intend we shall ever go near it," replied her ladyship quickly. "We'll make up riding parties, plan excursions to Trotbury, and so on. Just the people in the house, you know, and the rector's daughters, nice pleasant unaffected girls, who, though not plain——"
"Cannot be counted dangerous," interposed Cottrell. "I understand. I congratulate you on your diplomacy, Lady Mary. By the way, who is your rector?"
"The Rev. Austin Chipchase. A good orthodox old-fashioned parson, thank goodness, with no High Church fads or Low Church proclivities."
"Chipchase? Ahem! I met an uncommon pretty girl of that name down in Suffolk last autumn, when I was staying at Hogden's place."
At this juncture the door opened, and the object of all this maternal solicitude entered the room. Her mother did Blanche Bloxam scant justice when she called her a good-looking girl. She was more than that; she might most certainly have been called a very good-looking girl of the thoroughly Saxon type—tall and well made, with a profusion of fair sunny hair, and deep blue eyes. Blanche was a girl no man would ever overlook, wherever he might come across her.
"What state secrets are you two talking," she exclaimed, "that you pay no attention to the bell? Come to lunch, mamma, please; for we have been playing lawn tennis all the morning, and are well-nigh distraught with hunger."
Lady Mary rose and followed her daughter to the dining-room, where the whole of the house party were assembled round the luncheon-table. It consisted, besides the family and Mr. Cottrell, of a Mr. and Mrs. Evesham and their two daughters—"such amiable girls, you know," as Lady Mary always said of them; a Mr. and Mrs. Sartoris, a young married couple; Jim Bloxam, the dragoon; and a Captain Braybrooke, a brother officer of his.
"Come along, mother," exclaimed Jim. "Mrs. Sartoris has given me such a dusting at lawn tennis this morning that no amount of brown sherry and pigeon-pie will support me under the ignominy of my defeat."
"Thank you, Mrs. Sartoris," said Lady Mary, laughing. "I am very glad indeed, Jim, that somebody has been good enough to take the conceit out of you. But what do all you good people propose doing with yourselves this afternoon? There are a certain number of riding-horses; and of course there's the carriage, Mrs. Evesham."
"Don't you trouble, mother," exclaimed Jim Bloxam; "we are going upon an expedition of discovery. Mrs. Sartoris has got a brother in the army. She don't quite recollect his regiment; and beyond that it is in England, she does not know precisely where he is quartered. But he is in the something-somethieth, and we are going to see if we can find him in Rockcliffe Camp."
"Don't be so absurd, Captain Bloxam," rejoined Mrs. Sartoris. "But I am told, Lady Mary, it is a pretty walk to the camp, and that there is a grand view over the Channel on the south side of it."
"It is the very thing, mamma," observed Blanche. "It is our duty to absorb as much ozone as possible while we are down here, in order to fit us for the fatigues of the season which, I trust, are in store for us."
"Getting perilously near Commonstone," whispered Pansey Cottrell, who happened to be sitting next to his hostess.
Although the arrangement did not exactly meet with her approbation, yet Lady Mary could make no objection, any more than she could avoid smiling at Cottrell's remark; but it would seem as if some malignant genie had devoted his whole attention to thwarting her schemes, the malignant genie in this case taking the form of her eldest son. Upon an adjournment, Jim Bloxam strongly urged that those of the party who were not for a tramp to Rockcliffe should drive into Commonstone, and ascertain if there was anything going on that was likely to be worth their attention. In the middle of this discussion came a ring at the front door bell, immediately followed by the announcement of the Misses Chipchase; and the rector's two daughters entered the room, accompanied, to Lady Mary's horror, by one of the most piquant and brilliant brunettes she had ever set eyes on.
"So glad to see you down again, dear Lady Mary," said Miss Chipchase, "and with a house full too! that's so nice of you; just in time to assist at all our Easter revelries. Let me introduce you to my cousin, Sylla Chipchase, just come down to spend a month with us." And then the rector's daughters proceeded to shake hands with Blanche and Captain Bloxam, and be by them presented to the remainder of the party.
Pansey Cottrell could scarce refrain from laughing outright as he advanced to shake hands with Sylla Chipchase, the identical young lady whom he had met last autumn in Suffolk, and who had now turned up at Todborough, looking more provokingly pretty than ever. He had caught one glance of his hostess's face; and, behind the scenes as he was, that had been so nearly too much for his risible faculties that he dared not hazard another. As he advanced to shake hands with Miss Sylla, he felt that the Fates had been even more unkind to Lady Mary than she could as yet be possibly aware of; for he remembered at Hogden's that Miss Sylla had not only been voted the belle of a party containing two or three very pretty women, but had also enchanted the men by her fun, vivacity, and singing. Poor Lady Mary! it was hard, in spite of all her efforts to secure a clear field, to find her daughter suddenly confronted by such a formidable rival.
"We meet again, you see, Miss Sylla," said Cottrell, as they shook hands. "I told you in Suffolk, if you remember, that in my ubiquity I was a person very difficult to see the last of."
"And who that had ever met Mr. Cottrell would wish to have seen the last of him?" replied the young lady gaily. "We had great fun together in Suffolk, and I hope we are going to have great fun together in Fernshire. My cousins tell me there are no end of balls and dances to come off in the course of the next ten days."
"Dear me!" replied Mr. Cottrell, his eyes twinkling with the fun of the situation. "This is all very well for you country people, Miss Sylla; but we poor Londoners have come down for rest after a spell of hot rooms and late hours, preparatory to encountering fresh dissipations. Is it not so, Lady Mary? Did you not promise me quiet and country air, with a dash of the salt water in it?"
"Of course," was the reply; "we have come down here to recruit."
"Oh, but, Lady Mary, you will never shut yourself up and turn recluse," returned the elder Miss Chipchase. "You must come to the Commonstone ball on Easter Monday; you will all come, of course. I quite count upon you, Captain Bloxam."
"Perfectly right, Miss Chipchase," replied the dragoon, with a glance of unmistakable admiration at the new importation. "Did you ever know me fail you in valsing? and are not the soldiers of to-day every bit as much 'all there' as the sailors of yore, whenever England generally, or Commonstone in particular, expects that every man this night will do his duty?"
"Ah, yes," replied Miss Chipchase, "I recollect our trying to valse to 'God save the Queen;' but we could make nothing out of it. And you, Mr. Bloxam,—you are bound to be there. Remember you engaged me for 'Sir Roger de Coverley,' for the next dance we met at, last Christmas Eve."
"I don't forget, Laura," laughed the Squire; "only you really must moderate the pace down the middle this time."
"And then," continued the voluble young lady, "they have got a big lunch at the camp, with athletic sports afterwards, on Tuesday, for which you will, of course, receive cards."
"There is nothing like rural retirement for rest and quietness," observed Pansey Cottrell, dryly.
"My dear Laura," interposed Lady Mary, "your tongue is running away with you. I have told you we have come down here for a little quiet. I am very glad, for your sake, that you have so much gaiety going on; but I am afraid you will have to excuse us taking part in it."
"Now, really that is too bad of you, Lady Mary," returned Miss Chipchase. "You are always so kind," she continued, dropping her voice; "and you know what a difference it makes to us to be able to join the Todborough party. With my cousin Sylla staying with us and all, I really did hope——"
"Impossible, my dear," interrupted Lady Mary. "If we don't get a little quiet now, I shall be having dear Blanche thoroughly knocked up before the season is over."
Miss Chipchase said nothing, but marvelled much what all this anxiety about dear Blanche's health might portend. The two girls were sworn friends, and Laura Chipchase had more than once envied Blanche's physique when she had met her, looking as fresh as a rose, at the covertside in the morning, after they had been both dancing until four.
"I am so sorry we shall not see you at the Commonstone ball, Captain Bloxam," said Miss Sylla, with whom Jim had entered into conversation.
"Why so? What makes you think I shall not be there?"
"Because your mamma has brought you down here for the repairing of your shattered constitutions," replied the young lady, demurely. "Do you all go to bed at half-past ten?"
"Well, yes," returned Jim, with mock gravity. "I shall have to comply with the maternal's programme as far as that goes; but to do honour to the debut of so fair a stranger in the land, I think Miss Sylla, I can contrive to get out of the window after they are all asleep, and make my way over to Commonstone."
"Dear me, how I should envy you! What fun it would be, the really going to a ball in such surreptitious fashion!"
"Yes," said Jim; "but think about all the fears and anxieties of getting back again. It's always so much easier to get out of a window than to get into one."
"But what are you all proposing to do this afternoon, Blanche?" inquired Laura Chipchase.
"Well, we thought of walking up to the camp and having a look at the sea."
"And to search for Mrs. Sartoris's brother," interposed Jim Bloxam.
"You have a brother quartered at Rockcliffe, Mrs. Sartoris? I wonder whether we know him? What is he in?" exclaimed Laura Chipchase.
"No; it is only some of Captain Bloxam's nonsense. I have a brother in the army, and he pretends that I don't know where he is, or what is his regiment."
"A walk to the camp—ah, that would be amusing!" said Miss Sylla. "I never saw one. Are they under canvas?"
