THE CASTLE INN
STANLEY J. WEYMAN
Author of "A Gentleman of France," "Under the Red Robe," "The House of the Wolf," etc.
WALTER APPLETON CLARK
CHAPTER I. A KNIGHT-ERRANT. CHAPTER II. A MISADVENTURE. CHAPTER III. TUTOR AND PUPILS—OLD STYLE. CHAPTER IV. PEEPING TOM OF WALLINGFORD. CHAPTER V. THE MEETING. CHAPTER VI. A FISH OUT OF WATER. CHAPTER VII. ACHILLES AND BRISEIS. CHAPTER VIII. THE OLD BATH ROAD. CHAPTER IX. ST. GEORGE AND THE DRAGON. CHAPTER X. MOTHER AND SON. CHAPTER XI. DR. ADDINGTON. CHAPTER XII. JULIA. CHAPTER XIII. A SPOILED CHILD. CHAPTER XIV. A GOOD MAN'S DILEMMA. CHAPTER XV. AMORIS INTEGRATIO. CHAPTER XVI. THE BLACK FAN. CHAPTER XVII. MR. FISHWICK, THE ARBITER. CHAPTER XVIII. THE PURSUIT. CHAPTER XIX. AN UNWILLING ALLY. CHAPTER XX. THE EMPTY POST-CHAISE. CHAPTER XXI. IN THE CARRIAGE. CHAPTER XXII. FACILIS DESCENSUS. CHAPTER XXIII. BULLY POMEROY. CHAPTER XXIV. CUTTING FOR THE QUEEN. CHAPTER XXV. LORD ALMERIC'S SUIT. CHAPTER XXVI. BOON COMPANIONS. CHAPTER XXVII. MR. FISHWICK'S DISCOVERY. CHAPTER XXVIII. A ROUGH AWAKENING. CHAPTER XXIX. MR. POMEROY'S PLAN. CHAPTER XXX. A GREEK GIFT. CHAPTER XXXI. THE INN AT CHIPPENHAM. CHAPTER XXXII. CHANCE MEDLEY. CHAPTER XXXIII. IN THE CARRIAGE. CHAPTER XXXIV. BAD NEWS. CHAPTER XXXV. DORMITAT HOMERUS. CHAPTER XXXVI. THE ATTORNEY SPEAKS. CHAPTER XXXVII. A HANDSOME ALLOWANCE. CHAPTER XXXVIII. THE CLERK OF THE LEASES.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
THE ANSWER WAS A BLINDING FLASH OF LIGHT AND A SHOT. 'TOMMY, WHO IS—THIS—FELLOW?' HE CRIED. 'YOUR LADYSHIP'S MOST HUMBLE SERVANT,' HE SAID. HE WOULD FALL SILENT IN JULIA'S COMPANY. 'AND DRINK HER, YOU ENVIOUS BEGGARS! DRINK HER!' ON THE THRESHOLD, ... STOOD MR. DUNBOROUGH.
THE CASTLE INN
About a hundred and thirty years ago, when the third George, whom our grandfathers knew in his blind dotage, was a young and sturdy bridegroom; when old Q., whom 1810 found peering from his balcony in Piccadilly, deaf, toothless, and a skeleton, was that gay and lively spark, the Earl of March; when bore and boreish were words of haut ton, unknown to the vulgar, and the price of a borough was 5,000l.; when gibbets still served for sign-posts, and railways were not and highwaymen were—to be more exact, in the early spring of the year 1767, a travelling chariot-and-four drew up about five in the evening before the inn at Wheatley Bridge, a short stage from Oxford on the Oxford road. A gig and a couple of post-chaises, attended by the customary group of stablemen, topers, and gossips already stood before the house, but these were quickly deserted in favour of the more important equipage. The drawers in their aprons trooped out, but the landlord, foreseeing a rich harvest, was first at the door of the carriage, and opened it with a bow such as is rarely seen in these days.
'Will your lordship please to alight?' he said.
'No, rascal!' cried one of those within. 'Shut the door!'
'You wish fresh horses, my lord?' the obsequious host replied. 'Of course. They shall be—'
'We wish nothing,' was the brisk answer. 'D'ye hear? Shut the door, and go to the devil!'
Puzzled, but obedient, the landlord fell back on the servants, who had descended from their seat in front and were beating their hands one on another, for the March evening was chill. 'What is up, gentlemen?' he said.
'Nothing. But we will put something down, by your leave,' they answered.
'Won't they do the same?' He cocked his thumb in the direction of the carriage.
'No. You have such an infernal bad road, the dice roll,' was the answer. 'They will finish their game in quiet. That is all. Lord, how your folks stare! Have they never seen a lord before?'
'Who is it?' the landlord asked eagerly. 'I thought I knew his Grace's face.'
Before the servant could answer or satisfy his inquisitiveness, the door of the carriage was opened in haste, and the landlord sprang to offer his shoulder. A tall young man whose shaped riding-coat failed to hide that which his jewelled hands and small French hat would alone have betrayed—that he was dressed in the height of fashion—stepped down. A room and a bottle of your best claret,' he said. 'And bring me ink and a pen.'
'Immediately, my lord. This way, my lord. Your lordship will perhaps honour me by dining here?'
'Lord, no! Do you think I want to be poisoned?' was the frank answer. And looking about him with languid curiosity, the young peer, followed by a companion, lounged into the house.
The third traveller—for three there were—by a gesture directed the servant to close the carriage door, and, keeping his seat, gazed sleepily through the window. The loitering crowd, standing at a respectful distance, returned his glances with interest, until an empty post-chaise, approaching from the direction of Oxford, rattled up noisily and split the group asunder. As the steaming horses stopped within a few paces of the chariot, the gentleman seated in the latter saw one of the ostlers go up to the post-chaise and heard him say, 'Soon back, Jimmie?'
'Ay, and I ha' been stopped too,' the postboy answered as he dropped his reins.
'No!' in a tone of surprise. 'Was it Black Jack?'
'Not he. 'Twas a woman!'
A murmur of astonishment greeted the answer. The postboy grinned, and sitting easily in his pad prepared to enjoy the situation. 'Ay, a woman!' he said. 'And a rare pair of eyes to that. What do you think she wanted, lads?'
'The stuff, of course.'
'Not she. Wanted one of them I took'—and he jerked his elbow contemptuously in the direction whence he had come—'to fight a duel for her. One of they! Said, was he Mr. Berkeley, and would he risk his life for a woman.'
The head ostler stared. 'Lord! and who was it he was to fight?' he asked at last.
'She did not say. Her spark maybe, that has jilted her.'
'And would they, Jimmie?'
'They? Shoo! They were Methodists,' the postboy answered contemptuously, 'Scratch wigs and snuff-colour. If she had not been next door to a Bess of Bedlam and in a main tantrum, she would have seen that. But "Are you Mr. Berkeley?" she says, all on fire like. And "Will you fight for a woman?" And when they shrieked out, banged the door on them. But I tell you she was a pretty piece as you'd wish to see. If she had asked me, I would not have said no to her.' And he grinned.
The gentleman in the chariot opened a window. 'Where did she stop you, my man?' he asked idly.
'Half a mile this side of Oxford, your worship,' the postboy answered, knuckling his forehead. 'Seemed to me, sir, she was a play actress. She had that sort of way with her.'
The gentleman nodded and closed the window. The night had so far set in that they had brought out lights; as he sat back, one of these, hung in the carriage, shone on his features and betrayed that he was smiling. In this mood his face lost the air of affected refinement—which was then the mode, and went perfectly with a wig and ruffles—and appeared in its true cast, plain and strong, yet not uncomely. His features lacked the insipid regularity which, where all shaved, passed for masculine beauty; the nose ended largely, the cheek-bones were high, and the chin projected. But from the risk and even the edge of ugliness it was saved by a pair of grey eyes, keen, humorous, and kindly, and a smile that showed the eyes at their best. Of late those eyes had been known to express weariness and satiety; the man was tiring of the round of costly follies and aimless amusements in which he passed his life. But at twenty-six pepper is still hot in the mouth, and Sir George Soane continued to drink, game, and fribble, though the first pungent flavour of those delights had vanished, and the things themselves began to pall upon him.
When he had sat thus ten minutes, smiling at intervals, a stir about the door announced that his companions were returning. The landlord preceded them, and was rewarded for his pains with half a guinea; the crowd with a shower of small silver. The postillions cracked their whips, the horses started forward, and amid a shrill hurrah my lord's carriage rolled away from the door.
'Now, who casts?' the peer cried briskly, arranging himself in his seat. 'George, I'll set you. The old stakes?'
'No, I am done for to-night,' Sir George answered yawning without disguise.
'What! crabbed, dear lad?'
'Ay, set Berkeley, my lord. He's a better match for you.'
'And be robbed by the first highwayman we meet? No, no! I told you, if I was to go down to this damp hole of mine—fancy living a hundred miles from White's! I should die if I could not game every day—you were to play with me, and Berkeley was to ensure my purse.'
'He would as soon take it,' Sir George answered languidly, gazing through the glass.
'Sooner, by—!' cried the third traveller, a saturnine, dark-faced man of thirty-four or more, who sat with his back to the horses, and toyed with a pistol that lay on the seat beside him. 'I'm content if your lordship is.'
'Then have at you! Call the main, Colonel. You may be the devil among the highwaymen—that was Selwyn's joke, was it not?—but I'll see the colour of your money.'
'Beware of him. He doved March,' Sir George said indifferently.
'He won't strip me,' cried the young lord. 'Five is the main. Five to four he throws crabs! Will you take, George?'
Soane did not answer, and the two, absorbed in the rattle of the dice and the turns of their beloved hazard, presently forgot him; his lordship being the deepest player in London and as fit a successor to the luckless Lord Mountford as one drop of water to another. Thus left to himself, and as effectually screened from remark as if he sat alone, Sir George devoted himself to an eager scrutiny of the night, looking first through one window and then through the other; in which he persevered though darkness had fallen so completely that only the hedges showed in the lamplight, gliding giddily by in endless walls of white. On a sudden he dropped the glass with an exclamation, and thrust out his head.
