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Love Me Little, Love Me Long
by Charles Reade
SHOULD these characters, imbedded in carpet incidents, interest the public at all, they will probably reappear in more potent scenes. This design, which I may never live to execute, is, I fear, the only excuse I can at present offer for some pages, forming the twelfth chapter of this volume.
NEARLY a quarter of a century ago, Lucy Fountain, a young lady of beauty and distinction, was, by the death of her mother, her sole surviving parent, left in the hands of her two trustees, Edward Fountain, Esq., of Font Abbey, and Mr. Bazalgette, a merchant whose wife was Mrs. Fountain's half-sister.
They agreed to lighten the burden by dividing it. She should spend half the year with each trustee in turn, until marriage should take her off their hands.
Our mild tale begins in Mr. Bazalgette's own house, two years after the date of that arrangement.
The chit-chat must be your main clue to the characters. In life it is the same. Men and women won't come to you ticketed, or explanation in hand.
"Lucy, you are a great comfort in a house; it is so nice to have some one to pour out one's heart to; my husband is no use at all."
"In that way. You listen to my faded illusions, to the aspirations of a nature too finely organized, ah! to find its happiness in this rough, selfish world. When I open my bosom to him, what does he do? Guess now—whistles."
"Then I call that rude."
"So do I; and then he whistles more and more."
"Yes; but, aunt, if any serious trouble or grief fell upon you, you would find Mr. Bazalgette a much greater comfort and a better stay than poor spiritless me."
"Oh, if the house took fire and fell about our ears, he would come out of his shell, no doubt; or if the children all died one after another, poor dear little souls; but those great troubles only come in stories. Give me a friend that can sympathize with the real hourly mortifications of a too susceptible nature; sit on this ottoman, and let me go on. Where was I when Jones came and interrupted us? They always do just at the interesting point."
Miss Fountain's face promptly wreathed itself into an expectant smile. She abandoned her hand and her ear, and leaned her graceful person toward her aunt, while that lady murmured to her in low and thrilling tones—his eyes, his long hair, his imaginative expressions, his romantic projects of frugal love; how her harsh papa had warned Adonis off the premises; how Adonis went without a word (as pale as death, love), and soon after, in his despair, flung himself—to an ugly heiress; and how this disappointment had darkened her whole life, and so on.
Perhaps, if Adonis had stood before her now, rolling his eyes, and his phrases hot from the annuals, the flourishing matron might have sent him to the servants' hall with a wave of her white and jeweled hand. But the melody disarms this sort of brutal criticism—a woman's voice relating love's young dream; and then the picture—a matron still handsome pouring into a lovely virgin's ear the last thing she ought; the young beauty's eyes mimicking sympathy; the ripe beauty's soft, delicious accents—purr! purr! purr!
Crash overhead! a window smashed aie! aie! clatter! clatter! screams of infantine rage and feminine remonstrance, feet pattering, and a general hullabaloo, cut the soft recital in two. The ladies clasped hands, like guilty things surprised.
Lucy sprang to her feet; the oppressed one sank slowly and gracefully back, inch by inch, on the ottoman, with a sigh of ostentatious resignation, and gazed, martyr-like, on the chandelier.
"Will you not go up to the nursery?" cried Lucy, in a flutter.
"No, dear," replied the other, faintly, but as cool as a marble slab; "you go; cast some of your oil upon those ever-troubled waters and then come back and let us try once more."
Miss Fountain heard but half this sentence; she was already gliding up the stairs. She opened the nursery door, and there stood in the middle of the room "Original Sin." Its name after the flesh was Master Reginald. It was half-past six, had been baptized in church, after which every child becomes, according to polemic divines of the day, "a little soul of Christian fire" until it goes to a public school. And there it straddled, two scarlet cheeks puffed out with rage, soft flaxen hair streaming, cerulean eyes glowing, the poker grasped in two chubby fists. It had poked a window in vague ire, and now threatened two females with extinction if they riled it any more.
The two grown-up women were discovered, erect, but flat, in distant corners, avoiding the bayonet and trusting to their artillery.
"Wicked boy!" "Naughty boy!" (grape.) "Little ruffian!" etc.
And hints as to the ultimate destination of so. sanguinary a soul (round shot).
"Ah! here's miss. Oh, miss, we are so glad you are come up; don't go anigh him, miss; he is a tiger."
Miss Fountain smiled, and went gracefully on one knee beside him. This brought her angelic face level with the fallen cherub's. "What is the matter, dear?" asked she, in a tone of soft pity.
The tiger was not prepared for this: he dropped his poker and flung his little arm round his cousin's neck.
"I love YOU. Oh! oh! oh!"
"Yes, dear; then tell me, now—what is the matter? What have you been doing?"
"Noth—noth—nothing—it's th—them been na—a—agging me!"
"Nagging you?" and she smiled at the word and a tiger's horror of it.
"Who has been nagging you, love?"
"Th—those—bit—bit—it." The word was unfortunately lost in a sob. It was followed by red faces and two simultaneous yells of remonstrance and objurgation.
"I must ask you to be silent a minute," said Miss Fountain, quietly. "Reginald, what do you mean by—by—nagging?"
Reginald explained. "By nagging he meant—why—nagging."
"Well, then, what had they been doing to him?"
No; poor Reginald was not analytical, dialectical and critical, like certain pedanticules who figure in story as children. He was a terrible infant, not a horrible one.
"They won't fight and they won't make it up, and they keep nagging," was all could be got out of him.
"Come with me, dear," said Lucy, gravely.
"Yes," assented the tiger, softly, and went out awestruck, holding her hand, and paddling three steps to each of her serpentine glides.
Seated in her own room, tiger at knee, she tried topics of admonition. During these his eyes wandered about the room in search of matter more amusing, so she was obliged to bring up her reserve.
"And no young lady will ever marry you."
"I don't want them to, cousin; I wouldn't let them; you will marry me, because you promised."
"Why, you know you did—upon your honor; and no lady or gentleman ever breaks their word when they say that; you told me so yourself," added he of the inconvenient memory.
"Ah! but there is another rule that I forgot to tell you."
"What is that?"
"That no lady ever marries a gentleman who has a violent temper."
"Oh, don't they?"
"No; they would be afraid. If you had a wife, and took up the poker, she would faint away, and die—perhaps!"
"But, cousin, you would not want the poker taken to you; you never nag."
"Perhaps that is because we are not married yet."
"What, then, when we are, shall you turn like the others?"
"Impossible to say."
"Well, then" (after a moment's hesitation), "I'll marry you all the same."
"No! you forget; I shall be afraid until your temper mends."
"I'll mend it. It is mended now. See how good I am now," added he, with self-admiration and a shade of surprise.
"I don't call this mending it, for I am not the one that offended you; mending it is promising me never, never to call naughty names again. How would you like to be called a dog?"
"I'd kill 'em."
"There, you see—then how can you expect poor nurse to like it?"
"You don't understand, cousin—Tom said to George the groom that Mrs. Jones was an—old—stingy—b—"
"I don't want to hear anything about Tom."
"He is such a clever fellow, cousin. So I think, if Jones is an old one, those two that keep nagging me must be young ones. What do you think yourself?" asked Reginald, appealing suddenly to her candor.
"And no doubt it was Tom that taught you this other vulgar word 'nagging,'" was the evasive reply.
"No, that was mamma."
Lucy colored, wheeled quickly, and demanded severely of the terrible infant: "Who is this Tom?"
"What! don't you know Tom?" Reginald began to lose a grain of his respect for her. "Why, he helps in the stables; oh, cousin, he is such a nice fellow!"
"Reginald, I shall never marry you if you keep company with grooms, and speak their language."
"Well!" sighed the victim, "I'll give up Tom sooner than you."
"Thank you, dear; now I am flattered. One struggle more; we must go together and ask the nurses' pardon."
"Must we? ugh!"
"Yes—and kiss them—and make it up."
Reginald made a wry face; but, after a pause of solemn reflection, he consented, on condition that Lucy would keep near him, and kiss him directly afterward.
"I shall be sure to do that, because you will be a good boy then."
Outside the door Reginald paused: "I have a favor to ask you, cousin—a great favor. You see I am so very little, and you are so big; now the husband ought to be the biggest."
"Quite my own opinion, Reggy."
"Well, dear, now if you would be so kind as not to grow any older till I catch you up, I shall be so very, very, very much obliged to you, dear."
"I will try, Reggy. Nineteen is a very good age. I will stay there as long as my friends will let me."
"Thank you, cousin."
"But that is not what we have in hand."
The nurses were just agreeing what a shame it was of miss to take that little vagabond's part against them, when she opened the door. "Nurse, here is a penitent—a young gentleman who is never going to use rude words, or be violent and naughty again."
"La! miss, why, it is witchcraft—the dear child—soon up and soon down, as a boy should."
"Beg par'n, nurse—beg par'n, Kitty," recited the dear child, late tiger, and kissed them both hastily; and, this double formula gone through, ran to Miss Fountain and kissed her with warmth, while the nurses were reciting "little angel," "all heart," etc.
