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Mr. Fountain's grief was violent; the more so, perhaps, that it was not pure sorrow, but heated with anger and despair. He had not only lost the creature he loved better than anyone else except himself, but all his plans and all his ambition were upset forever. I am sorry to say there were moments when he felt indignant with Heaven, and accused its justice. At other times the virtues of her he had lost came to his recollection, and he wept genuine tears. Now she was dead he asked himself a question that is sometimes reserved for that occasion, and then asked with bitter regret and idle remorse at its postponement, "What can I do to show my love and respect for her?" The poor old fellow could think of nothing now but to try and recover her body from the sea, and to record her virtues on her tomb. He employed six men to watch the coast for her along a space of twelve miles, and he went to a marble-cutter and ordered a block of beautiful white marble. He drew up the record of her virtues himself, and spelled her "Fontaine," and so settled that question by brute force.
Oh, you may giggle, but men are not most sincere when they are most reasonable, nor most reasonable when most sincere. When a man's heart is in a thing, it is in it--wise or nonsensical, it is all one; so it is no use talking.
I lack words to describe the gloom that fell on Mr. Bazalgette's home when the sad tidings reached it. And, indeed, it would be trifling with my reader to hang many more pages with black when he and I both know Lucy Fontaine is alive all the time.
Meantime the French sloop lay at her anchor, and Lucy fretted with impatience. At noon the next day she sailed, and, being a slow vessel, did not anchor off the port of ---- till daybreak the day after. Then she had to wait for the tide, and it was nearly eleven o'clock when Lucy landed. She went immediately to the principal inn to get a conveyance. On the road, whom should she meet but Mr. Hardie. He gave a joyful start at sight of her, and with more heart than she could have expected welcomed her to life again. From him she learned all the proofs of her death. This made her more anxious to fly to her aunt's house at once and undeceive her.
Mr. Hardie would not let her hire a carriage; he would drive her over in half the time. He beckoned his servant, who was standing at the inn door, and ordered it immediately. "Meantime, Miss Fountain, if you will take my arm, I will show you something that I think will amuse you, though we have found it anything but amusing, as you may well suppose." Lucy took his arm somewhat timidly, and he walked her to the marble-cutter's shop. "Look there," said he. Lucy looked and there was an unfinished slab on which she read these words:
Sacred to the Memory OF LUCY FONTAINE, WHO WAS DROWNED AT SEA ON THE 10TH SEPT., 18--. As her beauty endeared her to all eyes, So her modesty, piety, docilit
At this point in her moral virtues the chisel had stopped. Eleven o'clock struck, and the chisel went for its beer; for your English workman would leave the d in "God" half finished when strikes the hour of beer.
The fact is that the shopkeeper had newly set up, was proud of the commission, and, whenever the chisel left off, he whipped into the workshop and brought the slab out, pro tem., into his window for an advertisement.
Hardie pointed it out to Lucy with a chuckle. Lucy turned pale, and put her hand to her heart. Hardie saw his mistake too late, and muttered excuses.
Lucy gave a little gasp and stopped him. "Pray say no more; it is my fault; if people will feign death, they must expect these little tributes. My uncle has lost no time." And two unreasonable tears swelled to her eyes and trickled one after another down her cheeks; then she turned her back quickly on the thing, and Mr. Hardie felt her arm tremble. "I think, Mr. Hardie," said she presently, with marked courtesy, "I should, under the circumstances, prefer to go home alone. My aunt's nerves are sensitive, and I must think of the best way of breaking to her the news that I am alive."
"It would be best, Miss Fountain; and, to tell the truth, I feel myself unworthy to accompany you after being so maladroit as to give you pain in thinking to amuse you."
"Oh, Mr. Hardie," said Lucy, growing more and more courteous, "you are not to be called to account for my weakness; that would be unjust. I shall have the pleasure of seeing you at dinner?"
"Certainly, since you permit me."
He put Lucy into the carriage and off she drove. "Come," thought Mr. Hardie, "I have had an escape; what a stupid blunder for me to make! She is not angry, though, so it does not matter. She asked me to dinner."
Said Lucy to herself: "The man is a fool! Poor Mr. Dodd! he would not have shown me my tombstone--to amuse me." And she dismissed the subject from her mind.