"No; boards," returned Jim. "But come along; if we are going to walk to Rockcliffe, it is time we were off. The sooner you ladies get your hats on, the better. We'll find Mrs. Sartoris's brother, launch Miss Sylla here in military circles, and return with raging appetites to dinner." And so saying, the dragoon, followed by most of the party, made his way to the front door.
"Very nice of you, Pansey," said Lady Mary, "to put in that plea for peace and quietness. I can't think what has come to the place. Who ever heard of Commonstone breaking out with an Easter ball before? Todborough generally is as dull as ditch-water at this time of year. Something, it is true, may be going on at the camp; but as we know nobody there just now, it usually does not affect us. However, I have no intention of submitting to such a bouleversement of my schemes as this; and go to that ball I don't."
THE CONSPIRATORS TRIUMPH.
The dressing-bell was pealing as the gay party returned in high spirits from their walk. It had been a very successful excursion, and the newcomer, Miss Sylla, was unanimously voted an acquisition.
"Laura tells me," said Miss Bloxam, "that her cousin sings charmingly, and is simply immense at charades, private theatricals, and all that sort of thing."
"Ah, we might do something in that way one evening next week," said her brother, as they passed through the hall. "Mr. Beauchamp here, James?"
"Yes, sir; came about a quarter of an hour ago; he has just gone up to dress."
Blanche was sitting in front of her dressing-table, with her maid putting the finishing-touches to her toilette, when a slight tap at the door was followed by the entrance of her mother.
"That will do, Gimp," said Lady Mary. "I will arrange those flowers in Miss Blanche's hair myself;" and, obedient to the intimation, the lady's-maid left the room. "I have just looked in to speak to you, Blanche, about this ball. If the subject is revived at dinner this evening, you won't want to go to it: you understand?"
"Of course, mamma, I will say so if you wish it; but I should like to go, all the same."
"Oh, nonsense! An Easter ball at Commonstone would be a shocking, vulgar, not to say rowdy, affair. Besides, surely you have had plenty of dancing in London, to say nothing of heaps more in perspective."
"Dancing!" replied the girl, with a shrug of her shoulders. "I don't call a London ball dancing. One jigs round and round in a place about ten feet square, but one never gets a really good spin. We have been at Commonstone balls before. What makes you think this one would be more uproarious than usual?"
"We have never been to an Easter ball, my dear," replied Lady Mary, adjusting a piece of fern in her daughter's tresses. "We came down here for quiet, and if you don't require a rest, I do. You must think of your poor chaperon a little, Blanche."
"Don't say another word, mamma. You are a dear amiable chaperon, and have been awfully good about staying a little late at times. I don't want to drag you over to Commonstone, when your wish is to be left peacefully at home. We won't do the Easter ball, though it is sad to think what a capital room they have for it. But come along, there goes the bell, and I am sure now I look most bewitching."
It was not Lady's Mary's custom to take her daughters into her confidence, in the first instance, with regard to the matrimonial designs she had formed for their benefit. All the preliminary manoeuvres she conducted herself. The idea of young people gravitating together naturally was a theory she would have received with profound derision. She looked upon it that all what she would have termed successful marriages were as much owing to the clever diplomacy of mothers or chaperons as the victory of a horse in a big race is due to the skilful handling of his jockey. During the afternoon she had been meditating over the plan of her Easter campaign, and resolved to adhere to her original determination. Most decidedly she would have nothing to do with Commonstone and its gaieties, nor would she afford greater favour to any revelries at the Rockcliffe camp; and most devoutly did she wish that it was in her power to keep the rector's daughters altogether at arm's length, now that she had seen this new cousinly importation. At arm's length as much as possible the Misses Chipchase should be held, she determined.
"That Miss Sylla," she muttered, "is just the sort of girl men always lose their heads about; clever, too, if I mistake not. Well, I don't mean to see more of her at the Grange than I am positively obliged to; but keep her out altogether I can't. The Chipchase girls have grown up with my own, and been always accustomed to come and go pretty much as they liked. However," thought her ladyship, "the first thing to settle undoubtedly is this ball;" and, as she and her daughter descended to dinner, Lady Mary did fancy that, at all events, she had settled that.
"Ah, here you are at last," said the Squire, as they entered the drawing-room; "dinner is already announced, my lady. Come along, Mrs. Evesham, it's no use letting the soup get cold."
"How do you do, Mr. Beauchamp?" said Lady Mary, as a dark, good-looking young fellow came forward to shake hands with her. "It seems I am dreadfully late, and have only time now to say I am delighted that you have found your way to Todborough. Perhaps you will take care of Blanche." And then the hostess turned away to pair off her other guests.
"I congratulate you, Lady Mary, on so favourable an augury," said Pansey Cottrell, as he leisurely consumed his fish.
"Favourable augury! What can you mean?"
"Do you not see," returned Cottrell, in mock-tragical tones, "that we are thirteen to dinner? Do you not know that Lionel Beauchamp is the thirteenth? and do you not know what Fate has invariably in store for the thirteenth at a dinner party?"
"Good gracious!" exclaimed Lady Mary; "why, they say it's hanging, do they not?"
"Well, of late years they have rather qualified the sentence. Popular opinion, I think, now inclines to the belief that the thirteenth, when a man, will be either hung—or married."
"I suppose we are advancing in the science of augury as in all other sciences," replied her ladyship, laughing, "and find that the omens, like the readings of the barometer, are capable of two interpretations."
"You must not speak lightly of the science of augury, Lady Mary. Allow me to give you the complete interpretation of the omen. The Fates have not only decreed that Lionel Beauchamp shall either be hung or married within the twelvemonth, but reserved the latter lot for him; and they indicate further who his future wife shall be. When there is no lady next him, it's a hanging matter, saith the oracle; where there is, that lady will be his wife before the year is out. Now, it can hardly point to Mrs. Evesham, who is on the right, and therefore I conclude it must indicate Miss Blanche, who is on his left."
"Very ingenious, indeed, Mr. Cottrell; but, dear me! they have begun to talk about that horrid ball again at the bottom of the table, have they not?"
"I say, mother," exclaimed Jim Bloxam, "of course we are all going to this Commonstone ball on Monday?"
"Nonsense! I am surprised at your thinking of such a thing. The idea of our going to a Commonstone ball on Easter Monday! Just fancy, my dear Jim, what it would be,—townspeople and excursionists from round about. No; I don't go in for being exclusive, goodness knows; but the Commonstone Easter ball is a rather more boisterous business than I can stand."
"What nonsense!" rejoined the dragoon, a little staggered, all the same, by his mother's argument. "It will be great fun, and I don't suppose a bit worse than any other of the Commonstone balls; and we have always gone to them, you know."
"Yes, but that's a very different thing from an Easter Monday ball. Of course you and any of the gentlemen of the party can go. You will have great fun, no doubt."
"But," urged Jim, "we are a large party, and can keep to ourselves, you know. It is a good room; and here is Blanche, I know, dying for a galop. Are you not, my sister?"
"No, indeed," said Blanche, responding bravely to her before-dinner tutoring; "I assure you I don't care about it in the least. I have no doubt mamma is right, and that the ball will be crowded with all sorts of disagreeable people."
"You little traitress," said Jim, with a comical grin upon his countenance, "I did think I could count upon you; but you are as perfidious as a county elector in these days of the ballot-box."
Poor Blanche coloured and bit her lip. She was conscious of gross tergiversation, of having ratted shamefully; for that merry party in the afternoon, as they stood in the camp of Rockcliffe overlooking Commonstone, had, one and all, vowed to foot it merrily in the town-hall on Easter Monday, and agreed that for real lovers of dancing a country ball beat a London one all to pieces.
"Well, mother," rejoined Jim, with one of his queer smiles, "on your head be it if any harm comes to us; if you will allow your young braves to go out on the war-path without their natural protectors, you must not be surprised if some of them lose their scalps. Beauchamp, you are a devotee of the goddess, I know. You will of course form one of 'the lost children' who brave all the horde of excursionists for the honour of Todborough."
"Thanks, no," replied Lionel. "I don't think I care about facing the barbarians at play."
He was a good deal smitten with Blanche, and knew better than to run counter to his enslaver's pronounced opinion.
"Then," exclaimed Jim, "like Curtius, I must leap into the gulf single-handed. Stop! hang it, I will exercise my military prerogative; yes, Braybrooke, I shall order you to accompany me, if it is only to witness the sacrifice."
"Stay, Captain Bloxam," said Mrs. Sartoris, laughing. "Such devoted gallantry deserves encouragement; I won't see you fall into the hands of the Philistines without an effort at your preservation. You'll go, Tom, won't you?" she continued, appealing to her husband, "if Lady Mary can only find us transport."
"Yes, I am good to go, if you wish it," replied Sartoris.
"How I should like to shake the life out of that woman!" thought Lady Mary, as she smilingly murmured that "if Mrs. Sartoris had the courage to face the horrors of an Easter ball, there was, of course, the carriage at her disposal."