"To take the taste out of my mouth," explained the penitent, and was left with his propitiated females; and didn't they nag him at short intervals until sunset! But, strong in the contemplation of his future union with Cousin Lucy, this great heart in a little body despised the pins and needles that had goaded him to fury before.
Lucy went down to the drawing-room. She found Mrs. Bazalgette leaning with one elbow on the table, her hand shading her high, polished forehead; her grave face reflecting great mental power taxed to the uttermost. So Newton looked, solving Nature.
Miss Fountain came in full of the nursery business, but, catching sight of so much mind in labor, approached it with silent curiosity.
The oracle looked up with an absorbed air, and delivered itself very slowly, with eye turned inward.
"I am afraid—I don't think—I quite like my new dress."
"That is unfortunate."
"That would not matter; I never like anything till I have altered it; but here is Baldwin has just sent me word that her mother is dying, and she can't undertake any work for a week. Provoking! could not the woman die just as well after the ball?"
"And my maid has no more taste than an owl. What on earth am I to do?"
"Wear another dress."
"What other can I?"
"Nothing can be prettier than your white mousseline de soie with the tartan trimming."
"No, I have worn that at four balls already; I won't be known by my colors, like a bird. I have made up my mind to wear the jaune, and I will, in spite of them all; that is, if I can find anybody who cares enough for me to try it on, and tell me what it wants." Lucy offered at once to go with her to her room and try it on.
"No—no—it is so cold there; we will do it here by the fire. You will find it in the large wardrobe, dear. Mind how you carry it. Lucy! lots of pins."
Mrs. Bazalgette then rang the bell, and told the servant to say she was out if anyone called, no matter who.
Meantime Lucy, impressed with the gravity of her office, took the dress carefully down from the pegs; and as it would have been death to crease it, and destruction to let its hem sweep against any of the inferior forms of matter, she came down the stairs and into the room holding this female weapon of destruction as high above her head as Judith waves the sword of Holofernes in Etty's immortal picture.
The other had just found time to loosen her dress and lock one of the doors. She now locked the other, and the rites began. Well!!??
"It fits you like a glove."
"Really? tell the truth now; it is a sin to tell a story—about a new gown. What a nuisance one can't see behind one!"
"I could fetch another glass, but you may trust my word, aunt. This point behind is very becoming; it gives distinction to the waist."
"Yes, Baldwin cuts these bodies better than Olivier; but the worst of her is, when it comes to the trimming you have to think for yourself. The woman has no mind; she is a pair of hands, and there is an end of her."
"I must confess it is a little plain, for one thing," said Lucy.
"Why, you little goose, you don't think I am going to wear it like this. No. I thought of having down a wreath and bouquet from Foster's of violets and heart's-ease—the bosom and sleeves covered with blond, you know, and caught up here and there with a small bunch of the flowers. Then, in the center heart's-ease of the bosom, I meant to have had two of my largest diamonds set—hush!"
The door-handle worked viciously; then came rap! rap! rap! rap!
"Tic—tic—tic; this is always the way. Who is there? Go away; you can't come here."
"But I want to speak to you. What the deuce are you doing?" said through the keyhole the wretch that owned the room in a mere legal sense.
"We are trying a dress. Come again in an hour."
"Confound your dresses! Who is we?"
"Lucy has got a new dress."
"Aunt!" whispered Lucy, in a tone of piteous expostulation.
"Oh, if it is Lucy. Well, good-by, ladies. I am obliged to go to London at a moment's notice for a couple of days. You will have done by when I come back, perhaps," and off went Bazalgette whistling, but not best pleased. He had told his wife more than once that the drawing-rooms and dining-rooms of a house are the public rooms, and the bedrooms the private ones.
Lucy colored with mortification. It was death to her to annoy anyone; so her aunt had thrust her into a cruel position.
"Poor Mr. Bazalgette!" sighed she.
"Fiddle de dee. Let him go, and come back in a better temper—set transparent; so then, backed by the violet, you know, they will imitate dewdrops to the life."
"Charming! Why not let Olivier do it for you, as poor Baldwin cannot?"
"Because Olivier works for the Claytons, and we should have that Emily Clayton out as my double; and as we visit the same houses—"
"And as she is extremely pretty—aunt, what a generalissima you are!"
"Pretty! Snub-nosed little toad. No, she is not pretty. But she is eighteen; so I can't afford to dress her. No. I see I shall have to moderate my views for this gown, and buy another dress for the flowers and diamonds. There, take it off, and let us think it calmly over. I never act in a hurry but I am sorry for it afterward—I mean in things of real importance." The gown was taken off in silence, broken only by occasional sighs from the sufferer, in whose heart a dozen projects battled fiercely for the mastery, and worried and sore perplexed her, and rent her inmost soul fiercely divers ways.
"Black lace, dear," suggested Lucy, soothingly.
Mrs. B. curled her arm lovingly round Lucy's waist. "Just what I was beginning to think," said she, warmly. "And we can't both be mistaken, can we? But where can I get enough?" and her countenance, that the cheering coincidence had rendered seraphic, was once more clouded with doubt.
"Why, you have yards of it."
"Yes, but mine is all made up in some form or other, and it musses one's things so to pick them to pieces."
"So it does, dear," replied Lucy, with gentle but genuine feeling.
"It would only be for one night, Lucy—I should not hurt it, love—you would not like to fetch down your Brussels point scarf, and see how it would look, would you? We need not cut the lace, dear; we could tack it on again the next morning; you are not so particular as I am—you look well in anything."
Lucy was soon seated denuding herself and embellishing her aunt. The latter reclined with grace, and furthered the work by smile and gesture.
"You don't ask me about the skirmish in the nursery."
"Their squabbles bore me, dear; but you can tell me who was the most in fault, if you think it worth while."
"Reginald, then, I am afraid; but it is not the poor boy; it is the influence of the stable-yard; and I do advise and entreat you to keep him out of it."
"Impossible, my dear; you don't know boys. The stable is their paradise. When he grows older his father must interfere; meantime, let us talk of something more agreeable."
"Yes; you shall go on with your story. You had got to his look of despair when your papa came in that morning."
"Oh, I have no time for anybody's despair just now; I can think of nothing but this detestable gown. Lucy, I suspect I almost wish I had made them put another breadth into the skirt."
Lucy begged her aunt to go down alone; she would stay and work.
"No, you must come to luncheon; there is a dish on purpose for you—stewed eels."
"Eels; why, I abhor them; I think they are water-serpents."
"Who is it that is so fond of them, then?"
"It is you, aunt."
"So it is. I thought it had been you. Come, you must come down, whether you eat anything or not. I like somebody to talk to me while I am eating, and I had an idea just now—it is gone—but perhaps it will come back to me: it was about this abominable gown. O! how I wish there was not such a thing as dress in the world!!!"
While Mrs. Bazalgette was munching water-snakes with delicate zeal, and Lucy nibbling cake, came a letter. Mrs. Bazalgette read it with heightening color, laid it down, cast a pitying glance on Lucy, and said, with a sigh, "Poor girl!"
Lucy turned a little pale. "Has anything happened?" she faltered.
"Something is going to happen; you are to be torn away from here, where you are so happy—where we all love you, dear. It is from that selfish old bachelor. Listen: 'Dear madam, my niece Lucy has been due here three days. I have waited to see whether you would part with her without being dunned. My curiosity on that point is satisfied, and I have now only my affection to consult, which I do by requesting you to put her and her maid into a carriage that will be waiting for her at your door twenty-four hours after you receive this note. I have the honor to be, madam,' an old brute!!"
"And you can smile; but that is you all over; you don't care a straw whether you are happy or miserable."
"Not you; you will leave this, where you are a little queen, and go and bury yourself three months with that old bachelor, and nobody will ever gather from your face that you are bored to death; and here we are asked to the Cavendishes' next Wednesday, and the Hunts' ball on Friday—you are such a lucky girl—our best invitations always drop in while you are with us—we go out three times as often during your months as at other times; it is your good fortune, or the weather, or something."
"Dear aunt, this was your own arrangement with Uncle Fountain. I used to be six months with each in turn till you insisted on its being three. You make me almost laugh, both you and Uncle Fountain; what do you see in me worth quarreling for?"
"I will tell you what he sees—a good little spiritless thing—"
"I am larger than you, dear."
"Yes, in body—that he can make a slave of—always ready to nurse him and his foe, or to put down your work and to take up his—to play at his vile backgammon."
"Where is the difference?—to share his desolation, and take half his blue devils on your own shoulders, till he will hyp you so that to get away you will consent to marry into his set—the county set—some beggarly old family that came down from the Conquest, and has been going down ever since; so then he will let you fly—with a string: you must vegetate two miles from him; so then he can have you in to Backquette and write his letters: he will settle four hundred a year on you, and you will be miserable for life."
"Poor Uncle Fountain, what a schemer he turns out!"
"Men all turn out schemers when you know them, Miss Impertinence. Well, dear, I have no selfish views for you. I love my few friends too single-heartedly for that; but I am sad when I see you leaving us to go where you are not prized."
"Indeed, aunt, I am prized at Font Abbey. I am overrated there as I am here. They all receive me with open arms."