She sent away the carriage and entered Mr. Bazalgette's house on foot. After some consideration she determined to employ Jane, a girl of some tact, to break her existence to her aunt. She glided into the drawing-room unobserved, fully expecting to find Jane at work there for Mrs. Bazalgette. But the room was empty. While she hesitated what to do next, the handle of the door was turned, and she had only just time to dart behind a heavy window-curtain, when it opened, and Mrs. Bazalgette. walked slowly and silently in, followed by a woman. Mrs. Bazalgette seated herself and sighed deeply. Her companion kept a respectful silence. After a considerable pause, Mrs. Bazalgette said a few words in a voice so thoroughly subdued and solemn, and every now and then so stifled, that Lucy's heart yearned for her, and nothing but the fear of frightening her aunt into a hysterical fit kept her from flying into her arms.
"I need not tell you," said Mrs. Bazalgette, "why I sent for you. You know the sad bereavement that has fallen on me, but you cannot know all I have lost in her. Nobody can tell what she was to all of us, but most of all to me. I was her darling, and she was mine." Here tears choked Mrs. Bazalgette's words, for a while. Recovering herself, she paid a tribute to the character of the deceased. "It was a soul without one grain of selfishness; all her thoughts were for others, not one for herself. She loved us all--indeed, she loved some that were hardly worthy of so pure a creature's love; but the reason was, she had no eye for the faults of her friends; she pictured them like herself, and loved her own sweet image in them. And such a temper! and so free from guile. I may truly say her mind was as lovely as her person."
"She was, indeed, a sweet young lady," sighed the woman.
"She was an angel, Baldwin--an angel sent to bear us company a little while, and now she is a saint in Heaven."
"Ah! ma'am, the best goes first, that is an old saying."
"So I have heard; but my niece was as healthy as she was lovely and good. Everything promised long life. I hoped she would have closed my eyes. In the bloom of health one day, and the next lying cold, stark, and drenched!! Oh, how terrible! Oh, my poor Lucy! oh! oh! oh!"
"In the midst of life we are in death, ma'am. I am sure it is a warning to me, ma'am, as well as to my betters."
"It, is, indeed, Baldwin, a warning to all of us who have lived too much for vanities, to think of this sweet flower, snatched in a moment from our bosoms and from the world; we ought to think of it on our knees, and remember our own latter end. That last skirt you sent me was rather scrimped, my poor Baldwin."
"Was it, ma'am?"
"Oh, it does not matter; I shall never wear it now; and, under such a blow as this, I am in no humor to find fault. Indeed, with my grief I neglect my household and my very children. I forget everything; what did I send for you for?" and she looked with lack-luster eyes full in Mrs. Baldwin's face.
"Jane did not say, ma'am, but I am at your orders."
"Oh, of course; I am distracted. It was to pay the last tribute of respect to her dear memory. Ah! Baldwin, often and often the black dress is all; but here the heart mourns beyond the power of grief to express by any outward trappings. No matter; the world, the shallow world, respects these signs of woe, and let mine be the deepest mourning ever worn, and the richest. And out of that mourning I shall never go while I live."
"No, ma'am," said Baldwin soothingly.
"Do you doubt me?" asked the lady, with a touch of sharpness that did not seemed called for by Baldwin's humble acquiescence.
"Oh, no, ma'am; it is a very natural thought under the present affliction, and most becoming the sad occasion. Well, ma'am, the deepest mourning, if you please, I should say cashmere and crape."
"Yes, that would be deep. Oh, Baldwin, it is her violent death that kills me. Well?"
"Cashmere and crape, ma'am, and with nothing white about the neck and arms."
"Yes; oh yes; but will not that be rather unbecoming?"
"Well, ma'am--" and Baldwin hesitated.
"I hardly see how I could wear that, it makes one look so old. Now don't you think black glace silk, and trimmed with love-ribbon, black of course, but scalloped--"
"That would be very rich, indeed, ma'am, and very becoming to you; but, being so near and dear, it would not be so deep as you are desirous of."
"Why, Baldwin, you don't attend to what I say; I told you I was never going out of mourning again, so what is the use of your proposing anything to me that I can't wear all my life? Now tell me, can I always wear cashmere and crape?"
"Oh no, ma'am, that is out of the question; and if it is for a permanency, I don't see how we could improve on glace silk, with crape, and love-ribbons. Would you like the body trimmed with jet, ma'am?"
"Oh, don't ask me; I don't know. If my darling had only died comfortably in her bed, then we could have laid out her sweet remains, and dressed them for her virgin tomb."
"It would have been a satisfaction, ma'am."
"A sad one, at the best; but now the very earth, perhaps, will never receive her. Oh yes, anything you like--the body trimmed with jet, if you wish it, and let me see, a gauze bodice, goffered, fastened to the throat. That is all, I think; the sleeves confined at the wrist just enough not to expose the arm, and yet look light--you understand."
"She kissed me just before she went on that fatal excursion, Baldwin; she will never kiss me again--oh! oh! You must call on Dejazet for me, and bespeak me a bonnet to match; it is not to be supposed I can run about after her trumpery at such a time; besides, it is not usual."