'Pull up!' he cried. 'I want to descend.'
The young lord uttered a peevish exclamation. 'What is to do?' he continued, glancing round; then, instantly returning to the dice, 'if it is my purse they want, say Berkeley is here. That will scare them. What are you doing, George?'
'Wait a minute,' was the answer; and in a twinkling Soane was out, and was ordering the servant, who had climbed down, to close the door. This effected, he strode back along the road to a spot where a figure, cloaked, and hooded, was just visible, lurking on the fringe of the lamplight. As he approached it, he raised his hat with an exaggeration of politeness.
'Madam,' he said, 'you asked for me, I believe?'
The woman—for a woman it was, though he could see no more of her than a pale face, staring set and Gorgon-like from under the hood—did not answer at once. Then, 'Who are you?' she said.
'Colonel Berkeley,' he answered with assurance, and again saluted her.
'Who killed the highwayman at Hounslow last Christmas?' she cried.
'The same, madam.'
'And shot Farnham Joe at Roehampton?'
'Yes, madam. And much at your service.'
'We shall see,' she answered, her voice savagely dubious. 'At least you are a gentleman and can use a pistol? But are you willing to risk something for justice' sake?'
'And the sake of your beaux yeux, madam?' he answered, a laugh in his voice. 'Yes.'
'You mean it?'
'Prove me,' he answered.
His tone was light; but the woman, who seemed to labour under strong emotion, either failed to notice this or was content to put up with it. 'Then send on your carriage,' she said.
His jaw fell at that, and had there been light by which to see him he would have looked foolish. At last, 'Are we to walk?' he said.
'Those are the lights of Oxford,' she answered. 'We shall be there in ten minutes.'
'Oh, very well,' he said, 'A moment, if you please.'
She waited while he went to the carriage and told the astonished servants to leave his baggage at the Mitre; this understood, he put in his head and announced to his host that he would come on next day. 'Your lordship must excuse me to-night,' he said.
'What is up?' my lord asked, without raising his eyes or turning his head. He had taken the box and thrown nicks three times running, at five guineas the cast; and was in the seventh heaven. 'Ha! five is the main. Now you are in it, Colonel. What did you say, George? Not coming! What is it?'
'What! a petticoat?'
'Yes,' Sir George answered, smirking.
'Well, you find 'em in odd places. Take care of yourself. But shut the door, that is a good fellow. There is a d——d draught.'
Sir George complied, and, nodding to the servants, walked back to the woman. As he reached her the carriage with its lights whirled away, and left them in darkness.
Soane wondered if he were not a fool for his pains, and advanced a step nearer to conviction when the woman with an impatient 'Come!' started along the road; moving at a smart pace in the direction which the chariot had taken, and betraying so little shyness or timidity as to seem unconscious of his company. The neighbourhood of Oxford is low and flat, and except where a few lights marked the outskirts of the city a wall of darkness shut them in, permitting nothing to be seen that lay more than a few paces away. A grey drift of clouds, luminous in comparison with the gloom about them, moved slowly overhead, and out of the night the raving of a farm-dog or the creaking of a dry bough came to the ear with melancholy effect.
The fine gentleman of that day had no taste for the wild, the rugged, or the lonely. He lived too near the times when those words spelled danger. He found at Almack's his most romantic scene, at Ranelagh his terra incognita, in the gardens of Versailles his ideal of the charming and picturesque. Sir George, no exception to the rule, shivered as he looked round. He began to experience a revulsion of spirits; and to consider that, for a gentleman who owned Lord Chatham for a patron, and was even now on his roundabout way to join that minister—for a gentleman whose fortune, though crippled and impaired, was still tolerable, and who, where it had suffered, might look with confidence to see it made good at the public expense—or to what end patrons or ministers?—he began to reflect, I say, that for such an one to exchange a peer's coach and good company for a night trudge at a woman's heels was a folly, better befitting a boy at school than a man of his years. Not that he had ever been so wild as to contemplate anything serious; or from the first had entertained the most remote intention of brawling in an unknown cause. That was an extravagance beyond him; and he doubted if the girl really had it in her mind. The only adventure he had proposed, when he left the carriage, was one of gallantry; it was the only adventure then in vogue. And for that, now the time was come, and the incognita and he were as much alone as the most ardent lover could wish, he felt singularly disinclined.
True, the outline of her cloak, and the indications of a slender, well-formed shape which it permitted to escape, satisfied him that the postboy had not deceived him; but that his companion was both young and handsome. And with this and his bargain it was to be supposed he would be content. But the pure matter-of-factness of the girl's manner, her silence, and her uncompromising attitude, as she walked by his side, cooled whatever ardour her beauty and the reflection that he had jockeyed Berkeley were calculated to arouse; and it was with an effort that he presently lessened the distance between them.
'Et vera incessu patuit dea!' he said, speaking in the tone between jest and earnest which he had used before. '"And all the goddess in her step appears." Which means that you have the prettiest walk in the world, my dear—but whither are you taking me?'
She went steadily on, not deigning an answer.
'But—my charmer, let us parley,' he remonstrated, striving to maintain a light tone. 'In a minute we shall be in the town and—'
'I thought that we understood one another,' she answered curtly, still continuing to walk, and to look straight before her; in which position her hood, hid her face. 'I am taking you where I want you.'
'Oh, very well,' he said, shrugging his shoulders. But under his breath he muttered, 'By heaven, I believe that the pretty fool really thinks—that I am going to fight for her!'
To a man who had supped at White's the night before, and knew his age to be the age des philosophes, it seemed the wildest fancy in the world. And his distaste grew. But to break off and leave her—at any rate until he had put it beyond question that she had no underthought—to break off and leave her after placing himself in a situation so humiliating, was too much for the pride of a Macaroni. The lines of her head and figure too, half guessed and half revealed, and wholly light and graceful, had caught his fancy and created a desire to subjugate her. Reluctantly, therefore, he continued to walk beside her, over Magdalen Bridge, and thence by a path which, skirting the city, ran across the low wooded meadows at the back of Merton.
A little to the right the squat tower of the college loomed against the lighter rack of clouds, and rising amid the dark lines of trees that beautify that part of the outskirts, formed a coup d'oeil sufficiently impressive. Here and there, in such of the chamber windows as looked over the meadows, lights twinkled cheerfully; emboldened by which, yet avoiding their scope, pairs of lovers of the commoner class sneaked to and fro under the trees. Whether the presence of these recalled early memories which Sir George's fastidiousness found unpalatable, or he felt his fashion, smirched by the vulgarity of this Venus-walk, his impatience grew; and was not far from bursting forth when his guide turned sharply into an alley behind the cathedral, and, after threading a lane of mean houses, entered a small court.
The place, though poor and narrow, was not squalid. Sir George could see so much by the light which shone from a window and fell on a group of five or six persons, who stood about the nearest door and talked in low, excited voices. He had a good view of one man's face, and read in it gloom and anger. Then the group made way for the girl, eyeing her, as he thought, with pity and a sort of deference; and cursing the folly that had brought him into such a place and situation, wondering what on earth it all meant or in what it would end, he followed her into the house.
She opened a door on the right-hand side of the narrow passage, and led the way into a long, low room. For a moment he saw no more than two lights on a distant table, and kneeling at a chair beside them a woman with grey dishevelled hair, who seemed to be praying, her face hidden. Then his gaze, sinking instinctively, fell on a low bed between him and the woman; and there rested on a white sheet, and on the solemn outlines—so certain in their rigidity, so unmistakable by human eyes—of a body laid out for burial.
To be brought up short in an amorous quest by such a sight as that was a shock alike to Soane's better nature and his worse dignity. The former moved him to stand silent and abashed, the latter to ask with an indignant curse why he had been brought to that place. And the latter lower instinct prevailed. But when he raised his head to put the question with the necessary spirt of temper, he found that the girl had left his side and passed to the other hand of the dead; where, the hood thrown back from her face, she stood looking at him with such a gloomy fire in her eyes as it needed but a word, a touch, a glance to kindle into a blaze.
At the moment, however, he thought less of this than of the beauty of the face which he saw for the first time. It was a southern face, finely moulded, dark and passionate, full-lipped, yet wide of brow, with a generous breadth between the eyes. Seldom had he seen a woman more beautiful; and he stood silent, the words he had been about to speak dying stillborn on his lips.
Yet she seemed to understand them; she answered them. 'Why have I brought you here?' she cried, her voice trembling; and she pointed to the bed. 'Because he is—he was my father. And he lies there. And because the man who killed him goes free. And I would—I would kill him! Do you hear me? I would kill him!'
Sir George tried to free his mind from the influence of her passion and her eyes, from the nightmare of the room and the body, and to see things in a sane light. 'But—my good girl,' he said, slowly and not unkindly, 'I know nothing about it. Nothing. I am a stranger here.'
'For that reason I brought you here,' she retorted.
'But—I cannot interfere,' he answered, shaking his head. 'There is the law. You must apply to it. The law will punish the man if he has done wrong.'
'But the law will not punish him!' she cried with scorn. 'The law? The law is your law, the law of the rich. And he'—she pointed to the bed—'was poor and a servant. And the man who killed him was his master. So he goes free—of the law!'
'But if he killed him?' Sir George muttered lamely.
'He did!' she cried between her teeth. 'And I would have you kill him!'
He shook his head. 'My good girl,' he said kindly, 'you are distraught. You are not yourself. Or you would know a gentleman does not do these things.'
'A gentleman!' she retorted, her smouldering rage flaming up at last. 'No; but I will tell you what he does. He kills a man to save his purse! Or his honour! Or for a mis-word at cards! Or the lie given in drink! He will run a man through in a dark room, with no one to see fair play! But for drawing his sword to help a woman, or avenge a wrong, a gentleman—a gentleman does not do these things. It is true! And may—'
'Oh, have done, have done, my dear!' cried a wailing, tearful voice; and Sir George, almost cowed by the girl's fierce words and the fiercer execration that was on her lips, hailed the intervention with relief. The woman whom he had seen on her knees had risen and now approached the girl, showing a face wrinkled, worn, and plain, but not ignoble; and for the time lifted above the commonplace by the tears that rained down it. 'Oh, my lovey, have done,' she cried. 'And let the gentleman go. To kill another will not help him that is dead. Nor us that are left alone!'