"So is a hare when it comes into a trap," said Mrs. Bazalgette, sharply, drawing upon a limited knowledge of grammar and field-sports.
"No—Uncle Fountain really loves me."
"As much as I do?" asked the lady, with a treacherous smile.
"Very nearly," was the young courtier's reply. She went on to console her aunt's unselfish solicitude, by assuring her that Font Abbey was not a solitude; that dinners and balls abounded, and her uncle was invited to them all.
"You little goose, don't you see? all those invitations are for your sake, not his. If we could look in on him now we should find him literally in single cursedness. Those county folks are not without cunning. They say beauty has come to stay with the beast; we must ask the beast to dinner, so then beauty will come along with him.
"What other pleasure awaits you at Font Abbey?"
"The pleasure of giving pleasure," replied Lucy, apologetically.
"Ah! that is your weakness, Lucy. It is all very well with those who won't take advantage; but it is the wrong game to play with all the world. You will be made a tool of, and a slave of, and use of. I speak from experience. You know how I sacrifice myself to those I love; luckily, they are not many."
"Not so many as love you, dear."
"Heaven forbid! but you are at the head of them all, and I am going to prove it—by deeds, not words."
Lucy looked up at this additional feature in her aunt's affection.
"You must go to the great bear's den for three months, but it shall be the last time!" Lucy said nothing.
"You will return never to quit us, or, at all events, not the neighborhood."
"That—would be nice," said the courtier warmly, but hesitatingly; "but how will you gain uncle's consent?"
"By dispensing with it."
"Yes; but the means, aunt?"
Lucy started and colored all over, and looked askant at her aunt with opening eyes, like a thoroughbred filly just going to start all across the road. Mrs. Bazalgette laid a loving hand on her shoulder, and whispered knowingly in her ear: "Trust to me; I'll have one ready for you against you come back this time."
"No, please don't! pray don't!" cried Lucy, clasping her hands in feeble-minded distress.
"In this neighborhood—one of the right sort."
"I am so happy as I am."
"You will be happier when you are quite a slave, and so I shall save you from being snapped up by some country wiseacre, and marry you into our own set."
"Merchant princes," suggested Lucy, demurely, having just recovered her breath and what little sauce there was in her.
"Yes, merchant princes—the men of the age—the men who could buy all the acres in the country without feeling it—the men who make this little island great, and a woman happy, by letting her have everything her heart can desire."
"You mean everything that money can buy."
"Of course. I said so, didn't I?"
"So, then, you are tired of me in the house?" remonstrated Lucy, sadly.
"No, ingrate; but you will be sure to marry soon or late."
"No, I will not, if I can possibly help it."
"But you can't help it; you are not the character to help it. The first man that comes to you and says: 'I know you rather dislike me' (you could not hate anybody, Lucy,) 'but if you don't take me I shall die of a broken fiddlestick,' you will whine out, 'Oh, dear! shall you? Well, then, sooner than disoblige you, here—take me!'"
"Am I so weak as this?" asked Lucy, coloring, and the water coming into her eyes.
"Don't be offended," said the other, coolly; "we won't call it weakness, but excess of complaisance; you can't say no to anybody."
"Yet I have said it," replied Lucy, thoughtfully.
"Have you? When? Oh, to me. Yes; where I am concerned you have sometimes a will of your own, and a pretty stout one; but never with anybody else."
The aunt then inquired of the niece, "frankly, now, between ourselves," whether she had no wish to be married. The niece informed her in confidence that she had not, and was puzzled to conceive how the bare idea of marriage came to be so tempting to her sex. Of course, she could understand a lady wishing to marry, if she loved a gentleman who was determined to be unhappy without her; but that women should look about for some hunter to catch instead of waiting quietly till the hunter caught them, this puzzled her; and as for the superstitious love of females for the marriage rite in cases when it took away their liberty and gave them nothing amiable in return, it amazed her. "So, aunt," she concluded, "if you really love me, driving me to the altar will be an unfortunate way of showing it."
While listening to this tirade, which the young lady delivered with great serenity, and concluded with a little yawn, Mrs. Bazalgette had two thoughts. The first was: "This girl is not flesh and blood; she is made of curds and whey, or something else;" the second was: "No, she is a shade hypocriticaler than other girls—before they are married, that is all;" and, acting on this latter conviction, she smiled a lofty incredulity, and fell to counting on her fingers all the moneyed bachelors for miles.
At this Lucy winced with sensitive modesty, and for once a shade of vexation showed itself on her lovely features. The quick-sighted, keen-witted matron caught it, and instantly made a masterly move of feigned retreat. "No," cried she, "I will not tease you anymore, love; just promise me not to receive any gentleman's addresses at Font Abbey, and I will never drive you from my arms to the altar."
"I promise that," cried Lucy, eagerly.
"Upon your honor?"
"Upon my honor."
"Kiss me, dear. I know you won't deceive me now you have pledged your honor. This solemn promise consoles me more than you can conceive."
"I am so glad; but if you knew how little it costs me."
"All the better; you will be more likely to keep it," was the dry reply.
The conversation then took a more tender turn. "And so to-morrow you go! How dull the house will be without you! and who is to keep my brats in order now I have no idea. Well, there is nothing but meeting and parting in this world; it does not do to love people, does it? (ah!) Don't cry, love, or I shall give way; my desolate heart already brims over—no—now don't cry" (a little sharply); "the servants will be coming in to take away the things."
"Will you c—c—come and h—help me pack, dear?"
"Me, love? oh no! I could not bear the sight of your things put out to go away. I promised to call on Mrs. Hunt this afternoon; and you must not stop in all day yourself—I cannot let your health be sacrificed; you had better take a brisk walk, and pack afterward."
"Thank you, aunt. I will go and finish my drawing of Harrowden Church to take with me."
"No, don't go there; the meadows are wet. Walk upon the Hatton road; it is all gravel."
"Yes; only it is so ugly, and I have nothing to do that way."
"But I'll give you something to do," said Mrs. Bazalgette, obligingly. "You know where old Sarah and her daughter live—the last cottages on that road; I don't like the shape of the last two collars they made me; you can take them back, if you like, and lend them one of yours I admire so for a pattern."
"That I will, with pleasure."
"Shall you come back through the garden? If you don't—never mind; but, if you do, you may choose me a bouquet. The servants are incapable of a bouquet."
"I will; thank you, dear. How kind and thoughtful of you to give me something to occupy me now that I am a little sad." Mrs. Bazalgette accepted this tribute with a benignant smile, and the ladies parted.
The next morning a traveling-carriage, with four smoking post-horses, came wheeling round the gravel to the front door. Uncle Fountain's factotum got down from the dicky, packed Lucy's imperial on the roof, and slung a box below the dicky; stowed her maid away aft, arranged the foot-cushion and a shawl or two inside, and, half obsequiously, half bumptiously, awaited the descent of his fair charge.
Then, upstairs, came a sudden simultaneous attack of ardent lips, and a long, clinging embrace that would have graced the most glorious, passionate, antique love. Sculpture outdone, the young lady went down, and was handed into the carriage. Her ardent aunt followed presently, and fired many glowing phrases in at the window; and, just as the carriage moved, she uttered a single word quite quietly, as much as to say, Now, this I mean. This genuine word, the last Aunt Bazalgette spoke, had been, two hundred years before, the last word of Charles the First. Note the coincidences of history.
The two postboys lifted their whips level to their eyes by one instinct, the horses tightened the traces, the wheels ground the gravel, and Lucy was whirled away with that quiet, emphatic post-dict ringing in her ears,
Font Hill was sixty miles off: they reached it in less than six hours. There was Uncle Fountain on the hall steps to receive her, and the comely housekeeper, Mrs. Brown, ducking and smiling in the background. While the servants were unpacking the carriage, Mr. Fountain took Lucy to her bedroom. Mrs. Brown had gone on before to see for the third time whether all was comfortable. There was a huge fire, all red; and on the table a gigantic nosegay of spring flowers, with smell to them all.
"Oh how nice, after a journey!" said Lucy, mowing down Uncle Fountain and Mrs. Brown with one comprehensive smile.
Mrs. Brown flamed with complacency.
"What!" cried her uncle; "I suppose you expected a black fire and impertinent apologies by way of substitute for warmth; a stuffy room, and damp sheets, roasted, like a woodcock, twenty minutes before use."
"No, uncle, dear, I expected every comfort at Font Abbey." Brown retired with a courtesy.
"Aha! What! you have found out that it is all humbug about old bachelors not knowing comfort? Do bachelors ever put their friends into damp sheets? No; that is the women's trick with their household science. Your sex have killed more men with damp sheets than ever fell by the sword."
"Yet nobody erects monuments to us," put in Lucy, slyly.
She missed fire. Uncle Fountain, like most Englishmen, could take in a pun by the ear, but wit only by the eye. "Do you remember when Mrs. Bazalgette put you into the linen sponge, and killed you?"
"Certainly, as far as in her lay. We can but do our best; well, she did hers, and went the right way to work."
"You see I survive."
"By a miracle. Dinner is at six."
"Very well, dear."
