GEORGE A. LAWRENCE.
ICH HABE GELEBT UND GELIEBT.
NEW YORK: HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS, FRANKLIN SQUARE. 1868.
"Neque imbellem feroces Progenerant aquilae columbam."
It is not a pleasant epoch in one's life, the first forty-eight hours at a large public school. I have known strong-minded men of mature age confess that they never thought of it without a shiver. I don't count the home-sickness, which perhaps only affects seriously the most innocent of debutants, but there are other thousand and one little annoyances which make up a great trouble. If there were nothing else, for instance, the unceasing query, "What's your name?" makes you feel the possession of a cognomen at all a serious burden and bar to advancement in life.
A dull afternoon toward the end of October; the sky a neutral tint of ashy gray; a bitter northeast wind tearing down the yellow leaves from the old elms that girdle the school-close of ——; a foul, clinging paste of mud and trampled grass-blades under foot, that chilled you to the marrow; a mob of two hundred lower boys, vicious with cold and the enforcement of keeping goal through the first football match of the season—in the midst, I, who speak to you, feeling myself in an eminently false position—there's the mise en scene.
My small persecutors had surrounded me, but had hardly time to settle well to their work, when one of the players came by, and stopped for an instant to see what was going on. The match had not yet begun.
There was nothing which interested him much apparently, for he was passing on, when my despondent answer to the everlasting question caught his ear. He turned round then—
"Any relation to Hammond of Holt?"
I replied, meekly but rather more cheerfully, that he was my uncle.
"I know him very well," the new-comer said. "Don't bully him more than you can help, you fellows; I'll wait for you after calling over, Hammond. I should like to ask you about the squire."
He had no time to say more, for just then the ball was kicked off, and the battle began. I saw him afterward often during that afternoon, always in the front of the rush or the thick of the scrimmage, and I saw, too, more than one player limp out of his path disconsolately, trying vainly to dissemble the pain of a vicious "hack."
I'll try to sketch Guy Livingstone as he appeared to me then, at our first meeting.
He was about fifteen, but looked fully a year older, not only from his height, but from a disproportionate length of limb and development of muscle, which ripened later into the rarest union of activity and strength that I have ever known. His features were very dark and pale, too strongly marked to be called handsome; about the lips and lower jaw especially there was a set sternness that one seldom sees before the beard is grown. The eyes were very dark gray, nearly black, and so deeply set under the thick eyebrows that they looked smaller than they really were; and I remember, even at that early age, their expression, when angered, was any thing but pleasant to meet. His dress was well adapted for displaying his deep square chest and sinewy arms—a close-fitting jersey, and white trowsers girt by a broad black belt; the cap, orange velvet, fronted with a silver Maltese cross.
The few words he had spoken worked an immediate change in my favor. I heard one of my tormentors say, not without awe, "The Count knows his people at home;" and they not only left me in peace, but, a little later, some of them began to tell me of a recent exploit of Guy's, which had raised him high in their simple hero-worship, and which, I dare say, is still enumerated among the feats of the brave days of old by the fags over their evening small-beer.
To appreciate it, you must understand that the highest form in the school—the sixth—were regarded by the fags and other subordinate classes with an inexpressible reverence and terror. They were considered as exempt from the common frailties of schoolboy nature: no one ventured to fix a limit to their power. Like the gods of the Lotus-eater, they lay beside their nectar, rarely communing with ordinary mortals except to give an order or set a punishment. On the form immediately below them part of their glory was reflected; these were a sort of hemitheoi, awaiting their translation into the higher Olympus of perfected omnipotence.
In this intermediate state flourished, at the time I speak of, one Joseph Baines, a fat, small-eyed youth, with immense pendent pallid cheeks, rejoicing in the sobriquet of "Buttons," his father being eminent in that line in the Midland Metropolis. The son was Brummagem to the back-bone. He was intensely stupid; but, having been a fixture at —— beyond the memory of the oldest inhabitant, he had slowly gravitated on into his present position, on the old Ring principle, "weight must tell." I believe he had been bullied continuously for many years, and now, with a dull, pertinacious malignity, was biding his time, intending, on his accession to power, to inflict full reprisals on those below him; or, in his own expressive language, "to take it out of 'em, like smoke." He was keeping his hand in by the perpetration of small tyrannies on all whom he was not afraid to meddle with; but hitherto, from a lingering suspicion, perhaps, that it was not quite safe, he had never annoyed Livingstone.
It was on a Saturday night, the hebdomadal Saturnalia, when the week's work was over, and no one had any thing to do; the heart of Joseph was jocund with pork chops and mulled beer, and, his evil genius tempting him, he proposed to three of his intimates "to go and give the Count a turn." Nearly every one had a nickname, and this had been given to Guy, partly, I think, from his haughty demeanor, partly from a prevalent idea that this German dignity was dormant somewhere in his family. When the quartette entered, Guy knew perfectly what they came for, but he sat quite still and silent, while two of them held him down by the arms in his chair.
"I think you'd look very well with a cross on, Count," Baines said, "so keep steady while we decorate you."
As he spoke he was mixing up a paste with tallow and candle-snuff, and, when it was ready, came near to daub the cross on Livingstone's forehead.
The two who held him had been quite deceived by his unexpected tranquillity, and had somewhat relaxed their gripe as they leaned forward to witness the operation; but the fourth, standing idle, saw all at once the pupils of his eyes contract, and his lips set so ominously, that the words were in his mouth, "Hold him fast!" when Guy, exerting the full force of his arms, shook himself clear, and grasping a brass-candlestick within his reach, struck the executioner straight between the eyes. The effort of freeing himself to some extent broke the force of the blow, or the great Baines dynasty might have ended there and then; as it was, Buttons fell like a log, and, rolling once over on his face, lay there bleeding and motionless.
While the assistants were too much astounded to detain him, Guy walked out without a glance at his prostrate enemy; and going straight to the head of the house, told him what had happened. The character of the aggressor was so well known, that, when they found he was not seriously hurt, they let Guy off easy with "two books of the Iliad to write out in Greek." Buttons kept the sick-room for ten days, and came out looking more pasty than ever, with his pleasant propensities decidedly checked for the time.
In his parish church at Birmingham, two tons of marble weighing him down, the old button-maker sleeps with his father (to pluralize his ancestors would be a grave historical error), and Joseph II. reigns in his stead, exercising, I doubt not, over his factory-people the same ingenuity of torture which in old times nearly drove the fags to rebellion. He is a Demosthenes, they say, at vestries, and a Draco at the Board of Guardians; but in the centre of his broad face, marring the platitude of its smooth-shaven respectability, still burns angrily a dark red scar—Guy's sign-manual—which he will carry to his grave.
The exultation of the lower school over this exploit was boundless. Fifty energetic admirers contended for the honor of writing out the punishment inflicted on the avenger; and one sentimentalist, just in Herodotus, preserved the fatal candlestick as an inestimable relic, wreathing its stem with laurel and myrtle, in imitation of the honors paid by Athens to the sword that slew the Pisistratid.
"My only books Were woman's looks, And folly all they taught me."
The Count bore his honors very calmly, though every week some fresh feat of bodily strength or daring kept adding to his popularity. It was no slight temptation to his vanity; for, as some one has said truly, no successful adventurer in after-life ever wins such undivided admiration and hearty partisans as a school hero. The prestige of the liberator among the Irish peasantry comes nearest to it, I think; or the feeling of a clan, a hundred years ago, toward their chief. It must be very pleasant to be quoted so incessantly and believed in so implicitly, and to know that your decisions are so absolutely without appeal. From that first day when he interfered in my favor, Guy never ceased to accord me the aegis of his protection, and it served me well; for, then as now, I was strong neither in body nor nerve. Yet our tastes, save in one respect, were as dissimilar as can be imagined. The solitary conformity was, that we were both, in a desultory way, fond of reading, and our favorite books were the same. Neither would do more school-work than was absolutely necessary, but at light literature of a certain class we read hard.
I don't think Guy's was what is usually called a poetical temperament, for his taste in this line was quite one-sided. He was no admirer of the picturesque, certainly. I have heard him say that his idea of a country to live in was where there was no hill steep enough to wind a horse in good condition, and no wood that hounds could not run through in fifteen minutes; therein following the fancy of that eminent French philosopher, who, being invited to climb Ben Lomond to enjoy the most magnificent of views, responded meekly, "Aimez-vous les beautes de la Nature? Pour moi, je les abhorre." Can you not fancy the strident emphasis on the last syllable, revealing how often the poor materialist had been victimized before he made a stand at last?
All through Livingstone's life the real was to predominate over the ideal; and so it was at this period of it. He had a great dislike to purely sentimental or descriptive poetry, preferring to all others those battle-ballads, like the Lays of Rome, which stir the blood like a trumpet, or those love-songs which heat it like rough strong wine.
He was very fond of Homer, too. He liked the diapason of those sonorous hexameters, that roll on, sinking and swelling with the ebb and flow of a stormy sea. I hear his voice—deep-toned and powerful even at that early age—finishing the story of Poseidon and his beautiful prize—their bridal-bed laid in the hollow of a curling wave—
"Porphureon d' ara kuma peristathe, ourei ison, Kurtothen, krupsen de Theon thneten te gunaika."