'It will not help him!' the girl answered, shrilly and wildly; and her eyes, leaving Soane, strayed round the room as if she were that moment awakened and missed some one. 'No! But is he to be murdered, and no one suffer? Is he to die and no one pay? He who had a smile for us, go in or out, and never a harsh word or thought; who never did any man wrong or wished any man ill? Yet he lies there! Oh, mother, mother,' she continued, her voice broken on a sudden by a tremor of pain, 'we are alone! We are alone! We shall never see him come in at that door again!'
The old woman sobbed helplessly and made no answer; on which the girl, with a gesture as simple as it was beautiful, drew the grey head to her shoulder. Then she looked at Sir George. 'Go,' she said; but he saw that the tears were welling up in her eyes, and that her frame was beginning to tremble. 'Go! I was not myself—a while ago—when I fetched you. Go, sir, and leave us.'
Moved by the abrupt change, as well as by her beauty, Sir George lingered; muttering that perhaps he could help her in another way. But she shook her head, once and again; and, instinctively respecting the grief which had found at length its proper vent, he turned and, softly lifting the latch, went out into the court.
The night air cooled his brow, and recalled him to sober earnest and the eighteenth century. In the room which he had left, he had marked nothing out of the common except the girl. The mother, the furniture, the very bed on which the dead man lay, all were appropriate, and such as he would expect to find in the house of his under-steward. But the girl? The girl was gloriously handsome; and as eccentric as she was beautiful. Sir George's head turned and his eyes glowed as he thought of her. He considered what a story he could make of it at White's; and he put up his spying-glass, and looked through it to see if the towers of the cathedral still overhung the court. 'Gad, sir!' he said aloud, rehearsing the story, as much to get rid of an unfashionable sensation he had in his throat as in pure whimsy, 'I was surprised to find that it was Oxford. It should have been Granada, or Bagdad, or Florence! I give you my word, the houris that the Montagu saw in the Hammam at Stamboul were nothing to her!'
The persons through whom he had passed on his way to the door were still standing before the house. Glancing back when he had reached the mouth of the court, he saw that they were watching him; and, obeying a sudden impulse of curiosity, he turned on his heel and signed to the nearest to come to him. 'Here, my man,' he said, 'a word with you.'
The fellow moved towards him reluctantly, and with suspicion. 'Who is it lies dead there?' Sir George asked.
'Your honour knows,' the man answered cautiously.
'No, I don't.'
'Then you will be the only one in Oxford that does not,' the fellow replied, eyeing him oddly.
'Maybe,' Soane answered with impatience. 'Take it so, and answer the question,'
'It is Masterson, that was the porter at Pembroke.'
'Ah! And how did he die?'
'That is asking,' the man answered, looking shiftily about. 'And it is an ill business, and I want no trouble. Oh, well'—he continued, as Sir George put something in his hand—'thank your honour, I'll drink your health. Yes, it is Masterson, poor man, sure enough; and two days ago he was as well as you or I—saving your presence. He was on the gate that evening, and there was a supper on one of the staircases: all the bloods of the College, your honour will understand. About an hour before midnight the Master sent him to tell the gentlemen he could not sleep for the noise. After that it is not known just what happened, but the party had him in and gave him wine; and whether he went then and returned again when the company were gone is a question. Any way, he was found in the morning, cold and dead at the foot of the stairs, and his neck broken. It is said by some a trap was laid for him on the staircase. And if it was,' the man continued, after a pause, his true feeling finding sudden vent, 'it is a black shame that the law does not punish it! But the coroner brought it in an accident.'
Sir George shrugged his shoulders. Then, moved by curiosity and a desire to learn something about the girl, 'His daughter takes it hardly,' he said.
The man grunted. 'Ah,' he said, 'maybe she has need to. Your honour does not come from him?'
'From Whom? I come from no one.'
'To be sure, sir, I was forgetting. But, seeing you with her—but there, you are a stranger.'
Soane would have liked to ask him his meaning, but felt that he had condescended enough. He bade the man a curt good-night, therefore, and turning away passed quickly into St. Aldate's Street. Thence it was but a step to the Mitre, where he found his baggage and servant awaiting him.
In those days distinctions of dress were still clear and unmistakable. Between the peruke—often forty guineas' worth—the tie-wig, the scratch, and the man who went content with a little powder, the intervals were measurable. Ruffles cost five pounds a pair; and velvets and silks, cut probably in Paris, were morning wear. Moreover, the dress of the man who lost or won his thousand in a night at Almack's, and was equally well known at Madame du Deffand's in Paris and at Holland House, differed as much from the dress of the ordinary well-to-do gentleman as that again differed from the lawyer's or the doctor's. The Mitre, therefore, saw in Sir George a very fine gentleman indeed, set him down to an excellent supper in its best room, and promised a post-chaise-and-four for the following morning—all with much bowing and scraping, and much mention of my lord to whose house he would post. For in those days, if a fine gentleman was a very fine gentleman, a peer was also a peer. Quite recently they had ventured to hang one; but with apologies, a landau-and-six, and a silken halter.
Sir George would not have had the least pretension to be the glass of fashion and the mould of form, which St. James's Street considered him, if he had failed to give a large share of his thoughts while he supped to the beautiful woman he had quitted. He knew very well what steps Lord March or Tom Hervey would take, were either in his place; and though he had no greater taste for an irregular life than became a man in his station who was neither a Methodist nor Lord Dartmouth, he allowed his thoughts to dwell, perhaps longer than was prudent, on the girl's perfections, and on what might have been were his heart a little harder, or the not over-rigid rule which he observed a trifle less stringent. The father was dead. The girl was poor: probably her ideal of a gallant was a College beau, in second-hand lace and stained linen, drunk on ale in the forenoon. Was it likely that the fortress would hold out long, or that the maiden's heart would prove to be more obdurate than Danaee's?
Soane, considering these things and his self-denial, grew irritable over his Chambertin. He pictured Lord March's friend, the Rena, and found this girl immeasurably before her. He painted the sensation she would make and the fashion he could give her, and vowed that she was a Gunning with sense and wit added; to sum up all, he blamed himself for a saint and a Scipio. Then, late as it was, he sent for the landlord, and to get rid of his thoughts, or in pursuance of them, inquired of that worthy if Mr. Thomasson was in residence at Pembroke.
'Yes, Sir George, he is,' the landlord answered; and asked if he should send for his reverence.
'No,' Soane commanded. 'If there is a chair to be had, I will go to him.'
'There is one below, at your honour's service. And the men are waiting.'
So Sir George, with the landlord, lighting him and his man attending with his cloak, descended the stairs in state, entered the sedan, and was carried off to Pembroke.
TUTOR AND PUPILS—OLD STYLE
Doctor Samuel Johnson, of Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, had at this time some name in the world; but not to the pitch that persons entering Pembroke College hastened to pay reverence to the second floor over the gateway, which he had vacated thirty years earlier—as persons do now. Their gaze, as a rule, rose no higher than the first-floor oriel, where the shapely white shoulder of a Parian statue, enhanced by a background of dark-blue silken hanging, caught the wandering eye. What this lacked of luxury and mystery was made up—almost to the Medmenham point in the eyes of the city—by the gleam of girandoles, and the glow, rather felt than seen, of Titian-copies in Florence frames. Sir George, borne along in his chair, peered up at this well-known window—well-known, since in the Oxford of 1767 a man's rooms were furnished if he had tables and chairs, store of beef and October, an apple-pie and Common Room port—and seeing the casement brilliantly lighted, smiled a trifle contemptuously.
'The Reverend Frederick is not much changed,' he muttered. 'Lord, what a beast it was! And how we hazed him! Ah! At home, is he?'—this to the servant, as the man lifted the head of the chair. 'Yes, I will go up.'
To tell the truth, the Reverend Frederick Thomasson had so keen a scent for Gold Tufts or aught akin to them, that it would have been strange if the instinct had not kept him at home; as a magnet, though unseen, attracts the needle. The same prepossession brought him, as soon as he heard of his visitor's approach, hurrying to the head of the stairs; where, if he had had his way, he would have clasped the baronet in his arms, slobbered over him, after the mode of Paris—for that was a trick of his—and perhaps even wept on his shoulder. But Soane, who knew his ways, coolly defeated the manoeuvre by fending him off with his cane; and the Reverend Frederick was reduced to raising his eyes and hands to heaven in token of the joy which filled him at the sight of his old pupil.
'Lord! Sir George, I am inexpressibly happy!' he cried. 'My dear sir, my very dear sir, welcome to my poor rooms! This is joy indeed! Gaudeamus! Gaudeamus! To see you once more, fresh from the groves of Arthur's and the scenes of your triumphs! Pardon me, my dear sir, I must and will shake you by the hand again!' And succeeding at last in seizing Sir George's hand, he fondled and patted it in both of his—which were fat and white—the while with every mark of emotion he led him into the room.
'Gad!' said Sir George, standing and looking round. 'And where is she, Tommy?'
'That old name! What a pleasure it is to hear it!' cried the tutor, affecting to touch his eyes with the corner of a dainty handkerchief; as if the gratification he mentioned were too much for his feelings.
'But, seriously, Tommy, where is she?' Soane persisted, still looking round with a grin.
'My dear Sir George! My honoured friend! But you would always have your joke.'
'And, plainly, Tommy, is all this frippery yours?'
'Tut, tut!' Mr. Thomasson remonstrated. 'And no man with a finer taste. I have heard Mr. Walpole say that with a little training no man would excel Sir George Soane as a connoisseur. An exquisite eye! A nice discrimination! A—'
'Now, Tommy, to how many people have you said that?' Sir George retorted, dropping into a chair, and coolly staring about him. 'But, there, have done, and tell me about yourself. Who is the last sprig of nobility you have been training in the way it should grow?'
