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Such was Mr. Hardie at twenty-five, and his townspeople said: "If he is so wise now he is a boy, what in Heaven's name will he be at forty?" To sixty the provincial imagination did not attempt to follow his wisdom. He was now past thirty, and behind the scenes of his bank was still the able financier I have sketched. But in society he seemed another man. There his characteristics were quiet courtesy, imperturbability, a suave but impressive manner, vast information on current events, and no flavor whatever of the shop.
He had learned the happy art, which might be called "the barrister's art," hoc agendi, of throwing the whole man into a thing at one time, and out of it at another. In the bank and in his own study he was a devout worshiper of Mammon; in society, a courteous, polished, intelligent gentleman, always ready to sift and discuss any worthy topic you could start except finance. There was some affectation in the cold and immovable determination with which he declined to say three words about money. But these great men act habitually on a preconceived system: this gives them their force.
If Lucy Fountain had been one of those empty girls that were so rife at the time, the sterling value of his conversation would have disgusted her, and his calm silence where there was nothing to be said (sure proof of intelligence) would have passed for stupidity with her. But she was intelligent, well used to bungling, straightforward flattery, and to smile with arch contempt at it, and very capable of appreciating the more subtle but less satirical compliment a man pays a pretty girl by talking sense to her; and, as it happened, her foible favored him no less than did her strong points. She attached too solid a value to manner; and Mr. Hardie's manner was, to her fancy, male perfection. It added to him in her estimation as much as David Dodd's defects in that kind detracted from the value of his mind and heart.
To this favorable opinion Mr. Hardie responded in full.
He had never seen so graceful a creature, nor so young a woman so courteous and high-bred.
He observed at once, what less keen persons failed to discover, that she was seldom spontaneous or off her guard. He admired her the more. He had no sympathy with the infantine in man or woman. "She thinks before she speaks," said he, with a note of admiration. On the other hand, he missed a trait or two the young lady possessed, for they happened to be virtues he had no eye for; but the sum total was most favorable; in short, it was esteem at first sight.
As a cobweb to a cabbage-net, so fine was Mrs. Bazalgette's reticulation compared with Uncle Fountain's. She invited Mr. Hardie to stay a fortnight with her, commencing just one day before Lucy's return. She arranged a round of gayety to celebrate the double event. What could be more simple? Yet there was policy below. The whirl of pleasure was to make Lucy forget everybody at Font Abbey; to empty her heart, and pave Mrs. B.'s candidate's way to the vacancy. Then, she never threw Mr. Hardie at Lucy's head, contenting herself with speaking of him with veneration when Lucy herself or others introduced his name. She was always contriving to throw the pair together, but no mortal could see her hand at work in it. Bref, a she-spider. The first day or two she watched her niece on the sly, just to see whether she regretted Font Abbey, or, in other words, Mr. Talboys. Well acquainted with all the subtle signs by which women read one another, she observed with some uneasiness that Lucy appeared somewhat listless and pensive at times, when left quite to herself. Once she found her with her cheek in her hand, and, by the way the young lady averted her head and slid suddenly into distinct cheerfulness, suspected there must have been tears in her eyes, but could not be positive. Next, she noticed with satisfaction that the round of gayety, including, as it did, morning rides as well as evening dances, dissipated these little reveries and languors. She inferred that either there was nothing in them but a sort of sediment of ennui, the natural remains of a visit to Font Abbey, or that, if there was anything more, it had yielded to the active pleasures she had provided, and to the lady's easy temper, and love of society, "the only thing she loves, or ever will," said Mrs. B., assuming prophecy.
"Aunt, how superior Mr. Hardie's conversation is. He interests one in topics that are unbearable generally; politics now. I thought I abhorred them, but I find it was only those little paltry Whig and Tory squabbles that wearied me. Mr. Hardie's views are neither Whig nor Tory; they are patriotic, and sober, and large-minded. He thinks of the country. I can take some interest in what he calls politics."
"And, pray, what is that?"
"Well, aunt, the liberation of commerce from its fetters for one thing. I can contrive to be interested in that, because I know England can be great only by commerce. Then the education of all classes, because without that England cannot be enlightened or good."