And yet they say that the glorious old Sciote was a myth, and the Odyssey a magazine worked out by clever contributors. They might as well assert that all his marshals would have made up one Napoleon.
I remember how we used to pass in review the beauties of old time, for whom "many drew swords and died," whose charms convulsed kingdoms and ruined cities, who called the stars after their own names.
Ah! Gyneth and Ida, peerless queens of beauty, it was exciting, doubtless, to gaze down from your velveted gallery on the mad tilting below, to see ever and anon through the yellow dust a kind, handsome face looking up at you, pale but scarcely reproachful, just before the horse-hoofs trod it down; ah! fairest Ninons and Dianas—prizes that, like the Whip at Newmarket, were always to be challenged for—you were proud when your reckless lover came to woo, with the blood of last night's favorite not dry on his blade; but what were your fatal honors compared to those of a reigning toast in the rough, ancient days? The demigods and heroes that were suitors did not stand upon trifles, and the contest often ended in the extermination of all the lady's male relatives to the third and fourth generation. People then took it quite as a matter of course—rather a credit to the family than otherwise.
Guy and I discussed, often and gravely, the relative merits of Evadne the violet-haired, Helen, Cleopatra, and a hundred others, just as, on the steps of White's, or in the smoking-room at the "Rag," men compare the points of the debutantes of the season.
His knowledge of feminine psychology—it must have been theoretical, for he was not seventeen—implied a study and depth of research that was quite surprising; but I am bound to state that his estimate of the strength of character and principle inherent in the weaker sex was any thing but high; nearly, indeed, identical with that formed by the learned lady who, to the question, "Did she think the virtue of any single one of her sisterhood impregnable?" replied "C'est selon." He often used to astonish my weak mind by his observations on this head. I did not know till afterward that Sir Henry Fallowfield, the Bassompierre of his day, came for the Christmas pheasant-shooting every year into Guy's neighborhood, and that he had already imbibed lessons of questionable morality, sitting at the gouty feet of that evil Gamaliel.
He spoke of and to women of every class readily whenever he got the chance, always with perfect aplomb and self-possession; and I have heard older men remark since, that in him it did not appear the precocity of "the rising generation," but rather the confidence of one who knew his subject well. Perhaps the fact of his father having died when he was an infant, and his having always been suzerain among his women at home, may have had something to do with this. An absurd instance of what I have been saying happened just before Guy left.
By time-honored custom, four or five of the Sixth were invited every week to dine with the head master. They were not, strictly speaking, convivial, those solemn banquets; where the host was condescendingly affable, and his guests cheerful, as it were, under protest; resembling somewhat the entertainments in the captain's cabin, where the chief is unpopular.
Our Archididascalus was a kind-hearted, honest man, albeit, by virtue of his office, somewhat strict and stern. You could read the Categories in the wrinkles of his colorless face, and contested passages of Thucydides in the crows'-feet round his eyes. The everlasting grind at the educational tread-mill had worn away all he might once have had of imagination; he translated with precisely the same intonations the Tusculan Disputations and—Eros anikate machan.
He had lately taken to himself a wife, his junior by a score of years. The academic atmosphere had not had time then to freeze her into the dignity befitting her position; when I met her ten years later, she was steady and staid enough, poor thing, to have been the wife of Grotius.
Guy sat next to her that evening, and before the first course was over a decided flirtation was established. The pretty hostess, albeit wife of a doctor and daughter of a dean, had evidently a strong coquettish element in her composition, and a very slight spark was sufficient to relight the veteris vestigia flammae.
For some time her husband did not seem to realize the position; but gradually his sentences grew rare and curt; he opened his mouth, no longer to let fall the pearls of his wisdom, but to stop it with savory meat; finally this last resource failed, and he sat, looking wrathfully but helplessly on the proceedings at the other end of the table—a lamentable instance of prostrated ecclesiastical dignity. His disgust, however, was far exceeded by the horror of one of the party, a meek, cadaverous-looking boy, whose parents lived in the town, and who was wont to regard the head master as the vicegerent of all powers, civil and sacerdotal—I am not sure he did not include military as well. I caught him looking several times at the door and the ceiling with a pale, guilty face, as if he expected some immediate visitation to punish the sacrilege. However, heaven, which did not interrupt the feast of Atreus or of Tereus (till the dessert), allowed us to finish our dinner in peace. During the interval when we sat alone over his claret, our host revived a little; but utterly relapsed in the drawing-room, where things went on worse than ever. Guy leaned over the fair Penelope (such was her classical and not inappropriate name) while she was singing, and over her sofa afterward, evidently considering himself her legitimate proprietor for the time, and regarding the husband, as he hovered round them, in the light of an unauthorized intruder. The latter would have given any thing, once or twice, to have interfered, I am sure; but, apart from, the extreme ridicule of the thing, he was in his own house, and as hospitable as Saladin.
It was a great scene, when, at parting, she gave Guy the camellia that she wore at her breast; the doctor gasped thrice convulsively and said no word; but I wonder how she accounted afterward for the smile and blush which answered some whispered thanks? There are certain limits that even the historian dares not transgress; a veil falls between the profane and the thalamus of an LL.D.; but I rather imagine she had a hard time of it that night, the poor little woman! Let us hope, in charity, that she held her own.
When the Count was questioned as to the conversation that had passed, he declined to give any particulars, merely remarking that "he had to thank Dr. —— for for a very pleasant evening, and he hoped everyone had enjoyed themselves very much"—which was philanthropic, to say the least of it.
I don't know if it was our imagination, but we fancied that when the head master called up Livingstone in form after this, he did so with an air of grave defiance, such as a duelist of the Old Regime may have worn when, doffing his plumed hat, he said to his adversary, "En garde!"
There was little time to make observations, for shortly afterward Guy went up to Oxford, whither, six months later, I followed him.
"Through many an hour of summer suns, By many pleasant ways, Like Hezekiah's, backward runs The shadow of my days."
When I came up, I found Guy quite established and at home. He was a general favorite with all the men he knew at college, though intimate with but very few. There was but one individual who hated him thoroughly, and I think the feeling was mutual—the senior tutor, a flaccid being, with a hand that felt like a fish two days out of water, a large nose, and a perpetual cold in his head. He consistently and impartially disbelieved every one on their word, requiring material proof of each assertion; an original mode of acquiring the confidence of his pupils, and precluding any thing like an attempt at deception on their part. I remember well a discussion on his merits that took place in the porter's lodge one night just after twelve. When several had given their opinions more or less strongly, some one asked the gate-ward what he thought of the individual in question, to which that eminent functionary thus replied: "Why, you see, sir, I'm only a servant, and, as such, can't speak freely, but I wish he was dead, I do."
As I have said, Livingstone disliked Selkirk heartily, and did not take the trouble to conceal it. He used to look at him sometimes with a curious expression in his eyes, which made the tutor twirl and writhe uncomfortably in his chair. The latter annoyed him as much as he possibly could, but Guy held on the even tenor of his way, seldom contravening the statutes except in hunting three days a week, which he persisted in doing, all lectures and regulations notwithstanding. He rode little under fourteen stone even then; but the three horses he kept were well up to his weight, and he stood A 1 in Jem Hill's estimation as "the best heavy-weight that had come out of Oxford for many a day;" for he not only went straight as a die, but rode to hounds instead of over them. I suppose this latter practice is inherent in University sportsmen. I know, in my time, the way in which they pressed on hounds, for the first two fields out of cover or after a check, used to make the gray hairs, which were the brave old huntsman's crown of glory, stand on end with indignation and terror, so that he prayed devoutly for a big fence which, like the broken bridge at Leipsic, might prove a stopper to the pursuing army. There was the making of a good rider in many of them, too; they only wanted ballast, for they knew no more of fear than Nelson did, and would grind over the Vale of the Evenlode and the Marsh Gibbon double timber as gayly and undauntedly as over the accommodating Bullingdon hurdles. And what screws they rode! ancient animals bearing as many scars as a vieux de la vieille, that were considered short of work if they did not come out five days a fortnight. This was Guy's favorite pursuit; but he threw off the superfluity of his animal energies in all sorts of athletics: in sparring especially he attained a rare excellence; so well-known was it, indeed, that he passed his first year without striking a blow in anger, through default of an antagonist, except a chance one or two exchanged in the melee which is imperative on the 5th of November.
I did not hunt much myself, for my health was far from strong, and, I confess, my University recollections are not lively.
After the first flush of novelty had worn off, they bored one intensely—those large wines and suppers where, night by night, a score of Nephelegeretae sat shrouded in smoke, chanting the same equivocal ditties, drinking the same fiery liquors miscalled the juice of the grape, villainous enough to make the patriarch that planted the vine stir remorsefully in his grave under Ararat—each man all the while talking "shop," a l'outrance. The skeleton of ennui sat at these dreary feasts; and it was not even crowned with roses. I often used to wonder what the majority of my contemporaries conversed about, when in the bosom of their families, during the "long." They couldn't always have been inflicting Oxford on their miserable relatives; the weakest of human natures would have revolted against such tyranny; and yet the horizon of their ideas seemed as utterly bounded by Bagley and Headington Hill as if the great ocean-stream had flowed outside those limits. Some adventurous spirits, it is true, stretched away as far as Woodstock and Abingdon, but I doubt if they returned much improved by the grand tour.