"Indeed, ma'am, you are in no state for it; I will undertake any purchases you may require."
"Thank you, my good Baldwin; you are a good, kind, feeling, useful soul. Oh, Baldwin, if it had pleased Heaven to take her by disease, it would have been bad enough to lose her; but to be drowned! her clothes all wetted through and through; her poor hair drenched, too; and then the water is so cold at this time of year--oh! oh! Send me a cross of jet, and jet beads, with the dress, and a jet brooch, and a set of jet buttons, in case--besides--oh! oh! oh!--I expect every moment to see her carried home, all pale and wetted by the nasty sea--oh! oh!--and an evening dress of the same--the newest fashion. I leave it to you; don't ask me any questions about it, for I can't and won't go into that. I can try it on when it is made--oh! oh! oh!--it does not do to love any creature as I loved my poor lost Lucy--and a black fan---oh! oh!--and a dozen pair of black kid gloves--oh!--and a mourning-ring--and--"
"Stop, aunt, or your love for me will be your ruin!" said Lucy, coldly, and stood suddenly before the pair, looking rather cynical.
"What, Lucy! alive! No, her ghost--ah! ah!"
"Be calm, aunt; I am alive and well. Now, don't be childish, dear; I have been in danger, but here I am."
Mrs. Bazalgette and Mrs. Baldwin flew together, and trembled in one another's arms. Lucy tried to soothe them, but at last could not help laughing at them. This brought Baldwin to her senses quicker than anything; but Mrs. Bazalgette, who, like many false women, was hysterical, went off into spasms--genuine ones. They gave her salts--in vain. Slapped her hands--in vain.
Then Lucy cried to Baldwin, "Quick! the tumbler; I must sprinkle her face and bosom."
"Oh, don't spoil my lilac gown!" gasped the sufferer, and with a mighty effort she came to. She would have come back from the edge of the grave to shield silk from water. Finally she wreathed her arms round Lucy, and kissed her so tenderly, warmly and sobbingly, that Lucy got over the shock of her shallowness, and they kissed and cried together most joyously, while Baldwin, after a heroic attempt at jubilation, retired from the room with a face as long as your arm. A bas les revenants!! She went to the housekeeper's room. The housekeeper persuaded her to stay and take a bit of dinner, and soon after dinner she was sent for to Mrs. Bazalgette's room.
Lucy met her coming out of it. "I fear I came mal apropos, Mrs. Baldwin; if I had thought of it, I would have waited till you had secured that munificent order."
"I am much obliged to you, miss, I am sure; but you were always a considerate young lady. You'll be glad to learn, miss, it makes no difference; I have got the order; it is all right."
"That is fortunate," replied Lucy, kindly, "otherwise I should have been tempted to commit an extravagance with you myself. Well, and what is my aunt's new dress to be now?"
"Oh, the same, miss."
"The same? why, she is not going into mourning on my return? ha! ha!"
"La bless you, miss, mourning? you can't call that mourning--glace silk and love-ribbons scalloped out, and cetera. Of course it was not my business to tell her so; but I could not help thinking to myself, if that is the way my folk are going to mourn for me, they may just let it alone. However, that is all over now; and your aunt sent for me, and says she, 'Black becomes me; you will make the dresses all the same.'" And Baldwin retired radiant.
Lucy put her hand to her bosom. "Make the dresses all the same--all the same, whether I am alive or dead. No, I will not cry; no, I will not. Who is worth a tear? what is worth a tear? All the same. It is not to be forgotten--nor forgiven. Poor Mr. Dodd!!"
Mr. Fountain learned the good news in the town, so his meeting with Lucy was one of pure joy. Mr. Talboys did not hear anything. He had business up in London, and did not stay ten minutes in ----.
The house revived, and jubilabat, jubilabat. But after the first burst of triumph things went flat. David Dodd was gone, and was missed; and Lucy was changed. She looked a shade older, and more than one shade graver; and, instead of living solely for those who happened to be basking in her rays, she was now and then comparatively inattentive, thoughtful, and distraite.
Mr. Fountain watched her keenly; ditto Mrs. Bazalgette. A slight reaction had taken place in both their bosoms. "Hang the girl! there were we breaking our hearts for her, and she was alive." She had "beguiled them of their tears."--Othello. But they still loved her quite well enough to take charge of her fate.
A sort of itch for settling other people's destinies, and so gaining a title to their curses for our pragmatical and fatal interference, is the commonest of all the forms of sanctioned lunacy.
