The Entire Short Works of George Meredith
Part 7 out of 9
the carpenter, obedient to her supplications, had promised, in the event
of his outliving her, that no hands but his should have the making of her
coffin. "It is so nice," she said, "to think one's own husband will put
together the box you are to lie in, of his own make!" Had they been even
a doubtfully united pair, the cook's anticipation of a comfortable
coffin, the work of the best carpenter in England, would have kept them
together; and that which fine cookery does for the cementing of couples
needs not to be recounted to those who have read a chapter or two of the
natural history of the male sex.
"Crickledon, my dear soul, your husband is labouring with a bit of fun,"
Herbert said to her.
"He would n't laugh loud at Punch, for fear of an action," she replied.
"He never laughs out till he gets to bed, and has locked the door; and
when he does he says 'Hush!' to me. Tinman is n't bailiff again just
yet, and where he has his bailiff's best Court suit from, you may ask.
He exercises in it off and on all the week, at night, and sometimes in
the middle of the day."
Herbert rallied her for her gossip's credulity.
"It's truth," she declared. "I have it from the maid of the house,
little Jane, whom he pays four pound a year for all the work of the
house: a clever little thing with her hands and her head she is; and can
read and write beautiful; and she's a mind to leave 'em if they don't
advance her. She knocked and went in while he was full blaze, and bowing
his poll to his glass. And now he turns the key, and a child might know
he was at it."
"He can't be such a donkey!"
"And he's been seen at the window on the seaside. 'Who's your Admiral
staying at the house on the beach?' men have inquired as they come
ashore. My husband has heard it. Tinman's got it on his brain. He
might be cured by marriage to a sound-headed woman, but he 'll soon be
wanting to walk about in silk legs if he stops a bachelor. They tell me
his old mother here had a dress value twenty pound; and pomp's inherited.
Save as he may, there's his leak."
Herbert's contempt for Tinman was intense; it was that of the young and
ignorant who live in their imaginations like spendthrifts, unaware of the
importance of them as the food of life, and of how necessary it is to
seize upon the solider one among them for perpetual sustenance when the
unsubstantial are vanishing. The great event of his bailiff's term of
office had become the sun of Tinman's system. He basked in its rays.
He meant to be again the proud official, royally distinguished; meantime,
though he knew not that his days were dull, he groaned under the dulness;
and, as cart or cab horses, uncomplaining as a rule, show their view of
the nature of harness when they have release to frisk in a field, it is
possible that existence was made tolerable to the jogging man by some
minutes of excitement in his bailiff's Court suit. Really to pasture on
our recollections we ought to dramatize them. There is, however, only
the testimony of a maid and a mariner to show that Tinman did it, and
those are witnesses coming of particularly long-bow classes, given to
magnify small items of fact.
On reaching the hall Herbert found the fire alight in the smoking-room,
and soon after settling himself there he heard Van Diemen's voice at the
hall-door saying good night to Tinman.
"Thank the Lord! there you are," said Van Diemen, entering the room.
"I couldn't have hoped so much. That rascal!" he turned round to the
door. "He has been threatening me, and then smoothing me. Hang his oil!
It's combustible. And hang the port he's for laying down, as he calls
it. 'Leave it to posterity,' says I. 'Why?' says he. 'Because the
young ones 'll be better able to take care of themselves,' says I, and he
insists on an explanation. I gave it to him. Out he bursts like a
wasp's nest. He may have said what he did say in temper. He seemed
sorry afterwards--poor old Mart! The scoundrel talked of Horse Guards
and telegraph wires."
"Scoundrel, but more ninny," said Herbert, full of his contempt. "Dare
him to do his worst. The General tells me they 'd be glad to overlook it
at the Guards, even if they had all the facts. Branding 's out of the
"I swear it was done in my time," cried Van Diemen, all on fire.
"It's out of the question. You might be advised to leave England for a
few months. As for the society here--"
"If I leave, I leave for good. My heart's broken. I'm disappointed.
I'm deceived in my friend. He and I in the old days! What's come to
him? What on earth is it changes men who stop in England so? It can't
be the climate. And did you mention my name to General Fellingham?"
"Certainly not," said Herbert. "But listen to me, sir, a moment. Why
not get together half-a-dozen friends of the neighbourhood, and make a
clean breast of it. Englishmen like that kind of manliness, and they are
sure to ring sound to it."