"He never says a word to me about such things," said Mrs. Bazalgette; "I suppose he thinks they are above poor me." She delivered this with so admirable an imitation of pique, that the courtier was deceived, and applied butter to "a fox's wound."
"Oh no, aunt. Consider; if that was it, he would not waste them on me, who am so inferior to you in sagacity. More likely he says, 'This young lady has not yet completed her education; I will sprinkle a little good sense among her frivolous accomplishments.' Whatever the motive, I am very much obliged to Mr. Hardie. A man of sense is so refreshing after--(full stop). What do you think of his voice?"
"His voice? I don't remember anything about it."
"Yes, you do--you must; it is a very remarkable one; so mellow, so quiet, yet so modulated."
"Well, I do remember now; it is rather a pleasant voice--for a man."
"Rather a pleasant voice!" repeated Lucy, opening her eyes; "why, it is a voice to charm serpents."
"Ha! ha! It has not charmed him one yet, you see."
This speech was not in itself pellucid; but these sweet ladies among themselves have so few topics compared with men, and consequently beat their little manor so often, that they seize a familiar idea, under any disguise, with the rapidity of lightning.
"Oh, charmers are charm-proof," replied Lucy; "that is the only reason why. I am sure of that." Then she reflected awhile. "It is his natural voice, is it not? Did you ever hear him speak in any other? Think."
"Then he must be a good man. Apropos, is Mr. Hardie a good man, aunt?"
"Why, of course he is."
"How do you know?"
"I never heard of any scandal against him."
"Oh, I don't mean your negative goodness. You never heard anything against me out of doors."
"Well, and are you not a good girl?"
"Me, aunt? Why, you know I am not."
"Bless me, what have you done?"
"I have done nothing, aunt," exclaimed Lucy, "and the good are never nullities. Then I am not open, which is a great fault in a character. But I can't help it! I can't! I can't!"
"Well, you need not break your heart for that. You will get over it before you have been married a year. Look at me; I was as shy as any of you at first going off, but now I can speak my mind; and a good thing too, or what would become of me among the selfish set?"
"Meaning me, dear?"
"No. Divide it among you. Come, this is idle talk. Men's voices, and whether they are good, bad, or indifferent, as if that mattered a pin, provided their incomes are good and their manners endurable. I want a little serious conversation with you."
"Do you?" and Lucy colored faintly; "with all my heart."
"We go to the Hunts' ball the day after to-morrow, Lucy; I suppose you know that? Now what on earth am I to wear? that is the question. There is no time to get a new dress made, and I have not got one--"
"That you have not worn at least once."
"Some of them twice and three times;" and the B looked aghast at the state of nudity to which she was reduced. Lucy sidled toward the door.
"Since you consult me, dear, I advise you to wear what I mean to wear myself."
"Ah! what a capital idea! then we shall pass for sisters. I dare say I have got some old thing or other that will match yours; but you had better tell me at once what you do mean to wear."
"A gown, a pair of gloves, and a smirk"; and with this heartless expression of nonchalance Lucy glided away and escaped the impending shower.
"Oh, the selfishness of these girls!" cried the deserted one. "I have got her a husband to her taste, so now she runs away from me to think of him."
The next moment she looked at the enormity from another point of view, and then with this burst of injured virtue gave way to a steady complacency.
"She is caught at last. She notices his very voice. She fancies she cares for politics--ha! ha! She is gone to meditate on him--could not bear any other topic--would not even talk about dress, a thing her whole soul was wrapped up in till now. I have known her to go on for hours at a stretch about it."
There are people with memories so constructed that what they said, and another did not contradict or even answer, seems to them, upon retrospect, to have been delivered by that other person, and received in dead silence by themselves.
Meantime Lucy was in her own room and the door bolted.
So she was the next day; and uneasy Mrs. Bazalgette came hunting her, and tapped at the door after first trying the handle, which in Lucy's creed was not a discreet and polished act.
"Nobody admitted here till three o'clock."
"It is me, Lucy."
"So I conclude," said Lucy gayly. "'Me' must call again at three, whoever it is."