"Bravo, Mrs. Sartoris!" cried Jim; "and now that you have given them a lead, I have no doubt I shall pick up some more recruits, at all events, young ladies," he continued, appealing to the Misses Evesham, "it's a consolation to think that we have secured a chaperon, even if our mothers remain obdurate on the point."
But Lady Mary was not going to suffer any further discussion concerning the Commonstone ball, if she could possibly prevent it. What she mentally termed the pig-headedness of her son already threatened to upset the seclusion that she had marked out as most conducive to Lionel Beauchamp's subjection. Taking advantage of the decanters having made their appearance on the table, she bent her head to Mrs. Evesham, and the rising of the ladies put an end to the subject, at all events for the present. "If," thought Lady Mary, as she followed her guests to the drawing-room, "I can only stop their talking any more about this wretched ball, there will be no harm done. Jim, Captain Braybrooke, and the Sartorises are welcome to go, so long as the rest stay at home."
Though silent, Pansey Cottrell had been an amused auditor of the previous conversation. Living, as he habitually had done from his boyhood, always in society, he derived no little amusement from watching the foibles and manoeuvres of those around him, and occasionally indulged himself by gently pulling the strings for his own diversion. It was a secret that had been penetrated by only a few of his intimates, but there was lurking in Pansey Cottrell a spirit of mischief that sometimes urged him to contravene the schemes of his associates. It was never from any feeling of malice, but from a sheer sense of fun. The present state of affairs, for instance, tickled him immensely. He knew that poor Lady Mary had resolutely made up her mind that the Grange party should have none of this ball, and equally did he foresee that there was every probability of both herself and all her guests being present at it. Secondly, she had brought Lionel Beauchamp down here, far away from rival beauties, so that Miss Blanche might capture him at her leisure; and such was Lady Mary's malignant star, that an exceedingly pretty and fascinating stranger immediately appeared upon the scene. Now this was just one of the little dramas that it so amused Pansey Cottrell occasionally to exercise his influence in. I do not mean to say that he would interfere to such an extent as to either make or mar the wedding; but to take part with the conspirators and coerce Lady Mary into going to this Commonstone ball was a bit of mischief quite in his way. He could not resist the temptation of teasing his fellow-creatures, and what gave such particular zest to such tormenting was that his victims were always perfectly unconscious that he was at the bottom of their annoyance.
In the drawing-room Lady Mary expressed her disapproval of the ball so strongly that Mrs. Sartoris felt quite guilty, and rather repented her of having volunteered to join Captain Bloxam's party; but when the gentlemen made their appearance, Lady Mary was doomed to be made once more uncomfortable by the proceedings of her first-born.
She listened in somewhat distrait fashion to a flood of anecdote and small-talk that Mr. Cottrell was pouring into her ears; for she felt intuitively that Jim was canvassing the whole party on the subject of this abominable ball with an ardour worthy of a better cause. She had seen him talking and laughing with Mrs. Sartoris, and knew that he had confirmed that lady in her iniquity. Now he was talking with the Misses Evesham, and she felt convinced that those flabby-minded damsels had admitted that they should like to be present, although not half an hour ago they had assured her that they detested all such "omnium gatherums." If she could but have got hold of Jim and told him that there were particular reasons why the Grange party should not attend upon this occasion! but no, Pansey Cottrell was entertaining her with a scandalous and apparently interminable narrative of the doings of one of her friends, and she felt she had been as effectually buttonholed as if she were the victim of the Ancient Mariner.
Suddenly a "Confound it, Jim, do hold your tongue!" from the whist-table caught her ear. "You deuced near made me revoke. What on earth makes you so red hot about this ball?" And the Squire mechanically looked round to his wife for telegraphic guidance as to what line he was to take.
By a sudden shifting of Mr. Pansey Cottrell's chair that gentleman's form intercepted the slight bending of the brows and shake of the head that replied to her husband's look of inquiry.
"The proper thing to do, sir," resumed Jim; "residents in the vicinity of Commonstone must support Commonstone festivities. The Todborough contingent must show up on such an occasion, and the Todborough contingent must show with its chief at its head. Who knows but you may want to contest the county again some of these days? and if you don't, why, perhaps I shall. I assure you I have a very pretty talent for public speaking—at least, so our fellows all say. Isn't it so, Braybrooke?"
"Oh, I don't quite know about that," was the reply. "We give you credit for unlimited 'cheek' when on your legs after supper, and that's about as far as we can give you a character."
"Well, I don't know; we always do go. I suppose we ought to go this time; but there's no necessity for all this hurry. The ball is not until the day after to-morrow." And the Squire again looked anxiously round for instructions from his wife; but Pansey Cottrell was now standing between Lady Mary and the card-table, and such inspiration as might be derived from his back was sole response to the inquiry.
"Excuse me," said Jim, "we can't have people making up their mind about ball-going on Sundays. Ball-dresses, however perfect, nearly always want a little something doing to them at the last, don't they, Mrs. Sartoris? Besides, vacillation spoils slumber. I am only anxious that you shall lay your head tranquilly on your pillow, like myself, with your mind made up to do a good and virtuous action."
"Come, I say," cried the Squire, chuckling, "that's rather tall talk, you know. I never heard going to a ball called a 'good and virtuous action' before."
"Well, perhaps not," replied Jim; "but it is, comparatively, you know, when you think of the many worse things you might do;—Stay at home here, for instance, trump your partner's thirteenth, revoke, lose your money and your temper."
"You make out a good case, Jim," said the Squire, laughing. "I suppose we must go, lest, as you say, worse should come to us."
As these two latter speeches reached her ears, Lady Mary felt that she could have boxed those of her son with exceeding satisfaction, and so wandered in her attention to Pansey Cottrell's narrative as to occasion that gentleman, who was perfectly aware of the disturbing influence, infinite amusement. As a causeur of some repute in his own estimation, he considered himself in duty bound to take vengeance for such negligence, and spun out his story to its extreme attenuation before suffering his hostess to escape. At length released, Lady Mary crosses to the whist-table; but the conversation has dropped. Jim has moved to another part of the room; and that the Todborough Grange party shall go to the ball is an accepted fact. To revive the subject now Lady Mary felt would be useless, but she made up her mind somewhat spitefully that her lord should hear a little more about it before he slept.
"Rather a sudden change in the wind," said Lionel Beauchamp, as he lit Miss Bloxam's candle in the hall: "instead of being dead against, it seems to be blowing quite a gale in the direction of the Commonstone ball. I suppose you will go too, if the rest do?"
"Yes," she replied mendaciously. "I don't care in the least about it, but suppose, like all minorities, I shall have to recant my opinion, or, what is the same thing, do as the others do; and I shall expect you to do the same, Mr. Beauchamp, and not, after the manner of some shameless London men whom we have had here, plead a bad cold, and then spend the evening tranquilly in the smoking-room, over much tobacco and a French novel."
"Not I, Miss Bloxam," replied Lionel, laughing. "I can assure you I am very fond of a country ball. My objection is to a country ball with all the attraction left out."
"Thank you," said Blanche, making him a little mock curtsey, "that is a very pretty speech to send me to sleep upon; and now good night. O Jim, Jim!" she whispered, as she passed her brother, "how could you? Had you been yet in your childhood, bread and water and dungeons dark would be punishment quite inadequate to your offending."
"Why, good Heavens! what have I done?"
"Couldn't you see that mamma is dead against any of us going to this ball, and have you not been canvassing us all as if you had been a steward?"
"Go to bed, you arrant little humbug," replied Jim, with a perceptible quiver of his right eye. "What the madre's reasons may be for setting her face against this bit of jollity I don't know; but you and she needn't go, you know. Mrs. Sartoris has kindly undertaken the charge of all us young people."
Blanche merely smiled, nodded, and then tripped up the staircase. I think there was an unspoken understanding between these two on the subject of the Commonstone ball. Jim Bloxam had before known his sisters take part with the authorities against their private likings and convictions.
Lady Mary, when she had gained the privacy of her own chamber, felt, to speak figuratively, that the horses had got a little out of her hand; that her party, or at all events the larger portion of them, would attend this ball whether she liked it or not. Of course she herself could stay at home and keep Blanche with her; but it would be a little too marked to attempt to retain Mr. Beauchamp when all the rest of the party were bound for Commonstone. She was far too skilful a manoeuvrer to give lookers-on such transparent grounds for designating her a match-making mother. But Lady Mary was a woman both clever and fertile in resource, one who thoroughly understood the philosophy that, when things are not going to your liking, there only remains to make the best of things as they are. Her instinct warned her that it would have been better for her designs if she could have carried out her original programme, and contrived that the Grange party should keep to themselves; but as things were it was obvious that Lionel Beauchamp would go to the Commonstone ball, and under those circumstances she promptly decided that it would be advisable for Blanche and herself to go too. Her mind misgave her that Sylla Chipchase was a formidable rival to Blanche in the matter of beauty and attraction; still, the encountering of no opposition could but make Miss Sylla more formidable. Just as she had resolved upon a change of front, the Squire entered the room.
"My dear Cedric," she exclaimed, "how could you be so foolish? What made you encourage all these people in the absurdity of wishing to attend that Easter ball?—a mob of tag, rag, and bobtail, tradespeople and people from Heaven knows where: very good fun, no doubt, for the officers from Rockcliffe, Jim, or any other young men, but no place for ladies and their daughters to go to."