'The last pupil who honoured me,' the Reverend Frederick answered, 'as you are so kind as to ask after my poor concerns, Sir George, was my Lord E——'s son. We went to Paris, Marseilles, Genoa, Florence; visited the mighty monuments of Rome, and came home by way of Venice, Milan, and Turin. I treasure the copy of Tintoretto which you see there, and these bronzes, as memorials of my lord's munificence. I brought them back with me.'
'And what did my lord's son bring back?' Sir George asked, cruelly. 'A Midianitish woman?'
'My honoured friend!' Mr. Thomasson remonstrated. 'But your wit was always mordant—mordant! Too keen for us poor folk!'
'D'ye remember the inn at Cologne, Tommy?' Sir George continued, mischievously reminiscent. 'And Lord Tony arriving with his charmer? And you giving up your room to her? And the trick we played you at Calais, where we passed the little French dancer on you for Madame la Marquise de Personne?'
Mr. Thomasson winced, and a tinge of colour rose in his fat pale face. 'Boys, boys!' he said, with an airy gesture. 'You had an uncommon fancy even then, Sir George, though you were but a year from school! Ah, those were charming days! Great days!'
'And nights!' said Sir George, lying back in his chair and looking at the other with eyes half shut, and insolence half veiled. 'Do you remember the faro bank at Florence, Tommy, and the three hundred livres you lost to that old harridan, Lady Harrington? Pearls cast before swine you styled them, I remember.'
'Lord, Sir George!' Mr. Thomasson cried, vastly horrified. 'How can you say such a thing? Your excellent memory plays you false.'
'It does,' Soane answered, smiling sardonically. 'I remember. It was seed sown for the harvest, you called it—in your liquor. And that touches me. Do you mind the night Fitzhugh made you so prodigiously drunk at Bonn, Tommy? And we put you in the kneading-trough, and the servants found you and shifted you to the horse-trough? Gad! you would have died of laughter if you could have seen yourself when we rescued you, lank and dripping, with your wig like a sponge!'
'It must have been—uncommonly diverting!' the Reverend Frederick stammered; and he smiled widely, but with a lack of heart. This time there could be no doubt of the pinkness that overspread his face.
'Diverting? I tell you it would have made old Dartmouth laugh!' Sir George said, bluntly.
'Ha, ha! Perhaps it would. Perhaps it would. Not that I have the honour of his lordship's acquaintance.'
'No? Well, he would not suit you, Tommy. I would not seek it.'
The Reverend Frederick looked doubtful, as weighing the possibility of anything that bore the name of lord being alien from him. From this reflection, however, he was roused by a new sally on Soane's part. 'But, crib me! you are very fine to-night, Mr. Thomasson,' he said, staring about him afresh. 'Ten o'clock, and you are lighted as for a drum! What is afoot?'
The tutor smirked and rubbed his hands. 'Well, I—I was expecting a visitor, Sir George.'
'Ah, you dog! She is not here, but you are expecting her.'
Mr. Thomasson grinned; the jest flattered him. Nevertheless he hastened to exonerate himself. 'It is not Venus I am expecting, but Mars,' he said with a simper. 'The Honourable Mr. Dunborough, son to my Lord Dunborough, and the same whose meritorious services at the Havanna you, my dear friend, doubtless remember. He is now cultivating in peace the gifts which in war—'
'Sufficed to keep him out of danger!' Sir George said bluntly. 'So he is your last sprig, is he? He should be well seasoned.'
'He is four-and-twenty,' Mr. Thomasson answered, pluming himself and speaking in his softest tones. 'And the most charming, I assure you, the most debonair of men. But do I hear a noise?'
'Yes,' said Sir George, listening. 'I hear something.'
Mr. Thomasson rose. 'What—what is it, I wonder?' he said, a trifle nervously. A dull sound, as of a hive of bees stirred to anger, was becoming audible.
'Devil if I know!' Sir George answered. 'Open the window.'
But the Reverend Frederick, after approaching the window with the intention of doing so, seemed disinclined to go nearer, and hovered about it. 'Really,' he said, no longer hiding his discomposure. 'I fear that it is something—something in the nature of a riot. I fear that that which I anticipated has happened. If my honourable friend had only taken my advice and remained here!' And he wrung his hands without disguise.
'Why, what has he to do with it?' Soane asked, curiously.
'He—he had an accident the other night,' Mr. Thomasson answered. 'A monstrous nuisance for him. He and his noble friend, Lord Almeric Doyley, played a little trick on a—on one of the College servants. The clumsy fellow—it is marvellous how awkward that class of persons is—fell down the stairs and hurt himself.'
'Somewhat. Indeed—in fact he is dead. And now there is a kind of feeling about it in the town. I persuaded Mr. Dunborough to take up his quarters here for the night, but he is so spirited he would dine abroad. Now I fear, I really fear, he may be in trouble!'
'If it is he they are hooting in St. Aldate's,' Sir George answered drily, 'I should say he was in trouble! But in my time the gownsmen would have sallied out and brought him off before this. And given those yelpers a cracked crown or two!'
The roar of voices in the narrow streets was growing clearer and more threatening. 'Ye-es?' said the Reverend Frederick, moving about the room, distracted between his anxiety and his respect for his companion. 'Perhaps so. But there is a monstrous low, vulgar set in College nowadays; a man of spirit has no chance with them. Yesterday they had the insolence to break into my noble friend's rooms and throw his furniture out of window! And, I vow, would have gone on to—but Lord! this is frightful! What a shocking howling! My dear sir, my very dear Sir George,' Mr. Thomasson continued, his voice tremulous and his fat cheeks grown on a sudden loose and flabby, 'do you think that there is any danger?'
'Danger?' Sir George answered, with cruel relish—he had gone to the window, and was looking out. 'Well, I should say that Madam Venus there would certainly have to stand shot. If you are wise you will put out some of those candles. They are entering the lane now. Gad, Tommy, if they think your lad of spirit is here, I would not give much for your window-glass!'
Mr. Thomasson, who had hastened to take the advice, and had extinguished all the candles but one, thus reducing the room to partial darkness, wrung his hands and moaned for answer. 'Where are the proctors?' he said. 'Where are the constables? Where are the—Oh, dear, dear, this is dreadful!'
And certainly, even in a man of firmer courage a little trepidation might have been pardoned. As the unseen crowd, struggling and jostling, poured from the roadway of St. Aldate's into the narrow confines of Pembroke Lane, the sound of its hooting gathered sudden volume, and from an intermittent murmur, as of a remote sea, swelled in a moment into a roar of menace. And as a mob is capable of deeds from which the members who compose it would severally shrink, as nothing is so pitiless, nothing so unreasoning, so in the sound of its voice is a note that appals all but the hardiest. Soane was no coward. A year before he had been present at the siege of Bedford House by the Spitalfields weavers, where swords were drawn and much blood was spilled, while the gentlemen of the clubs and coffee-houses looked on as at a play; but even he felt a slackening of the pulse as he listened. And with the Reverend Frederick it was different. He was not framed for danger. When the smoking glare of the links which the ringleaders carried began to dance and flicker on the opposite houses, he looked about him with a wild eye, and had already taken two steps towards the door, when it opened.
It admitted two men about Sir George's age, or a little younger. One, after glancing round, passed hurriedly to the window and looked out; the other sank into the nearest chair, and, fanning himself with his hat, muttered a querulous oath.
'My dear lord!' cried the Reverend Frederick, hastening to his side—and it is noteworthy that he forgot even his panic in the old habit of reverence—'What an escape! To think that a life so valuable as your lordship's should lie at the mercy of those wretches! I shudder at the thought of what might have happened.'
'Fan me, Tommy' was the answer. And Lord Almeric, an excessively pale, excessively thin young man, handed his hat with a gesture of exhaustion to the obsequious tutor. 'Fan me; that is a good soul. Positively I am suffocated with the smell of those creatures! Worse than horses, I assure you. There, again! What a pother about a common fellow! 'Pon honour, I don't know what the world is coming to!'
'Nor I,' Mr. Thomasson answered, hanging over him with assiduity and concern on his countenance. 'It is not to be comprehended.'
'No, 'pon honour it is not!' my lord agreed. And then, feeling a little recovered, 'Dunborough,' he asked, 'what are they doing?'
'Hanging you, my dear fellow!' the other answered from the window, where he had taken his place within a pace of Soane, but without discovering him. He spoke in the full boisterous tone of one in perfect health and spirits, perfectly satisfied with himself, and perfectly heedless of others.
'Oh, I say, you are joking?' my lord answered. 'Hanging me? Oh, ah! I see. In effigy!'
'And your humble servant,' said Mr. Dunborough. 'I tell you, Tommy, we had a near run for it. Curse their impudence, they made us sweat. For a very little I would give the rascals something to howl for.'
Perhaps he meant no more than to put a bold face on it before his creatures. But unluckily the rabble, which had come provided with a cart and gallows, a hangman, and a paunchy, red-faced fellow in canonicals, and which hitherto had busied itself with the mock execution, found leisure at this moment to look up at the window. Catching sight of the object of their anger, they vented their rage in a roar of execration, so much louder than all that had gone before that it brought the sentence which Mr. Thomasson was uttering to a quavering end. But the demonstration, far from intimidating Mr. Dunborough, provoked him to fury. Turning from the sea of brandished hands and upturned faces, he strode to a table, and in a moment returned. The window was open, he flung it wider, and stood erect, in full view of the mob.
The sight produced a momentary silence, of which he took advantage. 'Now, you tailors, begone!' he cried harshly. 'To your hovels, and leave gentlemen to their wine, or it will be the worse for you. Come, march! We have had enough of your fooling, and are tired of it.'
The answer was a shout of 'Cain!' and 'Murderer!' One voice cried 'Ferrers!' and this caught the fancy of the crowd. In a moment a hundred were crying, 'Ay, Ferrers! Come down, and we'll Ferrers you!'