"Not I," said Aunt Bazalgette, and flounced off in a pet.
At three Dignity dissolved in curiosity, and Mrs. Bazalgette entered her niece's room in an ill-temper; it vanished like smoke at the sight of two new dresses, peach-colored and glacees, just finished, lying on the bed. An eager fire of questions. "Where did you get them? which is mine? who made them?"
"A new dressmaker."
"Ah! what a godsend to poor us! Who is she?"
"Let me see how you like her work before I tell you. Try this one on."
Mrs. Bazalgette tried on her dress, and was charmed with it. Lucy would not try on hers. She said she had done so, and it fitted well enough for her.
"Everything fits you, you witch," replied the B. "I must have this woman's address; she is an angel."
Lucy looked pleased. "She is only a beginner, but desirous to please you; and 'zeal goes farther than talent,' says Mr. Dodd."
"Mr. Dodd! Ah! by-the-by, that reminds me--I am so glad you mentioned his name. Where does the woman live?"
"The woman, or, as some consider her, the girl, lives at present with a charming person called by the world Mrs. Bazalgette, but by the dressmaker her sweet little aunt--" (kiss) (kiss) (kiss); and Lucy, whose natural affection for this lady was by a certain law of nature heated higher by working day and night for her in secret, felt a need of expansion, and curled, round her like a serpent with a dove's heart.
Mrs. Bazalgette did what you and I, manly reader, should have been apt to omit. She extricated herself, not roughly, yet a little hastily--like a water-snake gliding out of the other sweet serpent's folds.* Sacred dress being present, she deemed caresses frivolous--and ill-timed. "There, there, let me alone, child, and tell me all about it directly. 'What put it into your head? Who taught you? Is this your first attempt? Have you paid for the silk, or am I to? Do tell me quick; don't keep me on thorns!"
* Here flashes on the cultivated mind the sprightly couplet,
"Oh, that I had my mistress at this bay, To kiss and clip me--till I run away." SHAKESPEARE.--Venus and Adonis.
Lucy answered this fusillade in detail. "You know, aunt, dressmakers bring us their failures, and we, by our hints, get them made into successes."
"So we do."
"So I said to myself, 'Now why not bring a little intelligence to bear at the beginning, and make these things right at once?' Well, I bought several books, and studied them, and practiced cutting out, in large sheets of brown paper first; next I ventured a small flight--I made Jane a gown."
"What! your servant?"
"Yes. I had a double motive; first attempts are seldom brilliant, and it was better to fail in merino, and on Jane, than on you, madam, and in silk. In the next place, Jane had been giving herself airs, and objecting to do some work of that kind for me, so I thought it a good opportunity to teach her that dignity does not consist in being disobliging. The poor girl is so ashamed now: she comes to me in her merino frock, and pesters me all day to let her do things for me. I am at my wit's end sometimes to invent unreal distresses, like the writers of fiction, you know; and, aunty, dear, you will not have to pay for the stuff: to tell you the real truth, I overheard Mr. Bazalgette say something about the length of your last dressmaker's bill, and, as I have been very economical at Font Abbey, I found I had eighteen pounds to spare, so I said nothing, but I thought we will have a dress apiece that nobody shall have to pay for."
"Eighteen pounds? These two lovely dresses, lace, trimmings, and all, for eighteen pounds!"
"Yes, aunt. So you see those good souls that make our dresses have imposed upon us without ceremony: they would have been twenty-five pounds apiece; now would they not?"
"At least. Well, you are a clever girl. I might as well try on yours, as you won't."
She tried on Lucy's gown, and, as before, got two looking-glasses into a line, twisted and twirled, and inspected herself north, south, east and west, and in an hour and a half resigned herself to take the dress off. Lucy observed with a sly smile that her gayety declined, and she became silent and pensive.
"In the dead of the night, when with labor oppressed, All mortals enjoy the sweet blessing of rest," a phantom stood at Lucy's bedside and fingered her. She awoke with a violent scream, the first note of which pierced the night's dull ear, but the second sounded like a wail from a well, being uttered a long way under the bedclothes. "Hush! don't be a fool," cried the affectionate phantom; and kneaded the uncertain form through the bedclothes; "fancy screeching so at sight of me!" Then gradually a single eye peeped timidly between two white hands that held the sheets ready for defense like a shield.