"What nonsense, Mary! Why, you know we always did go to the Commonstone balls; besides, Mrs. Sartoris expressed——"
"Don't talk to me about what Mrs. Sartoris expressed," interrupted Lady Mary sharply; "that woman is evidently one of the fast school, and I am very sorry for Blanche's sake that I asked her down here at all."
This was a most unjustified accusation against poor little Mrs. Sartoris, who was simply a young married woman fond of dancing and gaiety.
"Besides," she continued, "you might have remembered that I wanted Blanche to have a quiet fortnight. Girls at her age are so easily knocked up by the dissipations of London, and it is very desirable that she should take the opportunity of a rest now she can get it."
"Pooh! that's all nonsense, Mary, and you know it. Blanche is as strong as a horse, and no girl enjoys dancing more. Why, she has never been sick nor sorry since she was a little thing! I'll go bail that she's none the worse for her first season."
"Oh, very well; of course if you know better than I do, well and good. A mother is usually supposed to be the best judge of such matters. If she is regularly knocked up by July, don't forget I raised my voice against the Commonstone ball."
"No, my dear," replied the Squire, as he composed himself for slumber; "there is not the slightest probability of my forgetting it, insomuch as, if such a misfortune should befall the girl, I feel confident that fact would be pretty constantly recalled to my memory."
THE COMMONSTONE BALL.
The same evening that all this discussion—one might almost say plotting and counter-plotting—concerning the Commonstone ball was going on at the Grange, there was a conversation going on at Todborough Rectory, which, could she but have heard it, would have somewhat opened Lady Mary's eyes to the conspiracy of which she had been the victim.
"I wonder," exclaimed Laura Chipchase, "whether Jim has carried his point? He vowed to-day the Grange party should go to the ball, and I hope they may."
"Yes," said Miss Sylla, "it is always nicer, I think, to be one of a large party in an affair of this sort. You are quite independent then,—a ball within a ball, as it were."
"Just so," said the younger sister. "And though we know plenty of people, and are not likely to want for partners, yet it's not the fun of going a big party. As for you, Sylla, I can't imagine your wanting partners anywhere." And the girl gazed with undisguised admiration at her pretty cousin.
"The young men are mostly good to me," replied Miss Sylla demurely. "But what made Lady Mary set her face so dead against this ball? You told me she was full of fun, and either assisted at or promoted all the gaiety in the neighbourhood."
"Ah, I cannot understand that," rejoined Laura. "The excuse about Blanche requiring rest is all nonsense. Why, she told me to-day, she was never better, and, as you yourself heard, said she should like to go to this ball immensely."
"Ah, well," said Sylla, with a shrug of her shoulders and a slight elevation of her expressive eyebrows, "I don't think I care much about your Lady Mary; your word-painting has been a little too flattering."
"You mustn't condemn her just because she has got this whim in her head. We know her well, and like her very much. We have been brought up so much with her own children, you know. But you never told us you knew Mr. Cottrell."
"Why should I?" rejoined Sylla. "I hadn't the slightest idea he was in these parts until I saw him. He is a dear clever old gentleman" (if Pansey could but have heard that!), "and one of my most devoted admirers. I met him at the Hogdens' last autumn. It amused me so much to see how he always got his own way about everything, that I struck up a desperate flirtation with him, and then, you see, I got mine. Oh, you needn't look shocked. It's great fun when they have arrived at years of discretion, like Mr. Cottrell; they always get you everything you want, and are no more in earnest than you are. Then they are always at hand to save you 'an infliction.' I always said I was engaged to Mr. Cottrell whenever I didn't want to dance with any one who claimed me, and if I made him a pretty speech, he would always forgive my throwing him over. My dear Laura," continued the young lady gravely, "an admirer of that sort is worth a good half-dozen younger ones. But tell me a little more about the Bloxams."
"There is nothing much to tell," rejoined Laura. "The Squire is just what you saw him—a fresh, genial, and hospitable country gentleman. Blanche is a dear unaffected girl, a good horsewoman, and good at lawn tennis, billiards, and all that sort of thing. Jim Bloxam is what you see—as gay, light-hearted, and rattlepated a dragoon as any in the service; and as for Lady Mary, she is very much better than you give her credit for."
"Whether the big house goes or not makes a difference in our staff of partners," observed the younger Miss Chipchase sententiously. "Let's see: there's Captain Bloxam, Captain Braybrooke, and Mr. Sartoris—all most eligible, don't you think so, Laura? I wonder what this other man is like whom Blanche talked about—Lionel Beauchamp? he comes to-night."
"What, Lionel Beauchamp!" exclaimed Sylla: "do you mean to say Lionel Beauchamp is coming to the Grange?"
"So Blanche told me this afternoon; why, do you know him?"
"Know him? yes, pretty much in the same way you know Jim Bloxam. By the way, do you call him 'Jim'?" (The two girls nodded assent.) "Ah, I like to ask about these things: proprieties differ in different counties; it strikes me Fernshire is of the rigidly decorous order."
"Well," laughed Miss Chipchase, "it is past twelve; and if Todborough Rectory is to keep its character, we must be off to bed and listen no more to your Suffolk gabbling. It's well mamma is laid up with a cold, or we should have been broomed off long ago."
"Very well, Laura; in revenge for that last aspersion I will tell you nothing whatever more about Lionel Beauchamp. Only promise me one thing: don't let out that he and I have known each other from childhood, please don't. I do so want to see Lady Mary's face when she hears me call him Lionel. I suspect she is inclined to think me a very fast young woman. She shall!" and with this ominous menace Miss Sylla danced upstairs to bed. Lady Mary, when she found that she must yield in the matter of the ball, was far too clever a diplomatist not to give a most gracious assent. She laughed, and vowed that she really thought a set of Londoners like they all were would have looked forward to quiet during the Easter holidays; but as they preferred racket, well, racket be it to their hearts' content. Her duty towards her guests as hostess was simply to promote the happiness of the greater number. They would all go to Commonstone, and it only remained now to settle the matter of transport. The break would hold eight comfortably. If Mr. and Mrs. Evesham with their daughters, Mr. and Mrs. Sartoris, Mr. Cottrell, and the Squire would go in that, then she, Blanche, and either Captain Braybrooke or Mr. Beauchamp could go in the carriage, and Jim could drive one gentleman over in the dog-cart.
Jim Bloxam knew that he had carried his point sorely against his mother's inclination; but he had got his cue now, and resolved to second all her arrangements loyally.
"All right, mother," he said, "that will do very well, you take Beauchamp in the carriage, and Braybrooke can come in the cart with me."
Although the party generally cared little about the manner of their going to the ball, there was one exception, and this was Mr. Pansey Cottrell. That gentleman was extremely fond of his own ease and comfort, and when a hostess presumed to take him out to a country ball, he did consider that she was at least bound to find him a front seat in a most comfortable carriage. "Breaks are all very well," quoth Mr. Cottrell, "for tough country gentlemen; but I don't expect to be carted about as if I was a stag on Easter Monday." In short, although Pansey Cottrell could hardly have been said to be seriously annoyed, yet he held Lady Mary guilty of a want of consideration for a man of his status in the fashionable world. To the mischief inherent in his disposition, and which so often led him to thwart the schemes of those about him, was now added a mild feeling of resentment, not amounting to anger, but a feeling that he owed it to himself to mete out some slight punishment to his hostess. "Yes," he muttered, as he arranged his white tie in the glass just before dinner, "I think, Lady Mary, the chances are that I shall contrive to make you a little uncomfortable this evening. That Sylla Chipchase is as full of devilry as she can be, and with a very pretty taste for privateering besides. If I give her a hint of your designs, I should think there is nothing she would like better than to do a little bit of cutting-out business, and temporarily capture Lionel Beauchamp under the very guns of the fair Blanche; however, I shall be guided by events. But there is one thing, my lady, you may be sure—I shall not forget I was relegated to a break."
When the ringers are not in accord the result is wont to be
"Sweet bells jangled, out of tune."
Upon arrival at Commonstone it became at once evident that Lady Mary had shamefully libelled the Easter ball. It was a mixed ball, certainly; but by no means the tag, rag, and bobtail affair that Lady Mary had stigmatized it. If there was a sprinkling of the tradespeople and also of strangers, there was also a large muster of all the best people in Commonstone and its neighbourhood. The Rockcliffe camp, too, had sent a strong contingent; and altogether, with a good room and good music, there was every prospect, as Jim Bloxam said, of a real good dance. That the Misses Chipchase should meet the Grange party and attach themselves to it was but natural. They had always been encouraged to do so, and how were they to know that the avatar of such an incarnation of fun, spirits, and beauty as Sylla should have made Lady Mary repent of former good-nature? However, Jim showed the way with Mrs. Sartoris, and the whole party were soon whirling away to the strains of the "Zingari" valses.
"At last, Mrs. Sartoris," said Jim, "I taste the sweets of successful diplomacy, and in the Commonstone terpsichorean temple publicly acknowledge the valuable assistance you lent me in the late great crisis."