One of their most remarkable characteristics was the invincible terror and repugnance that they appeared to entertain to the society of women of their own class. When the visitation was inevitable, it is impossible to describe the great horror that fell on these unfortunate boys. The feeling of Zanoni's pupil, as the Watcher on the Threshold came floating and creeping toward him, was nothing to it.
For example, at Commemoration—to which festival "lions" from all quarters of the earth resorted in vast droves—when one of this class was hard hit by the charms of some fair stranger, he never thought of expressing his admiration otherwise than by piteous looks, directed at her from an immense distance, out of shot for an opera-glass; when in her immediate vicinity his motto was that of the Breton baron—mourir muet. Claret-cup flowed and Champagne sparkled, powerless to raise him to the audacity of an avowal. Under the woods of Nuneham, in the gardens of Blenheim, amid the crowd of the Commemoration ball, the same deep river of diffidence flowed between him and his happiness. My own idea is that, after all was over, the silent ones, like Jacques' stricken deer, used to "go weep" over chances lost and opportunities neglected. With waitresses at wayside inns, et id genus omne, they were tolerably self-possessed and reliant; though even there "a thousand might well be stopped by three," and I would have backed an intelligent barmaid against the field at odds; indeed, I think I have seen a security nearly allied to contempt on the fine features of a certain "lone star" as she parried—so easily!—the compliments and repartees of a dozen assailants at once, accounted, in their own quadrangles, Millamours of the darkest dye.
Guy accounted for this unfortunate peculiarity by saying that a cigar in the mouth was the normal state of many of these men; so that, when circumstances debarred them from the Havana courage, they lost all presence of mind, and, being unable to retreat under cover of the smoke, lapsed instantly into a sullen despair, suffering themselves to be shot down unresistingly. Perhaps some future philosopher will favor us with a better solution to this important problem in physics; I know of none.
After all, the reading men did best, though we did not think so then, when we saw them creeping into morning chapel jaded and heavy-eyed, after a debauch over Herodotus or the Stagyrite. They had a purpose in view, at all events, and, I believe, were placidly content during the progress of its attainment—in the seventh heaven when their hopes were crowned by a First, or even a Second. True; the pace was too good for some of the half-bred ones, and such as could not stand the training, who departed, to fade away rapidly in the old house at home, or to pine, slowly, but very surely, in remote curacies.
Some of these, I fancy, must have sympathized with Madame de Stael's consumptive niece, who answered to the question, "Why she was weeping all alone?" "Je me regrette." When, resting in their daily walk, shortened till it became a toil to reach the shady seat under the elms at the garden's end, they watched the stalwart plowmen and drovers go striding by, without a trouble behind their tanned foreheads except the thought that wages might fall a shilling a week, was there no envy, I wonder, as they looked down on the wan hands lying so listless across their knees? Would they not have given their First, and their fellowship in embryo to boot, to have had the morning appetite of Tom Chauntrell, the horse-breaker, after twelve pipes overnight, with gin and water to match, or to have been able, like Joe Springett, the under keeper, to breast the steepest brae in Cumberland with never a sob or a painful breath? Did they never murmur while thinking how brightly the blade might have flashed, how deftly have been wielded, if the worthless scabbard had only lasted out till, on some grand field-day, the word was given, "Draw swords?" Some felt this, doubtless; but the most part, I imagine, were possessed with a comfortable assurance that their short life had been useful, if not ornamental; and so, to a certain extent, they had their reward. At any rate, their ending was to the full as glorious as that of some other friends of ours, who crawl away from the battle-ground of the Viveurs to die, or to linger on helpless hypochondriacs.
If I have spoken depreciatingly or unfairly of the mass of my college coevals (and it may well be so), I do full justice, in thought at least, to some brilliant exceptions. I founded friendships there which, I trust, will outlive me.
I do not forget Warrenne, too good for the men he lived with, a David in our camp of Kedar—always going on straight in the path he thought right—though ever and anon his hot Irish blood would chafe fiercely under the curb self-imposed—and laboring incessantly, with all gentleness, to induce others to follow; a Launcelot in his devotion to womankind; a Galahad in purity of thought and purpose. I have never known a man of the world so single-hearted, or a saint with so much savoir vivre.
I see before me now Lovell, with his frank look and cheery laugh, the model of a stalwart English squirehood; and Petre, equal to either fortune; in reverse or success calm and impassible as Athos the mousquetaire; regarding money simply as a circulating medium, with the profoundest contempt for its actual value—se ruinant en prince. He edified us greatly, on one occasion, by meeting his justly offended father with a stern politeness, declining to hold any communication with him by word or letter till he (the sire) "could express himself in a more Christian spirit."
Then there was Barlowe, the pearl of gentlemen riders, the very apple of Charles Symond's eye; unspoiled by a hundred triumphs, and never degenerating into the professional, though I believe his idea of earthly felicity was,
A match for L50, 10 st. 7 lb. each. Owners up. Over 4 miles of a fair hunting country.
I see him, too, with his pleasant face, round, rosy, and beardless as a child-cherub of Rubens, tempting pale men with splitting heads to throw boots at him in the bitterness of their envy as he entered their rooms on the morning after a heavy drink, his eyes so clear and guileless that you would never guess how sharp they could be at times when a dangerous horse was coming up on his quarter. A strange compound his character was of cool calculation and sentimental simplicity. The most astute of trainers never got the better of him in making a match; and I am sure, to this day, he believes in ——'s poetry, and in the immutability of feminine affection.
How agreeable he was about the small hours, chirping over his grog; alternating between reminiscences of "My tutor's daughter" and recitals of choice morsels in verse and prose; misquoting, to the utter annihilation of rhythm and sense, but all with perfect gravity, good faith, and satisfaction!
Nec te, memorande, relinquam—true Tom Lynton! not clever, not even high-bred, but loved by every one for the honestest and kindest heart that ever was the kernel of a rough rind.
Do we not remember that supper where the Fathers of England were being discussed? Every one, drawn on by the current, had a stone to throw at his relieving officer, the complaint, of course, being a general tightness in the supplies. At last, Tom, who, though his own sire was an austere man, could not bear to hear the absent run down, broke in, gravely remonstrating,
"Well, gentlemen," he said, "remember they're our fellow-creatures, at all events."
They drank "Lynton and the Governors" with a compound multiplication of cheers.
I might mention more; but a face rises just now before me which makes me close the muster-roll—the face of one who united in himself many, very many of the best qualities of the others; of one whom I shrink from naming here, lest it should seem that I do so lightly—a face that I saw six hours before its features became set forever.
"De tot' anaschomeno, ho men elase dexion omon Iros, ho d' auchen' elassen hup' ouatos, ostea d' eiso Ethlasen; autika d' elthen ana stoma phoinion haima."
Toward the end of my second year an event came off in which we were all much interested—a steeplechase in which both Universities were to take part. The stakes were worth winning—twenty sovs. entrance, h.f., and a hundred sovs. added; besides, the esprit de corps was strong, and men backed their opinions pretty freely. The venue was fixed at B——; the time, the beginning of the Easter vacation.
The old town was crowded like Vanity Fair. There was a railway in progress near, and the navvies and other "roughs" came flocking in by hundreds, so that the municipal authorities, justly apprehensive of a row, concentrated the cohorts of their police, and swore in no end of specials as a reserve.
The great event came off duly, a fair instance of the "glorious uncertainty" which backers of horses execrate and ring-men adore. All the favorites were out of the race early. Our best man, Barlowe, the centre of many hopes, and carrying a heavy investment of Oxford money, was floored at the second double post-and-rail. The Cambridge cracks, too, by divers casualties, were soon disposed of. At the last fence, an Oxford man was leading by sixty yards; but it was his maiden race, and he lost his head when he found himself looking like a winner so near home. Instead of taking the stake-and-bound at the weakest place, he rode at the strongest; his horse swerved to the gap, took the fence sideways, and came down heavily into the ditch of the winning field. The representative of Cambridge, who came next, riding a good steady hunter, not fast, but safe at his fences, cantered in by himself. I remember he was so bewildered by his unexpected victory that one of his backers had to hold him fast in the saddle, or he would have dismounted before riding to scale, and so lost the stakes.
Well, the race was over and the laurels lost, so we had nothing to do but pay and look pleasant, and then adjourn to the inevitable banquet at "The George." There was little to distinguish the proceedings from the routine of such festivals. The winners stood Champagne, and the losers drank it—to any amount. The accidents of flood and field were discussed over and over again; and, I believe, every man of the twenty-three who had ridden that day could and did prove, to his own entire satisfaction, that he must have won but for some freak of fortune totally unavoidable, and defying human calculation.