"B--b--but you are all in white," gulped Lucy, trembling all over; for her delicate fibers were set quivering, and could not be stilled by a word, fingered at midnight all in a moment by a shape.
"Why, what color should I be--in my nightgown?" snapped the specter. "What color is yours?" and she gave Lucy a little angry pull--"and everybody else's?"
"But at the dead of night, aunt, and without any warning--it's terrible. Oh dear!" (another little gulp in the throat, exceeding pretty).
"Lucy, be yourself," said the specter, severely; "you used not to be so selfish as to turn hysterical when your aunt came to you for advice."
Lucy had to do a little. "Forgive, blessed shade!" She apologized, crushed down her obtrusive, egotistical tremors, and vibrated to herself.
Placable Aunt Bazalgette accepted her excuses, and opened the business that brought her there.
"I didn't leave my bed at this hour for nothing, you may be sure."
"Lucy," continued Mrs. Bazalgette, deepening, "there is a weight on my mind."
Up sat Lucy in the bed, and two sapphire eyes opened wide and made terror lovely.
"Oh, aunt, what have you been doing? It is remorse, then, that will not let you sleep. Ah! I see! your flirtations--your flirtations--this is the end of them."
"My flirtations!" cried the other, in great surprise. "I never flirt. I only amuse myself with them."*
*In strict grammar this "them" ought to refer to "flirtations;" but Lucy's aunt did not talk strict grammar. Does yours?
"You--never--flirt? Oh! oh! oh! Mr. Christopher, Mr. Horne, Sir George Healey, Mr. M'Donnell, Mr. Wolfenton, Mr. Vaughan--there! oh, and Mr. Dodd!"
"Well, at all events, it's not for any of those fools I get out of my bed at this time of night. I have a weight on my mind; so do be serious, if you can. Lucy, I tried all yesterday to hide it from myself, but I cannot succeed."
"What, dear aunt?"
"That your gown fits me ever so much better than my own." She sighed deeply.
Lucy smiled slyly; but she replied, "Is not that fancy?"
"No, Lucy, no," was the solemn reply; "I have tried to shut my eyes to it, but I can't."
"So it seems. Ha! ha!"
"Now do be serious; it is no laughing matter. How unfortunate I am!"
"Not at all. Take my gown; I can easily alter yours to fit me, if necessary."
"Oh, you good girl, how clever you are! I should never have thought of that." N. B--She had been thinking of nothing else these six hours.
"Go to bed, dear, and sleep in peace," said Lucy, soothingly. "Leave all to me."
"No, I can't leave all to you. Now I am to have yours, I must try it on." It was hers now, so her confidence in its fitting was shaken.
Mrs. Bazalgette then lighted all the candles in the sconces, and opened Lucy's drawers, and took out linen, and put on the dress with Lucy's aid, and showed Lucy how it fitted, and was charmed, like a child with a new toy.
Presently Lucy interrupted her raptures by an exclamation. Mrs. Bazalgette looked round, and there was her niece inspecting the ghostly robe which had caused her such a fright.
"Here are oceans of yards of lace on her very nightgrown!" cried Lucy.
"Well, does not every lady wear lace on her nightgown?" was the tranquil reply. "What is that on yours, pray?"
"A little misery of Valenciennes an inch broad; but this is Mechlin--superb! delicious! Well, aunt, you are a sincere votary of the graces; you put on fine things because they are fine things, not with the hollow motive of dazzling society; you wear Mechlin, not for eclat, but for Mechlin. Alas! how few, like you, pursue quite the same course in the dark that they do in the world's eye."
"Don't moralize, dear; unhook me!"
After breakfast Mrs. Bazalgette asked Lucy how long she could give her to choose which of the two gowns to take, after all.
"Till eight o'clock."
Mrs. Bazalgette breathed again. She had thought herself committed to No. 2, and No. 1 was beginning to look lovely in consequence. At eight, the choice being offered her with impenetrable nonchalance by Lucy, she took Lucy's without a moment's hesitation, and sailed off gayly to her own room to put it on, in which progress the ample peach-colored silk held out in both hands showed like Cleopatra's foresail, and seemed to draw the dame along.