"Yes; but six in this house means sixty minutes after five and sixty minutes before seven. I mention this the first day because you are just come from a place where it means twenty minutes to seven; also let me observe that I think I have noticed soup and potatoes eat better hot than cold, and meat tastes nicer done to a turn than—"
"To a cinder?"
"Ha! ha! and come with an appetite, please."
"Uncle, no tyranny, I beg."
"Tyranny? you know this is Liberty Hall; only when I eat I expect my companion to-eat too; besides, there is nothing to be gained by humbug to-day. There will be only us two at dinner; and when I see young ladies fiddling with an asparagus head instead of eating their dinner, it don't fall into the greenhorn's notion—exquisite creature! all soul! no stomach! feeds on air, ideas, and quadrille music—no; what do you think I say?"
"Something flattering, I feel sure."
"On the contrary, something true. I say hypocrite! Been grubbing like a pig all day, so can't eat like a Christian at meal time; you can't humbug me."
"Alas! so I see. That decides me to be candid—and hungry."
"Well, I am off; I don't stick to my friends and bore them with my affairs like that egotistical hussy, Jane Bazalgette. I amuse myself, and leave them to amuse themselves; that is my notion of politeness. I am going to see my pigs fed, then into the village. I am building a new blacksmith's shop there (you must come and look at it the first thing to-morrow); and at six, if you want to find me—"
"I shall peep behind the soup-tureen."
"And there I shall be, if I am alive." At dinner the old boy threw himself into the work with such zeal that soon after the cloth was removed, from fatigue and repletion, he dropped asleep, with his shoulder toward Lucy, but his face instinctively turned toward the fire. Lucy crept away on tiptoe, not to disturb him.
In about an hour he bustled into the drawing-room, ordered tea, blew up the footman because the cook had not water boiling that moment, drank three cups, then brightened up, rubbed his hands, and with a cheerful, benevolent manner, "Now, Lucy," cried he, "come and help me puzzle out this tiresome genealogy."
A smile of warm assent from Lucy, and the old bachelor and the blooming Hebe were soon seated with a mountain of parchments by their side, and a tree spreading before them.
It was not a finite tree like an elm or an oak; no, it was a banyan tree; covered an acre, and from its boughs little suckers dropped to earth, and turned to little trees, and had suckers in their turn, and "confounded the confusion."
Uncle Fountain's happiness depended, pro tem, on proving that he was a sucker from the great bough of the Fontaines of Melton; and why? Because, this effected, he had only to go along that bough by an established pedigree to the great trunk of the Funteyns of Salle, and the first Funteyn of Salle was said to be (and this he hoped to prove true) great-grandson of Robert de Fontibus, son of John de Fonte.
Now Uncle Fountain could prove himself the shoot of George his father (a step at which so many pedigrees halt), who was the shoot of William, who was the shoot of Richard; but here came a gap of eighty years between him and that Fountain, younger son of Melton, to whom he wanted to hook on. Now the logic of women, children, and criticasters is a thing of gaps; they reason as marches a kangaroo; but to mathematicians, logicians, and genealogists, a link wanting is a chain broken. This blank then made Uncle Fountain miserable, and he cried out for help. Lucy came with her young eyes, her woman's patience, and her own complaisance. A great ditch yawned between a crocheteer and a rotten branch he coveted. Our Quinta Curtia flung herself, her eyesight, and her time into that ditch.
Twelve o'clock came, and found them still wallowing in modern antiquity.
"Bless me!" cried Mr. Fountain when John brought up the bed-candles, "how time flies when one is really employed."
"Yes, indeed, uncle;" and by a gymnastic of courtesy she first crushed and then so molded a yawn that it glided into society a smile.
"We have spent a delightful evening, Lucy."
"Thanks to you, uncle."
"I hope you will sleep well, child."
"I am sure I shall, dear," said she, sweetly and inadvertently.
A LARGE aspiration is a rarity; but who has not some small ambition, none the less keen for being narrow—keener, perhaps? Mrs. Bazalgette burned to be great by dress; Mr. Fountain, member of a sex with higher aims, aspired to be great in the county.
Unluckily, his main property was in the funds. He had acres in ——shire; but so few that, some years ago, its lord lieutenant declined to make him an injustice of the peace. That functionary died, and on his death the mortified aspirant bought a coppice, christened it Springwood, and under cover of this fringe to his three meadows, applied to the new lord lieutenant as M'Duff approached M'Beth. The new man made him a magistrate; so now he aspired to be a deputy lieutenant, and attended all the boards of magistrates, and turnpike trusts, etc., and brought up votes and beer-barrels at each election, and, in, short, played all the cards in his pack, Lucy included, to earn that distinction.
We may as well confess that there lurked in him a half-unconscious hope that some day or other, in some strange collision or combination of parties, a man profound in county business, zealous in county interests, personally obnoxious to nobody, might drop into the seat of county member; and, if this should be, would not he have the sense to hold his tongue upon the noisy questions that waste Parliament's time, and the nation's; but, on the first of those periodical attacks to which the wretched landowner is subject, wouldn't he speak, and show the difference between a mere member of the Commons and a member for the county?
If anyone had asked this man plump which is the most important, England or ——shire, he would have certainly told you England; but our opinions are not the notions we repeat, and can defend by reasons or even by facts: our opinions are the notions we feel and act on.
Could you have looked inside Mr. Fountain's head, you would have seen ideas corresponding to the following diagrams:
Mr. Fountain courted the stomach of the county.
Without this, he knew, an angel could not reach its heart; and here one of his eccentricities broke out. He drew a line, in his dictatorial way, between dinner and feeding parties. "A dinner party is two rubbers. Four gentlemen and four ladies sit round a circular table; then each can hear what anyone says, and need not twist the neck at every word. Foraging parties are from fourteen to thirty, set up and down a plank, each separated from those he could talk to as effectually as if the ocean rolled between, and bawling into one person's ear amid the din of knives, forks, and multitude. I go to those long strings of noisy duets because I must, but I give society at home."
The county people had just strength of mind to like the old boy's sociable dinners, though not to imitate them, and an invitation from him was very rarely declined when Lucy was with him.
And she was in her glory. She could carry complaisance such a long way at Font Abbey—she was mistress of the house.
She listened with a wonderful appearance of interest to county matters, i.e., to minute scandal and infinitesimal politics; to the county cricket match and archery meeting; to the past ball and the ball to come. In the drawing-room, when a cold fit fell on the coterie, she would glide to one egotist after another, find out the monotope, and set the critter Peter's, the Place de Concorde, the Square of St. Mark, Versailles, the Alhambra, the Apollo Belvidere, the Madonna of the Chair, and all the glories of nature and the feats of art could not warm. So, then, the fine gentleman began to act—to walk himself out as a person who had seen and could give details about anything, but was exalted far above admiring anything (quel grand homme! rien ne peut lui plaire); and on this, while the women were gazing sweetly on him, and revering his superiority to all great impressions, and the men envying, rather hating, but secretly admiring him too, she who had launched him bent on him a look of soft pity, and abandoned him to admiration.
"Poor Mr. Talboys," thought she, "I fear I have done him an ill turn by drawing him out;" and she glided to her uncle, who was sitting apart, and nobody talking to him.
Mr. Talboys, started by Lucy, ambled out his high-pacing nil admirantem character, and derived a little quiet self-satisfaction. This was the highest happiness he was capable of; so he was not ungrateful to Miss Fountain, who had procured it him, and partly for this, partly because he had been kind to her and lent her a pony, he shook hands with her somewhat cordially at parting. As it happened, he was the last guest.
"You have won that, man's heart, Lucy," cried Mr. Fountain, with a mixture of surprise and pride.
Lucy made no reply. She looked quickly into his face to see if he was jesting.
"Writing, Lucy—so late?"
"Only a few lines, uncle. You shall see them; I note the more remarkable phenomena of society. I am recalling a conversation between three of our guests this evening, and shall be grateful for your opinion on it. There! Read it out, please."
Mrs. Luttrell. "We missed you at the archery meeting—ha! ha! ha!"
Mrs. Willis. "Mr. Willis would not let me go—he! he! he!"
Mrs. James. "Well, at all events—he! he!—you will come to the flower show."
Mrs. Willis. "Oh yes!—he! he!—I am so fond of flowers—ha! ha!"
Mrs. Luttrell. "So am I. I adore them—he! he!"
Mrs. Willis. "How sweetly Miss Malcolm sings—he! he!"
Mrs. Luttrell. "Yes, she shakes like a bird—ha! ha!"
Mrs. James. "A little Scotch accent though—he! he!"
Mrs. Luttrell. "She is Scotch—he! he!" (To John offering her tea.) "No more, thank you—he! he!"
Mrs. James. "Shall you go the Assize sermon?—ha! ha!"
Mrs. Willis. "Oh, yes—he! he!—the last was very dry—he! he! Who preaches it this term?—he!"
Mrs. James. "The Bishop—he! he!"
Mrs. Willis. "Then I shall certainly go; he is such a dear preacher—he! he!"
"Just tell me what is the precise meaning of 'ha! ha!' and what of 'he! he!'"
"The precise meaning? There you puzzle me, uncle."