"I am very glad, Captain Bloxam," replied Mrs. Sartoris, laughing, "that my poor exertions have been so fully recognized. I am terribly afraid that Lady Mary has registered a black mark against my name as a giddy and contumacious guest, not to be lightly entertained for the future."
"No," replied Jim, "I must stand up for my mother; she may fume a good deal at the time, but she never bears malice. But here comes one of my greatest allies, Dick Conyers; I hope you will allow me to present him to you."
Mrs. Sartoris bowed assent; the introduction made, his name duly inscribed on the lady's tablets, and Captain Conyers exclaimed,
"Of course you are coming to 'our athletics' to-morrow? I know cards have been duly sent to the Grange—for the matter of that, round the country generally. There will be lunch all over the camp; but mind, I expect you to patronize our mess in particular. Mile races, half-mile races, quarter-mile races, sack races, barrow races,—in short, humanity contending on its feet in every possible shape."
"The very thing," said Jim, "after a ball; don't you think so, Mrs. Sartoris? Fresh air, amusement, gentle exercise, and a little stimulant close at hand if we feel low."
"Ah, Mrs. Sartoris," replied Conyers, "and I really am a little low about to-morrow. The best race of the day is a quarter-mile race for the 'All Army Cup.' There is a horribly conceited young Engineer of the name of Montague who already regards it as his own property; and saddest of all remains the fact that, notwithstanding his crowing, he can run above a bit; we have nobody in the camp with a chance of defeating him."
"Why don't you make Captain Bloxam, here, run?" said Mrs. Sartoris. "Why, you know," she said, turning to Jim, "that you beat all the men at the Orleans Club a fortnight ago across the cricket-ground in that impromptu handicap."
"Of course," replied Conyers; "I never thought of that. I remember now you won the quarter mile at Aldershot last year. Capital! this race is open to the whole army, and the entries don't close till to-morrow. I'll stick your name down; and if ever you wish to do me a turn, mind you cut Montague's comb for him to-morrow."
"Well, I can only say," replied Jim, "I am good to have a shy, and will do my best."
Enthroned amongst the chaperons, and keeping a watchful eye upon her flock, Lady Mary so far views their proceedings with much complacency. After two successive dances with Blanche, Lionel Beauchamp has disappeared with that young lady, and though her daughter is no longer under her eye, still Lady Mary feels that events are marching in the right direction. However, it seemed as if Miss Bloxam had retired into the purlieus of the ball-room for the evening, and though, under the circumstances of her disappearance, Lady Mary felt no whit disturbed, about it, yet she thought she should like a cup of tea, and asked Mr. Sartoris to be her escort. But upon arrival at the tea-room, her equanimity was destined to be somewhat upset, for the first sight that met her eyes was Lionel Beauchamp and Sylla Chipchase seated in one of the corners, and apparently engaged in a tolerably pronounced flirtation. Now, in the confusion of the greeting between the Grange party and the rectory people, it had quite escaped Lady Mary that Lionel Beauchamp shook hands like an old acquaintance with Sylla. She had, therefore, no idea that they had met before this evening, and her dismay at finding Mr. Beauchamp improving his opportunities with Miss Sylla, when she had pictured him similarly engaged with Blanche, may be easily imagined. However, crossing over to the culprit, she observed, with a pleasant smile,
"Not half a bad ball, Mr. Beauchamp, I think. I can only hope you find it so. I really am quite glad I was persuaded into coming. By the way, what have you done with Blanche? She was dancing with you when I last saw her some half-hour ago."
"Oh, the room was so warm,", replied Lionel, "we came down here to get cool; and then Mr. Cottrell and Miss Sylla joined us; and then Cottrell told Miss Bloxam that it was his dance—or you wanted her—or something, and——"
"Left me as a substitute," interrupted Sylla Chipchase.
"Ah, well," said Lady Mary, "if Mr. Cottrell is taking care of her, Blanche is in good hands; I need not trouble myself much about her."
"You make a terrible mistake there, Lady Mary," said Sylla, in accents of mock anguish. "Mr. Cottrell is one of the most dangerous and inconstant of his sex. He made most desperate love last year to me in Suffolk, whispers pretty speeches into my ear the whole of this evening, and then turns me over—consigns me, I believe, is the proper term—to Mr. Beauchamp as if I were a bale of calico!" And the young lady assumed the prettiest attitude of most pitiable resignation.
"I was quite right," thought Lady Mary, as she resumed her cavalier's arm: "it is as I thought; that girl is as practised and brazen a flirt as ever crossed a poor woman's schemes. It was an ill wind that blew her into Fernshire this Easter."
"Come along, Lionel," said Sylla; "remember that here we must not call each other by our Christian names. Fernshire don't understand that we have been brought up together. In Suffolk it's different; but Fernshire will be putting it down as my habit to call all gentlemen by their Christian names, and I certainly don't want that."
"As you like, Syl—I mean, Miss Chipchase," replied Lionel; and with that they made their way to the ball-room, where Jim Bloxam immediately claimed the young lady's hand.
In the course of their dance Jim told his partner all about the programme for the morrow; how it was arranged that they should all drive up to the camp to lunch, look at the games, and either walk or drive back as seemed good to then. Then he confided to her how he was going to enter for the "All Army Cup." "Principally," continued Jim, "to oblige Dick Conyers, who is so extremely anxious to see the conceit taken out of a fellow in the Engineers called Montague."
"And you," said Sylla, who manifested great interest in the affair, "are you really a good runner?"
"Well, no, I can hardly say that—remember that is rather a big thing to say; but I am a bit above the average, and have beaten good fields upon three or four occasions."
"I understand; and what chance do you think you have with this Mr. Montague? Recollect, I mean plunging in gloves unless you assure me it is hopeless."
"Well, if I thought it that," replied Jim, "I shouldn't run, and that's about as much as I can say. I have never seen Montague run, and I don't think either of us can possibly draw an estimate of the other's form; still, the best man in a camp like Rockcliffe must be a pretty good amateur. I can only take for my comfort that Aldershot is bigger, and I proved myself the best man there over a similar distance last year."
"That's good enough for me. You must pardon my getting a little slangy," replied Sylla, laughing; "but, dear me! when we come down to pedestrianism we can't help it. I like your friend Captain Conyers. He is very anxious, you tell me, to see Mr. Montague's colours lowered."
"Yes, I assure you he was quite pathetic in his adjuration to me to do my utmost," rejoined Jim.
"Ah, well, we must hope he will be gratified, and in spite of Punch's wicked comparison of the dismounted dragoon to the goose on the turnpike-road, I shall hope to see the camp champion go down before Todborough to-morrow. But now tell me, how long have you known Lionel Beauchamp?"
"I met him this year in London for the first time."
"What do you think of him?"
"He is a very good fellow as far as I can judge," replied Jim; "very quiet; but you know I have had no opportunity of seeing much of him."
"You never saw him ride, I suppose?"
"No, except in the Row. Does he hunt?"
"Oh, yes, he hunts in his own county," replied Sylla. "You never saw him shoot, I suppose?"
"No, he doesn't attend Hurlingham; that is to say, I mean he doesn't go in for pigeons. But why all these questions, Miss Sylla?"
"Never mind; that's my secret. You may be sure it is intended for your good," laughed his interrogator. "In short, you never saw him ride, shoot, nor do any of those things."
"No," rejoined Jim, much amused; "I never saw him commit himself to rackets, skating, billiards, or any of those things."
"Ah," rejoined Sylla, "I was curious to see how much you knew about him. And now I think I must go and join the rest of them."
Upon arriving at the part of the ball-room in which Lady Mary had taken up her abode, they found most of the elders of the party assembled, and the expediency of a move homewards prominently under discussion.
"Ah, make room for me, please," exclaimed the vivacious young lady, "in that corner next to you, Mr. Cottrell. You have neglected me shamefully the whole of the evening, you know. The sole admirer I can reckon on in all Fernshire, an adorer privileged to say sweet things to me, and whose bounden duty it is never to neglect an opportunity of administering such sugarplums—how dare you treat me so? You abandon me in the tea-room, leaving me to be picked up like any other derelict by the passing stranger. Now, Mr. Cottrell, I should just like to hear what you have got to say in your defence."
"Well, Miss Sylla," rejoined the accused, "I left you under very tolerable protection, and Lady Mary had given me a hint to find Miss Bloxam for her if I could."
"I don't believe a word of it," replied the young lady. "You got rid of me, you know you did, because you felt lazy and unequal to the exigencies of the situation."
Of course Pansey Cottrell knew that this was all fooling; but then, like many other middle-aged gentlemen, he rather liked such fooling with a pretty girl; in fact, was somewhat given to what may be designated as fatherly flirtation.
"I don't think I left you quite so desolate as you make out. I should imagine Beauchamp an eligible cavalier. He comes from your county, so no doubt you know him."
"Yes, Mr. Beauchamp and I have foregathered before to-day."
"Ah, it was provoking," continued Cottrell, "after all the pains I took on your behalf, that Lady Mary, looking upon you as one of her charges, should be so sternly determined to do her duty by you as to penetrate the tea-room and nip such a promising flirtation in the bud."