"I couldn't!" Van Diemen sighed. "It's not a natural feeling I have
about it--I 've brooded on the word. If I have a nightmare, I see
Deserter written in sulphur on the black wall."
"You can't remain at his mercy, and be bullied as you are. He makes you
ill, sir. He won't do anything, but he'll go on worrying you. I'd stop
him at once. I'd take the train to-morrow and get an introduction to the
Commander-in-Chief. He's the very man to be kind to you in a situation
like this. The General would get you the introduction."
"That's more to my taste; but no, I couldn't," Van Diemen moaned in his
weakness. "Money has unmanned me. I was n't this kind of man formerly;
nor more was Mart Tinman, the traitor! All the world seems changeing for
the worse, and England is n't what she used to be."
"You let that man spoil it for you, sir." Herbert related Mrs.
Crickledon's tale of Mr. Tinman, adding, "He's an utter donkey. I should
defy him. What I should do would be to let him know to-morrow morning
that you don't intend to see him again. Blow for, blow, is the thing he
requires. He'll be cringing to you in a week."
"And you'd like to marry Annette," said Van Diemen, relishing,
nevertheless, the advice, whose origin and object he perceived so
"Of course I should," said Herbert, franker still in his colour than his
"I don't see him my girl's husband." Van Diemen eyed the red hollow in
the falling coals. "When I came first, and found him a healthy man,
good-looking enough for a trifle over forty, I 'd have given her gladly,
she nodding Yes. Now all my fear is she's in earnest. Upon my soul, I
had the notion old Mart was a sort of a boy still; playing man, you know.
But how can you understand? I fancied his airs and stiffness were put
on; thought I saw him burning true behind it. Who can tell? He seems to
be jealous of my buying property in his native town. Something frets
him. I ought never to have struck him! There's my error, and I repent
it. Strike a friend! I wonder he didn't go off to the Horse Guards at
once. I might have done it in his place, if I found I couldn't lick him.
I should have tried kicking first."
"Yes, shinning before peaching," said Herbert, astonished almost as much
as he was disgusted by the inveterate sentimental attachment of Van
Diemen to his old friend.
Martin Tinman anticipated good things of the fright he had given the man
after dinner. He had, undoubtedly, yielded to temper, forgetting pure
policy, which it is so exceeding difficult to practice. But he had
soothed the startled beast; they had shaken hands at parting, and Tinman
hoped that the week of Annette's absence would enable him to mould her
father. Young Fellingham's appointment to come to Elba had slipped Mr.
Tinman's memory. It was annoying to see this intruder. "At all events,
he's not with Annette," said Mrs. Cavely. "How long has her father to
"Five months," Tinman replied. "He would have completed his term of
service in five months."
"And to think of his being a rich man because he deserted," Mrs. Cavely
interjected. "Oh! I do call it immoral. He ought to be apprehended and
punished, to be an example for the good of society. If you lose time,
my dear Martin, your chance is gone. He's wriggling now. And if I could
believe he talked us over to that young impudent, who has n't a penny
that he does n't get from his pen, I'd say, denounce him to-morrow.
I long for Elba. I hate this house. It will be swallowed up some day;
I know it; I have dreamt it. Elba at any cost. Depend upon it, Martin,
you have been foiled in your suits on account of the mean house you
inhabit. Enter Elba as that girl's husband, or go there to own it, and
girls will crawl to you."
"You are a ridiculous woman, Martha," said Tinman, not dissenting.
The mixture of an idea of public duty with a feeling of personal rancour
is a strong incentive to the pursuit of a stern line of conduct; and the
glimmer of self-interest superadded does not check the steps of the
moralist. Nevertheless, Tinman held himself in. He loved peace. He
preached it, he disseminated it. At a meeting in the town he strove to
win Van Diemen's voice in favour of a vote for further moneys to protect
'our shores.'" Van Diemen laughed at him, telling him he wanted a
battery. "No," said Tinman, "I've had enough to do with soldiers."
"They might be more cautious. I say, they might learn to know their
friends from their enemies."
"That's it, that's it," said Van Diemen. "If you say much more, my
hearty, you'll find me bidding against you next week for Marine Parade
and Belle Vue Terrace. I've a cute eye for property, and this town's
"You look about you before you speculate in land and house property
here," retorted Tinman.