About nine o'clock I went out with another man to get some fresh air, and something I wanted in the town. At the corner of every street there was a group of heavy, sullen faces, looking viciously ready for a row, while out of the windows of the frequent public houses gushed bursts of revelry hideously discordant, from the low-browed rooms where the wild Irish sat howling and wrangling over their liquor. However, we got what we wanted, and were returning, when, in a street on our left, we heard cries and a trampling of many feet. Two figures, looking like University men, passed us at speed, and, throwing something down before us, dived into an alley opposite, and were lost to sight. My companion picked up the object; and we had just time to make out that it was a bell-handle and name-plate, when the pursuers came up—six or seven "peelers" and specials, with a ruck of men and boys. We were collared on the instant. The fact of the property being found in our possession constituted a flagrans delictum—we were caught "red-handed." It was vain to argue that, had we been the delinquents, we should scarcely have been standing there still, awaiting discovery. The idea of arguing with a rural policeman, when, by a rare coincidence, popular feeling is with him! The mob regarded our capture, exulting like the Romans over Jugurtha in chains. It was decided "we were to go before the Inspector." We were placed in the centre of a phalanx of specials, each guarded by two regulars; and so the triumph, followed by a train that swelled at every turning, moved slowly along the Sacred Way toward the temple of the station-house, where the municipal Jupiter Capitolinus sat in his glory.
Before we had proceeded three hundred yards there was a shout from the crowd, "Look out! here come the 'Varsity!" and down a cross street leading from the inn, two hundred gownsmen, wild with wrath and wassail, came leaping to the rescue.
In the van of all I caught sight of two figures—one that I knew very well, towering, bareheaded, a hand's-breadth above the throng; the other, something below the middle height, but shaggy, vast-chested, and double-jointed as a red Highland steer—M'Diarmid of Trinity, glory of the Cambridge gymnasium, and "5" in the University eight. They were not shouting like the rest, but hitting out straight and remorselessly; and before those two strong Promachi, townsman and navvy, peeler and special, went down like blades of corn. Close at their shoulder I distinguished Lovell, his clear blue eyes lightening savagely; and stout Tom Lynton, a deeper flush on his honest face, hewing away with all the unscientific strength of his nervous arm.
But my two guards, very Abdiels in their duty, never let me go; on the contrary, one tightened his gripe on my throat suffocatingly, while the other, though I remained perfectly quiescent, kept giving me gentle hints to keep the peace with the end of his staff. I was getting sick and dizzy, when something passed my cheek like the wind of a ball; there was a dull, crashing sound close at my ear; the grasp on my neck relaxed all at once; I felt something across my feet, and saw a dark blue mass, topped by the ruin of a shiny hat, lying there quite still; an arm was round my waist like the coil of a cable, and I heard Guy's voice laughing loud,
"My dear Frank," he said, as he dragged me away toward the inn, "the centre of a row, as usual. Que, diable, allait il faire dans cette bagarre?"
I hardly heard him, for my senses were still confused; but in thirty seconds I was under the archway of "The George." As the heroines of the Radcliffe romances say, "I turned to thank my preserver, but he was gone."
When I recovered my breath, I went up to a balcony on the first floor and looked out. The tide of the affray was surging gradually back into the wide open space before the inn, and very shortly this was filled with a chaos of furious faces and struggling arms. The University were evidently recoiling, pressed back by the sheer weight of their opponents; but soon came a re-enforcement of grooms and stable-men, lightweights, active and wiry; and these, with their hunting-crops and heavy cutting-whips used remorselessly—like Caesar's legionaries, they struck only at the face—once more re-established the balance of the battle.
Suddenly the melee seemed to converge to one point—the mid-eddy, as it were, of the whirlpool; then came a lull, almost a hush; and then fifty strong arms, indiscriminately of town and gownsmen, were locked to keep the ground, while a storm of voices shouted for "A ring!"
In that impromptu arena two men stood face to face under the full glare of the gas-lamps—one was Guy Livingstone; the other a denizen of the Potteries, yclept "Burn's Big 'un," who had selected B—— as his training quarters, in preparation for his fight to come off in the ensuing week with the third best man in England for L100 a side.
They made a magnificent contrast. Guy, apparently quite composed, but the lower part of his face set stern and pitiless; an evil light in his eyes, showing how all the gladiator in his nature was roused; his left hand swaying level with his hip; all the weight of his body resting on the right foot; his lofty head thrown back haughtily; his guard low. The professional, three inches shorter than his adversary, but a rare model of brute strength; his arms and neck, where the short jersey left them exposed, clear-skinned and white as a woman's, through the perfection of his training; his hair cropped close round a low, retreating forehead; his thick lips parted in a savage grin, meant to represent a smile of confidence. So they stood there—fitting champions of the races that have been antagonistic for four thousand years—Patrician and Proletarian.
Suddenly there was a commotion at one corner of the ring, and I saw a small, bullet-headed man, with a voice like a fractious child, striving frantically to force his way through. "Don't let 'em fight!" he screamed: "it's robbery, I tell you. There's hundreds of pounds on him for Thursday next, I'm his trainer; and I daren't show him with a scratch on him."
A great roar of laughter answered his entreaties, and twenty arms thrust the little man back; but his interesting charge seemed to ponder and hesitate, when a drawling nasal voice spoke from the opposite corner: "Ah! you're right; take him away; don't show his white feather till you're druv to it." That turned the wavering scale. The Big 'un ground his teeth with blasphemy, and set-to.
I need not go through the minutiae of the fight; it was all one way. The professional did his best, and took his punishment like a glutton; but he could do nothing against the long reach of his adversary, who stopped and countered as coolly as if he had only the gloves on.
It was the beginning of the sixth round; our champion bore only one mark, showing where a tremendous right-hander had almost come home—a cut on his lower lip, whence the bright Norman blood was flowing freely. I will not attempt to describe the hideous changes that ten minutes had wrought in his opponent's countenance; but I think I was not the only spectator who felt a thrill of fear mingling with disgust as the Big 'un made his despairing effort, and fought his way in to the terrible "half-arm rally." In truth, there was something unearthly and awful in the sight of the maimed and mangled Colossus; his huge breast heaving with wrath and pain; his one unblinded eye glaring unutterably; his crushed lips churning the crimson foam. It was the last rash of the Cordovan bull goaded to madness by picador and chulo; but Guy's fatal left met him, straight, unyielding as the blade of the matador; twice he reeled back wellnigh stunned; the third time he dropped his head cleverly, so as to avoid the blow, and grappled. For some seconds the two were locked together, undistinguishably; then we saw Guy's right hand, never used till then save as a guard, rise and fall twice with a dull, smashing sound, which was bad to hear; then the huge form of the prize-fighter was whirled up unresistingly over his antagonist's hip, and fell crashing down at his feet, a heap of blind, senseless, bleeding humanity.
"Time!" You must call louder yet before he will hear, and lance a vein in the throat before he will answer.
Then, in the old market-place of B——, there went up such a shout as I think it has never heard since Vikings and Berserkyr caroused there after storming the town. The gownsmen, as they will do on slighter provocation, screamed themselves hoarse and voiceless with delight; and their late opponents—the honest Saxon's love of a fair fight overcoming the spirit of the partisan—echoed and prolonged the cheer.
There was no more thought of battle or broil; and there were as many navvies as University men among the enthusiasts who bore the champion on their shoulders into "The George."
How we reveled on that night of victory, especially when Guy, after necessary ablutions and change of raiment, joined us, calm and self-possessed as ever, only slightly swelled about the lower lip, and a dark red flush on his forehead! He had satisfactory accounts of his adversary, the said amiable individual having so far recovered, under the surgeon's hands, as to swear thrice—"quite like hisself," the messenger said—and to call for cold brandy and water.
Livingstone's health was proposed twice—the first time by a fellow of King's, with a neat talent for classical allusions, who remarked that, "if the olive-crown of the Hippodrome had fallen to the lot of Cambridge, none would deny her sister's claim to the parsley of the caestus." The second time was very late in the evening, by M'Diarmid. It must be confessed that gallant chieftain was somewhat incoherent, and amid protestations of admiration and eternal friendship, much to our astonishment, wept profusely. Still later, he got very maudlin indeed, and was heard to murmur, looking at his scarred knuckles, that "he was afraid he must have hurt some one that night," with an accent of heartfelt sorrow and contrition which was inimitable.
We heard afterward that the taunt which made the fight a certainty came from the commissioner of the party who stood heavily against the Big 'un, sent down to watch him in his training, and spy out the joints in his harness.
"As he rode down the sanctified bends of the Bow, Each carline was flyting and shaking her pow; But the young Plants of Grace they looked couthie and slee, Saying, 'Luck to thy bonnet, thou bonnie Dundee.'"
In the autumn of that year my chest became so troublesome that I was obliged to try Italy. Thither I went; and, about the same time, Guy was gazetted to the —— Life Guards. The struggle between climate and constitution was protracted, and for a long time doubtful; but winters without fog, and springs without cold winds, worked wonders, and at last carried the day. In the fourth year they told me I might risk England again. Moving homeward slowly, I reached London about the beginning of December—a most unfavorable season, it is true; but I was weary of foreign wandering, and wanted to spend Christmas somewhere in the fatherland, though where I had not yet determined.