"I mean, what do you mean by them?"
"Oh, I put 'ha! ha!' when they giggle, and 'he! he!' when they only chuckle."
"Then this is a caricature, my lady?"
"No, dear, you know I have no satire in me; it is taken down to the letter, and I fear I must trouble you for the solution."
"Well, the solution is, they are three fools."
"No, uncle, begging your pardon, they are not," replied Lucy, politely but firmly.
"Well, then, three d—d fools."
Lucy winced at the participle, but was two polite to lecture her elder. "They have not that excuse," said she; "they are all sensible women, who discharge the duties of life with discretion except society; and they can discriminate between grave and gay whenever they are not at a party; and as for Mrs. Luttrell, when she is alone with me she is a sweet, natural love."
"They cackled—at every word—like that—the whole evening!!??"
"Except when you told that funny story about the Irish corporal who was attacked by a mastiff, and killed him with his halberd, and, when he was reproached by his captain for not being content to repel so valuable an animal with the butt end of his lance, answered—ha! ha!"
"So, then, he answered 'Haw! haw!' did he?"
"Now, uncle! No; he answered, 'So I would, your arnr, if he had run at me with his tail!' Now, that was genuine wit, mixed with quite enough fun to make an intelligent person laugh; and then you told it so drolly—ha! ha!"
"They did not laugh at that?"
"Sat as grave as judges."
"And you tell me they are not fools."
"I must repeat, they have not that excuse. Perhaps their risibility had been exhausted. After laughing three hours a propos de rien, it is time to be serious out of place. I will tell you what they did laugh at, though. Miss Malcolm sang a song with a title I dare not attempt. There were two lines in it which I am going to mispronounce; but you are not Scotch, so I don't care for you, uncle, darling.
"'He had but a saxpence; he break it in twa, And he gave me the half o't when he gaed awa.'
"They laughed at that; a general giggle went round."
"Well, I must confess, I don't see much to laugh at in that, Lucy."
"It would be odd if you did, uncle, dear; why, it is pathetic."
"Pathetic? Oh, is it?"
"You naughty, cunning uncle, you know it is; it is pathetic, and almost heroic. Consider, dear: in a world where the very newspapers show how mercenary we all are, a poor young man is parted from his love. He has but one coin to go through the world with, and what does he do with it? Scheme to make the sixpence a crown, and to make the crown a pound? No; he breaks this one treasure in two, that both the poor things may have a silver token of love and a pledge of his return. I am sure, if the poet had been here, he would have been quite angry with us for laughing at that line."
"Keep your temper. Why, this is new from you, Lucy; but you women of sugar can all cauterize your own sex; the theme inspires you."
"Uncle, how dare you! Are you not afraid I shall be angry one of these days, dear!!? The gentlemen were equally concerned in this last enormity. Poor Jemmy, or Jammy, with his devotion and tenderness that soothed, and his high spirit that supported the weaker vessel, was as funny to our male as to our female guests—so there. I saw but one that understood him, and did not laugh at him"
"Talboys, for a pound."
"Mr. Talboys? no! You, dear uncle; you did not laugh; I noticed it with all a niece's pride."
"Of course I didn't. Can I hear a word these ladies mew? can I tell in what language even they are whining and miauling? I have given up trying this twenty years and more."
"I return to my question," said Lucy hastily.
"And I to my solution; your three graces are three d—d fools. If you can account for it in any other way, do."
"No, uncle dear. If you had happened to agree with me beforehand, I would; but as you do not, I beg to be excused. But keep the paper, and the next time listen to the talk and unmeaning laughter; you will find I have not exaggerated, and some day, dear, I will tell you how my mamma used to account for similar monstrosities in society."
"Here is a mysterious little toad. Well, Lucy, for all this you enjoyed yourself. I never saw you in better spirits."
"I am glad you saw that," said Lucy, with a languid smile.
"And how Talboys came out."
"He did," sighed Lucy.
Here the young lady lighted softly on an ottoman, and sank gracefully back with a weary-o'-the-world air; and when she had settled down like so much floss silk, fixing her eye on the ceiling, and doling her words out languidly yet thoughtfully—just above a whisper, "Uncle, darling," inquired she, "where are the men we have all heard of?"
"How should I know? What men?"
"Where are the men of sentiment, that can understand a woman, and win her to reveal her real heart, the best treasure she has, uncle dear?" She paused for a reply; none coming, she continued with decreasing energy:
"Where are the men of spirit? the men of action? the upright, downright men, that Heaven sends to cure us of our disingenuousness? Where are the heroes and the wits?" (an infinitesimal yawn); "where are the real men? And where are the women to whom such men can do homage without degrading themselves? where are the men who elevate a woman without making her masculine, and the women who can brighten and polish, and yet not soften the steel of manhood—tell me, tell me instantly," said she, with still greater languor and want of earnestness, and her eyes remained fixed on the ceiling in deep abstraction.
"They are all in this house at this moment," said Mr. Fountain, coolly.
"Who, dear? I fear I was not attending to you. How rude!!"
"Horrid. I say the men and women you inquire for are all in this house of mine;" and the old gentleman's eyes twinkled.
"Uncle! Heaven forgive you, and—oh, fie!"
"They are, upon my soul."
"Then they must be in some part of it I have not visited. Are they in the kitchen?" (with a little saucy sneer.)
"No, they are in the library."
"In the lib— Ah! le malin!"
"They were never seen in the drawing-room, and never will be."
"Yet surely they must have lived in nature before they were embalmed in print," said Lucy, interrogating the ceiling again.
"The nearest approach you will meet to these paragons is Reginald Talboys," said Fountain, stoutly.
"Uncle, I do love you;" and Lucy rose with Juno-like slowness and dignity, and, leaning over the old boy, kissed him with sudden small fury.
"Why?" asked he, eagerly, connecting this majestic squirt of affection with his last speech.
"Because you are such a nice, dear, sarcastic thing. Let us drink tea in the library to-morrow, then that will be an approach to—"
With this illegitimate full stop the conversation ended, and Miss Fountain took a candle and sauntered to bed.
In church next Sunday Lucy observed a young lady with a beaming face, who eyed her by stealth in all the interstices of devotion. She asked her uncle who was that pretty girl with a nez retrousse.
"A cocked nose? It must be my little friend, Eve Dodd. I didn't know she was come back."
"What a pretty face to be in such—such a—such an impossible bonnet. It has come down from another epoch." This not maliciously, but with a sort of tender, womanly concern for beauty set off to the most disadvantage.
"O, hang her bonnet! She is full of fun; she shall drink tea with us; she is a great favorite of mine."
They quickened their pace, and caught Eve Dodd just as she took a flying leap over some water that lay in her path, and showed a charming ankle. In those days female dress committed two errors that are disappearing: it revealed the whole foot by day, and hid a section of the bosom at night.
After the usual greetings, Mr. Fountain asked Eve if she would come over and drink tea with him and his niece.
Miss Dodd colored and cast a glance of undisguised admiration at Miss Fountain, but she said: "Thank you, sir; I am much obliged, but I am afraid I can't come. My brother would miss me."
"What—the sailor? Is he at home?"
"Yes, sir; came home last night"; and she clapped her hands by way of comment. "He has been with my mother all church-time; so now it is my turn, and I don't know how to let him out of my sight yet awhile." And she gave a glance at Miss Fountain, as much as to say, "You understand."
"Well, Eve," said Mr. Fountain good-humoredly, "we must not separate brother and sister," and he was turning to go.
"Perhaps, uncle," said Lucy, looking not at Mr. Fountain, but at Eve—"Mr.—Mr.—"
"David Dodd is my brother's name," said Eve, quickly.
"Mr. David Dodd might be persuaded to give us the pleasure of his company too."
"Oh yes, if I may bring dear David with me," burst out the child of nature, coloring again with pleasure.
"It will add to the obligation," said Lucy, finishing the sentence in character.
"So that is settled," said Mr. Fountain, somewhat dryly.
As they were walking home together, the courtier asked her uncle rather coldly, "Who are these we have invited, dear?"
"Who are they? A pretty girl and a man she wouldn't come without."
"And who is the gentleman? What is he?"
"A marine animal—first mate of a ship."
"First mate? mate? Is that what in the novels is called boatswain's mate?"
"Haw! haw! haw! I say, Lucy, ask him when he comes if he is the bosen's mate. How little Eve will blaze!"
"Then I shall ask him nothing of the kind. Do tell me! I know admirals—they swear—and captains, and, I think, lieutenants, and, above all, those little loves of midshipmen, strutting with their dirks and cocked hats, like warlike bantams, but I never met 'mates.' Mates?"
"That is because you have only been introduced to the Royal Navy; but there is another navy not so ornamental, but quite as useful, called the East India Company's."
"I am ashamed to say I never heard of it."
"I dare say not. Well, in this navy there are only two kinds of superior officers—the mates and the captain. There are five or six mates. Young Dodd has been first mate some time, so I suppose he will soon be a captain."
"There, now. I do not like swearing on a Sunday. That wicked old admiral used to make me shudder."