Moreover, these two had imbibed the spirit of rivalry, and each was stimulated by the suspicion that the other was secretly at work.
Lucy's voluntary promise in the ballroom was a double sheet-anchor to Mr. Fountain. It secured him against the only rival he dreaded. Talboys, too, was out of the way just now, and the absence of the suitor is favorable to his success, where the lady has no personal liking for him. To work went our Machiavel again, heart and soul, and whom do you think he had the cheek, or, as the French say, the forehead, to try and win over?--Mrs. Bazalgette.
This bold step, however, was not so strange as it would have been a month ago. The fact is, I have brought you unfairly close to this pair. When you meet them in the world you will be charmed with both of them, and recognize neither. There are those whose faults are all on the surface: these are generally disliked; there are those whose faults are all at the core: they charm creation. Mrs. Bazalgette is allowed by both sexes to be the most delightful, amiable woman in the county, and will carry that reputation to her grave. Fountain is "the jolliest old buck ever went on two legs." I myself would rather meet twelve such agreeable humbugs--six of a sex--at dinner than the twelve apostles, and so would you, though you don't know it. These two, then, had long ere this found each other mighty agreeable. The woman saw the man's vanity, and flattered it. The man the woman's, and flattered it. Neither saw--am I to say?--his own or her own, or what? Hang language!!! In short, they had long ago oiled one another's asperities, and their intercourse was smooth and frequent: they were always chatting together--strewing flowers of speech over their mines and countermines.
Mr. Fountain, then, who, in virtue of his sex, had the less patience, broke ground.
"My dear Mrs. Bazalgette, I would not have missed this visit for a thousand pounds. Certainly there is nothing like contact for rubbing off prejudices. I little thought, when I first came here, the principal attraction of the place would prove to be my fair hostess."
"I know you were prejudiced, my dear Mr. Fountain. I can't say I ever had any against you, but certainly I did not know half your good qualities. However, your courtesy to me when I invaded you at Font Abbey prepared me for your real character; and now this visit, I trust, makes us friends."
"Ah! my dear Mrs. Bazalgette, one thing only is wanting to make you my benefactor as well as friend--if I could only persuade you to withdraw your powerful opposition to a poor old fellow's dream."
"What poor old fellow?"
"You? why, you are not so very old. You are not above fifty."
"Ah! fair lady, you must not evade me. Come, can nothing soften you?"
"I don't know what you mean, Mr. Fountain"; and the mellifluous tones dried suddenly.
"You are too sagacious not to know everything; you know my heart is set on marrying my niece to a man of ancient family."
"With all my heart. You have only to use your influence with her. If she consents, I will not oppose."
"You cruel little lady, you know it is not enough to withdraw opposition; I can't succeed without your kind aid and support."
"Now, Mr. Fountain, I am a great coward, but, really, I could almost venture to scold you a little. Is not a poor little woman to be allowed to set her heart on things as well as a poor old gentleman who does not look fifty? You know my poor little heart is bent on her marrying into our own set, yet you can ask me to influence her the other way--me, who have never once said a word to her for my own favorites! No; the fairest, kindest, and best way is to leave her to select her own happiness."
"A fine thing it would be if young people were left to marry who they like," retorted Fountain. "My dear lady, I would never have asked your aid so long as there was the least chance of her marrying Mr. Hardie; but, now that she has of her own accord declined him--"
"What is that? declined Mr. Hardie? when did he ever propose for her?"
"You misunderstand me. She came to me and told me she would never marry him."
"When was that? I don't believe it."
"It was in the ball-room."
Mrs. Bazalgette reflected; then she turned very red. "Well, sir," said she, "don't build too much on that; for four months ago she made me a solemn promise she would never marry any lover you should find her, and she repeated that promise in your very house."
"I don't believe it, madam."
"That is polite, sir. Come, Mr. Fountain, you are agitated and cross, and it is no use being cross either with me or with Lucy. You asked my co-operation. You gentlemen can ask anything; and you are wise to do these droll things; that is where you gain the advantage over us poor cowards of women. Well, I will co-operate with you. Now listen. Lucy's penchant is neither for Mr. Hardie, nor Mr. Talboys, but for Mr. Dodd."
"You don't mean it?"
"Oh, she does not care much for him; she has refused him to my knowledge, and would again; besides, he is gone to India, so there is an end of him. She seems a little languid and out of spirits; it may be because he is gone. Now, then, is the very time to press a marriage upon her."
"The very worst time, surely, if she is really such an idiot as to be fretting for a fellow who is away."
Mrs. Bazalgette informed her new ally condescendingly that he knew nothing of the sex he had undertaken to tackle.