Lucy, too, was happy--demurely; for in all this business the female novice, "la ruse sans le savoir," had outwitted the veteran. Lucy had measured her whole aunt. So she made dress A for her, but told her she was to have dress B. This at once gave her desires a perverse bent toward her own property, the last direction they could have been warped into by any other means; and so she was deluded to her good, and fitted to a hair, soul and body.
Going to the ball, one cloud darkened for an instant the matron's mind.
"I am so afraid they will see it only cost nine pounds."
"Enfant!" replied Lucy, "aetat. 20." At the ball Mr. Hardie and Lucy danced together, and were the most admired couple.
The next day Mr. Hardie announced that he was obliged to curtail his visit and go up to London. Mrs. Bazalgette remonstrated. Mr. Hardie apologized, and asked permission to make out the rest of his visit on his return. Mrs. B. accorded joyfully, but Lucy objected: "Aunt, don't you be deluded into any such arrangement; Mr. Hardie is liable to another fortnight. We have nothing to do with his mismanagement. He comes to spend a fortnight with us: he tries, but fails. I am sorry for Mr. Hardie, but the engagement remains in full force. I appeal to you, Mr. Bazalgette, you are so exact."
"I don't see myself how he can get out of it with credit," said Bazalgette, solemnly.
"I am happy to find that my duty is on the side of my inclination," said Mr. Hardie. He smiled, well pleased, and looked handsomer than ever.
They all missed him more or less, but nobody more than Lucy. His conversation had a peculiar charm for her. His knowledge of current events was unparalleled; then there was a quiet potency in him she thought very becoming in a man; and then his manner. He was the first of our unfortunate sex who had reached beau ideal. One was harsh, another finicking; a third loud; a fourth enthusiastic; a fifth timid; and all failed in tact except Mr. Hardie. Then, other male voices were imperfect; they were too insignificant or too startling, too bass or too treble, too something or too other. Mr. Hardie's was a mellow tenor, always modulated to the exact tone of good society. Like herself, too, he never laughed loud, seldom out; and even his smiles, like her own, did not come in unmeaning profusion, so they told when they did come.
The Bazalgettes led a very quiet life for the next fortnight, for Mrs. Bazalgette was husbanding invitations for Mr. Hardie's return.
Mrs. Bazalgette yawned many times during this barren period, but with considerate benevolence she shielded Lucy from ennui. Lucy was a dressmaker, gifted, but inexperienced; well, then, she would supply the latter deficiency by giving her an infinite variety of alterations to make in a multitude of garments. There are egotists who charge for tuition, but she would teach her dear niece gratis. A mountain of dresses rose in the drawing-room, a dozen metamorphoses were put in hand, and a score more projected.
"She pulled down, she built up, she rounded the angular, and squared the round." And here Mr. Bazalgette took perverse views and misbehaved. He was a very honest man, but not a refined courtier. He seldom interfered with these ladies, one way or other, except to provide funds, which interference was never snubbed; for was he not master of the house in that sense? But, having observed what was going on day after day in the drawing-room or workshop, he walked in and behaved himself like a brute.
"How much a week does she give you, Lucy?" said he, looking a little red.
Lucy opened her eyes in utter astonishment, and said nothing; her very needle and breath were suspended.
Mrs. Bazalgette shrugged her shoulders to Lucy, but disdained words. Mr. Bazalgette turned to his wife.
"I have often recommended economy to you, Jane, I need not say with what success; but this sort of economy is not for your credit or mine. If you want to add a dressmaker to your staff--with all my heart. Send for one when you like, and keep her to all eternity. But this young lady is our ward, and I will not have her made a servant of for your convenience."
"Put your work down, dear," said Mrs. Bazalgette resignedly. "He does not understand our affection, nor anything else except pounds, shillings and pence."
"Oh, yes I do. I can see through varnished selfishness for one thing."
"You certainly ought to be a judge of the unvarnished article," retorted the lady.