He stood a moment irresolute, glaring at them; then something struck and shattered a pane of the window beside him, and the fetid smell of a bad egg filled the room. At the sound Mr. Thomasson uttered a cry and shrank farther into the darkness, while Lord Almeric rose hastily and looked about for a refuge. But Mr. Dunborough did not flinch.
'D——n you, you rascals, you will have it, will you?' he cried; and in the darkness a sharp click was heard. He raised his hand. A shriek in the street below answered the movement; some who stood nearest saw that he held a pistol and gave the information to others, and there was a wild rush to escape. But before the hammer dropped, a hand closed on his, and Soane, crying, 'Are you mad, sir?' dragged him back.
Dunborough had not entertained the least idea that any one stood near him, and the surprise was as complete as the check. After an instinctive attempt to wrench away his hand, he stood glaring at the person who held him. 'Curse you!' he said. 'Who are you? And what do you mean?'
'Not to sit by and see murder done,' Sir George answered firmly. 'To-morrow you will thank me.'
'For the present I'll thank you to release my hand,' the other retorted in a freezing tone. Nevertheless, Sir George thought that the delay had sobered him, and complied. 'Much obliged to you,' Dunborough continued. 'Now perhaps you will walk into the next room, where there is a light, and we can be free from that scum.'
Mr. Thomasson had already set the example of a prudent retreat thither; and Lord Almeric, with a feeble, 'Lord, this is very surprising! But I think that the gentleman is right, Dunny,' was hovering in the doorway. Sir George signed to Mr. Dunborough to go first, but he would not, and Soane, shrugging his shoulders, preceded him.
The room into which they all crowded was no more than a closet, containing a dusty bureau propped on three legs, a few books, and Mr. Thomasson's robes, boots, and wig-stand. It was so small that when they were all in it, they stood perforce close together, and had the air of persons sheltering from a storm. This nearness, the glare of the lamp on their faces, and the mean surroundings gave a kind of added force to Mr. Dunborough's rage. For a moment after entering he could not speak; he had dined largely, and sat long after dinner; and his face was suffused with blood. But then, 'Tommy, who is—this—fellow?' he cried, blurting out the words as if each must be the last.
'Good heavens!' cried the tutor, shocked at the low appellation.' Mr. Dunborough! Mr. Dunborough! You mistake. My dear sir, my dear friend, you do not understand. This is Sir George Soane, whose name must be known to you. Permit me to introduce him.'
'Then take that for a meddler and a coxcomb, Sir George Soane!' cried the angry man; and quick as thought he struck Sir George, who was at elbows with him, lightly in the face.
Sir George stepped back, his face crimson. 'You are not sober, sir!' he said.
'Is not that enough?' cried the other, drowning both Mr. Thomasson's exclamation of horror and Lord Almeric's protest of, 'Oh, but I say, you know—' under the volume of his voice. 'You have a sword, sir, and I presume you know how to use it. If there is not space here, there is a room below, and I am at your service. You will not wipe that off by rubbing it,' he added coarsely.
Sir George dropped his hand from his face as if it stung him. 'Mr. Dunborough,' he said trembling—but it was with passion, 'if I thought you were sober and would not repent to-morrow what you have done to-night—'
'You would do fine things,' Dunborough retorted. 'Come, sir, a truce to your impertinence! You have meddled with me, and you must maintain it. Must I strike you again?'
'I will not meet you to-night,' Sir George answered firmly. 'I will be neither Lord Byron nor his victim. These gentlemen will bear me out so far. For the rest, if you are of the same mind to-morrow, it will be for me and not for you to ask a meeting.'
'At your service, sir,' Mr. Dunborough said, with a sarcastic bow. 'But suppose, to save trouble in the morning, we fix time and place now.'
'Eight—in Magdalen Fields,' Soane answered curtly. 'If I do not hear from you, I am staying at the Mitre Inn. Mr. Thomasson, I bid you good-night. My lord, your servant.'
And with that, and though Mr. Thomasson, wringing his hands over what had occurred and the injury to himself that might come of it, attempted some feeble remonstrances, Sir George bowed sternly, took his hat and went down. He found his chair at the foot of the stairs, but in consideration of the crowd he would not use it. The college porters, indeed, pressed him to wait, and demurred to opening even the wicket. But he had carried forbearance to the verge, and dreaded the least appearance of timidity; and, insisting, got his way. The rabble admired so fine a gentleman, and so resolute a bearing, gave place to him with a jest, and let him pass unmolested down the lane.
It was well that they did, for he had come to the end of his patience. One man steps out of a carriage, picks up a handkerchief, and lives to wear a Crown. Another takes the same step; it lands him in a low squabble from which he may extricate himself with safety, but scarcely with an accession of credit. Sir George belonged to the inner circle of fashion, to which neither rank nor wealth, nor parts, nor power, of necessity admitted. In the sphere in which he moved, men seldom quarrelled and as seldom fought. Of easiest habit among themselves, they left bad manners and the duello to political adventurers and cubbish peers, or to the gentlemen of the quarter sessions and the local ordinary. It was with a mighty disgust, therefore, that Sir George considered alike the predicament into which a caprice had hurried him, and the insufferable young Hector whom fate had made his antagonist. They would laugh at White's. They would make a jest of it over the cakes and fruit at Betty's. Selwyn would turn a quip. And yet the thing was beyond a joke. He must be a target first and a butt afterwards—if any afterwards there were.
As he entered the Mitre, sick with chagrin, and telling himself he might have known that something of this kind would come of stooping to vulgar company, he bethought him—for the first time in an hour—of the girl. 'Lord!' he said, thinking of her request, her passion, and her splendid eyes; and he stood. For the age des philosophes, destiny seemed to be taking too large a part in the play. This must be the very man with whom she had striven to embroil him!
His servant's voice broke in on his thoughts. 'At what hour will your honour please to be called?' he asked, as he carried off the laced coat and wig.
Soane stifled a groan. 'Called?' he said. 'At half-past six. Don't stare, booby! Half-past six, I said. And do you go now, I'll shift for myself. But first put out my despatch-case, and see there is pen and ink. It's done? Then be off, and when you come in the morning bring the landlord and another with you.'
The man lingered. 'Will your honour want horses?' he said.
'I don't know. Yes! No! Well, not until noon. And where is my sword?'
'I was taking it down to clean it, sir.'
'Then don't take it; I will look to it myself. And mind you, call me at the time I said.'
PEEPING TOM OF WALLINGFORD
To be an attorney-at-law, avid of practice and getting none; to be called Peeping Tom of Wallingford, in the place where you would fain trot about busy and respected; to be the sole support of an old mother, and to be come almost to the toe of the stocking—these circumstances might seem to indicate an existence and prospects bare, not to say arid. Eventually they presented themselves in that light to the person most nearly concerned—by name Mr. Peter Fishwick; and moving him to grasp at the forlorn hope presented by a vacant stewardship at one of the colleges, brought him by coach to Oxford. There he spent three days and his penultimate guineas in canvassing, begging, bowing, and smirking; and on the fourth, which happened to be the very day of Sir George's arrival in the city, was duly and handsomely defeated without the honour of a vote.
Mr. Fishwick had expected no other result; and so far all was well. But he had a mother, and that mother entertained a fond belief that local jealousy and nothing else kept down her son in the place of his birth. She had built high hopes on this expedition; she had thought that the Oxford gentlemen would be prompt to recognise his merit; and for her sake the sharp-featured lawyer went back to the Mitre a rueful man. He had taken a lodging there with intent to dazzle the town, and not because his means were equal to it; and already the bill weighed upon him. By nature as cheerful a gossip as ever wore a scratch wig and lived to be inquisitive, he sat mum through the evening, and barely listened while the landlord talked big of his guest upstairs, his curricle and fashion, the sums he lost at White's, and the plate in his dressing-case.
Nevertheless the lawyer would not have been Peter Fishwick if he had not presently felt the stirrings of curiosity, or, thus incited, failed to be on the move between the stairs and the landing when Sir George came in and passed up. The attorney's ears were as sharp as a ferret's nose, and he was notably long in lighting his humble dip at a candle which by chance stood outside Sir George's door. Hence it happened that Soane—who after dismissing his servant had gone for a moment into the adjacent chamber—heard a slight noise in the room he had left; and, returning quickly to learn what it was, found no one, but observed the outer door shake as if some one tried it. His suspicions aroused, he was still staring at the door when it moved again, opened a very little way, and before his astonished eyes admitted a small man in a faded black suit, who, as soon as he had squeezed himself in, stood bowing with a kind of desperate audacity.
'Hallo!' said Sir George, staring anew. 'What do you want, my man?'
The intruder advanced a pace or two, and nervously crumpled his hat in his hands. 'If your honour pleases,' he said, a smile feebly propitiative appearing in his face, 'I shall be glad to be of service to you.'
'Of service?' said Sir George, staring in perplexity. 'To me?'
'In the way of my profession,' the little man answered, fixing Sir George with two eyes as bright as birds'; which eyes somewhat redeemed his small keen features. 'Your honour was about to make your will.' 'My will?' Sir George cried, amazed; 'I was about to—' and then in an outburst of rage, 'and if I was—what the devil business is it of yours?' he cried. 'And who are you, sir?'
The little man spread out his hands in deprecation. 'I?' he said. 'I am an attorney, sir, and everybody's business is my business.'
Sir George gasped. 'You are an attorney!' he cried. 'And—and everybody's business is your business! By God, this is too much!' And seizing the bell-rope he was about to overwhelm the man of law with a torrent of abuse, before he had him put out, when the absurdity of the appeal and perhaps a happy touch in Peter's last answer struck him; he held his hand, and hesitated. Then, 'What is your name, sir?' he said sternly.
'Peter Fishwick,' the attorney answered humbly.
'And how the devil did you know—that I wanted to make a will?'
'I was going upstairs,' the lawyer explained. 'And the door was ajar.'
'And you listened?'
'I wanted to hear,' said Peter with simplicity.