Van Diemen bore so much from him that he asked himself whether he could
be an Englishman. The title of Deserter was his raw wound. He attempted
to form the habit of stigmatizing himself with it in the privacy of his
chamber, and he succeeded in establishing the habit of talking to
himself, so that he was heard by the household, and Annette, on her
return, was obliged to warn him of his indiscretion. This development of
a new weakness exasperated him. Rather to prove his courage by defiance
than to baffle Tinman's ambition to become the principal owner of houses
in Crikswich, by outbidding him at the auction for the sale of Marine
Parade and Belle Vue Terrace, Van Diemen ran the houses up at the
auction, and ultimately had Belle Vue knocked down to him. So fierce was
the quarrel that Annette, in conjunction with Mrs. Cavely; was called on
to interpose with her sweetest grace. "My native place," Tinman said to
her; "it is my native place. I have a pride in it; I desire to own
property in it, and your father opposes me. He opposes me. Then says I
may have it back at auction price, after he has gone far to double the
price! I have borne--I repeat I have borne too much."
"Are n't your properties to be equal to one?" said Mrs. Cavely, smiling
mother--like from Tinman to Annette.
He sought to produce a fondling eye in a wry face, and said, "Yes, I will
"Annette will bless you with her dear hand in a month or two at the
outside," Mrs. Cavely murmured, cherishingly.
"She will?" Tinman cracked his body to bend to her.
"Oh, I cannot say; do not distress me. Be friendly with papa," the girl
resumed, moving to escape.
"That is the essential," said Mrs. Cavely; and continued, when Annette
had gone, "The essential is to get over the next few months, miss, and
then to snap your fingers at us. Martin, I would force that man to sell
you Belle Vue under the price he paid for it, just to try your power."
Tinman was not quite so forcible. He obtained Belle Vue at auction
price, and his passion for revenge was tipped with fire by having it
accorded as a friend's favour.
The poisoned state of his mind was increased by a December high wind that
rattled his casements, and warned him of his accession of property
exposed to the elements. Both he and his sister attributed their
nervousness to the sinister behaviour of Van Diemen. For the house on
the beach had only, in most distant times, been threatened by the sea,
and no house on earth was better protected from man,--Neptune, in the
shape of a coastguard, being paid by Government to patrol about it during
the hours of darkness. They had never had any fears before Van Diemen
arrived, and caused them to give thrice their ordinary number of dinners
to guests per annum. In fact, before Van Diemen came, the house on the
beach looked on Crikswich without a rival to challenge its anticipated
lordship over the place, and for some inexplicable reason it seemed to
its inhabitants to have been a safer as well as a happier residence.
They were consoled by Tinman's performance of a clever stroke in
privately purchasing the cottages west of the town, and including
Crickledon's shop, abutting on Marine Parade. Then from the house
on the beach they looked at an entire frontage of their property.
They entered the month of February. No further time was to be lost,
"or we shall wake up to find that man has fooled us," Mrs. Cavely said.
Tinman appeared at Elba to demand a private interview with Annette. His
hat was blown into the hall as the door opened to him, and he himself was
glad to be sheltered by the door, so violent was the gale. Annette and
her father were sitting together. They kept the betrothed gentleman
waiting a very long time. At last Van Diemen went to him, and said,
"Netty 'll see you, if you must. I suppose you have no business with
"Not to-day," Tinman replied.
Van Diemen strode round the drawing-room with his hands in his pockets.
"There's a disparity of ages," he said, abruptly, as if desirous to pour
out his lesson while he remembered it. "A man upwards of forty marries a
girl under twenty, he's over sixty before she's forty; he's decaying when
she's only mellow. I ought never to have struck you, I know. And you're
such an infernal bad temper at times, and age does n't improve that, they
say; and she's been educated tip-top. She's sharp on grammar, and a man
may n't like that much when he's a husband. See her, if you must. But
she does n't take to the idea; there's the truth. Disparity of ages and
unsuitableness of dispositions--what was it Fellingham said?--like two
barrel-organs grinding different tunes all day in a house."
"I don't want to hear Mr. Fellingham's comparisons," Tinman snapped.
"Oh! he's nothing to the girl," said Van Diemen. "She doesn't stomach
"My dear Philip! why should she leave you? When we have interests in
common as one household--"
"She says you're such a damned bad temper."
Tinman was pursuing amicably, "When we are united--" But the frightful
charge brought against his temper drew him up. "Fiery I may be. Annette
has seen I am forgiving. I am a Christian. You have provoked me; you
have struck me."
"I 'll give you a couple of thousand pounds in hard money to be off the
bargain, and not bother the girl," said Van Diemen.