I had heard tolerably often from Livingstone during my absence. His letters were very amusing, containing all sorts of news, and remarks on men and manners. They would have pleased me more if they had not indicated a vein of sarcasm deepening into cynicism.
I stand very much alone in this world, and had few family visits to detain me; so, on the morning after my arrival, I went down to the Knightsbridge barracks, where Guy's regiment happened to be quartered.
It was a field-day, his servant said, and his master was out with his troop; but he expected him in very shortly. Captain Forrester was waiting breakfast for him up stairs.
As I entered the room, its occupant turned his head languidly on the sofa-cushion which supported it; but when he saw it was a stranger, sat up, and, on hearing my name, actually rose and came toward me.
"Livingstone will be charmed to find you here, Mr. Hammond," he said, in a voice that, though slightly affected and trainante, was very musical. "I don't know if he ever mentioned Charley Forrester to you, who must do the honors of the barrack-room in his absence?"
I had heard of him very often; and, though my expectations as to his personal appearance had been raised, I own the first glance did not disappoint them. He was about three-and-twenty then, rather tall, but very slightly built; his eyes long, sleepy, of a violet blue; features small and delicately cut, with a complexion so soft and bright that his silky, chestnut mustache hardly saved the face from effeminacy; his hands and feet would have satisfied the Pacha of Tebelen at once as to his purity of race; indeed, though Charley was not disposed to undervalue any of his own bodily advantages, I imagine he considered his extremities as his strong point. His manner was very fascinating, and, with women, had a sort of caress in it which is hard to describe, though even with them he seldom excited himself much, preferring, consistently, the passive to the active part in the conversation. Indeed, his golden rule was the Arabic maxim, Agitel lil Shaitan—Hurry is the Devil's—so, in the flirtations which were the serious business of his life, he always let his fish hook themselves, just exerting himself enough to play them afterward.
In ten minutes we were very good friends, talking pleasantly of all sorts of things, though Forrester had resumed his recumbent posture, and I could not help fearing it was only a strong effort of politeness or sense of duty which enabled him always to answer at the right time.
Before long we heard the clatter of horses' hoofs and the rattle of steel scabbards, and I looked out at the squadrons defiling into the barrack-yard. My eye fell upon Livingstone at once: it was not difficult to distinguish him, for few, if any, among those troopers, picked from the flower of all the counties north of the Humber, could compare with him for length of limb and breadth of shoulder. I felt proud of him, as the hero of my boyhood, looking at him there, on his great black charger, square and steadfast as the keep of a castle.
His servant spoke to him as he dismounted. I saw his features soften and brighten in an instant; in five seconds he was in the room, and the light was on his face still—I like to think of it—the light of a frank, cordial welcome, as he griped my hand.
He was changed, certainly, but for the better. The features, which in early youth had been too rugged and strongly marked, harmonized perfectly with the vast proportions of a frame now fully developed, though still lean in the flanks as a wolf-hound. The stern expression about his mouth was more decided and unvarying than ever—an effect which was increased by the heavy mustache that, dense as a Cuirassier's of the Old Guard, fell over his lip in a black cascade. It was the face of one of those stone Crusaders who look up at us from their couches in the Round Church of the Temple.
Before our first sentences were concluded, Forrester had nerved himself to the effort of rising, and turned to go.
"You must have fifty things to say to each other," he said. "You'll find me in the mess-room. But, Guy, don't be long; I've no appetite myself this morning, and it will refresh me to see you eat your breakfast;" and so faded away gradually through the door.
"How do you like him?" Livingstone called out from the inner room, where he was donning the "mufti." "He's not so conceited as he might be, considering how the women spoil him; and, lazy as he looks, he is a very fair officer, and goes across country like a bird. Did I ever tell you what first made him famous?"
"No; I should like to hear."
"Well, it was at a picnic at Cliefden. Charley was hardly nineteen then, and had just joined the ——th Lancers at Hounslow; he wandered away, and got lost with Kate Harcourt, a self-possessed beauty in high condition for flirting, for she had had three seasons of hard training. When they had been away from their party about two hours, she felt, or pretended to feel, the awkwardness of the situation, and asked her cavalier, in a charmingly helpless and confiding way, what they were to do. 'Well, I hardly know,' Forrester answered, languidly; 'but I don't mind proposing to you, if that will do you any good.' A fair performance for an untried colt, was it not? Miss Harcourt thought so, and said so, and Charley woke next morning with an established renown. Shall we go and find him?"
After breakfast we went with Guy to his room, to do the regulation cigar.
"I know you've made no plans, Frank," Livingstone said, "so I have settled every thing for you already. You are coming down to Kerton with us. We have just got our long leave, and our horses went down three days ago."
"It's very nice of him to say 'our horses,'" interrupted Forrester. "Mine consist of one young one, that has been over about eight fences in his life, and a mare, that I call the Wandering Jewess, for I don't think she will ever die, and I am sure she will never rest till she does: what with being park-hack in the summer and cover-hack in the winter, with a by-day now and then when the country's light, she's the best instance of perpetual motion I know. Well, it's not my fault the chief won't let us hunt our second chargers—that's the charm of being in a crack regiment—I always have one lame at least, and no one will sell me hunters on tick."
"Don't be so plaintive, Charley; you've nearly all mine to ride: it's a treat to them, poor things, to feel your light weight and hand, after carrying my enormous carcass. That's settled, then, Frank; you come with us?" Guy said.
"I shall be very glad. I only want a day to get my traps together." So two days afterward we three came down to Kerton Manor. It was not my first visit to Livingstone's home, but I have not described it before.
Fancy a very large, low house, built in two quadrangles—the offices and stables forming the smaller one farthermost from the main entrance—of the light gray stone common in Northamptonshire, darkened at the angles and buttresses into purple, and green, and bistre by the storms of three hundred years; on the south side, smooth turf, with islands in it of bright flower-beds, sloped down to a broad, slow stream, where grave, stately swans were always sailing to and fro, and moor-hens diving among the rushes; on the other sides, a park, extensive, but somewhat rough-looking, stretched away, and, all round, lines of tall avenue radiated—the bones of a dead giant's skeleton—for Kerton once stood in the centre of a royal forest.
You entered into a wide, low hall, the oak ceiling resting on broad square pillars of the same dark wood; all round hung countless memorials of chase and war, for the Livingstones had been hunters and soldiers beyond the memory of man.
Often, passing through of a winter's evening, I have stopped to watch the fitful effects of the great logs burning on the andirons, as their light died away, deadened among brown bear-skins and shadowy antlers, or played, redly reflected, on the mail-shirt and corslet of Crusader or Cavalier.
There were many portraits too; one, the most remarkable, fronted you as you came through the great doorway, the likeness of a very handsome man in the uniform of a Light Dragoon; under this hung a cavalry sword, and a brass helmet shaded with black horse-hair. The portrait and sword were those of Guy's father; the helmet belonged to the Cuirassier who slew him.
It was in a skirmish with part of Kellermann's brigade, near the end of the Peninsular war; Colonel Livingstone was engaged with an adversary in his front, when a trooper, delivering point from behind, ran him through the body. He had got his death-wound, and knew it; but he came of a race that ever died hard and dangerously; he only ground his teeth, and, turning short in his saddle, cut the last assailant down. Look at the helmet, with the clean, even gap in it, cloven down to the cheek-strap—the stout old Laird of Colonsay struck no fairer blow.
It was curious to mark how the same expression of sternness and decision about the lips and lower part of the face, which was so remarkable in their descendants, ran through the long row of ancestral portraits. You saw it—now, beneath the half-raised visor of Sir Malise, surnamed Poing-de-fer, who went up the breach at Ascalon shoulder to shoulder with strong King Richard—now, yet more grimly shadowed forth, under the cowl of Prior Bernard, the ambitious ascetic, whom, they say, the great Earl of Warwick trusted as his own right hand—now, softened a little, but still distinctly visible, under the long love-locks of Prince Rupert's aid-de-camp, who died at Naseby manfully in his harness—now, contrasting strangely with the elaborately powdered peruke and delicate lace ruffles of Beau Livingstone, the gallant, with the whitest hand, the softest voice, the neatest knack at a sonnet, and the deadliest rapier at the court of good Queen Anne. Nay, you could trace it in the features of many a fair Edith and Alice, half counteracting the magnetic attraction of their melting eyes.
On the sunny south side, looking across the flower-garden, were Lady Catharine Livingstone's rooms, where, diligent as Matilda and her maidens, in summer by the window, in winter by the fire; the pale chatelaine sat over her embroidery. What rivers of tapestry must have flowed from under those slender white fingers during their ceaseless toil of twenty years!
The good that she did in her neighborhood can not be told. She was kind and hospitable, too, to her female guests, in her own haughty, undemonstrative way; nevertheless, the wives and daughters of the squirearchy regarded her with great awe and fear. Perhaps she felt this, though she could not alter it, and the sense of isolation may have deepened the shades on her sad face. She had only one thing on earth to centre her affections on, and that one she worshiped with a love stronger than her sense of duty; for, since his father died, she had never been able to check Guy in a single whim.