"When a cold-blooded girl like this, who has no strong attachment, is out of spirits, and all that sort of thing, then is the time she falls to any resolute wooer. She will yield if we both insist, and we will insist. Only keep your temper, and let nothing tempt you to say an unkind word to her."
She then rang the bell, and desired that Miss Fountain might be requested to come into the drawing-room for a minute.
"But what are you going to do?"
"Give her the choice of two husbands--Mr. Talboys or Mr. Hardie."
"She will take neither, I am afraid."
"Oh, yes, she will."
"Ah! the one she dislikes the least."
"By Jove, you are right--you are an angel." And the old gentleman in his gratitude to her who was outwitting him, and vice versa, kissed Mrs. Bazalgette's hand with great devotion, in which act he was surprised by Lucy, who floated through the folding-doors. She said nothing, but her face volumes.
"Sit down, love."
She sat down, and her eye mildly bored both relatives, like, if you can imagine a gentle gimlet, worked by insinuation, not force.
Then the favored Fountain enjoyed the inestimable privilege of beholding a small bout of female fence.
The accomplished actress of forty began.
The novice held herself apparently all open with a sweet smile, the eye being the only weapon that showed point.
"My love, your uncle and I, who were not always just to one another, have been united by our love for you."
"So I observed as I came in--ahem!"
"Henceforth we are one where your welfare is concerned, and we have something serious to say to you now. There is a report, dearest, creeping about that you have formed an unfortunate attachment--to a person beneath you."
"Who told you that, aunt? Name, as they say in the House."
"No matter; these things are commonly said without foundation in this wicked world; but, still, it is always worth our while to prove them false, not, of course, directly--'qui s'excuse s'accuse'--but indirectly."
"I agree with you, and I shall do so in my uncle's presence. You were present, aunt--though uninvited--when the gentleman you allude to offered me what I consider a great honor, and you heard me decline it; you are therefore fully able to contradict that report, whose source, by the by, you have not given me, and of course you will contradict it."
Mrs. Bazalgette colored a little. But she said affectionately: "These silly rumors are best contradicted by a good marriage, love, and that brings me to something more important. We have two proposals for you, and both of them excellent ones. Now, in a matter where your happiness is at stake, your uncle and I are determined not to let our private partialities speak. We do press you to select one of these offers, but leave you quite free as to which you take. Mr. Talboys is a gentleman of old family and large estates. Mr. Hardie is a wealthy, and able, and rising man. They are both attached to you; both excellent matches.
"Whichever you choose your uncle and I shall both feel that an excellent position for life is yours, and no regret that you did not choose our especial favorite shall stain our joy or our love." With this generous sentiment tears welled from her eyes, whereat Fountain worshiped her and felt his littleness.
But Lucy was of her own sex, and had observed what an unlimited command of eye-water an hysterical female possesses. She merely bowed her head graciously, and smiled politely. Thus encouraged to proceed, her aunt dried her eyes with a smile, and with genial cheerfulness proceeded: "Well, then, dear, which shall it be--Mr. Talboys?"
Lucy opened her eyes so innocently. "My dear aunt, I wonder at that question from you. Did you not make me promise you I would never marry that gentleman, nor any friend of my uncle's?"
"And did you?" cried Fountain.
"I did," replied the penitent, hanging her head. "My aunt was so kind to me about something or other, I forget what."
Fountain bounced up and paced the room.
Mrs. Bazalgette lowered her voice: "It is to be Mr. Hardie, then?"
"Mr. Hardie!!!" cried Lucy, rather loudly, to attract her uncle's attention.
"Oh, no, the same objection applies there; I made my uncle a solemn promise not to marry any friend of yours, aunt. Poor uncle! I refused at first, but he looked so unhappy my resolution failed, and I gave my promise. I will keep it, uncle. Don't fear me."
It caused Mrs. Bazalgette a fierce struggle to command her temper. Both she and Fountain were dumb for a minute; then elastic Mrs. Bazalgette said:
"We were both to blame; you and I did not really know each other. The best thing we can do now is to release the poor girl from these silly promises, that stand in the way of her settlement in life."
"I agree, madam."
"So do I. There, Lucy, choose, for we both release you."
"Thank you," said Lucy gravely; "but how can you? No unfair advantage was taken of me; I plighted my word knowingly and solemnly, and no human power can release persons of honor from a solemn pledge. Besides, just now you would release me; but you might not always be in the same mind. No, I will keep faith with you both, and not place my truth at the mercy of any human being nor of any circumstance. If that is all, please permit me to retire. The less a young lady of my age thinks or talks about the other sex, the more time she has for her books and her needle;" and, having delivered this precious sentence, with a deliberate and most deceiving imitation of the pedantic prude, she departed, and outside the door broke instantly into a joyous chuckle at the expense of the plotters she had left looking moonstruck in one another's faces. If the new allies had been both Fountain, the apple of discord this sweet novice threw down between them would have dissolved the alliance, as the sly novice meant it to do; but, while the gentleman went storming about the room ripe for civil war, the lady leaned back in her chair and laughed heartily.