"Oh," said Mr. Fountain, playing upon innocence, "he swore by the Supreme Being, 'I bet sixpence.'"
"Yes," said Lucy, in a low, soft voice of angelic regret.
"Ah! he was in the Royal Navy. But this is a merchantman; you don't think he will presume to break into the monopoly of the superior branch. He will only swear by the wind and weather. Thunder and squalls! Donner and blitzen! Handspikes and halyards! these are the innocent execrations of the merchant service—he! he! ho!"
"Uncle, can you be serious?" asked Lucy, somewhat coldly; "if so, be so good as to tell me, is this gentleman—a—gentleman?"
"Well," replied the other, coolly, "he is what I call a nondescript; like an attorney, or a surgeon, or a civil engineer, or a banker, or a stock-broker, and all that sort of people. He can be a gentleman if he is thoroughly bent on it; you would in his place, and so should I; but these skippers don't turn their mind that way. Old families don't go into the merchant service. Indeed, it would not answer. There they rise by—by—mere maritime considerations."
"Then, uncle," began Lucy, with dignified severity, "permit me to say that, in inviting a nondescript, you showed—less consideration for me than—you—are in the habit—of doing, dearest."
"Well, have a headache, and can't come down."
"So I certainly should; but, most unfortunately, I have an objection to tell fibs on a Sunday."
"You are quite right; we should rest from our usual employments one day-ha! ha! and so go at it fresher to-morrow—haw! ho! Come, Lucy, don't you be so exclusive. Eve Dodd is a merry girl. She comes and amuses me when you are not here, and David, by all accounts, is a fine young fellow, and as modest as a girl of fifteen; they will make me laugh, especially Eve, and it would be hard at my age, I think, if I might not ask whom I like—to tea."
"So it would," put in Lucy, hastily; she added, coaxing, "it shall have its own way—it shall have what makes it laugh."
Long before eight o'clock the Fountains had forgotten that they had invited the Dodds.
Not so Eve. She was all in a flutter, and hesitated between two dresses, and by some blessed inspiration decided for the plainest; but her principal anxiety was, not about herself, but about David's deportment before the Queen of Fashion, for such report proclaimed Miss Fountain. "And those fine ladies are so satirical," said Eve to herself; "but I will lecture him going along."
Dinner time, and, by consequence, tea time, came earlier in those days; so, about eight o'clock, a tall, square-shouldered young fellow was walking in the moonlight toward Font Abbey, Eve holding his hand, and tripping by his side, and lecturing him on deportment very gravely while dancing around him and pulling him all manner of ways, like your solid tune with your gamboling accompaniment, a combination now in vogue. All of a sudden, without with your leave or by your leave, the said David caught this light fantastic object up in his arms, and carried it on one shoulder.
On this she gave a little squeak; then, without a moment's interval, continued her lecture as if nothing had happened. She looked down from her perch like a hen from a ladder, and laid down the law to David with seriousness and asperity.
"And just please to remember that they are people a long way above us—at least above what we are now, since father fell into trouble; so don't you make too free; and Miss Fountain is the finest of all the fine ladies in the county."
"Then I am sorry we are going."
"No, you are not; she is a beautiful girl."
"That alters the case."
"No, it does not. Don't chatter so, David, interrupting forever, but listen and mind what I say, or I'll never take you anywhere again."
"Are you sure you are taking me now?" asked David, dryly.
"Why not, Mr. David?" retorted Eve, from his shoulder. "Didn't I hear you tell how you took the Combermere out of harbor, and how you brought her into port; she didn't take you out and bring you home, eh?"
"Had me there, though."
"Yes; and, what is more, you are not skipper of the Combermere yet, and never will be; but I am skipper of you."
"Ashore—not a doubt of it," said David, with cool indifference. He despised terrestrial distinction, courting only such as was marine.
"Then I command you to let me down this instant. Do you hear, crew!"
"No," objected David; "if I put you overboard you can't command the vessel, and ten to one if the craft does not founder for want of seawomanship on the quarterdeck. However," added he, in a relenting tone, "wait till we get to that puddle shining on ahead, and then I'll disembark you."
"No, David, do let me down, that's a good soul. I am tired," added she, peevishly.
"Tired! of what?"
"Of doing nothing, stupid; there, let me down, dear; won't you, darling! then take that, love" (a box of the ear).
"Well, I've got it," said David, dryly.
"Keep it, then, till the next. No, he won't let me down. He has got both my hands in one of his paws, and he will carry me every foot of the way now—I know the obstinate pig."
"We all have our little characters, Eve. Well, I have got your wrists, but you have got your tongue, and that is the stronger weapon of the two, you know; and you are on the poop, so give your orders, and the ship shall be worked accordingly; likewise, I will enter all your remarks on good-breeding into my log."
Here, unluckily, David tapped his forehead to signify that the log in question was a metaphorical one, the log of memory. Eve had him again directly. She freed a claw. "So this is your log, is it?" cried she, tapping it as hard as she could; "well, it does sound like wood of some sort. Well, then, David, dear—you wretch, I mean—promise me not to laugh loud."
"Well, I will not; it is odds if I laugh at all. I wish we were to moor alongside mother, instead of running into this strange port."
"Stuff! think of Miss Fountain's figure-head—nor tell too many stories—and, above all, for heaven's sake, do keep the poor dear old sea out of sight for once."
"Ay, ay, that stands to reason."
By this time they were at Font Abbey, and David deposited his fair burden gently on the stone steps of the door. She opened it without ceremony, and bustled into the dining-room, crying, "I have brought David, sir; and here he is;" and she accompanied David's bow with a corresponding movement of her hand, the knuckles downward.
The old gentleman awoke with a start, rubbed his eyes, shook hands with the pair, and proposed to go up to Lucy in the drawing-room.
Now, it happened unluckily that Miss Fountain had been to the library and taken down one or two of those men and women who, according to her uncle, exist only on paper, and certain it is she was in charming company when she heard her visitors' steps and voices coming up the stairs. Had those visitors seen the vexed expression of her face as she laid down the book they would have instantly 'bout ship and home again; but that sour look dissolved away as they came through the open door.
On coming in they saw a young lady seated on a sofa.
Apparently she did not see them enter. Her face happened to be averted; but, ere they had taken three steps, she turned her face, saw them, rose, and took two steps to meet them, all beaming with courtesy, kindness and quiet satisfaction at their arrival.
She gave her hand to Eve.
"This is my brother, Miss Fountain."
Miss Fountain instantly swept David a courtesy with such a grace and flow, coupled with an engaging smile, that the sailor was fascinated, and gazed instead of bowing.
Eve had her finger ready to poke him, when he recovered himself and bowed low.
Eve played the accompaniment with her hand, knuckles down.
They sat down. Cups of tea, etc., were brought round to each by John. It was bad tea, made out of the room. Catch a human being making good tea in which it is not to share.
Mr. Fountain was only half awake.
Eve was more or less awed by Lucy. David, tutored by Eve, held his tongue altogether, or gave short answers.
"This must be what the novels call a sea-cub!" thought Miss Fountain.
The friends, Propriety and Restraint, presided over the innocent banquet, and a dismal evening set in.
The first infraction of this polite tranquillity came, I blush to say, from the descendant of John de Fonte. He exploded in a yawn of magnitude; to cover this, the young lady began hastily to play her old game of setting people astride their topic, and she selected David Dodd for the experiment. She put on a warm curiosity about the sea, and ships, and the countries men visit in them. Then occurred a droll phenomenon: David flashed with animation, and began full and intelligent answers; then, catching his sister's eye, came to unnatural full stops; and so warmly and skillfully was he pressed that it cost him a gigantic effort to avoid giving much amusement and instruction. The courtier saw this hesitation, and the vivid flashes of intelligence, and would not lose her prey. She drew him with all a woman's tact, and with a warmth so well feigned that it set him on real fire. His instinct of politeness would not let him go on all night giving short answers to inquiring beauty. He turned his eye, which glowed now like a live coal, toward that enticing voice, and presently, like a ship that has been hanging over the water ever so long on the last rollers, with one gallant glide he took the sea, and towed them all like little cockle-boats in his wake. From sea to sea, from port to port, from tribe to tribe, from peril to peril, from feat to feat, David whirled his wonderstruck hearers, and held them panting by the quadruple magic of a tuneful voice, a changing eye, an ardent soul, and truth at first-hand.
They sat thrilled and surprised, most of all Miss Fountain. To her, things great and real had up to that moment been mere vague outlines seen through a mist. Moreover, her habitual courtesy had hitherto drawn out pumps; but now, when least expected, all in a moment, as a spark fires powder, it let off a man.
A sailor is a live book of travels. Check your own vanity (if you possibly can) and set him talking, you shall find him full of curious and profitable matter.
The Fountains did not know this, and, even if they had, Dodd would have taken them by surprise; for, besides being a sailor and a sea-enthusiast, he was a fellow of great capacity and mental vigor.
He had not skimmed so many books as we have, but I fear he had sucked more. However, his main strength did not lie there. He was not a paper man, and this—oh! men of paper and oh! C. R. in particular—gave him a tremendous advantage over you that Sunday evening.