When he had a hunting-party in the house, she sometimes would not appear for days; but, however early he might start for the meet, I do not think he ever left his dressing-room without his mother's kiss on his cheek. She knew, as well as any one, how recklessly her son rode; nothing but his science, coolness, and great strength in the saddle could often have saved him from some terrible accident. Many times, in the middle of the day's sport, the thought has come across me piteously of that poor lady, in her lonely rooms, trembling, and I am very sure praying, for her darling.
On the opposite side of the court were Guy's own apartments: first, what was called by courtesy his study—an armory of guns and other weapons, a chaos e rebus omnibus et quibusdam aliis, for he never had the faintest conception of the beauty of order; then came the smoking-room, with its great divans and scattered card-tables; then Livingstone's bed-room and dressing-room.
Did the distance and the doors always deaden the sounds of late revels, so as not to break Lady Catharine's slumbers? I fear not.
"Thou art not steeped in golden languors; No tranced summer calm is thine, Ever-varying Madeline."
It was a woodland meet, a long way off, the morning after we arrived, so we staid at home; and, after breakfast, Guy having to give audience to keepers and other retainers, I strolled out with Forrester to smoke in the stables. I have seldom seen a lot which united so perfectly bone and blood. Livingstone gave any price for his horses; the only thing he was not particular about was their temper; more than one looked eminently unsuited to a nervous rider, and a swinging bar behind them warned the stranger against incautious approach.
After duly discussing and admiring the stud, we established ourselves on the sunniest stone bench in the garden, and I asked my companion to tell me something of what Guy had been doing during my absence.
"Well, it's rather hard to say," answered Charley. "He never takes the trouble to conceal any thing; but then, you see, he never tells one any thing either; so it's only guess work, after all. He lives very much like other men in the Household Brigade; plays heavily, though not regularly; but he always has two affaires de coeur, at least, on hand at once; that's his stint."
"So he still persecutes the weaker sex unremittingly?" I asked, laughing.
"In a way peculiar to himself," said Forrester; "he is always strictly courteous, but decidedly sarcastic. Poor things, they are easily imposed upon; he very soon has them well in hand, and they can never get their heads up afterward. I suppose they like it, for it seems to answer admirably. Last season he divided himself pretty equally between Constance Brandon and Flora Bellasys—quite the two best things out, though as opposite to each other in every way as the poles. To do Miss Brandon justice, I don't think she knew much of the other flirtation; she always went away early, and he used to take up her rival for the rest of the evening."
"But the said rival—how did she like the divided homage?"
"Not at all at first; at least, she used to look revolvers at Guy from time to time—(ah! you should see the Bellasys' eyes when they begin to lighten)—but he always brought her back to the lure, and at last she seemed to take it quite as a matter of course, keeping all her after-supper waltzes for him religiously, though half the men in town were trying to cut in. I can't make out how he does it. Do you think his size and sinews can have any thing to do with it?" He said this gravely and reflectively.
"Not unlikely," I replied; "the fortiter in re goes a long way with women apparently, even where there is not a tongue like his to back it. Don't you remember Juvenal's strong-minded heroine, who left husband and home to follow the scarred, maimed gladiator? I doubt if the Mirmillo was a pleasant or intellectual companion. Now I want you to tell me something about Guy's cousin and her father; they are coming here to-day, and I have never met them."
"Mr. Raymond is very like most calm, comfortable old men with a life interest in L2000 a year," Charley said; "rather more cold and impassible than the generality, perhaps. He must be clever, for he plays whist better than any one I know; but not brilliant, certainly. His daughter is"—the color deepened on his cheek perceptibly—"very charming, most people think; but I hate describing people. I always caricature the likeness. You'll form your own judgment at dinner. Shall we go in? We shoot an outlying cover after luncheon, and the blackthorns involve gaiters."
We had very fair sport, and were returning across the park, picking up a stray rabbit every now and then in the tufts of long grass and patches of brake. One had just started before Forrester, and he was in the act of pulling the trigger, when Livingstone said suddenly,
"There's my uncle's carriage coming down the north avenue."
It was an easy shot in the open, but Charley missed it clean.
"What eyes you have, Guy," he said, pettishly; "but I wish you wouldn't speak to a man on his shot."
Guy's great Lancaster rang out with the roar of a small field-piece, and the rabbit was rolling over, riddled through the head, before he answered,
"Yea, my eyes are good, and I see a good many things, but I don't see why you should have muffled that shot, particularly as my intelligence was meant for the world in general, and it was not such an astounding remark, after all."
Charley did not seem ready with a reply, so he retained his look of injured innocence, and walked on, sucking silently at his cigar. The Raymonds reached the house before us; but, not being in a presentable state, I did not see them before dinner.
Forrester was right; there was nothing startling about Mr. Raymond. He had one of those thin, high-bred looking faces that one always fancies would have suited admirably the powder and ruffles of the last century. It expressed little except perfect repose, and when he spoke, which was but seldom, no additional light came into his hard blue eyes. His daughter was his absolute contrast—a lovely, delicate little creature, with silky dark-brown hair, and eyes en suite, and color that deepened and faded twenty times in an hour, without ever losing the softness of its tints. She had the ways of a child petted all its life through, that a harsh word would frighten to annihilation. She seemed very fond of Guy, though evidently rather afraid of him at times.
Nothing passed at dinner worth mentioning; but soon after the ladies left us, Mr. Raymond turned lazily to his nephew to inquire,
"If he would mind asking Bruce to come and stay at Kerton, as he was to be in the neighborhood soon after Christmas."
He did not seem to feel the faintest interest in the reply.
"I shall be too glad, Uncle Henry," answered Guy (he did not look particularly charmed though), "if it will give you or Bella any pleasure. Need he be written to immediately?"
"Thank you very much," said Raymond, languidly. "I know he bores you, and I am sure I don't wonder at it; but one must be civil to one's son-in-law that is to be. No, you need not trouble yourself to invite him yet. Bella can do it when she writes. I suppose she does write to him sometimes."
I looked across the table at Forrester. This was the first time I had heard of Miss Raymond's engagement. He met my eye quite unconcernedly, pursuing with great interest his occupation of peeling walnuts and dropping them into Sherry. It did not often happen to him to blush twice in the twenty-four hours. Directly afterward we began to talk about pheasants and other things.
After coffee in the drawing-room Guy sat down to piquet with his uncle. Raymond liked to utilize his evenings, and never played for nominal stakes. He was the beau ideal of a card-player, certainly; no revolution or persistence of luck could ruffle the dead calm of his courteous face. He would win the money of his nearest and dearest friend, or lose his own to an utter stranger with the same placidity. To be sure, to a certain extent, he had enslaved Fortune; though he always played most loyally, and sometimes would forego an advantage he might fairly have claimed, his rare science made ultimate success scarcely doubtful. He never touched a game of mere chance.
I heard a good story of him in Paris. They were playing a game like Brag; the principle being that the players increase the stakes without seeing each other's cards, till one refuses to go on and throws up, or shows his point. Raymond was left in at last with one adversary; the stakes had mounted up to a sum that was fearful, and it was his choice to double or abattre. Of course, it was of the last importance to discover whether the antagonist was strong or not; but the Frenchman's face gave not the slightest sign. He was beau joueur s'il en fut, and had lost two fair fortunes at play. Raymond hesitated, looking steadily into his opponent's eyes. All at once he smiled and doubled instantly. The other dared not go on; he showed his point, and lost. They asked Raymond afterward how he could have detected any want of confidence to guide him in a face that looked like marble.
"I saw three drops of perspiration on his forehead," he said; "and I knew my own hand was strong."
Lady Catharine was resting on a sofa: she looked tired and paler than usual, not in the least available for conversation. Miss Raymond had nestled herself into the recesses of a huge arm-chair close to the fire—she was as fond of warmth, when she could not get sunshine, as a tropical bird—and Forrester was lounging on an ottoman behind her, so that his head almost touched her elbow. When I caught scraps of their conversation it seemed to be turning on the most ordinary subjects; but even in these I should have felt lost—I had been so long away from England—so I contented myself with watching them, and wondering why discussions as to the merits of operas and inquiries after mutual acquaintances should make the fair cheeks hang out signals of distress so often as they did that evening.
I lingered in the smoking-room about midnight for a moment after Forrester left us.
"So your cousin is really engaged?" I asked Guy.
"Tout ce qu'il y a du plus fiance," was the answer. "It was one of the last affairs of state that my poor aunt concluded before she died. Bruce is a very good match. I don't think Bella worships him, though I have scarcely ever seen them together, and I am sure he is not a favorite with Uncle Henry; but nothing on earth would make him break it off; indeed, I know no one who would propose such a thing to him—not his daughter, certainly. There's no such hopeless obstacle as the passive resistance of a thoroughly lazy man. Good-night, Frank. I've sent the Baron on for you to-morrow. We must start about nine, mind, for we've fifteen miles to go to cover."
I went to bed, and dreamed that Raymond was playing ecarte with Forrester for his daughter, who stood by blushing beautifully—and never held a trump!