'But what did you hear, sir?' Soane retorted, scarcely able to repress a smile.
'I heard your honour tell your servant to lay out pen and paper, and to bring the landlord and another upstairs when he called you in the morning. And I heard you bid him leave your sword. And putting two and two together, respected sir, 'Peter continued manfully,' and knowing that it is only of a will you need three witnesses, I said to myself, being an attorney—'
'And everybody's business being your business,' Sir George muttered irritably.
'To be sure, sir—it is a will, I said, he is for making. And with your honour's leave,' Peter concluded with spirit, I'll make it.'
'Confound your impudence,' Sir George answered, and stared at him, marvelling at the little man's shrewdness.
Peter smiled in a sickly fashion. 'If your honour would but allow me?' he said. He saw a great chance slipping from him, and his voice was plaintive.
It moved Sir George to compassion. 'Where is your practice?' he asked ungraciously.
The attorney felt a surprising inclination to candour. 'At Wallingford,' he said, 'it should be. But—' and there he stopped, shrugging his shoulders, and leaving the rest unsaid.
'Can you make a will?' Sir George retorted.
'No man better,' said Peter with confidence; and on the instant he drew a chair to the table, seized the pen, and bent the nib on his thumbnail; then he said briskly, 'I wait your commands, sir.'
Sir George stared in some embarrassment—he had not expected to be taken so literally; but, after a moment's hesitation, reflecting that to write down his wishes with his own hand would give him more trouble, and that he might as well trust this stranger as that, he accepted the situation. 'Take down what I wish, then,' he said. 'Put it into form afterwards, and bring it to me when I rise. Can you be secret?'
'Try me,' Peter answered with enthusiasm. 'For a good client I would bite off my tongue.'
'Very well, then, listen!' Sir George said. And presently, after some humming and thinking, 'I wish to leave all my real property to the eldest son of my uncle, Anthony Soane,' he continued.
'Right, sir. Child already in existence, I presume? Not that it is absolutely necessary,' the attorney continued glibly. 'But—'
'I do not know,' said Sir George.
'Ah!' said the lawyer, raising his pen and knitting his brows while he looked very learnedly into vacancy. 'The child is expected, but you have not yet heard, sir, that—'
'I know nothing about the child, nor whether there is a child,' Sir George answered testily. 'My uncle may be dead, unmarried, or alive and married—what difference does it make?'
'Certainty is very necessary in these things,' Peter replied severely. The pen in his hand, he became a different man. 'Your uncle, Mr. Anthony Soane, as I understand, is alive?'
'He disappeared in the Scotch troubles in '45,' Sir George reluctantly explained, 'was disinherited in favour of my father, sir, and has not since been heard from.'
The attorney grew rigid with alertness; he was like nothing so much as a dog, expectant at a rat-hole. 'Attainted?' he said.
'No!' said Sir George.
The attorney collapsed: no rat in the hole. 'Dear me, dear me, what a sad story!' he said; and then remembering that his client had profited, 'but out of evil—ahem! As I understand, sir, you wish all your real property, including the capital mansion house and demesne, to go to the eldest son of your uncle Mr. Anthony Soane in tail, remainder to the second son in tail, and, failing sons, to daughters—the usual settlement, in a word, sir.'
'No exceptions, sir.'
'Very good,' the attorney answered with the air of a man satisfied so far. 'And failing issue of your uncle? To whom then, Sir George?'
'To the Earl of Chatham.'
Mr. Fishwick jumped in his seat; then bowed profoundly.
'Indeed! Indeed! How very interesting!' he murmured under his breath. 'Very remarkable! Very remarkable, and flattering.'
Sir George stooped to explain. 'I have no near relations,' he said shortly. 'Lord Chatham—he was then Mr. Pitt—was the executor of my grandfather's will, is connected with me by marriage, and at one time acted as my guardian.'
Mr. Fishwick licked his lips as if he tasted something very good. This was business indeed! These were names with a vengeance! His face shone with satisfaction; he acquired a sudden stiffness of the spine. 'Very good, sir,' he said. 'Ve—ry good,' he said. 'In fee simple, I understand?'
'Precisely. Precisely; no uses or trusts? No. Unnecessary of course. Then as to personalty, Sir George?'
'A legacy of five hundred guineas to George Augustus Selwyn, Esquire, of Matson, Gloucestershire. One of the same amount to Sir Charles Bunbury, Baronet. Five hundred guineas to each of my executors; and to each of these four a mourning ring.'
'Certainly, sir. All very noble gifts!' And Mr. Fishwick smacked his lips.
For a moment Sir George looked his offence; then seeing that the attorney's ecstasy was real and unaffected, he smiled. 'To my land-steward two hundred guineas,' he said; 'to my house-steward one hundred guineas, to the housekeeper at Estcombe an annuity of twenty guineas. Ten guineas and a suit of mourning to each of my upper servants not already mentioned, and the rest of my personalty—'
'After payment of debts and funeral and testamentary expenses,' the lawyer murmured, writing busily.
Sir George started at the words, and stared thoughtfully before him: he was silent so long that the lawyer recalled his attention by gently repeating, 'And the residue, honoured sir?'
'To the Thatched House Society for the relief of small debtors,' Sir George answered, between a sigh and a smile. And added, 'They will not gain much by it, poor devils!'
Mr. Fishwick with a rather downcast air noted the bequest. 'And that is all, sir, I think?' he said with his head on one side. 'Except the appointment of executors.'
'No,' Sir George answered curtly. 'It is not all. Take this down and be careful. As to the trust fund of fifty thousand pounds'—the attorney gasped, and his eyes shone as he seized the pen anew. 'Take this down carefully, man, I say,' Sir George continued. 'As to the trust fund left by my grandfather's will to my uncle Anthony Soane or his heirs conditionally on his or their returning to their allegiance and claiming it within the space of twenty-one years from the date of his will, the interest in the meantime to be paid to me for my benefit, and the principal sum, failing such return, to become mine as fully as if it had vested in me from the beginning—'
'Ah!' said the attorney, scribbling fast, and with distended cheeks.
'I leave the said fund to go with the land.'
'To go with the land,' the lawyer repeated as he wrote the words. 'Fifty thousand pounds! Prodigious! Prodigious! Might I ask, sir, the date of your respected grandfather's will?'
'December, 1746,' Sir George answered.
'The term has then nine months to run?'
'With submission, then it comes to this,' the lawyer answered thoughtfully, marking off the points with his pen in the air. 'In the event of—of this will operating—all, or nearly all of your property, Sir George, goes to your uncle's heirs in tail—if to be found—and failing issue of his body to my Lord Chatham?'
'Those are my intentions.'
'Precisely, sir,' the lawyer answered, glancing at the clock. 'And they shall be carried out. But—ahem! Do I understand, sir, that in the event of a claimant making good his claim before the expiration of the nine months, you stand to lose this stupendous, this magnificent sum—even in your lifetime?'
'I do,' Sir George answered grimly. 'But there will be enough left to pay your bill.'
Peter stretched out his hands in protest, then, feeling that this was unprofessional, he seized the pen. 'Will you please to honour me with the names of the executors, sir?' he said.
'Dr. Addington, of Harley Street.'
'And Mr. Dagge, of Lincoln's Inn Fields, attorney-at-law.'
'It is an honour to be in any way associated with him,' the lawyer muttered, as he wrote the name with a flourish. 'His lordship's man of business, I believe. And now you may have your mind at ease, sir,' he continued. 'I will put this into form before I sleep, and will wait on you for your signature—shall I say at—'
'At a quarter before eight,' said Soane. 'You will be private?'
'Of course, sir. It is my business to be private. I wish you a very good night.'
The attorney longed to refer to the coming meeting, and to his sincere hope that his new patron would leave the ground unscathed. But a duel was so alien from the lawyer's walk in life, that he knew nothing of the punctilios, and he felt a delicacy. Tamely to wish a man a safe issue seemed to be a common compliment incommensurate with the occasion; and a bathos. So, after a moment of hesitation, he gathered up his papers, and tip-toed out of the room with an absurd exaggeration of respect, and a heart bounding jubilant under his flapped waistcoat.
Left to himself, Sir George heaved a sigh, and, resting his head on his hand, stared long and gloomily at the candles. 'Well, better be run through by this clown,' he muttered after a while, 'than live to put a pistol to my own head like Mountford and Bland. Or Scarborough, or poor Bolton. It is not likely, and I wish that little pettifogger had not put it into my head; but if a cousin were to appear now, or before the time is up, I should be in Queer Street. Estcombe is dipped: and of the money I raised, there is no more at the agent's than I have lost in a night at Quinze! D——n White's and that is all about it. And d——n it, I shall, and finely, if old Anthony's lad turn up and sweep off the three thousand a year that is left. Umph, if I am to have a steady hand to-morrow I must get to bed. What unholy chance brought me into this scrape?'
Sir George awoke next morning, and, after a few lazy moments of semi-consciousness, remembered what was before him, it is not to be denied that he felt a chill. He lay awhile, thinking of the past and the future—or the no future—in a way he seldom thought, and with a seriousness for which the life he had hitherto led had left him little time and less inclination.
But he was young; he had a digestion as yet unimpaired, and nerves still strong; and when he emerged an hour later and, more soberly dressed than was his wont, proceeded down the High Street towards the Cherwell Bridge, his spirits were at their normal level. The spring sunshine which gilded the pinnacles of Magdalen tower, and shone cool and pleasant on a score of hoary fronts, wrought gaily on him also. The milksellers and such early folk were abroad, and filled the street with their cries; he sniffed the fresh air, and smiled at the good humour and morning faces that everywhere greeted him; and d——d White's anew, and vowed to live cleanly henceforth, and forswear Pam. In a word, the man was of such a courage that in his good resolutions he forgot his errand, and whence they arose; and it was with a start that, as he approached the gate leading to the college meadows, he marked a chair in waiting, and beside it Mr. Peter Fishwick, from whom he had parted at the Mitre ten minutes before.