"Yes," said the girl musingly, "I don't think she was altogether pleased at finding me there. Still, I can't see that Lady Mary's duty extends to us just because we have joined her party."
"Can't you really, Miss Sylla?" replied Cottrell, with a twinkle in his eye and a preternatural solemnity of manner that immediately aroused the young lady's attention. "Don't you know that one of the most important duties of the governors of all communities is to see that the right men are in the right place?"
"I don't understand you," said Sylla.
"To speak more plainly, then, it is the duty of chaperons to see that the right men don't sit out with the wrong ladies."
"Ah," replied Sylla, her eyes dancing with fun, "I think I begin to understand you now. I was the wrong young lady."
"Well," said Cottrell, "I am very much afraid you were. Do you see now why I so basely deserted you and changed partners with Beauchamp? You used to be quick enough in abetting me in such pranks last winter."
"I declare," rejoined Sylla, laughing, "you are the wickedest and most amusing man I ever came across. You dare to tell me that these Bloxam people have the audacity to come poaching on our Suffolk preserves?"
"Oh, I don't say that; still, people are so unscrupulous now-a-days. But I want your help in another little bit of mischief."
"What is it?" rejoined the young lady, with an animation which promised ready assent.
"Do you know Beauchamp well enough to ask him to dance?"
"Yes, certainly; only don't you let them know it at the Grange."
"Not I. The carriages have just been sent for; make him dance with you, and take him out of the way when I signal to you. He came here with Lady Mary and Miss Bloxam in the carriage. When he is not to be found, I shall volunteer to take his place, leaving him to follow and take mine in the break; and shall take care that the fact of his being left dancing with you does not escape Lady Mary's attention."
"Go across and tell Mr. Beauchamp I want him," said Sylla. "I'll take care he is out of the way when wanted."
This little conspiracy was crowned with success; and when the carriage was announced, Lionel Beauchamp was nowhere to be seen.
"It's nonsense waiting for him, Lady Mary," said Mr. Cottrell. "As Miss Bloxam is not dancing, you had better be off at once; I will come with you, and Beauchamp can take my place in the break. What has become of him and Sylla Chipchase, goodness only knows!"
There was nothing for it but to submit to circumstances; and, with a feeling of no little asperity towards that "flirting Suffolk girl," Lady Mary drove home to Todborough.
THE ROCKCLIFFE GAMES.
When Lady Mary came to think over the events of the night she found considerable cause for dissatisfaction, but it was as nothing to the further discomfiture awaiting her at the breakfast-table the next morning. Her scheme of seclusion—of a quiet party which, contenting themselves with their own society, should seek for no other amusement than was comprised within the resources of the Grange—had been already rudely broken in upon. And now she was confronted by an arrangement which her son had entered into without consulting her. On entering the breakfast-room she found Jim explaining the programme of the day,—how they were all to lunch at the mess of the —th regiment and witness the athletic sports of Rockcliffe camp.
"Cold collation all over the camp, five o'clock tea, fresh air, fun and flirtation, society and sunshine; if all that does not realize 'a dream of fair women,' well, then, I know nothing about them," were the first words that greeted Lady Mary's ear. Lady Mary Bloxam was no weak vacillating woman—a woman, on the contrary, wont to carry her point, and who contrived to have her own way, perhaps, rather more than most people; but she saw at once that it would be hopeless to stem the tide upon this occasion. With all her guests on a lovely spring day anxious to attend an entertainment not three miles off, what was there to be said? No possible pretext could be devised for preventing them. Why, oh, why had she persuaded that graceless dragoon to leave Aldershot and share the peace and tranquillity of home? She might have remembered how foreign peace and tranquillity were to Jim's mercurial disposition; and then, Lady Mary reflected ruefully, that flirting Suffolk girl was certain to be present at the sports. In her dismay, she for a second thought of taking counsel with Pansey Cottrell as to what it were best to do under the circumstances; but after such festivities as that of the previous night Mr. Cottrell was always invisible to every one save his valet till past midday.
The hierarchy of Olympus had apparently taken the Rockcliffe games under their special protection. A more glorious April day never dawned than the Tuesday appointed for its athletic sports. Here and there a few fleecy clouds flecked the sky, as here and there a snowy patch of canvas dotted the sea. The sun shone forth in all his majesty, and the soft south-west wind just rippled the waters of the treacherous Channel and fluttered the flags with which the huts were decorated. Over every mess-room flew the regimental burgee as a signal that therein was lunch for all comers; while in front of those near the course, flanked on either side by rows of chairs and benches, were pitched marquees for the convenience of those who might desire lighter refreshment. As the Todborough carriages drove up, Captain Conyers and one or two of his brother officers stepped forward to welcome the party, and, as Lady Mary had anticipated, almost the next people to greet them were the Reverend Austin Chipchase, his daughters, and niece.
"Good morning, Mr. Cottrell," said Sylla, with an arch glance at her fellow-conspirator of last night. "May I hope that the sweet sleep that waits on virtuous actions was vouchsafed to you?"
"Thanks, yes," replied that gentleman. "I slept as a good man should. I am afraid some of us were a little over-tired. I regret to say there was a little irritability manifest in my carriage on the way home;" and the twinkle in Cottrell's eyes told Sylla Chipchase that Lady Mary had made due note of her offending.
"You have heard of course that Captain Bloxam means trying for the 'All Army Cup.' Great excitement it will be for us, will it not? We are all bound to bet recklessly upon the Todborough champion. I should like to see this Mr. Montague. I must get Captain Conyers to point him out to me. But, ah, look! here they come!" and as she spoke the girl pointed to some half-score figures who, clad in gaily-coloured jerseys, came racing down over six flights of hurdles. The leading three or four were well together till they cleared the last hurdle save one; but immediately they were over that, a pink jersey shot to the front, left his antagonists apparently without an effort, and, clearing the last hurdle in excellent style, ran in an easy winner by some half-score yards, amid tumultous cheering.
"Oh, do find out what this is all about; who won that? what was it? Ah, Captain Braybrooke, please come here and explain all this to me. Why are they cheering?"
"That was the two hundred yard race over hurdles, Miss Chipchase. They are cheering the winner, Mr. Montague, our opponent, you know. It seems ever since Jim's name appeared in the 'All Army Cup' this morning, excitement has run high; you see, of course they know that Jim won the quarter of a mile race at Aldershot last year. It becomes a case of Rockcliffe versus Aldershot, and of course all the sympathies of Rockcliffe are with their own champion. I don't think, Miss Chipchase, they will throw things at us; but you mustn't expect Jim's victory to be received with enthusiasm. It's great fun to see the excitement his appearance in the lists has occasioned. It was looked upon as a foregone conclusion for Montague before; and though he is still favourite, they know now that he has not got it all his own way."
"Thank you so much," said Sylla, in her most dulcet tones. "And now, Captain Braybrooke, I want you to do me a great favour. It's of no use denying it, but I am an arrant gambler at heart; I must and will have a gamble on this. Will you please put five pounds for me on Captain Bloxam?" and as she spoke Sylla saw with infinite satisfaction that she had Lady Mary for an auditor.
"Certainly, Miss Chipchase," replied Braybrooke. "There can be no manner of difficulty about that. I have backed Jim myself, and you can stand in that much with my bets."
"Once more, thank you," replied Sylla; "and pray let Captain Bloxam know that the fortunes of all Todborough depend upon his exertions."
But Sylla made a great mistake if she thought that her making a bet on the result of this race would shock Lady Mary. The Ladies Ditchin had known what it was as girls to lose their quarter's allowance over one of their father's unlucky favourites for a big race; and Lady Mary all her life had been far too accustomed to regard backing an opinion as the strongest proof of sincere belief in it to feel in the least shocked at anybody holding similar views. She had indeed told her husband, as soon as the fact of her son being entered for this race came to her knowledge, that she must have her usual wager of ten pounds on the result. All the sporting instinct of her nature had been aroused, and Jim's entering the lists against the Rockcliffe champion had gone far to reconcile her to such an infringement of her programme as was involved in their attending the Rockcliffe games.
"Your brother is a good runner, I presume, Miss Bloxam?" inquired Lionel Beauchamp, who was sitting with Blanche on the other side of the marquee.
"Yes, Jim is fast and has won several 'gentlemen's' races. I don't want to brag, Mr. Beauchamp, but we Bloxams are all pretty good at those sort of things, and of course that's all as it should be with my brothers; but with us girls I don't know that it works quite so well. We can all dance, but we can none of us draw. We all play lawn tennis pretty well, but we can't play the piano; can all ride an awkward horse, but can neither sing a note in Italian nor any other language. And you—are you fond of any of these things? It is so difficult to tell what a man likes in London."
"Yes," rejoined Beauchamp, "in the London world we are wont to rave about matters we really don't care a rush about, to affect aesthetic tastes which we have not got, and the pretension to which entraps us into much foolish speaking. We go to all sorts of entertainments we don't care about, simply because other people go. You must not betray me, Miss Bloxam, but I declare I think one passes no pleasanter afternoon in London than when witnessing a good match at Lord's with a pleasant party on a warm day."