"Now," rejoined Tinman, "I am offended. I like money, like most men who
have made it. You do, Philip. But I don't come courting like a pauper.
Not for ten thousand; not for twenty. Money cannot be a compensation to
me for the loss of Annette. I say I love Annette."
"Because," Van Diemen continued his speech, "you trapped us into that
engagement, Mart. You dosed me with the stuff you buy for wine, while
your sister sat sugaring and mollifying my girl; and she did the trick in
a minute, taking Netty by surprise when I was all heart and no head; and
since that you may have seen the girl turn her head from marriage like my
woods from the wind."
"Mr. Van Diemen Smith!" Tinman panted; he mastered himself. "You shall
not provoke me. My introductions of you in this neighbourhood, my
patronage, prove my friendship."
"You'll be a good old fellow, Mart, when you get over your hopes of being
"Mr. Fellingham may set you against my wine, Philip. Let me tell you--I
know you--you would not object to have your daughter called Lady."
"With a spindle-shanked husband capering in a Court suit before he goes
to bed every night, that he may n't forget what a fine fellow he was one
day bygone! You're growing lean on it, Mart, like a recollection fifty
"You have never forgiven me that day, Philip!"
"Jealous, am I? Take the money, give up the girl, and see what friends
we'll be. I'll back your buyings, I'll advertise your sellings. I'll
pay a painter to paint you in your Court suit, and hang up a copy of you
in my diningroom."
"Annette is here," said Tinman, who had been showing Etna's tokens of
He admired Annette. Not till latterly had Herbert Fellingham been so
true an admirer of Annette as Tinman was. She looked sincere and she
dressed inexpensively. For these reasons she was the best example of
womankind that he knew, and her enthusiasm for England had the
sympathetic effect on him of obscuring the rest of the world, and
thrilling him with the reassuring belief that he was blest in his blood
and his birthplace--points which her father, with his boastings of
Gippsland, and other people talking of scenes on the Continent,
sometimes disturbed in his mind.
"Annette," said he, "I come requesting to converse with you in private."
"If you wish it--I would rather not," she answered.
Tinman raised his head, as often at Helmstone when some offending
shopwoman was to hear her doom.
He bent to her. "I see. Before your father, then!"
"It isn't an agreeable bit of business, to me," Van Diemen grumbled,
frowning and shrugging.
"I have come, Annette, to ask you, to beg you, entreat--before a third
"The wrong side of my mouth, my friend. And I'll tell you what: we're in
for heavy seas, and I 'm not sorry you've taken the house on the beach
off my hands."
"Pray, Mr. Tinman, speak at once, if you please, and I will do my best.
Papa vexes you."
"No, no," replied Tinman.
He renewed his commencement. Van Diemen interrupted him again.
"Hang your power over me, as you call it. Eh, old Mart? I'm a Deserter.
I'll pay a thousand pounds to the British army, whether they punish me or
not. March me off tomorrow!"
"Papa, you are unjust, unkind." Annette turned to him in tears.
"No, no," said Tinman, "I do not feel it. Your father has misunderstood
"I am sure he has," she said fervently. "And, Mr. Tinman, I will
faithfully promise that so long as you are good to my dear father, I will
not be untrue to my engagement, only do not wish me to name any day. We
shall be such very good dear friends if you consent to this. Will you?"
Pausing for a space, the enamoured man unrolled his voice in lamentation:
"Oh! Annette, how long will you keep me?"
"There; you'll set her crying!" said Van Diemen. "Now you can run
upstairs, Netty. By jingo! Mart Tinman, you've got a bass voice for
"Annette," Tinman called to her, and made her turn round as she was
retiring. "I must know the day before the end of winter. Please.
In kind consideration. My arrangements demand it."
"Do let the girl go," said Van Diemen. "Dine with me tonight and I'll
give you a wine to brisk your spirits, old boy"
"Thank you. When I have ordered dinner at home, I----and my wine agrees
with ME," Tinman replied.
"I doubt it."
"You shall not provoke me, Philip."
They parted stiffly.
Mrs. Cavely had unpleasant domestic news to communicate to her brother,
in return for his tale of affliction and wrath. It concerned the
ungrateful conduct of their little housemaid Jane, who, as Mrs. Cavely
said, "egged on by that woman Crickledon," had been hinting at an advance
"She didn't dare speak, but I saw what was in her when she broke a plate,
and wouldn't say she was sorry. I know she goes to Crickledon and talks
us over. She's a willing worker, but she has no heart."