"She has two eyes so soft and brown; Take care! She gives a side glance, and looks down; Beware! beware! Trust her not; she is fooling thee."
So the days went on. The stream of visitors usual in a country house during the hunting season flowed in and out of Kerton Manor without any remarkable specimen showing itself above the surface. One individual, perhaps, I ought to except, the curate of the parish, who was a very constant visitor.
His appearance was not fascinating: he had a long, narrow head, thatched with straight, scanty hair; little, protruding eyes, and a complexion of a bright unvarying red—in fact, he was very like a prawn.
It was soon evident that the Rev. Samuel Foster was helplessly smitten by Miss Raymond, or, as Forrester elegantly expressed it, "hard hit in the wings, and crippled for flying!" Helplessly, I say, but not hopelessly; for that wicked little creature, acting perhaps under private orders, gave him all sorts of treacherous encouragement. I never saw any human being evolve so much caloric under excitement as he did, except one young woman whom I met ages ago—(a most estimable person; her Sunday-school was a model)—whose only way of evincing any emotion, either of anger, fear, pain, or pleasure, was—a profuse perspiration. Mr. Foster not only got awfully hot, but electrical into the bargain. His thin hairs used to stand out distinctly and in relief from his head and face, just like a person on the glass tripod. Charley suggested insulating him unawares, and getting a flash out of his knuckles, if not out of his brain. In truth, it was piteous to see the struggle between passion and nervousness that raged perpetually within him. He would stand for some time casting lamb's-eyes at the object of his affections—to the amorous audacity of the full-grown sheep he never soared—then suddenly, without the slightest provocation, he would discharge at her a compliment, elaborate, long-winded, Grandisonian, as a raw recruit fires his musket, shutting his eyes, and incontinently take to flight, without waiting to see the effect of his shot. If he had spent half the time and pains on his sermons that he did on his small-talk (I believe he used to write out three or four foul copies of each sentence previously at home), what a boon it would have been to his unlucky audience on Sundays!
Why is it that the great proportion of our pastors seem to conspire together with one consent to make the periodical duty of listening to them as hard as possible? Can they imagine there is profit or pleasure in a discourse wandering wearily round in a circle, or dragging a slow length along of truisms and trivialities? In the best of congregations there can be but few alchemists; and, without that science, who is to extract the essence of Truth from the moles incongesta of crass moralities?
To persuade or dissuade you must interest the head or the heart. I admire those who can do either successfully, but I do protest against those clerical tyrants who shelter themselves behind their license to fire at us their ruthless platitudes. If such could only struggle against that strong temptation of our fallen nature—the delight of hearing one's own sweet voice—so as to concentrate now and then! The best orators, spiritual and mundane, have been brief sometimes.
I am no theologian, but I take leave to doubt if, in the elaborate divinity of fourteen epistles, the apostle of the Gentiles ever went so straight to his hearer's heart as in that farewell charge, when the elders of Ephesus gathered round him on the sea-sand, "Sorrowing most of all for the words that he spake, that they should see his face no more."
Do you remember Canning and the clergyman? When the latter asked him, "How did you like my sermon? I endeavored not to be tedious;" I always fancy the statesman's weary, wistful look, which would have been compassionate but for a sense of personal injury, as he answered, in his mild voice, "And yet—you were."
Well, the flirtation went on its way rejoicing, to the intense amusement of all of us, especially of Forrester, till one day his cousin came into Guy's study, who had just returned from hunting, looking rather frightened, like a child who has let fall a valuable piece of china—it was only an honest man's heart that she had broken. Slowly the truth came out; Mr. Foster had proposed to her that afternoon in the park.
We, far off in the drawing-room, heard the shrill whistle with which Livingstone greeted the intelligence.
"You accepted him, of course?" he said.
"O Guy!" Miss Raymond answered, blushing more than ever. (I'll back a woman against the world for expressing half a chapter by a simple interjection; Lord Burleigh's nod is nothing to it.) "But, indeed," she went on, "I'm very sorry about it; I never saw any one look so unhappy before. Do you know I think I saw the tears standing in his eyes; and I only guessed at the words when he said 'God bless you!'"
"Ah bah!" replied Guy, with his most cynical smile on his lip; "he'll recover. Who breaks his heart in these days, especially for such little dots of things as you? But, Bella mia, how do you think Mr. Bruce would approve of all these innocent amusements?"
It was no blush now, but a dead waxen whiteness, that came over the beautiful face, even down to the chin. The soft brown eyes grew fixed and wild with an imploring terror. "You won't tell him?" she gasped out; and then stood quivering and shuddering. Guy was very much surprised: he had never believed greatly in his cousin's affection for her betrothed; but here there were signs, not only of the absence of love, but of the presence of physical fear.
"My dear child," he said, very kindly, "don't alarm yourself so absurdly. I have not the honor of Mr. Bruce's confidence; and if I had, how could I tell him of an affair where I have been most to blame? I'll speak to Foster; he must not show his disappointment even before Uncle Henry. You will be quite safe, you see. But, mind, I won't allow any one to frighten or vex my pet cousin." His countenance lowered as he spoke, and there was a threat in his eyes.
As the cloud darkened on his face, the light came back on Isabel Raymond's. She took his hand—all fibre and sinew, like an oak-bough—into her slender fingers and pressed it hard. In good truth, a woman at her need could ask no better defender than he who stood by her side then, tall, strong, black-browed, and terrible as Saul. "Thank you so much, dear Guy," she whispered. "If you speak to Mr. Foster, you will tell him how very sorry I am!" and then she left him.
Guy did speak to the curate, I hope gently. At all events, we never laughed at him again. How could we, when we saw him going about his daily duties, honestly and bravely, and always, when in presence, struggling with his great sorrow, so as not by word or look to compromise the thoughtless child who had won his heart for her amusement, and thrown it away for her convenience?
I have been disciplined since by what I have felt and seen, and I see now how ungenerous we had been.
What right had we to make of that man a puppet for our amusement, because he was shy, and stupid, and slow? He was as true in his devotion, as honorable in all his wishes, as confident in his hopes till they were blasted, as any one that has gone a wooing since the first whisper of love was heard in Eden. If his despair was less crushing than that of other men, it was because his principles were stronger to endure, and perhaps because his temperament was more tranquil and cold. As I have said, he did his day's work thoroughly, and that helped him through a good deal. But, to the utmost of his nature, I believe he did suffer. And could the long train of those whom disappointment has made maniacs or suicides do more?
Let us not trust too much to the absence of feeling in these seemingly impassive organizations.
I wonder how often the executors of old college fellows, or of hard-faced bankers and bureaucrats, have been aggravated by finding in that most secret drawer, which ought to have held a codicil or a jewel, a tress, a glove, or a flower? The searcher looks at the object for a moment, and then throws it into the rubbish-basket, with a laugh if he is good-natured, with a curse if he is vicious and disappointed. Let it lie there—though the dead miser valued it above all his bank-stock, and kissed it oftener than he did his living and lawful wife and children—what is it worth now? Say, as the grim Dean of St. Patrick wrote on his love-token, "Only a woman's hair."
Now these men, unknown to their best friend perhaps, had gone through the affliction which is so common that it is hard to speak of it without launching into truisms. This sorrow has made some men famous, by forcing them out into the world and shutting the door behind them. It has made the fortunes of some poets, who choose the world for their confidant, setting their bereavement to music, and bewailing Eurydice in charming volumes, that are cheap at "3s. 6d. in cloth, lettered." It has made some—I think the best and bravest—somewhat silent for the rest of their lives. I read some lines the other day wise enough to have sprung from an older brain than Owen Meredith's.
"They were pedants who could speak— Grander souls have passed unheard; Such as felt all language weak; Choosing rather to record Secrets before Heaven, than break Faith with angels, by a word—"
Yes, many men have their Rachel; but—there being a prejudice against bigamy—few have even the Patriarch's luck, to marry her at last; for the wife de convenance generally outlives her younger sister; and so, one afternoon, we turn again from a grave in Ephrata-Green Cemetery, somewhat drearily, into our tent pitched in the plains of Belgravia, where Leah—(there was ever jealousy between those two)—meets us with a sharp glance of triumph in her "tender eyes."