"Ah, we are all cricketers down here in Fernshire, boys and girls, men and women; we believe we invented the game, and in the old days stood pre-eminent in it. However, we now number so many disciples, and they have profited so much by our teaching that we are like the old man who,
"'To teach his grandson draughts then his leisure did employ, Until at last the old man was beaten by the boy.'"
"Well, we must hope the old county is not going to be beaten this afternoon; for I take it your brother represents Fernshire, and Montague England, and the race by all accounts is reduced pretty well to a match between them. But see, there go the competitors!" and Beauchamp pointed to five men who, with overcoats thrown loosely over their flannels, were making their way down to the quarter-mile starting-post.
In spite of their reputation of being swift-footed, Montague and Bloxam found three other competitors bent on testing whether they really were as fast over a quarter of a mile as rumour credited them: men of the stamp always to be found in the army, who do not believe they are to be beaten till they have had actual experience of it, and who are wont to be a little incredulous even then about their conqueror's ability to repeat his victory. As one of these philosophers remarked, "Montague means running in the hurdle race; there is always a possibility of his breaking or straining something in that, and so being hors de combat for the Cup." However, Mr. Montague had won that race without damage to himself, and was evidently perfectly fit to take part in the fray. There is some slight delay at the start, owing to the praiseworthy but mistaken attempts of a gentleman in a dark blue jersey to get off somewhat in advance of his companions—an undue eagerness which, having resulted in his twice jumping off before the word, terminates in his getting two or three yards the worst of the start when the word "go" is finally given. A green and white jersey dashes to the front, and assuming a longish lead, brings them along at a great pace. Next come the all white of Jim Bloxam and the pink of Montague running side by side and eyeing each other closely. They take but little heed of their leader, as they know very well that he can never last the quarter of a mile at the pace that he is going. As they anticipated, the green and white champion is in difficulties before they have travelled half-way, and the two favourites come on side by side. They are as nearly level as possible, but, if anything, the pink jersey has a slight advantage. The conviction is gradually stealing over Jim that his opponent has a little the speed of him; his only chance, he thinks, is that his adversary may not quite "stay" home. The marquee of the —th regiment, of which the Todborough party are the guests, is close to the winning-post, and as the competitors near it the excitement becomes intense. Just opposite it, and not thirty yards from the winning-post, Montague makes his effort, and for a second shows a good yard in advance; but Jim instantly replies to the challenge and partially closes the gap. But it is all of no use:—though he struggles with unflinching pluck he can never quite get up, and the judge's fiat is in favour of the pink jersey by half a yard.
"A terrible result that, Mrs. Sartoris," said Conyers, when the judge's decision was made known: "not only have we lost our money, but there will be no holding Montague at all now he has lowered the colours of the Aldershot champion."
"Well," replied the lady, "I don't think Mr. Montague can crow much over his victory."
"No, indeed!" chimed in Sylla Chipchase; "Captain Bloxam struggled splendidly, and Mr. Montague had nothing in hand if I know anything about it."
"Ah, you don't know the man," replied Conyers. "The closeness of the contest will not prevent his talking very big about his victory."
"Now that reminds me of a serious omission on your part, Captain Conyers; remember we have not yet been introduced to the hero of the hour, and you know what hero-worshippers our sex are."
"That's an omission easily rectified, Miss Chipchase, for here come the two antagonists. And as he spoke Jim and his conqueror came up to the marquee.
"Ah, Miss Sylla," exclaimed the dragoon gaily, "I am afraid I have disappointed all Todborough; I did my level best, but it was of no use. Montague here is just a little too good for me. Allow me to introduce him to you."
"You must not expect very warm congratulations from us Todborough people, Mr. Montague. As you may easily suppose, both our money and our sympathies were with Captain Bloxam."
"That would naturally be the case," replied the young officer; "and I am myself indebted to Bloxam's putting in an appearance for a victory worth winning. I should have beaten my other opponents without much difficulty."
"Yes, indeed," replied Sylla, "we fell into what you military men call the weakness of underrating our opponent. We did not half believe in your prowess, Mr. Montague."
"I can only hope that I have convinced you now," he rejoined, smiling; "and that another time you will range yourself amongst my supporters."
"Oh, I don't know," replied the young lady, with a slight shrug of her shoulders. "We are obstinate in our convictions at Todborough, are we not, Lady Mary? We still think we can beat Rockcliffe Camp over a quarter of a mile."
Those around her were listening with no little interest to Sylla Chipchase's badinage. Pansey Cottrell, who knew the girl better than the others, felt pretty sure, from the mischief dancing in her eyes, that this was not mere idle talk, and awaited the disclosure of her design with considerable curiosity; while Lady Mary, although putting Sylla down as the most audacious little piece of sauciness she had ever come across, showed no little admiration for the stanchness with which the girl stood to her guns in thus upholding their defeated champion.
"No doubt, Miss Chipchase," replied Montague, "a race is sometimes reversed when run over again, but you must excuse my clinging to the conviction that what I have once done I can also do again."
"Ah, well," replied the young lady, with an air of mock resignation; "I told you Todborough fell into the error of underrating the enemy, and Todborough has paid the penalty of defeat. Had we deemed you so swift of foot, Mr. Montague, we should certainly have entered the best runner we had against you."
Sylla's auditors were now thoroughly nonplussed. What could the girl be driving at? Mr. Cottrell's curiosity was raised to the highest pitch, whilst Jim Bloxam stared at the fair speaker with undisguised astonishment. He most certainly deemed that he was fleeter of foot than any one in Todborough, and, having lived there all his life, Jim was not likely to fall into any mistake on that point.
"With the greatest deference for your opinion," rejoined Montague, "I think, perhaps, we men are better judges on that point than you can be, Miss Chipchase. I think, if you ask Bloxam, he will tell you that he not only can beat everybody at Todborough, but, with the exception of professionals, can dispose of most men that he comes across."
"That is so like you lords of the creation," replied Sylla, with a wicked little laugh; "you never will allow that we know anything about sporting affairs; and yet I have heard my father say that the best judge of racing he ever knew was a woman, and I am sure some of us take the best of you to keep with us in the hunting-field. I have no doubt that Captain Bloxam thinks, as you do, that there is nobody that can beat him at Todborough."
"I most undoubtedly don't know it if there is," interposed Jim.
"And yet, Mr. Montague," continued Sylla, "if you had not run such a severe race to-day, I would challenge you to beat my champion over the same course."
"Oh, pray don't let that be any consideration," replied Montague, now somewhat nettled. He had felt no little elated at defeating Bloxam, and did not relish any disparagement of his victory. "Running a quarter-mile race," he continued, "does not place one hors de combat for the afternoon."
"Ah, well," cried Sylla gaily, "I told you Todborough was stubborn to believe itself beaten. If you dare, I'll wager my bracelet"—and she touched a very handsome bangle on her wrist—"against the cup you have just won that my champion beats you this afternoon."
"It shall be a match if you wish it. I can merely say I have beaten the only man I considered dangerous, and am afraid of none other. Don't blame me if I rob you of your bracelet; but remember, Miss Chipchase, this match was none of my seeking. However, your champion is on the ground, I presume; perhaps, now, you don't mind naming him."
"Not at all," she replied. "Will somebody please tell Lionel Beauchamp I want him?"
"Lionel Beauchamp!" ejaculated Jim, and then he shook his head; for he regarded Sylla's proceedings now as mere temper.
To the bystanders, of course, the name of Lionel Beauchamp told nothing. He was a stranger to all except the Todborough party. His name had never been heard of in connection with athletic sports in any way. Lionel Beauchamp, in fact, was a young man who, what between taking a degree at Oxford and foreign travel, had scarcely is yet been either seen or heard of in the London world. He was known only in his own country as one of those quiet reserved dispositions little given to vaunt their accomplishments. Both Braybrooke and Jim Bloxam, having been appealed to by Captain Conyers, said they could form no idea whatever of his capabilities. They had never heard him say a word about running; and if he ever had done anything in that way, it was odd that he had never mentioned it in the smoking-room last night, when, in consequence of Jim's entry for the "All Army Cup," discussion had run high concerning such things. Lady Mary, on her part, was lost in conjecture—not so much as to whether Mr. Beauchamp could run, but as to where Sylla Chipchase could have attained such intimate knowledge of his accomplishments; while Mr. Cottrell alone showed faith in this unknown champion, observing cynically to Mrs. Sartoris, that when women went the length of wagering their bracelets, he thought it most advisable to be upon their side.
"They really must know they have an immense deal the best of it when they do that, depend upon it." Further speculation on the match was here interrupted by the appearance of Lionel Beauchamp, whom Mr. Sartoris had duly fetched from the other side of the marquee, where he had discovered him—what Lady Mary would have called—profitably employing himself by the side of Miss Bloxam.
"Oh, Lionel!" exclaimed Sylla, and to Mr. Cottrell's intense amusement she stole a glance at Lady Mary to see how she liked this familiar address, "I have sent for you to preserve me from the fruits of my rashness. If you don't beat Mr. Montague for me over a quarter of a mile, I shall have to go home without my bracelet."