Tinman had been accustomed in his shop at Helmstone--where heaven had
blessed him with the patronage of the rich, as visibly as rays of
supernal light are seen selecting from above the heads of prophets in the
illustrations to cheap holy books--to deal with willing workers that have
no hearts. Before the application for an advance of wages--and he knew
the signs of it coming--his method was to calculate how much he might be
asked for, and divide the estimated sum by the figure 4; which, as it
seemed to come from a generous impulse, and had been unsolicited, was
often humbly accepted, and the willing worker pursued her lean and hungry
course in his service. The treatment did not always agree with his
males. Women it suited; because they do not like to lift up their voices
unless they are in a passion; and if you take from them the grounds of
temper, you take their words away--you make chickens of them. And as
Tinman said, "Gratitude I never expect!" Why not? For the reason that
he knew human nature. He could record shocking instances of the
ingratitude of human nature, as revealed to him in the term of his tenure
of the shop at Helmstone. Blest from above, human nature's wickedness
had from below too frequently besulphured and suffumigated him for his
memory to be dim; and though he was ever ready to own himself an example
that heaven prevaileth, he could cite instances of scandalmongering shop-
women dismissed and working him mischief in the town, which pointed to
him in person for a proof that the Powers of Good and Evil were still
engaged in unhappy contention. Witness Strikes! witness Revolutions!
"Tell her, when she lays the cloth, that I advance her, on account of
general good conduct, five shillings per annum. Add," said Tinman, "that
I wish no thanks. It is for her merits--to reward her; you understand
"Quite; if you think it prudent, Martin."
"I do. She is not to breathe a syllable to cook."
"Then keep your eye on cook."
Mrs. Cavely promised she would do so. She felt sure she was paying five
shillings for ingratitude; and, therefore, it was with humility that she
owned her error when, while her brother sipped his sugared acrid liquor
after dinner (in devotion to the doctor's decree, that he should take a
couple of glasses, rigorously as body-lashing friar), she imparted to him
the singular effect of the advance of wages upon little Jane--"Oh, ma'am!
and me never asked you for it!" She informed her brother how little Jane
had confided to her that they were called "close," and how little Jane
had vowed she would--the willing little thing!--go about letting
everybody know their kindness.
"Yes! Ah!" Tinman inhaled the praise. "No, no; I don't want to be
puffed," he said. "Remember cook. I have," he continued, meditatively,
"rarely found my plan fail. But mind, I give the Crickledons notice to
quit to-morrow. They are a pest. Besides, I shall probably think of
"How dreadful the wind is!" Mrs. Cavely exclaimed. "I would give that
girl Annette one chance more. Try her by letter."
Tinman despatched a business letter to Annette, which brought back a
vague, unbusiness-like reply. Two days afterward Mrs. Cavely reported to
her brother the presence of Mr. Fellingham and Miss Mary Fellingham in
Crikswich. At her dictation he wrote a second letter. This time the
reply came from Van Diemen:
"My DEAR MARTIN,--Please do not go on bothering my girl. She does
not like the idea of leaving me, and my experience tells me I could
not live in the house with you. So there it is. Take it friendly.
I have always wanted to be, and am,
Tinman proceeded straight to Elba; that is, as nearly straight as the
wind would allow his legs to walk. Van Diemen was announced to be out;
Miss Annette begged to be excused, under the pretext that she was unwell;
and Tinman heard of a dinner-party at Elba that night.
He met Mr. Fellingham on the carriage drive. The young Londoner presumed
to touch upon Tinman's private affairs by pleading on behalf of the
Crikledons, who were, he said, much dejected by the notice they had
received to quit house and shop.
"Another time," bawled Tinman. "I can't hear you in this wind."
"Come in," said Fellingham.
"The master of the house is absent," was the smart retort roared at him;
and Tinman staggered away, enjoying it as he did his wine.
His house rocked. He was backed by his sister in the assurance that he
had been duped.
The process he supposed to be thinking, which was the castigation of his
brains with every sting wherewith a native touchiness could ply immediate
recollection, led him to conclude that he must bring Van Diemen to his
senses, and Annette running to him for mercy.
He sat down that night amid the howling of the storm, wind whistling,
water crashing, casements rattling, beach desperately dragging, as by the
wide-stretched star-fish fingers of the half-engulphed.