The man whose knowledge all comes from reading accumulates a great number of what?—facts? No, of the shadows of facts; shadows often so thin, indistinct and featureless, that, when one of the facts themselves runs against him in real life, he does not know his old friend, round about which he has written a smart leader in a journal and a ponderous trifle in the Polysyllabic Review.
But this sailor had stowed into his mental hold not fact-shadows, but the glowing facts all alive, O. For thirteen years, man and boy, he had beat about the globe, with real eyes, real ears, and real brains ever at work. He had drunk living knowledge like a fish, and at fountainheads.
Yet, to utter intellectual wealth nobly, two things more are indispensable the gift of language and a tunable voice, which last does not always come by talking with tempests.
Well, David Dodd had sucked in a good deal of language from books and tongues; not, indeed, the Norman-French and demi-Latin and jargon of the schools, printed for English in impotent old trimestrials for the further fogification of cliques, but he had laid by a fair store of the best—of the monosyllables—the Saxon—the soul and vestal fire of the great English tongue.
So he was never at a loss for words, simple, clear, strong, like blasts of a horn.
His voice at this period was mellow and flexible. He was a mimic, too; the brighter things he had seen, whether glories of nature or acts of man, had turned to pictures in this man's mind. He flashed these pictures one after another upon the trio; he peopled the soft and cushioned drawing-room with twenty different tribes and varieties of man, barbarous, semi-barbarous, and civilized; their curious customs, their songs and chants, and dances, and struts, and actual postures.
The aspect of famous shores from the sea, glittering coasts, dark straits, volcanic rocks defying sea and sky, and warm, delicious islands clothed with green, that burst on the mariner's sight after rugged places and scowling skies.
The adventures of one unlucky ship, the Connemara, on a single whaling cruise on the coast of Peru. The first slight signs of a gale, seen only by the careful skipper. The hasty preparations for it: all hands to shorten sail; then the moaning of the wind high up in the sky. All hands to reef sail now—the whirl and whoo of the gale as it came down on them. The ship careening as it caught her, the speaking-trumpet—the captain howling his orders through it amid the tumult.
The floating icebergs—the ship among them, picking her way in and out a hundred deaths. Baffled by the unyielding wind off Cape Horn, sailing six weeks on opposite tacks, and ending just where they began, weather-bound in sight of the gloomy Horn. Then the terrors of a land-locked bay, and a lee shore; the ship tacking, writhing, twisting, to weather one jutting promontory; the sea and safety is on the other side of it; land and destruction on this—the attempt, the hope, the failure; then the stout-hearted, skillful captain would try one rare maneuver to save the ship, cargo, and crew. He would club-haul her, "and if that fails, my lads, there is nothing but up mainsail, up helm, run her slap ashore, and lay her bones on the softest bit of rock we can pick."
Long ere this the poor ship had become a live thing to all these four, and they hung breathless on her fate.
Then he showed how a ship is club-hauled, and told how nobly the old Connemara behaved (ships are apt to when well handled—double-barreled guns ditto), and how the wind blew fiercer, and the rocks seemed to open their mouths for her, and how she hung and vibrated between safety and destruction, and at last how she writhed and slipped between Death's lips, yet escaped his teeth, and tossed and tumbled in triumph on the great but fair fighting sea; and how they got at last to the whaling ground, and could not find a whale for many a weary day, and the novices said: "They were all killed before we sailed;" and how, as uncommon ill luck is apt to be balanced by uncommon good luck, one fine evening they fell in with a whole shoal of whales at play, jumping clean into the air sixty feet long, and coming down each with a splash like thunder; even the captain had never seen such a game; and how the crew were for lowering the boats and going at them, but the captain would not let them; a hundred playful mountains of fish, the smallest weighing thirty ton, flopping down happy-go-lucky, he did not like the looks of it.
"The boat will be at the mercy of chance among all those tails, and we are not lucky enough to throw at random. No; since the beggars have taken to dancing, for a change, let them dance all night; to-morrow they shall pay the piper." How, at peep of day, the man at the mast-head saw ten whales about two leagues off on the weather-bow; how the ship tacked and stood toward them; how she weathered on one of monstrous size, and how he and the other youngsters were mad to lower the boat and go after it, and how the captain said: "Ye lubbers, can't ye see that is a right whale, and not worth a button? Look here away over the quarter at this whale. See how low she spouts. She is a sperm whale, and worth seven hundred pounds if she was only dead and towed alongside."
"'That she shall be in about a minute,' cried one; and, indeed, we were all in a flame; the boat was lowered, and didn't I worship the skipper when he told me off to be one of her crew!
"I was that eager to be in at that whale's death, I didn't recollect there might be smaller brutes in danger.
"Just before the oars fell into the water, the skipper looked down over the bulwarks, and says he to one of us that had charge of the rope that is fast to the boat at one end and to the harpoon at the other, 'Now, Jack you are a new hand; mind all I told you last night, or your mother will see me come ashore without you, and that will vex her; and, my lads, remember, if there is a single lubberly hitch in that line, you will none of you come up the ship's side again.'
"'All right, captain,' says Jack, and we pulled off singing,
"'And spring to your oars, and, make your boat fly, And when you come near her beware of her eye,'
till the coxswain bade us hold our lubberly tongues, and not frighten the whales; however, we soon found we wanted all our breath for our work, and more too." Then David painted the furious race after the whale, and how the boat gradually gained, and how at last, as he was grinding his teeth and pulling like mad, he heard a sound ahead like a hundred elephants wallowing; and now he hoped to see the harpooner leave his oar, and rise and fling his weapon; "but that instant, up flukes, a tower of fish was seen a moment in the air, with a tail-fin at the top of it just about the size of this room we are sitting in, ladies, and down the whale sounded; then it was pull on again in her wake, according as she headed in sounding; pull for the dear life; and after a while the oarsmen saw the steerman's eyes, prying over the sea, turn like hot coals. The men caught fire at this, and put their very backbones into each stroke, and the boat skimmed and flew. Suddenly the steersman cried out fiercely, 'Stand up, harpoon! Up rose the harpooner, his eye like a hot coal now. The men saw nothing; they must pull fiercer than ever. The harpooner balanced his iron, swayed his body lightly, and the harpoon hissed from him. A soft thud—then a heaving of the water all round, a slap that sounded like a church tower falling flat upon an acre of boards, and drenched, and blinded, and half smothered us all in spray, and at the same moment away whirled the boat, dancing and kicking in the whale's foaming, bubbling wake, and we holding on like grim death by the thwarts, not to be spun out into the sea."
"Delightful!" cried Miss Fountain; "the waves bounded beneath you like a steed that knows its rider. Pray continue."
"Yes, Miss Fountain. Now of course you can see that, if the line ran out too easy, the whale would leave us astern altogether, and if it jammed or ran too hard, she would tow us under water."
"Of course we see," said Eve, ironically; "we understand everything by instinct. Hang explanations when I'm excited; go ahead, do!"
"Then I won't explain how it is or why it is, but I'll just let you know that two or three hundred fathom of line are passed round the boat from stem to stern and back, and carried in and out between the oarsmen as they sit. Well, it was all new to me then; but when the boat began jumping and rocking, and the line began whizzing in and out, and screaming and smoking like—there now, fancy a machine, a complicated one, made of poisonous serpents, the steam on, and you sitting in the middle of the works, with not an inch to spare, on the crankest, rockingest, jumpingest, bumpingest, rollingest cradle that ever—"
"David!" said Eve, solemnly.
"Hallo!" sang out David.
"Oh, yes, do!" cried Lucy, slightly clasping her hands.
"If this little black ugly line was to catch you, it would spin you out of the boat like a shuttlecock; if it held you, it would cut you in two, or hang you to death, or drown you all at one time; and if it got jammed against anything alive or dead that could stand the strain, it would take the boat and crew down to the coral before you could wink twice."
"Oh, dear!" said Lucy; "then I don't think I like it now; it is too terrible. Pray go on, Mr.—Mr.—"
"Well, Miss Fountain, when a novice like me saw this black serpent twisting and twirling, and smoking and hissing in and out among us, I remembered the skipper's words, and I hailed Jack—it was he had laid the line—he was in the bow.
"'Jack,' said I.
"'Hallo!" said he.
"'For God's sake, are there any hitches in the line?' said I.
"'Not as I knows on,' says he, much cooler than you sit there; and that is a sailor all over. Well, she towed us about a mile, and then she was blown, and we hauled up on the line, and came up with her, and drove lances into her, till she spouted blood instead of salt water, and went into her flurry, and rolled suddenly over our way dead, and was within a foot of smashing us to atoms; but if she had it would only have been an accident, for she was past malice, poor thing. Then we took possession, planted our flagstaff in her spouting-hole, you know, and pulled back to the ship, and she came down and anchored to the whale, and then, for the first time, I saw the blubber stripped off a whale and hoisted by tackles into the ship's hold, which is as curious as any part of the business, but a dirtyish job, and not fit for the present company, and I dare say that is enough about whales."
"No! no! no!"
"Well, then, shall I tell you how one old whale knocked our boat clean into the air, bottom uppermost, and how we swam round her and managed to right her?"