We have known pleasanter tete-a-tetes—have we not?—than that which we undergo that evening at dinner, though our companion seems disposed to be especially lively. We have not much appetite; but our carissima sposa tells us "not to drink any more claret, or we shall never be fit to take her to Lady Shechem's conversazione." Of all nights in the year, would she let us off duty on this one? "There are to be some very pleasant people there," she says, "though none, perhaps, that you particularly care about." (Thank you, my love; I understand that good-natured allusion perfectly, and am proportionately grateful.) Her voice sounds shriller than usual as she says this, and leaves us to put some last touches to her toilette. So we order a fresh bottle, notwithstanding the warning, and fall to thinking. How low and soft that other voice was, and, even when a little reproachful, how rarely sweet! She would scarcely have invented that last taunt if matters had turned out differently. Then we think of our respected father-in-law, Sir Joseph Leyburn, of Harran Park—a mighty county magistrate and cattle-breeder. He got Ishmael Deadeye, the poacher, transported last year, and took the prize for Devons at the Great Mesopotamian Agricultural with a brindled bull. We remember his weeping at the wedding-breakfast over the loss of his eldest treasure, and wonder if he was an arrant humbug, or only a foolish, fond old man, inclining morosely toward the former opinion. We don't seem to care much about Sir Roland de Vaux, the celebrated geologist, whom we shall have the privilege of meeting this evening. What are strata to us, when our thoughts will not go lower than about eight feet underground? We shall be rather bored than otherwise by Dr. Sternhold, that eminent Christian divine, who passes his leisure hours in proving St. Paul to have been an unsound theologian and a weak dialectician. Why should Mr. Planet, the intrepid traveler, be always inflicting Jerusalem upon us, as if no one had ever visited the Holy Land before him? Our ancestors did so five hundred years ago, and did not make half the fuss about it; and they had a skirmish or two there worth speaking of, while we don't believe a word of Planet's encounter with those three Arabs on the Hebron road. Pooh! there's no more peril in traversing the Wilderness of Cades than in going up to the Grands Mulets. We are not worthy of those distinguished men, and would prefer the society of hard-riding Dick Foley of the Blues. He had a few feelings in common with us once on a certain point (how we hated him then), and he won't wonder if we are duller than usual this evening. Perhaps his own nerve will scarcely be as iron as usual in the Grand Military, to come off in the course of the week.
Well, the bottle is out, and Mademoiselle Zelpa comes to say that "Madame is ze raidee." So one glass of Cognac neat, as a chasse (to more things than good Claret), and then—let us put on our whitest tie and our most attractive smile, and "go forth, for she is gone."
"A man had given all other bliss And all his worldly worth for this, To waste his whole heart in one kiss Upon her perfect lips."
We were asked to dine and sleep at Brainswick, where the hounds met on the following morning. Mr. Raymond could not make up his mind to the exertion, so Forrester and I accompanied Guy alone.
"By-the-by," the latter observed, as we were driving over in his mail-phaeton, "I wonder if we shall see the Bellasys to-night? I know they were to come down about this time. Steady, old wench! where are you off to?" (This was to the near wheeler, who was breaking her trot.) "I think you'll admire her, Frank; but, gare a vous, she's dangerous. Eh, Charley?"
"Well, you ought to know," answered Forrester; "I never tried her much myself. She's two or three stone over my weight. I wonder what she has been doing lately? They sent her down to rusticate somewhere at the end of the season. She ought to be in great condition now, with a summer's run."
Livingstone smiled, complacently I thought, as if some one had praised one of his favorite hunters, but did not pursue the subject.
When I came down before dinner he was talking to a lady in dark blue silk, with black lace over it, a wreath curiously plaited of natural ivy in her hair. I guessed her at once to be Flora Bellasys.
Let me try to paint—though abler artists have failed—the handsomest brunette I have ever seen.
She was very tall; her figure magnificently developed, though slender-waisted and lithe as a serpent. She walked as if she had been bred in a basquina, and her foot and ankle were hardly to be matched on this side of the Pyrenees; the nose slightly aquiline, with thin, transparent nostrils; and the forehead rather low—it looked more so, perhaps, from the thick masses of dark hair which framed and shaded her face. Under the clear, pale olive of the cheeks the rich blood mantled now and then like wine in a Venice glass; and her lips—the outline of the upper one just defined by a penciling of down, the lower one full and pouting—glistened with the brilliant smoothness of a pomegranate flower when the dew is clinging. Her eyes—the opium-eaters of Stamboul never dreamed of their peers among the bevies of hachis-houris. They were of the very darkest hazel; one moment sleeping lazily under their long lashes, like a river under leaves of water-lilies; the next, sparkling like the same stream when the sunlight is splintered on its ripples into carcanets of diamonds. When they chose to speak, not all the orators that have rounded periods since Isocrates could match their eloquence; when it was their will to guard a secret, they met you with the cold, impenetrable gaze that we attribute to the mighty mother, Cybele. Even a philosopher might have been interested—on purely psychological grounds, of course—in watching the thoughts as they rose one by one to the surface of those deep, clear wells (was truth at the bottom of them?—I doubt), like the strange shapes of beauty that reveal themselves to seamen, coyly and slowly, through the purple calm of the Indian Sea.
Twice I have chosen a watery simile; but I know no other element combining, as her glances did, liquid softness with lustre.
When near her, you were sensible of a strange, subtle, intoxicating perfume, very fragrant, perfectly indefinable, which clung, not only to her dress, but to every thing belonging to her. From what flowers it was distilled no artist in essences alive could have told. I incline to think that, like the "birk" in the ghost's garland,
"They were not grown on earthly bank, Nor yet on earthly sheugh."
Guy took Miss Bellasys in to dinner, and I found myself placed on her other side. I had been introduced to her ten minutes before, but had little opportunity for "improving the occasion," as the Nonconformists have it, for she never once deigned a look in my direction.
My right-hand neighbor was an elderly man of a full habit, whom it would have been cruel to disturb till the rage of hunger was appeased, so I was fain to seek amusement in the conversation going on on my left. There was no indiscretion in this, for I knew Guy would never touch secrets of state in mixed company.
For some time they talked nothing but commonplaces, evidently feeling each other's foils. The real fencing began with a question from Flora—if he was not surprised at seeing her there that evening.
"Not at all," was the reply; "I knew we must meet before long. It is only parallels that don't; and there is very little of the right line about either you or me."
"Speak for yourself," Miss Bellasys said; "I consider that a very rude observation."
"Pardon me," retorted Guy; "I seldom say rude things—never intentionally. I don't know which is in worst taste, that, or paying point-blank compliments. Without being mathematical, you may have heard that the line of beauty is a curve."
"It is difficult to catch you. What have you been doing since we parted?"
"That is just the question that was on my lips, so nearly uttered that I consider I spoke first. Now, will you confess, or must I cross-question some one else? I will know. It is easy to follow you, like an invading army, by the trail of devastation."
"So you do care to know?" the soft voice said, that could make the nerves of even an indifferent hearer thrill and quiver strangely.
After once listening to it, it was very easy to believe the weird stories of Norse sorceresses, and German wood-spirits and pixies, luring men to death with their fatally musical tones.
"Simple curiosity," Guy replied, coolly, "and a little compassion for your victims. They might be friends of mine, you know."
Miss Bellasys bit her lip, half provoked, half amused, apparently, as she answered, "The dead tell no tales."
"No, but the wounded do, and they cry out pretty loudly sometimes. I suppose all the cases did not terminate fatally. Will you confess?"
"I have nothing to tell you," Flora said, very demurely and meekly, only for once her eyes betrayed her. "Mamma took me down into Devonshire, where we have an aunt or two, for sea-breezes and seclusion. I rather liked at first having nothing on earth to do, and nothing—yes, I understand—really nothing to think about. I used to sleep a great deal, and then drive a little obstinate pony, to see views. But I don't care much about views—do you? Then mamma was always wanting me to help her look for shells and wild-flowers; and the rocks hurt my feet, and the bushes never would leave me alone in the woods." She shuddered slightly here.
"The Bushes! a Devonshire family of that name, I presume?" Guy interrupted, with intense gravity. "How wrong of them! They are very ill-regulated young men down in those parts, I believe."
"Don't be absurd; I never saw a creature for months between fifteen and fifty. Are not those ages safe?" (A shake of the head from Livingstone.) "I began to be very unhappy; I had no one to tease; my aunts are too good-natured, and mamma is used to it. At last I had the greatest mind to do something desperate—to write to you, for instance—merely to see the household's horror when your answer came. You would have answered, would you not? I should not have opened it, you know, but given it to mamma, like a good child."
"Of course; I know you show all your letters to your mother. But that ruralizing must have been fearful for you, poverina! People were talking a good deal of agricultural distress, but this is the most piteous case I've heard of. So there were really no men to govern in that wood?"
"Not even a little boy," said Flora, decisively. "There were two or three from Oxford in the neighborhood; I used to see them sitting outside their lodgings in the sun, like rabbits, but they always ran in before—"
"Before you could get a shot at them, you mean?" broke in Guy; "you ought to have crept up, and stalked them cleverly."
Flora threw hack her handsome head. "I don't war with children. It went on just as I tell you till we left for our round of winter visits, which have been very stupid and correct—till now."
I hardly caught the two last words, she spoke them so low. There was silence for several minutes, and then Guy leaned back to address me.
"Do you remember Arthur Darrell, of Christchurch, Frank, the man that used to speak at the Union, and was always raving about ebon locks and dark eyes?"
"I remember him well. I have not seen him for years; but I heard he was getting on well in the law."
"He'll have time to get tired of brunettes—if any one ever does get tired of them—before he comes back," said Guy. "He's just gone out to try the Indian bar."
"What could have put such an idea into his head?" I asked, very innocently.
"I can't say," was the reply; "men do take such curious fancies. It was a sudden determination, I believe. The beauties of the Eastern hemisphere began to develop themselves to his weak mind last summer while he was down with his people in—Devonshire."