He hardly knew what he wrote. The man was in a state of personal terror,
burning with indignation at Van Diemen as the main cause of his jeopardy.
For, in order to prosecute his pursuit of Annette, he had abstained from
going to Helmstone to pay moneys into his bank there, and what was
precious to life as well as life itself, was imperilled by those two--
Annette and her father--who, had they been true, had they been honest,
to say nothing of honourable, would by this time have opened Elba to him
as a fast and safe abode.
His letter was addressed, on a large envelope,
"To the Adjutant-General,
But if ever consigned to the Post, that post-office must be in London;
and Tinman left the letter on his desk till the morning should bring
counsel to him as to the London friend to whom he might despatch it under
cover for posting, if he pushed it so far.
Sleep was impossible. Black night favoured the tearing fiends of
shipwreck, and looking through a back window over sea, Tinman saw with
dismay huge towering ghostwhite wreaths, that travelled up swiftly on his
level, and lit the dark as they flung themselves in ruin, with a gasp,
across the mound of shingle at his feet.
He undressed: His sister called to him to know if they were in danger.
Clothed in his dressing-gown, he slipped along to her door, to vociferate
to her hoarsely that she must not frighten the servants; and one fine
quality in the training of the couple, which had helped them to prosper,
a form of self-command, kept her quiet in her shivering fears.
For a distraction Tinman pulled open the drawers of his wardrobe. His
glittering suit lay in one. And he thought, "What wonderful changes
there are in the world!" meaning, between a man exposed to the wrath of
the elements, and the same individual reading from vellum, in that suit,
in a palace, to the Head of all of us!
The presumption is; that he must have often done it before. The fact is
established, that he did it that night. The conclusion drawn from it is,
that it must have given him a sense of stability and safety.
At any rate that he put on the suit is quite certain.
Probably it was a work of ingratiation and degrees; a feeling of the
silk, a trying on to one leg, then a matching of the fellow with it.
O you Revolutionists! who would have no state, no ceremonial, and but
one order of galligaskins! This man must have been wooed away in spirit
to forgetfulness of the tempest scourging his mighty neighbour to a
bigger and a farther leap; he must have obtained from the contemplation
of himself in his suit that which would be the saving of all men, in
especial of his countrymen--imagination, namely.
Certain it is, as I have said, that he attired himself in the suit. He
covered it with his dressing-gown, and he lay down on his bed so garbed,
to await the morrow's light, being probably surprised by sleep acting
upon fatigue and nerves appeased and soothed.
Elba lay more sheltered from South-east winds under the slopes of down
than any other house in Crikswich. The South-caster struck off the cliff
to a martello tower and the house on the beach, leaving Elba to repose,
so that the worst wind for that coast was one of the most comfortable for
the owner of the hall, and he looked from his upper window on a sea of
crumbling grey chalk, lashed unremittingly by the featureless piping
gale, without fear that his elevated grounds and walls would be open at
high tide to the ravage of water. Van Diemen had no idea of calamity
being at work on land when he sat down to breakfast. He told Herbert
that he had prayed for poor fellows at sea last night. Mary Fellingham
and Annette were anxious to finish breakfast and mount the down to gaze
on the sea, and receiving a caution from Van Diemen not to go too near
the cliff, they were inclined to think he was needlessly timorous on
Before they were half way through the meal, word was brought in of great
breaches in the shingle, and water covering the common. Van Diemen sent
for his head gardener, whose report of the state of things outside took
the comprehensive form of prophecy; he predicted the fall of the town.
"Nonsense; what do you mean, John Scott?" said Van Diemen, eyeing his
orderly breakfast table and the man in turns. "It does n't seem like
that, yet, does it?"
"The house on the beach won't stand an hour longer, sir."
"Who says so?"
"It's cut off from land now, and waves mast-high all about it."
"Mart Tinman?" cried Van Diemen.
All started; all jumped up; and there was a scampering for hats and
cloaks. Maids and men of the house ran in and out confirming the news of
inundation. Some in terror for the fate of relatives, others pleasantly
excited, glad of catastrophe if it but killed monotony, for at any rate
it was a change of demons.