Soane did not know whether the attorney had preceded him or followed him: the intrusion was the same, and flushed with annoyance, he strode to him to mark his sense of it. But Peter, being addressed, wore his sharpest business air, and was entirely unconscious of offence. 'I have merely purveyed a surgeon,' he said, indicating a young man who stood beside him. 'I could not learn that you had provided one, sir.'
'Oh!' Sir George answered, somewhat taken aback, 'this is the gentleman.'
Soane was in the act of saluting the stranger, when a party of two or three persons came up behind, and had much ado not to jostle them in the gateway. It consisted of Mr. Dunborough, Lord Almeric, and two other gentlemen; one of these, an elderly man, who wore black and hair-powder, and carried a gold-topped cane, had a smug and well-pleased expression, that indicated his stake in the meeting to be purely altruistic. The two companies exchanged salutes.
On this followed a little struggle to give precedence at the gate, but eventually all went through. 'If we turn to the right,' some one observed, 'there is a convenient place. No, this way, my lord.'
'Oh Lord, I have such a head this morning!' his lordship answered; and he looked by no means happy. 'I am all of a twitter! It is so confounded early, too. See here: cannot this be—?'
The gentleman who had spoken before drowned his voice. 'Will this do, sir?' he said, raising his hat, and addressing Sir George. The party had reached a smooth glade or lawn encompassed by thick shrubs, and to all appearance a hundred miles from a street. A fairy-ring of verdure, glittering with sunlight and dewdrops, and tuneful with the songs of birds, it seemed a morsel of paradise dropped from the cool blue of heaven. Sir George felt a momentary tightening of the throat as he surveyed its pure brilliance, and then a sudden growing anger against the fool who had brought him thither.
'You have no second?' said the stranger.
'No,' he answered curtly; 'I think we have witnesses enough.'
'Still—if the matter can be accommodated?'
'It can,' Soane answered, standing stiffly before them. 'But only by an unreserved apology on Mr. Dunborough's part. He struck me. I have no more to say.'
'I do not offer the apology,' Mr. Dunborough rejoined, with a horse-laugh. 'So we may as well go on, Jerry. I did not come here to talk.'
'I have brought pistols,' his second said, disregarding the sneer. 'But my principal, though the challenged party, is willing to waive the choice of weapons.'
'Pistols will do for me,' Sir George answered.
'One shot, at a word. If ineffective, you will take to your swords,' the second continued; and he pushed back his wig and wiped his forehead, as if his employment were not altogether to his taste. A duel was a fine thing—at a distance. He wished, however, that he had some one with whom to share the responsibility, now it was come to the point; and he cast a peevish look at Lord Almeric. But his lordship was, as he had candidly said, 'all of a twitter,' and offered no help.
'I suppose that I am to load,' the unlucky second continued. 'That being so, you, Sir George, must have the choice of pistols.'
Sir George bowed assent, and, going a little aside, removed his hat, wig, and cravat; and was about to button his coat to his throat, when he observed that Mr. Dunborough was stripping to his shirt. Too proud not to follow the example, though prudence suggested that the white linen made him a fair mark, he stripped also, and in a trice the two, kicking off their shoes, moved to the positions assigned to them; and in their breeches and laced lawn shirts, their throats bare, confronted one another.
'Sir George, have you no one to represent you?' cried the second again, grown querulous under the burden. His name, it seemed, was Morris. He was a major in the Oxfordshire Militia.
Soane answered with impatience. 'I have no second,' he said, 'but my surgeon will be a competent witness.'
'Ah! to be sure!' Major Morris answered, with a sigh of relief. 'That is so. Then, gentlemen, I shall give the signal by saying One, two, three! Be good enough to fire together at the word Three! Do you understand?'
'Yes,' said Mr. Dunborough. And 'Yes,' Sir George said more slowly.
'Then, now, be ready! Prepare to fire! One! two! th—'
'Stay!' flashed Mr. Dunborough, while the word still hung in the air. 'You have not given us our pistols,' he continued, with an oath.
'What?' cried the second, staring.
'Man, you have not given us our pistols.'
The major was covered with confusion. 'God bless my soul! I have not!' he cried; while Lord Almeric giggled hysterically. 'Dear me! dear me! it is very trying to be alone!' He threw his hat and wig on the grass, and again wiped his brow, and took up the pistols. 'Sir George? Thank you. Mr. Dunborough, here is yours.' Then: 'Now, are you ready? Thank you.'
He retreated to his place again. 'Are you ready, gentlemen? Are you quite ready?' he repeated anxiously, amid a breathless silence. 'One! two! three!'
Sir George's pistol exploded at the word; the hammer of the other clicked futile in the pan. The spectators, staring, and expecting to see one fall, saw Mr. Dunborough start and make a half turn. Before they had time to draw any conclusion he flung his pistol a dozen paces away, and cursed his second. 'D——n you, Morris!' he cried shrilly; 'you put no powder in the pan, you hound! But come on, sir,' he continued, addressing Sir George, 'I have this left.' And rapidly changing his sword from his left hand, in which he had hitherto held it, to his right, he rushed upon his opponent with the utmost fury, as if he would bear him down by main force.
'Stay!' Sir George cried; and, instead of meeting him, avoided his first rush by stepping aside two paces. 'Stay, sir,' he repeated; 'I owe you a shot! Prime afresh. Reload, sir, and—'
But Dunborough, blind and deaf with passion, broke in on him unheeding, and as if he carried no weapon; and crying furiously, 'Guard yourself!' plunged his half-shortened sword at the lower part of Sir George's body. The spectators held their breath and winced; the assault was so sudden, so determined, that it seemed that nothing could save Sir George from a thrust thus delivered. He did escape, however, by a bound, quick as a cat's; but the point of Dunborough's weapon ripped up his breeches on the hip, the hilt rapped against the bone, and the two men came together bodily. For a moment they wrestled, and seemed to be going to fight like beasts.
Then Sir George, his left forearm under the other's chin, flung him three paces away; and shifting his sword into his right hand—hitherto he had been unable to change it—he stopped Dunborough's savage rush with the point, and beat him off and kept him off—parrying his lunges, and doing his utmost the while to avoid dealing him a fatal wound. Soane was so much the better swordsman—as was immediately apparent to all the onlookers—that he no longer feared for himself; all his fears were for his opponent, the fire and fury of whose attacks he could not explain to himself, until he found them flagging; and flagging so fast that he sought a reason. Then Dunborough's point beginning to waver, and his feet to slip, Sir George's eyes were opened; he discerned a crimson patch spread and spread on the other's side—where unnoticed Dunborough had kept his hand—and with a cry for help he sprang forward in time to catch the falling man in his arms.
As the others ran in, the surgeons quickly and silently, Lord Almeric more slowly, and with exclamations, Sir George lowered his burden gently to the ground. The instant it was done, Morris touched his arm and signed to him to stand back. 'You can do no good, Sir George,' he urged. 'He is in skilful hands. He would have it; it was his own fault. I can bear witness that you did your best not to touch him.'
'I did not touch him,' Soane muttered.
The second looked his astonishment. 'How?' he said. 'You don't mean to say that he is not wounded? See there!' And he pointed to the blood which dyed the shirt. They were cutting the linen away.
'It was the pistol,' Sir George answered.
Major Morris's face fell, and he groaned. 'Good G—d!' he said, staring before him. 'What a position I am in! I suppose—I suppose, sir, his pistol was not primed?'
'I am afraid not,' Soane answered.
He was still in his shirt, and bareheaded; but as he spoke one of several onlookers, whom the clatter of steel had drawn to the spot, brought his coat and waistcoat, and held them while he put them on. Another handed his hat and wig, a third brought his shoes and knelt and buckled them; a fourth his kerchief. All these services he accepted freely, and was unconscious of them—as unconscious as he was of the eager deference, the morbid interest, with which they waited on him, eyed him, and stared at him. His own thoughts, eyes, attention, were fixed on the group about the fallen man; and when the elder surgeon glanced over his shoulder, as wanting help, he strode to them.
'If we had a chair here, and could move him at once,' the smug gentleman whispered, 'I think we might do.'
'I have a chair. It is at the gate,' his colleague answered.
'Have you? A good thought of yours!'
'The credit should lie—with my employer,' the younger man answered in a low voice. 'It was his thought; here it comes. Sir George, will you be good enough—' But then, seeing the baronet's look of mute anxiety, he broke off. 'It is dangerous, but there is hope—fair hope,' he answered. 'Do you, my dear sir, go to your inn, and I will send thither when he is safely housed. You can do no good here, and your presence may excite him when he recovers from the swoon.'
Sir George, seeing the wisdom of the advice, nodded assent; and remarking for the first time the sensation of which he was the centre, was glad to make the best of his way towards the gates. He had barely reached them—without shaking off a knot of the more curious, who still hung on his footsteps—when Lord Almeric, breathless and agitated, came up with him.
'You are for France, I suppose?' his lordship panted. And then, without waiting for an answer: 'What would you advise me to do?' he babbled. 'Eh? What do you think? It will be the devil and all for me, you know.'
Sir George looked askance at him, contempt in his eye. 'I cannot advise you,' he said. 'For my part, my lord, I remain here.'
His lordship was quite taken aback. 'No, you don't?' he said. 'Remain here!—You don't mean it,'
'I usually mean—what I say,' Soane answered in a tone that he thought must close the conversation.
But Lord Almeric kept up with him. 'Ay, but will you?' he babbled in vacuous admiration. 'Will you really stay here? Now that is uncommon bold of you! I should not have thought of that—of staying here, I mean. I should go to France till the thing blew over. I don't know that I shall not do so now. Don't you think I should be wise, Sir George? My position, you know. It is uncommon low, is a trial, and—'
Sir George halted so abruptly that will-he, nill-he, the other went on a few paces. 'My lord, you should know your own affairs best,' he said in a freezing tone. 'And, as I desire to be alone, I wish your lordship a very good day.'
My lord had never been so much astonished in his life. 'Oh, good morning,' he said, staring vacantly, 'good morning!' but by the time he had framed the words, Sir George was a dozen paces away.