"Come, Mr. Fountain, it is no use your being cross with a female, or she will get the better of you. She has outwitted us. We took her for a fool, and she is a clever girl. I'll--tell--you--what, she is a very clever girl. Never mind that, she is only a girl; and, if you will be ruled by me, her happiness shall be secured in spite of her, and she shall be engaged in less than a week."
Fountain recognized his superior, and put himself under the lady's orders--in an evil hour for Lucy.
The poor girl's triumph over the forces was but momentary; her ground was not tenable. The person promised can release the person who promises--volenti non fit injuria. Lucy found herself attacked with female weapons, that you and I, sir, should laugh at; but they made her miserable. Cold looks; short answers; solemnity; distance; hints at ingratitude and perverseness; kisses intermitted all day, and the parting one at night degraded to a dignified ceremony. Under this impalpable persecution the young thoroughbred, that had steered the boat across the breakers, winced and pined.
She did not want a husband or a lover, but she could not live without being loved. She was not sent into the world for that. She began secretly to hate the two gentlemen that had lost her her relations' affection, and she looked round to see how she could get rid of them without giving fresh offense to her dear aunt and uncle. If she could only make it their own act! Now a man in such a case inclines to give the obnoxious parties a chance of showing themselves generous and delicate; he would reveal the whole situation to them, and indicate the generous and manly course; but your thorough woman cannot do this. It is physically as well as morally impossible to her. Misogynists say it is too wise, and not cunning enough. So what does Miss Lucy do but turn round and make love to Captain Kenealy? And the cold virgin being at last by irrevocable fate driven to love-making, I will say this for her, she did not do it by halves. She felt quite safe here. The good-natured, hollow captain was fortified against passion by self-admiration. She said to herself: "Now here is a peg with a military suit hanging to it; if I can only fix my eyes on this piece of wood and regimentals, and make warm love to it, the love that poets have dreamed and romances described, I may surely hope to disgust my two admirers, and then they will abandon me and despise me. Ah! I could love them if they would only do that."
Well, for a young lady that had never, to her knowledge, felt the tender passion, the imitation thereof which she now favored that little society with was a wonderful piece of representation. Was Kenealy absent, behold Lucy uneasy and restless; was he present; but at a distance, her eye demurely devoured him; was he near her, she wooed him with such a god-like mixture of fire, of tenderness, of flattery, of tact; she did so serpentinely approach and coil round the soldier and his mental cavity, that all the males in creation should have been permitted to defile past (like the beasts going into the ark), and view this sweet picture a moment, and infer how women would be wooed, and then go and do it. Effect:
Talboys and Hardie mortified to the heart's core; thought they had altogether mistaken her character. "She is a love-sick fool."
On Bazalgette: "Ass! Dodd was worth a hundred of him."
On Kenealy: made him twirl his mustache.
On Fountain: filled him with dismay. There remained only one to be hoodwinked.
A letter is brought in and handed to Captain Kenealy. He reads it, and looks a little--a very little--vexed. Nobody else notices it.
Lucy. "What is the matter? Oh, what has occurred?"
Kenealy. "Nothing particulaa."
Lucy. "Don't deceive us: it is an order for you to join the horrid army." (Clasps her hands.) "You are going to leave us."
Kenealy. "No, it is from my tailaa. He waunts to be paed." (Glares astonished.)
Lucy. "Pay the creature, and nevermore employ him."
Kenealy. "Can't. Haven't got the money. Uncle won't daie. The begaa knows I can't pay him, that is the reason why he duns."
Lucy. "He knows it? then what business has he to annoy you thus? Take my advice. Return no reply. That is not courteous. But when the sole motive of an application is impertinence, silent contempt is the course best befitting your dignity."
Kenealy (twirling his mustache). "Dem the fellaa. Shan't take any notice of him."
Mrs. Bazalgette (to Lucy in passing). "Do you think we are all fools?"
Ibi omnis effusus amor; for La Bazalgette undeceived her ally and Mr. Hardie, and the screw was put harder still on poor Lucy. She was no longer treated like an equal, but made for the first time to feel that her uncle and aunt were her elders and superiors, and, that she was in revolt. All external signs of affection were withdrawn, and this was like docking a strawberry of its water. A young girl may have flashes of spirit, heroism even, but her mind is never steel from top to toe; it is sure to be wax in more places than one.