"Having had it constantly under my eyes these twenty years," rejoined the gentleman.
"Oh, aunt! Oh, Mr. Bazalgette!" cried Lucy, rising and clasping her hands; if you really love me, never let me be the cause of a misunderstanding, or an angry word between those I esteem; it would make me too miserable; and, dear Mr. Bazalgette, you must let people be happy in their own way, or you will be sure to make them unhappy. My aunt and I understand one another better than you do."
"She understands you, my poor girl."
"Not so well as I do her. But she knows I hate to be idle, and love to do these bagatelles for her. It is my doing from the first, not hers; she did not even know I could do it till I produced two dresses for the Hunts' ball. So, you see--"
"That is another matter; all ladies play at work. But you are in for three months' hard labor. Look at that heap of vanity. She is making a lady's-maid of you. It is unjust. It is selfish. It is improper. It is not for my credit, of which I am more jealous than coquettes are of theirs; besides, Lucy, you must not think, because I don't make a parade as she does, that I am not fond of you. I have a great deal more real affection for you than she has, and so you will find if we are ever put to the test."
At this last absurdity Mrs. Bazalgette burst out laughing. But "la rusee sans le savoir" turned toward the speaker, and saw that he spoke with a certain emotion which was not ordinary in him. She instantly went to him with both hands gracefully extended. "I do think you have an affection for me. If you really have, show it me some other way, and not by making me unhappy."
"Well, then, I will, Lucy. Look here; if Solomon was such a fool as to argue with one of you young geese you would shut his mouth in a minute. There, I am going; but you will always be the slave of one selfish person or other; you were born for it."
Thus impotently growling, the merchant prince retired from the field, escorted with amenity by the courtier. In the passage she suddenly dropped forward like a cypress-tree, and gave him her forehead to kiss. He kissed it with some little warmth, and confided to her, in friendly accents, that she was a fool, and off he went, grumbling inarticulately, to his foreign loans and things.
The courtier returned to smooth her aunt in turn, but that lady stopped her with a lofty gesture.
"My plan is to look on these monstrosities as horrid dreams, and go on as if nothing had happened."
Lucy acquiesced with a smile, and in an instant both immortal souls plunged and disappeared in silk, satin, feathers and point lace.
The afternoon post brought letters that furnished some excitement. Mr. Hardie announced his return, and Captain Kenealy accepted an invitation that had been sent to him two days before. But this was not all. Mrs. Bazalgette, with something between a laugh and a crow, handed Lucy a letter from Mr. Fountain, in which that diplomatic gentleman availed himself of her kind invitation, and with elephantine playfulness proposed, as he could not stay a month with her, to be permitted to bring a friend with him for a fortnight. This friend had unfortunately missed her through absence from his country-house at the period of her visit to Font Abbey, and had so constantly regretted his ill fortune that he (Fountain) had been induced to make this attempt to repair the calamity. His friend's name was Talboys; he was a gentleman of lineage, and in his numerous travels had made a collection of foreign costumes which were really worth inspecting, and, if agreeable to Mrs. Bazalgette, he should send them on before by wagon, for no carriage would hold them.
Lucy colored on reading this letter, for it repeated a falsehood that had already made her blush. The next moment, remembering how very keenly her aunt must be eying her, and reading her, she looked straight before her, and said coldly, "Uncle Fountain ought to be welcome here for his courtesy to you at Font Abbey, but I think he takes rather a liberty in proposing a stranger to you."
"Rather a liberty? Say a very great liberty."
"Well, then, aunt, why not write back that any friend of his would be welcome, but that the house is full? You have only room for Uncle Fountain."
"But that is not true, Lucy," said Mrs. Bazalgette, with sudden dignity.
Lucy was staggered and abashed at this novel objection; recovering, she whined humbly, "but it is very nearly true."
It was plain Lucy did not want Mr. Talboys to visit them. This decided Mrs. Bazalgette to let his dresses and him come. He would only be a foil to Mr. Hardie, and perhaps bring him on faster. Her decision once made on the above grounds, she conveyed it in characteristic colors. "No, my love; where I give my affection, there I give my confidence. I have your word not to encourage this gentleman's addresses, so why hurt your uncle's feelings by closing my door to his friend? It would be an ill compliment to you as well as to Mr. Fountain; he shall come."