It was an age when great ladies wept out of wounded vanity or for a loss at cards—yet made a show of their children lying in state; when men entertained the wits and made their wills in company, before they bowed a graceful exit from the room and life. Doubtless people felt, feared, hoped, and perspired as they do now, and had their ambitions apart from Pam and the loo table. Nay, Rousseau was printing. But the 'Nouvelle Heloise,' though it was beginning to be read, had not yet set the mode of sensibility, or sent those to rave of nature who all their lives had known nothing but art. The suppression of feeling, or rather the cultivation of no feeling, was still the mark of a gentleman; his maxim; honoured alike at Medmenham and Marly, to enjoy—to enjoy, be the cost to others what it might.
Bred in such a school, Sir George should have viewed what had happened with polite indifference, and put himself out no further than was courteous, or might serve to set him right with a jury, if the worst came to the worst. But, whether because he was of a kindlier stuff than the common sort of fashionables, or was too young to be quite spoiled, he took the thing that had occurred with unexpected heaviness; and, reaching his inn, hastened to his room to escape alike the curiosity that dogged him and the sympathy that, for a fine gentleman, is never far to seek. To do him justice, his anxiety was not for himself, or the consequences to himself, which at the worst were not likely to exceed a nominal verdict of manslaughter, and at the best would be an acquittal; the former had been Lord Byron's lot, the latter Mr. Brown's, and each had killed his man. Sir George had more savoir faire than to trouble himself about this; but about his opponent and his fate he felt a haunting—and, as Lord Almeric would have said, a low—concern that would let him neither rest nor sit. In particular, when he remembered the trifle from which all had arisen, he felt remorse and sorrow; which grew to the point of horror when he recalled the last look which Dunborough, swooning and helpless, had cast in his face.
In one of these paroxysms he was walking the room when the elder surgeon, who had attended his opponent to the field, was announced. Soane still retained so much of his life habit as to show an unmoved front; the man of the scalpel thought him hard and felt himself repelled; and though he had come from the sick-room hot-foot and laden with good news, descended to a profound apology for the intrusion.
'But I thought that you might like to hear, sir,' he continued, nursing his hat, and speaking as if the matter were of little moment, 'that Mr. Dunborough is as—as well as can be expected. A serious case—I might call it a most serious case,' he continued, puffing out his cheeks. 'But with care—with care I think we may restore him. I cannot say more than that.'
'Has the ball been extracted?'
'It has, and so far well. And the chair being on the spot, Sir George, so that he was moved without a moment's delay—for which I believe we have to thank Mr.—Mr.—'
'Fishwick,' Soane suggested.
'To be sure—that is so much gained. Which reminds me,' the smug gentleman continued, 'that Mr. Attorney begged me to convey his duty and inform you that he had made the needful arrangements and provided bail, so that you are at liberty to leave, Sir George, at any hour.'
'Ah!' Soane said, marvelling somewhat. 'I shall stay here, nevertheless, until I hear that Mr. Dunborough is out of danger.'
'An impulse that does you credit, sir,' the surgeon said impressively. 'These affairs, alas! are very greatly to be de—'
'They are d—d inconvenient,' Sir George drawled. 'He is not out of danger yet, I suppose?'
The surgeon stared and puffed anew. 'Certainly not, sir,' he said.
'Ah! And where have you placed him?'
'The Honourable Mr.—, the sufferer?'
'To be sure! Who else, man?' Soane asked impatiently.
'In some rooms at Magdalen,' the doctor answered, breathing hard. And then, 'Is it your wish that I should report to you to-morrow, sir?'
'You will oblige me. Thank you. Good-day.'
A FISH OUT OF WATER
Sir George spent a long day in his own company, and heedless that on the surgeon's authority he passed abroad for a hard man and a dashed unfeeling fellow, dined on Lord Lyttelton's 'Life of King Henry the Second,' which was a new book in those days, and the fashion; and supped on gloom and good resolutions. He proposed to call and inquire after his antagonist at a decent hour in the morning, and if the report proved favourable, to go on to Lord——'s in the afternoon.
But his suspense was curtailed, and his inquiries were converted into a matter of courtesy, by a visit which he received after breakfast from Mr. Thomasson. A glance at the tutor's smiling, unctuous face was enough. Mr. Thomasson also had had his dark hour—since to be mixed up with, a fashionable fracas was one thing, and to lose a valuable and influential pupil, the apple of his mother's eye, was another; but it was past, and he gushed over with gratulations.
'My dear Sir George,' he cried, running forward and extending his hands, 'how can I express my thankfulness for your escape? I am told that the poor dear fellow fought with a fury perfectly superhuman, and had you given ground must have ran you through a dozen times. Let us be thankful that the result was otherwise.' And he cast up his eyes.
'I am,' Sir George said, regarding him rather grimly. 'I do not know that Mr. Dunborough shares the feeling.'
'The dear man!' the tutor answered, not a whit abashed. 'But he is better. The surgeon has extracted the ball and pronounces him out of danger.'
'I am glad to hear it,' Soane answered heartily. 'Then, now I can get away.'
'A volonte!' cried Mr. Thomasson in his happiest vein. And then with a roguish air, which some very young men found captivating, but which his present companion stomached with difficulty, 'I will not say that you have come off the better, after all, Sir George,' he continued.
'No,' said the tutor roguishly. 'Tut-tut. These young men! They will at a woman by hook or crook.'
'So?' Sir George said coldly. 'And the latest instance?'
'His Chloe—and a very obdurate, disdainful Chloe at that—has come to nurse him,' the tutor answered, grinning. 'The prettiest high-stepping piece you ever saw, Sir George—that I will swear!—and would do you no discredit in London. It would make your mouth water to see her. But he could never move her; never was such a prude. Two days ago he thought he had lost her for good and all—there was that accident, you understand. And now a little blood lost—and she is at his pillow!'
Sir George reddened at a sudden thought he had. 'And her father unburied!' he cried, rising to his feet. This Macaroni was human, after all.
Mr. Thomasson stared in astonishment. 'You know?' he said. 'Oh fie, Sir George, have you been hunting already? Fie! Fie! And all London to choose from!'
But Sir George simply repeated, 'And her father not buried, man?'
'Yes,' Mr. Thomasson answered with simplicity. 'He was buried this morning. Oh, that is all right.'
'This morning? And the girl went from that—to Dunborough's bedside?' Sir George exclaimed in indignation.
'It was a piece of the oddest luck,' Mr. Thomasson answered, smirking, and not in the least comprehending the other's feeling. 'He was lodged in Magdalen yesterday; this morning a messenger was despatched to Pembroke for clothes and such-like for him. The girl's mother has always nursed in Pembroke, and they sent for her to help. But she was that minute home from the burial, and would not go. Then up steps the girl and "I'll go," says she—heaven knows why or what took her, except the contrariness of woman. However, there she is! D'ye see?' And Mr. Thomasson winked.
'Tommy,' said Sir George, staring at him, 'I see that you're a d—d rascal!'
The tutor, easy and smiling, protested. 'Fie, Sir George,' he said. 'What harm is in it? To tend the sick, my dear sir, is a holy office. And if in this case harm come of it—' and he spread out his hands and paused.
'As you know it will,' Sir George cried impulsively.
But Mr. Thomasson shrugged his shoulders. 'On the contrary, I know nothing,' he answered. 'But—if it does, Mr. Dunborough's position is such that—hem! Well, we are men of the world, Sir George, and the girl might do worse.'
Sir George had heard the sentiment before, and without debate or protest. Now it disgusted him. 'Faugh, man!' he said, rising. 'Have done! You sicken me. Go and bore Lord Almeric—if he has not gone to Paris to save his ridiculous skin!'
But Mr. Thomasson, who had borne abuse of himself with Christian meekness, could not hear that unmoved. 'My dear Sir George, my dear friend,' he urged very seriously, and with a shocked face, 'you should not say things like that of his lordship. You really should not! My lord is a most excellent and—'
'Pure ass!' said Soane with irritation. 'And I wish you would go and divert him instead of boring me.'
'Dear, dear, Sir George!' Mr. Thomasson wailed. 'But you do not mean it? And I brought you such good news, as I thought. One might—one really might suppose that you wished our poor friend the worst.'
'I wish him no worse a friend!' Sir George responded sharply; and then, heedless of his visitor's protestations and excuses and offers of assistance, would see him to the door.
It was more easy, however, to be rid of him—the fine gentleman of the time standing on scant ceremony with his inferiors—than of the annoyance, the smart, the vexation, his news left behind him. Sir George was not in love. He would have laughed at the notion. The girl was absolutely and immeasurably below him; a girl of the people. He had seen her once only. In reason, therefore—and polite good breeding enforced the demand—he should have viewed Mr. Dunborough's conquest with easy indifference, and complimented him with a jest founded on the prowess of Mars and the smiles of Venus.
But the girl's rare beauty had caught Sir George's fancy; the scene in which he had taken part with her had captivated an imagination not easily inveigled. On the top of these impressions had come a period of good resolutions prescribed by imminent danger; and on the top of that twenty-four hours of solitude—a thing rare in the life he led. Result, that Sir George, picturing the girl's fate, her proud, passionate face, and her future, felt a sting at once selfish and unselfish, a pang at once generous and vicious. Perhaps at the bottom of his irritation lay the feeling that if she was to be any man's prey she might be his. But on the whole his feelings were surprisingly honest; they had their root in a better nature, that, deep sunk under the surface of breeding and habit, had been wholesomely stirred by the events of the last few days.
Still, the good and the evil in the man were so far in conflict that, had he been asked as he walked to Magdalen what he proposed to do should he get speech with the girl, it is probable he would not have known what to answer. Courtesy, nay, decency required that he should, inquire after his antagonist. If he saw the girl—and he had a sneaking desire to see her—well. If he did not see her—still well; there was an end of a foolish imbroglio, which had occupied him too long already. In an hour he could be in his post-chaise, and a mile out of town.