"But I am sure," interrupted Beauchamp, "that Mr. Montague has no wish to hold you to so foolish a wager."
"Certainly not," interposed Montague; "I have no wish whatever to press it. The match, I assure you, is of Miss Chipchase's making, not mine."
"Ah, well, then," exclaimed Sylla, "perhaps it is my obstinacy, not my rashness. I can be obstinate, you know, Lionel; but you will run for me all the same, won't you?"
"I think it a very foolish wager," he replied, "and that you will probably lose your bracelet; but I cannot say no if you insist upon it, and must only do my best."
"You must run," she replied, quickly. "I could not be so cowardly as to 'cry off' now. You must run, and you will win, I feel. Nobody here believes it but me; but I know it." Then, leaning towards him, she said, with a light laugh, and in tones so low that the others could not overhear her words, "Lose if you dare, sir!"
Blanche Bloxam, who had come up with Mr. Sartoris and Beauchamp, was no better pleased than her mother at hearing her late cavalier so familiarly addressed by such an extremely pretty girl as Sylla Chipchase. As for Lionel, he turned away in a quiet matter-of-fact manner, and said,
"I suppose somebody here can lend me a pair of shoes; and as soon as I have fitted myself out with those, I am at your disposal, Mr. Montague, whenever you like."
Any amount of cricket and racket-shoes were speedily placed at Beauchamp's disposal; and Montague having said that he should be prepared to try conclusions with the new-comer in half an hour, the match at once became the subject of animated discussion. But if the Engineer had been favourite before, he was still more so now. With all the prestige of having beaten the Aldershot champion, it was but natural that the camp should proffer liberal odds on their "crack" against an unknown man, and the stanchest adherents of Todborough stood aloof, with the exception of Mr. Cottrel, and his faith, to speak correctly, was the result of his belief in Sylla Chipchase.
"Won't you wish me luck, Miss Bloxam?" said Lionel, quietly, as the bugle summoned the competitors in the match to the starting-post.
"Certainly, with all my heart," rejoined Blanche. "All our sympathies are of course with you. But do you think you can win?"
"I really don't know. If it was only a mile, Montague would find me troublesome to get rid of; but this is hardly far enough for me."
The "novice," as the camp with much promptitude christened him, was keenly scanned when, having divested himself of his coat, he appeared at the post. A slight, dark, wiry young fellow, with a terrible wear-and-tear look about him that should make an antagonist judge him difficult to dispose of in a struggle of any duration. There was no delay this time about the start; for the two jumped off at the first attempt, Montague having decidedly somewhat the best of it. By the time they had gone a hundred yards the Engineer felt sure that he had the speed of his opponent, and then, sad to say for his supporters, he fell into the very error which Sylla Chipchase had so deprecated, viz., holding his antagonist too cheap. Mr. Montague's vanity had been considerably wounded by that young lady's disbelief in his prowess. She had contrived, as she had most assuredly intended, to irritate him by her persistent scepticism as to his being the swift-footed Achilles he so loved to pose as. He determined to show her and all other unbelievers what he could really do. He would make a veritable exhibition of his antagonist. He would cut him down and run clean away from him. Fired with this idea, he shot well to the front, and came along the next hundred yards at a great pace, and a shout went up from the marquees near the winning-post of "Montague wins anyhow!" But we all know what comes of the attempt to astonish the gallery. Although the Engineer had undoubtedly established a strong lead, yet his wiry foe, running well within himself, hung persistently on his track, and was a long way from beaten off. During the next hundred yards it was palpable that Beauchamp was slowly but steadily diminishing the gap between them, and thence up to the marquees he closed rapidly on his leader. Thirty yards from the winning-post Lionel made his effort, fairly collared his antagonist about ten yards from home, and, leaving him without an effort, won a good race by a couple of yards. Whether the result would have been different had Mr. Montague held his opponent in higher esteem, as in all such cases, it is impossible to determine; but there can be no doubt that the ostentatious victory he aspired to made Lionel Beauchamp's task considerably more easy.
Gratulations and condolences welcomed the victor and vanquished as they walked slowly back to the marquees; but it was with somewhat of a crestfallen air that Montague advanced to present Sylla with the cup that she had won. He feared that she would be merciless in this her hour of triumph, and dreaded the banter to which he might be subjected. But Sylla knew well the virtue of moderation, and was, besides, far too pleased with her success to be hard upon any one.
"No, no, Mr. Montague!" she exclaimed, with the sunniest of smiles; "I cannot take it; I cannot, indeed. I am not entitled to it, for my champion is not even a soldier. I know without Lionel telling me that I have been very lucky to save my bracelet. I am well content to leave my cup in your hands, for I feel quite sure that you will keep it for me against all comers."
But if Sylla Chipchase was content, Lady Mary Bloxam was very much the reverse. Mr. Beauchamp's victory had gratified her, it was true; but then how came this sparkling brunette not only to call him "Lionel," but apparently to know all his habits and capabilities? She felt, too, exceedingly wroth at the manner in which Sylla had unexpectedly usurped the position of queen of the revels, and again determined that she would see as little as possible of the Chipchase girls as long as their cousin was with them.
AN EXCURSION TO TROTBURY.
That there is nothing succeeds like success, is an axiom most profoundly believed in by women. The sex have a natural tendency to hero-worship, and can you but snatch the laurel-leaf, you will ever count plenty of admirers among them. In the drawing-room at Todborough that evening the victor of the afternoon was quite the hero of the occasion; but we may be sure that in the course of the conversation the race provoked, Lady Mary did not neglect to ascertain how it was that Lionel had become on such a familiar footing with Sylla Chipchase. That young lady having dropped the mask, of course Beauchamp made no mystery of the fact that they lived close to each other and had been friends from childhood. Lady Mary was by no means gratified by this discovery. She foresaw that Lionel must necessarily be thrown much into the society of one whom, with all her prejudice, she could not but admit was a most attractive girl; and she reflected that young men at times discover that the little-thought-of playmates of their childhood have grown up wondrous fair to look upon. Blanche's curiosity, too, was also much exercised on this subject, and young ladies, in their own artless fashion, can cross-examine in such cases as adroitly as a Queen's Counsel. On one point there was much unanimity, namely, that it was a great triumph for the Grange, and most satisfactory that Jim Bloxam's defeat should have been so speedily avenged.
In the tobacco parliament, held as usual after the ladies had retired, the race was again discussed, but from its more professional aspect.
"In these hard times," exclaimed Jim, "we cannot allow such a formidable amateur to be idle. We shall have to christen you the 'Suffolk Stag,' Beauchamp, enter you at Lillie Bridge, and keep on matching you at the Orleans Club, Hurlingham, and in the vicinity of the metropolis generally. There is only one thing puzzles me: while we were all talking pedestrianism the other evening, you never gave us a hint of your powers. You and Miss Sylla could not surely have already arranged the successful coup of this afternoon?"
Pansey Cottrell listened somewhat curiously for Lionel's reply. He did not think exactly that the pair were confederates, but he most assuredly suspected that the little comedy had been most deliberately planned by the young lady, though not perhaps intended to have been played had Jim Bloxam proved successful; but he called to mind the dexterity with which she had led up to the wager, and thought of the many rash bets which he had seen the esquires of fair women goaded into by their charges at Sandown, Ascot, and the like.
"Certainly not," replied Beauchamp, "I knew nothing about it till I was called upon to run. If I had, I should have protested strongly; but it was too late when I was consulted—there was nothing for it but to save her bracelet if I could."
"Well, all I can say," returned Jim, "is that the lady is a much better judge of your capabilities than you are yourself; though how she got her knowledge I own I am at a loss to determine."
"Well," said Lionel, as he ejected a thin cloud of smoke from his lips, "I can explain that to you. I was the quickest in my time at Harrow, and Sylla Chipchase knows that, as well as that when I was out in North America after the big game I could hold my own with any of the Indian hunters of our party; but I never contended against any amateur runners at home here. I should think, Bloxam, your opinion is the same as my own about this afternoon. Montague would, I fancy, have beaten me if he hadn't tried to cut me down; over double the distance I have no doubt I should always beat him."
"It might have made a difference," returned Jim; "but I should back you all the same if it were to be run over again."
"By the way, Bloxam," observed Mr. Sartoris, as he busied himself in opening a bottle of seltzer-water, "now I am down here I must see Trotbury Cathedral. I suppose it's easy enough to slip over by rail from Commonstone."
"Oh dear, yes," replied Jim; "but hang it, that's an idea! We'll do ever so much better than that, we'll organize a big ride-and-drive party there; as many of us as can will ride, and the remainder must travel on wheels. We will have every available horse out of the stables to-morrow, go over to Trotbury, lunch at "The Sweet Waters," do the cathedral and place generally in the afternoon, and get back in time for dinner. It'll make a capital day,—suit everybody down to the ground."
"That would be very charming, and it is extremely good of you to suggest it; but, my dear Bloxam, I didn't quite mean that. Lady Mary has very likely made other arrangements, and of course I don't want to interfere with those. I can slip over by myself——"