"Nobody loves me now that poor Mr. Dodd is gone," sighed Lucy. "Nobody ever will love me unless I consent to sacrifice myself. Well, why not? I shall never love any gentleman as others of my sex can love. I will go and see Mrs. Wilson."
So she ordered out her captain, and rode to Mrs. Wilson, and made her captain hold her pony while she went in. Mrs. Wilson received her with a tenor scream of delight that revived Lucy's heart to hear, and then it was nothing but one broad gush of hilarity and cordiality--showed her the house, showed her the cows, showed her the parlor at last, and made her sit down.
"Come, set ye down, set ye down, and let me have a downright good look at ye. It is not often I clap eyes on ye, or on anything like ye, for that matter. Aren't ye well, my dear?"
"Are ye sure? Haven't ye ailed anything since I saw ye up at the house?"
"No, dear nurse."
"Then you are in care. Bless you, it is not the same face--to a stranger, belike, but not to the one that suckled you. Why, there is next door to a wrinkle on your pretty brow, and a little hollow under your eye, and your face is drawn like, and not half the color. You are in trouble or grief of some sort, Miss Lucy; and--who knows?--mayhap you be come to tell it your poor old nurse. You might go to a worse part. Ay! what touches you will touch me, my nursling dear, all one as if it was your own mother."
"Ah! you love me," cried Lucy; "I don't know why you love me so; I have not deserved it of you, as I have of others that look coldly on me. Yes, you love me, or you would not read my face like this. It is true, I am a little--Oh, nurse, I am unhappy;" and in a moment she was weeping and sobbing in Mrs. Wilson's arms.
The Amazon sat down with her, and rocked to and fro with her as if she was still a child. "Don't check it, my lamb," said she; "have a good cry; never drive a cry back on your heart"; and so Lucy sobbed and sobbed, and Mrs. Wilson rocked her.
When she had done sobbing she put up a grateful face and kissed Mrs. Wilson. But the good woman would not let her go. She still rocked with her, and said, "Ay, ay, it wasn't for nothing I was drawed so to go to your house that day. I didn't know you were there; but I was drawed. I WAS WANTED. Tell me all, my lamb; never keep grief on your heart; give it a vent; put a part on't on me; I do claim it; you will see how much lighter your heart will feel. Is it a young man?"
"Oh no, no; I hate young men; I wish there were no such things. But for them no dissension could ever have entered the house. My uncle and aunt both loved me once, and oh! they were so kind to me. Yes; since you permit me, I will tell you all."
And she told her a part.
She told her the whole Talboys and Hardie part.
Mrs. Wilson took a broad and somewhat vulgar view of the distress.
"Why, Miss Lucy," said she, "if that is all, you can soon sew up their stockings. You don't depend on them, anyways: you are a young lady of property."
"Oh, am I?"
"Sure. I have heard your dear mother say often as all her money was settled on you by deed. Why, you must be of age, Miss Lucy, or near it."
"The day after to-morrow, nurse."
"There now! I knew your birthday could not be far off. Well, then, you must wait till you are of age, and then, if they torment you or put on you, 'Good-morning,' says you; 'if we can't agree together, let's agree to part,' says you."
"What! leave my relations!!"
"It is their own fault. Good friends before bad kindred! They only want to make a handle of you to get 'em rich son-in-laws. You pluck up a sperrit, Miss Lucy. There's no getting through the world without a bit of a sperrit. You'll get put upon at every turn else; and if they don't vally you in that house, why, off to another; y'ain't chained to their door, I do suppose."
"But, nurse, a young lady cannot live by herself: there is no instance of it."
"All wisdom had a beginning. 'Oh, shan't I spoil the pudding once I cut it?' quoth Jack's wife."
"What would people say?"
"What could they say? You come to me, which I am all the mother you have got left upon earth, and what scandal could they make out of that, I should like to know? Let them try it. But don't let me catch it atween their lips, or down they do go on the bare ground, and their caps in pieces to the winds of heaven;" and she flourished her hand and a massive arm with a gesture free, inspired, and formidable.
"Ah! nurse, with you I should indeed feel safe from every ill. But, for all that, I shall never go beyond the usages of society. I shall never leave my aunt's house."
"I don't say as you will. But I shall get your room ready this afternoon, and no later."
"No, nurse, you must not do that."
"Tell'ee I shall. Then, whether you come or not, there 'tis. And when they put on you, you have no call to fret. Says you, 'There's my room awaiting, and likewise my welcome, too, at Dame Wilson's; I don't need to stand no more nonsense here than I do choose,' says you. Dear heart! even a little foolish, simple thought like that will help keep your sperrit up. You'll see else--you'll see."