"And went back to the ship and had your tea in bed and your clothes dried?"
"No, Eve," replied David, with the utmost simplicity; "we got in and to work again, and killed the whale in less than half an hour, and planted our flag on her, and away after another."
Then he told them how they harpooned one right whale, and by good luck were able. to make her fast to the stern of the ship. "And, if you will believe me, Miss Fountain, though there was just a breath on and off right aft, and the foresail, jib and mizzen all set to catch it, she towed the ship astern a good cable's length, and the last thing was she broke the harpoon shaft just below the line, and away she swam right in the wind's eye."
"And there was an end of her and your nasty, cruel, harpoon, and—oh, I'm so pleased!"
"No, there wasn't, Eve; we heard of both fish and harpoon again, but not for a good many years."
"Yes, Miss Fountain. It is curious, like many things that fall out at sea, but not so wonderful as her towing a ship of four hundred tons, with the foresail, mizzen, and jib all aback. Well, sir, did you ever hear of Nantucket? It is a port in the United States; and our harpooner happened to be there full four years after we lost this whale. Some Yankee whalers were treating him to the best of grog, and it was brag Briton, brag Yankee, according to custom whenever these two met. Well, our man had no more invention than a stone; so he was getting the worst of it till he bethought him of this whale; so he up and told how he had struck a right whale in the Pacific, and she had towed the ship with her sails aback, at least her foresail, mizzen, and jib, only he didn't tell it short like me, but as long as the Red Sea, with the day and the hour, the latitude (within four or five degrees, I take it), and what we had done a week before, and what we had not done, all by way of prologue, and for fear of weathering the horn—tic, tic—the point of the story too soon. When he had done there was a general howl of laughter, and they began to cap lies with him, and so they bantered him most cruelly, by all accounts; but at last a long silent chap, weather-beaten to the color of rosewood, put in his word.
"'What was the ship's name, mate?'
"'The Connemara,' says he.
"'And what is your name?' So he told him, 'Jem Green.'
"The other brings a great mutton fist down on the table, and makes all the glasses dance. 'You stay at your moorings till I come back,' says he. 'I have got something belonging to you, Jem Green,' and he sheered off. The others lay to and passed the grog. Presently the long one comes back with a harpoon steel in his hand; there was Connemara stamped on it, and also 'James Green' graved with a knife. 'Is that yours?' 'Is my hand mine?' says Jem; 'but wasn't there a broken shaft to it!"
"'There was,' says the Yankee harpooner; 'I cut it out.'
"'Well!' says Jem, 'that is the harpoon we were fast by to this very whale. Where did you kill her?'
"'In the Greenland seas.' And he whips out his private log. 'Here you are,' says he; 'March 25, 1820, latitude so and so, killed a right whale; lost half the blubber, owing to the carcass sinking; cut an English harpoon out of her.'
"'Avast there, mate!' cried Jem, and he whips, out his log; 'overhaul that.' The other harpooner overhauled it. 'Mates, look, here,' says he; 'I reckon we hain't fathomed the critters yet. The Britisher struck her in the Pacific on the 5th of March, and we killed her off Greenland on the 25th, five thousand miles of water by the lowest reckoning.' By this time there were a dozen heads jammed together, like bees swarming, over the two logs. 'She got a wound in the Pacific! "Hallo!" says she; "this is no sea for a lady to live in;" so she up helm, and right away across the pole into the Atlantic, and met her death.'"
"Your story has an interest you little suspect, young gentleman. If this is true, the northwest passage is proved."
"That has been proved a hundred times, sir, and in a hundred ways; the only riddle is to find it. The man that tells you there is not a northwest passage is no sailor, and the fish that can't find it is not a whale; for there is not a young suckling no bigger than this room that does not know that passage as well as a mid on his first voyage knows the way to the mizzen-top through lubber's hole. How tired you must be of whales, ladies?"
"Kill us one more, David. I love bloodshed—to hear of."
"Well, now, I don't think that can be Miss Fountain's taste, to look at her."
Then David. told them how he had fallen in with a sperm whale, dead of disease, floating as high as a frigate; how, with a very light breeze, the skipper had crept down toward her; how, at half a mile distance the stench of her was severe, but, as they neared her, awful; then so intolerable that the skipper gave the crew leave to go below and close the lee ports. So there were but two men left on the brig's deck, and a ship's company that a hurricane would not have driven from their duty skulked before a foul smell; but such a smell! a smell that struck a chill and a loathing to the heart, and soul, and marrow-bone; a smell like the gases in a foul mine; "it would have suffocated us in a few moments if we had been shut up along with it." Then he told how the skipper and he stuffed their noses and ears with cotton steeped in aromatic vinegar, and their mouths with pig-tail (by which, as it subsequently appeared, Lucy understood pork or bacon in some form unknown to her narrow experience), and lighted short pipes, and breached the brig upon the putrescent monster, and grappled to it, and then the skipper jumped on it, a basket slung to his back, and a rope fast under his shoulders in case of accident, and drove his spade in behind the whale's side-fin."
"His spade, Mr. Dodd?"
"His whale-spade; it is as sharp as a razor;" and how the skipper dug a hole in the whale as big as a well and four feet deep, and, after a long search, gave a shout of triumph, and picked out some stuff that looked like Gloucester cheese; and, when he had nearly filled his basket with this stuff, he slacked the grappling-iron, and David hauled him on board, and the carcass dropped astern, and the captain sang out for rum, and drank a small tumbler neat, and would have fainted away, spite of his precautions, but for the rum, and how a heavenly perfume was now on deck fighting with that horrid odor; and how the crew smelled it, and crept timidly up one by one, and how "the Glo'ster cheese was a great favorite of yours, ladies. It was the king of perfumes—amber-gas; there is some of it in all your richest scents; and the knowing skipper had made a hundred guineas in the turn of the hand. So knowledge is wealth, you see, and the sweet can be got out of the sour by such as study nature."
"Don't preach, David, especially after just telling a fib. A hundred guineas!"
"I am wrong,"' said David.
"Very wrong, indeed."
"There were eight pounds; and he sold it at a guinea the ounce to a wholesale chemist, so that looks to me like 128 pounds."
Then David left the whales, and encouraged by bright eyes and winning smiles, and warm questions, sang higher strains.
Ships in dire distress at sea, yet saved by God's mercy, and the cool, invincible courage of captain and crew—great ships run ashore—the waves breaking them up—the rigging black with the despairing crew, eying the watery death that tumbled and gaped and roared for them below; and then little shore boats, manned by daring hearts, launched into the surf, and going out to the great ship and her peril, risking more life for the chance of saving life. And he did not present the bare skeletons of daring acts; those grand morgues, the journals, do that. There lie the dry bones of giant epics waiting Genius's hand to make them live. He gave them not only the broad outward facts—the bones; but those smaller touches that are the body and soul of a story, true or false, wanting which the deeds of heroes sound an almanac; above all, he gave them glimpses, not only of what men acted, but what they felt: what passed in the hearts of men perishing at sea, in sight of land, houses, fires on the hearth, and outstretched hands, and in the hearts of the heroes that ran their boats into the surf and Death's maw to save them, and of the lookers on, admiring, fearing, shivering, glowing, and of the women that sobbed and prayed ashore with their backs to the sea, just able to risk lover, husband, and son for the honor of manhood and the love of Christ, but not able to look on at their own flesh and blood diving so deep, and lost so long in cockle-shells between the hills of waves.
Such great acts, great feelings, great perils, and the gushes that crowned all of holy triumph when the boats came in with the dripping and saved, and man for a moment looked greater than the sea and the wind and death, this seaman poured hot from his own manly heart into quick and womanly bosoms, that heaved visibly, and glowed with admiring sympathy, and fluttered with gentle fear.
And after a while, though not at first, David's yarns began to contain a double interest to one of the party—Miss Fountain. Those who live to please get to read character at sight, and David, though in these more noble histories he scarcely named himself, was laying a full-length picture of his own mind bare to these keen feminine eyes. As for old Fountain, he was charmed, and saw nothing more than David showed him outright. But the women sat flashing secret intelligence backward and forward from eye to eye after the manner of their sex.
"Do you see?" said one lady's eyes.
"Yes," replied the other. "He was concerned in this feat, though he does not say so."
"Oh, you agree with me? Then we are right," replied the first pair of speakers.
"There again: look; this sailor, whom he describes as a fellow that happened to be ashore at that foreign port with nothing better to do, and who went out with the English smugglers to save the brig when the natives durst not launch a boat?"
"Himself! not a doubt of it."
And so the blue and hazel lightning went dancing to and fro; ay, even when the tale took a sorrowful turn, and dimmed these bright orbs of intelligence, the lightning struggled through the dew, and David was read and discussed by gleams, and glances, and flashes, without a word spoken. And he, all unconscious that he sat between a pair of telegraphs, and heating more and more under his great recollections and his hearers' sympathy, inthralled them with his tuneful voice, his glowing face, his lion eye, and his breathing, burning histories. Heart to dare and do, yet heart to feel, and brain and tongue to tell a deed well, are rare allies, yet here they met.