Her postscript to Mr. Fountain ran thus:
"Your friend would have been welcome independently of the foreign costumes; but as I am a very candid little woman, I may as well tell you that, now you have excited my curiosity, he will be a great deal more welcome with them than without them."
And here I own that I, the simpleminded, should never have known all that was signified in these words but for the comment of John Fountain, Esq.
"It is all right, Talboys," said he. "My bait has taken. You must pack up these gimcracks at once and send them off, or she'll smile like a marble Satan in your face, and stick you full of pins and needles."
The next day Mr. Bazalgette walked into the room, haughtily overlooked the pyramid of dresses, and asked Lucy to come downstairs and see something. She put her work aside, and went down with him, and lo! two ponies--a cream-colored and a bay. "Oh, you loves!" cried the virgin, passionately, and blushed with pleasure. Her heart was very accessible--to quadrupeds.
"Now you are to choose which of these you will have."
"Oh, Mr. Bazalgette!"
"Have you forgotten what you told me? 'Try and make me happy some other way,' says you. Now I remembered hearing you say what a nice pony you had at Font Abbey; so I sent a capable person to collect ponies for you. These have both a reputation. Which will you have?"
"Dear, good, kind Uncle Bazalgette; they are ducks!"
"Let us hope not; a duck's paces won't suit you, if you are as fond of galloping as other young ladies. Come, jump up, and see which is the best brute of the two."
"What, without my habit?"
"Well, get your habit on, then. Let us see how quick you can be."
Off ran Lucy, and soon returned fully equipped. She mounted the ponies in turn, and rode them each a mile or two in short distances. Finally she dismounted, and stood beaming on the steps of the hall. The groom held the ponies for final judgment.
"The bay is rather the best goer, dear," said she, timidly.
"Miss Fountain chooses the bay, Tom."
"No, uncle, I was going to ask you if I might have the cream-colored one. He is so pretty."
"Ha! ha! ha! here's a little goose. Why, they are to ride, not to wear. Come, I see you are in a difficulty. Take them both to the stable, Tom."
"No, no, no," cried Lucy. "Oh, Mr. Bazalgette, don't tempt me to be so wicked." Then she put both her fingers in her ears and screamed, "Take the bay darling out of my sight, and leave the cream-colored love." And as she persisted in this order, with her fingers in her ears, and an inclination to stamp with her little feet, the bay disappeared and color won the day.
Then she dropped suddenly like a cypress toward Mr. Bazalgette, which meant "you can kiss me." This time it was her cheek she proffered, all glowing with exercise and innocent excitement.
Captain Kenealy was the first arrival: a well-appointed soldier; eyes equally bright under calm and excitement, mustache always clean and glossy; power of assent prodigious. He looked so warlike, and was so inoffensive, that he was in great request for miles and miles round the garrison town of ----. The girls, at first introduction to him, admired him, and waited palpitating to be torn from their mammas, and carried half by persuasion, half by force, to their conqueror's tent; but after a bit they always found him out, and talked before, and at, and across this ornament as if it had been a bronze Mars, or a mustache-tipped shadow. This the men viewing from a little distance envied the gallant captain, and they might just as well have been jealous of a hair-dresser's dummy.
One eventful afternoon, Mrs. Bazalgette and Miss Fountain walked out, taking the gallant captain between them as escort. Reginald hovered on the rear. Kenealy was charmingly equipped, and lent the party a luster. If he did not contribute much to the conversation, he did not interrupt it, for the ladies talked through him as if he had been a column of red air. Sing, muse, how often Kenealy said "yaas" that afternoon; on second thoughts, don't. I can weary my readers without celestial aid: Toot! toot! toot! went a cheerful horn, and the mail-coach came into sight round a corner, and rolled rapidly toward them. Lucy looked anxiously round, and warned Master Reginald of the danger now impending over infants. The terrible child went instantly (on the "vitantes stulti vitia" principle) clean off the road altogether into the ditch, and clayed (not pipe) his trousers to the knee. As the coach passed, a gentleman on the box took off his hat to the ladies and made other signs. It was Mr. Hardie.