"Oh, nurse, how wise you are! You know human nature."
"Well, I am older than you, miss, a precious sight; and if I hadn't got one eye open at this time of day, why, when should I, you know?"
After this, a little home-made wine forcibly administered, and then much kissing, and Lucy rode away revivified and cheered, and quite another girl. Her spirits rose so that she proposed to Kenealy to extend their ride by crossing the country to ----. She wanted to buy some gloves.
"Yaas," said the assenter; and off they cantered.
In the glove-shop who should Lucy find but Eve Dodd. She held out her hand, but Eve affected not to observe, and bowed distantly. Lucy would not take the hint. After a pause she said:
"Have you any news of Mr. Dodd?"
"I have," was the stiff reply.
"He left us without even saying good-by."
"Yes, after saving all our lives. Need I say that we are anxious, in our turn, to hear of his safety? It was still very tempestuous when he left us to catch the great ship, and he was in an open boat."
"My brother is alive, Miss Fountain, if that is what you wish to know."
"Alive? is he not well? has he met with any accident? any misfortune? is he in the East Indiaman? has he written to you?"
"You are very curious: it is rather late in the day; but, if I am to speak about my brother, it must be at home, and not in an open shop. I can't trust my feelings."
"Are you going home, Miss Dodd?"
"Shall I come with you?"
"If you like: it is close by."
Lucy's heart quaked. Eve was so stern, and her eyes like basilisks'.
"Sit down, Miss Fountain, and I will tell you what you have done for my brother. I did not court this, you know; I would have avoided your eye if I could; it is your doing."
"Yes, Miss Dodd," faltered Lucy, "and I should do it again. I have a right to inquire after his welfare who saved my life."
"Well, then, Miss Fountain, his saving your life has lost him his ship and ruined him for life."
"He came in sight of the ship; but the captain, that was jealous of him like all the rest, made all sail and ran from him: he chased her, and often was near catching her, but she got clear out of the Channel, and my poor David had to come back disgraced, ruined for life, and broken-hearted. The Company will never forgive him for deserting his ship. His career is blighted, and all for one that never cared a straw for him. Oh, Miss Fountain, it was an evil day for my poor brother when first he saw your face!" Eve would have said more, for her heart was burning with wrath and bitterness, but she was interrupted.
Lucy raised both her hands to Heaven, and then, bowing her head, wept tenderly and humbly.
A woman's tears do not always affect another woman; but one reason is, they are very often no sign of grief or of any worthy feeling. The sex, accustomed to read the nicer shades of emotion, distinguishes tears of pique, tears of disappointment, tears of spite, tears various, from tears of grief. But Lucy's was a burst of regret so sincere, of sorrow and pity so tender and innocent that it fell on Eve's hot heart like the dew.
"Ah! well," she cried, "it was to be, it was to be; and I suppose I oughtn't to blame you. But all he does for you tells against himself, and that does seem hard. It isn't as if he and you were anything to one another; then I shouldn't grudge it so much. He has lost his character as a seaman."
"He valued it a deal more than his life. He was always ready to throw THAT away for you or anybody else. He has lost his standing in the service."
"You see he has no interest, like some of them; he only got on by being better and cleverer than all the rest; so the Company won't listen to any excuses from him, and, indeed, he is too proud to make them."
"He will never be captain of a ship now?"
"Captain of a ship! Will he ever leave the bed of sickness he lies on?"
"The bed of sickness! Is he ill? Oh, what have I done?"
"Is he ill? What! do you think my brother is made of iron? Out all night with you--then off, with scarce a wink of sleep; then two days and two nights chasing the Combermere, sometimes gaining, sometimes losing, and his credit and his good name hanging on it; then to beat back against wind, heartbroken, and no food on board--"
"Oh, it is too horrible."
"He staggered into me, white as a ghost. I got him to bed: he was in a burning fever. In the night he was lightheaded, and all his talk was about you. He kept fretting lest you should not have got safe home. It is always so. We care the most for those that care the least for us."
"Is he in the Indiaman?"
"No, Miss Fountain, he is not in the Indiaman," cried Eve, her wrath suddenly rising again; "he lies there, Miss Fountain, in that room, at death's door, and you to thank for it."
At this stab Lucy uttered a cry like a wounded deer. But this cry was followed immediately by one of terror: the door opened suddenly, and there stood David Dodd, looking as white as his sister had said, but, as usual, not in the humor to succumb. "Me at death's port, did you say?" cried he, in a loud tone of cheerful defiance; "tell that to the marines!!"
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