Mrs. Bazalgette proposed to return home to receive him. They were about a mile from the house. They had not gone far before the rear-guard intermitted blackberrying for an instant, and uttered an eldrich screech; then proclaimed, "Another coach! another coach!" It was a light break coming gently along, with two showy horses in it, and a pony trotting behind.
At one and the same moment Lucy recognized a four-footed darling, and the servant recognized her. He drew up, touched his hat, and inquired respectfully whether he was going right for Mr. Bazalgette's. Mrs. Bazalgette gave him directions while Lucy was patting the pony, and showering on him those ardent terms of endearment some ladies bestow on their lovers, but this one consecrated to her trustees and quadrupeds. In the break were saddles, and a side-saddle, and other caparisons, and a giant box; the ladies looked first at it, and then through Kenealy at one another, and so settled what was inside that box.
They had not walked a furlong before a traveling-carriage and four horses came dashing along, and heads were put out of the window, and the postboys ordered to stop. Mr. Talboys and Mr. Fountain got out, and the carriage was sent on. Introductions took place. Mrs. Bazalgette felt her spirits rise like a veteran's when line of battle is being formed. She was one of those ladies who are agreeable or disagreeable at will. She decided to charm, and she threw her enchantment over Messrs. Fountain and Talboys. Coming with hostile views, and therefore guilty consciences, they had expected a cold welcome. They received a warm, gay, and airy one. After a while she maneuvered so as to get between Mr. Fountain and Captain Kenealy, and leave Lucy to Mr. Talboys. She gave her such a sly look as she did it. It implied, "You will have to tell me all he says to you while we are dressing."
Mr. Talboys inquired who was Captain Kenealy. He learned by her answer that that officer had arrived to-day, and she had no previous acquaintance with him.
Whatever little embarrassment Lucy might feel, remembering her equestrian performance with Mr. Talboys and its cause, she showed none. She began about the pony, and how kind of him it was to bring it. "And yet," said she, "if I had known, I would not have allowed you to take the trouble, for I have a pony here."
Mr. Talboys was sorry for that, but he hoped she would ride his now and then, all the same.
"Oh, of course. My pony here is very pretty. But a new friend is not like an old friend."
Mr. Talboys was gratified on more accounts than one by this speech. It gave him a sense of security. She had no friend about her now she had known as long as she had him, and those three months of constant intimacy placed him above competition. His mind was at ease, and he felt he could pop with a certainty of success, and pop he would, too, without any unnecessary delay.
The party arrived in great content and delectation at the gates that led to the house. "Stay!" said Mrs. Bazalgette; "you must come across the way, all of you. Here is a view that all our guests are expected to admire. Those, that cry out 'Charming! beautiful! Oh, I never!' we take them in and make them comfortable. Those that won't or can't ejaculate--"
"You put them in damp beds," said Mr. Fountain, only half in jest.
"Worse than that, sir--we flirt with them, and disturb the placid current of their hearts forever and ever. Don't we, Lucy?"
"You know best, aunt," said Lucy, half malice, half pout. The others followed the gay lady, and, when the view burst, ejaculated to order.
But Mr. Fountain stood ostentatiously in the middle of the road, with his legs apart, like him of Rhodes. "I choose the alternative," cried he. "Sooner than pretend I admire sixteen plowed fields and a hill as much as I do a lawn and flower-beds, I elect to be flirted, and my what do ye call 'em?--my stagnant current--turned into a whirlpool." Ere the laugh had well subsided, caused by this imitation of Hercules and his choice, he struck up again, "Good news for you, young gentleman; I smell a ball; here is a fiddle-case making for this hospitable mansion."
"No," said Mrs. Bazalgette, "I never ordered any musician to come here."
A tall but active figure came walking light as a feather, with a large carpet-bag on his back, a boy behind carrying a violin-case.
Lucy colored and lowered her eyes, but never said a word.
The young man came up to the gate, and then Mr. Talboys recognized him.
He hesitated a single moment, then turned and came to the group and took off his hat to the ladies. It was David Dodd!
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