The view from the outer bank of Elba was of water covering the space of
the common up to the stones of Marine Parade and Belle Vue. But at a
distance it had not the appearance of angry water; the ladies thought it
picturesque, and the house on the beach was seen standing firm. A second
look showed the house completely isolated; and as the party led by Van
Diemen circled hurriedly toward the town, they discerned heavy cataracts
of foam pouring down the wrecked mound of shingle on either side of the
"Why, the outer wall's washed away," said Van Diemen." Are they in real
danger?" asked Annette, her teeth chattering, and the cold and other
matters at her heart precluding for the moment such warmth of sympathy as
she hoped soon to feel for them. She was glad to hear her father say:
"Oh! they're high and dry by this time. We shall find them in the town
And we'll take them in and comfort them. Ten to one they have n't
breakfasted. They sha'n't go to an inn while I'm handy."
He dashed ahead, followed closely by Herbert. The ladies beheld them
talking to townsfolk as they passed along the upper streets, and did not
augur well of their increase of speed. At the head of the town water was
visible, part of the way up the main street, and crossing it, the ladies
went swiftly under the old church, on the tower of which were spectators,
through the churchyard to a high meadow that dropped to a stone wall
fixed between the meadow and a grass bank above the level of the road,
where now salt water beat and cast some spray. Not less than a hundred
people were in this field, among them Crickledon and his wife. All were
in silent watch of the house on the beach, which was to east of the
field, at a distance of perhaps three stonethrows. The scene was wild.
Continuously the torrents poured through the shingleclefts, and momently
a thunder sounded, and high leapt a billow that topped the house and
folded it weltering.
"They tell me Mart Tinman's in the house," Van Diemen roared to Herbert.
He listened to further information, and bellowed: "There's no boat!"
Herbert answered: "It must be a mistake, I think; here's Crickledon says
he had a warning before dawn and managed to move most of his things, and
the people over there must have been awakened by the row in time to get
"I can't hear a word you say;" Van Diemen tried to pitch his voice higher
than the wind. "Did you say a boat? But where?"
Crickledon the carpenter made signal to Herbert. They stepped rapidly up
"Women feels their weakness in times like these, my dear," Mrs.
Crickledon said to Annette. "What with our clothes and our cowardice
it do seem we're not the equals of men when winds is high."
Annette expressed the hope to her that she had not lost much property.
Mrs. Crickledon said she was glad to let her know she was insured in an
Accident Company. "But," said she, "I do grieve for that poor man
Tinman, if alive he be, and comes ashore to find his property wrecked by
water. Bless ye! he wouldn't insure against anything less common than
fire; and my house and Crickledon's shop are floating timbers by this
time; and Marine Parade and Belle Vue are safe to go. And it'll be a
pretty welcome for him, poor man, from his investments."
A cry at a tremendous blow of a wave on the doomed house rose from the
field. Back and front door were broken down, and the force of water
drove a round volume through the channel, shaking the walls.
"I can't stand this," Van Diemen cried.
Annette was too late to hold him back. He ran up the field. She was
preparing to run after when Mrs. Crickledon touched her arm and implored
her: "Interfere not with men, but let them follow their judgements when
it's seasons of mighty peril, my dear. If any one's guilty it's me, for
minding my husband of a boat that was launched for a life-boat here, and
wouldn't answer, and is at the shed by the Crouch--left lying there, I've
often said, as if it was a-sulking. My goodness!"
A linen sheet bad been flung out from one of the windows of the house on
the beach, and flew loose and flapping in sign of distress.
"It looks as if they had gone mad in that house, to have waited so long
for to declare theirselves, poor souls," Mrs. Crickledon said, sighing.
She was assured right and left that signals had been seen before, and
some one stated that the cook of Mr. Tinman, and also Mrs. Cavely, were
"It's his furniture, poor man, he sticks to: and nothing gets round the
heart so!" resumed Mrs. Crickledon. "There goes his bed-linen!"
The sheet was whirled and snapped away by the wind; distended doubled,
like a flock of winter geese changeing alphabetical letters on the
clouds, darted this way and that, and finally outspread on the waters
breaking against Marine Parade.
"They cannot have thought there was positive danger in remaining," said
"Mr. Tinman was waiting for the cheapest Insurance office," a man
remarked to Mrs. Crickledon.
"The least to pay is to the undertaker," she replied, standing on tiptoe.
"And it's to be hoped he 'll pay more to-day. If only those walls don't
fall and stop the chance of the boat to save him for more outlay, poor
man! What boats was on the beach last night, high up and over the ridge
as they was, are planks by this time and only good for carpenters."
"Half our town's done for," one old man said; and another followed him in.
a pious tone: "From water we came and to water we go."
They talked of ancient inroads of the sea, none so serious as this
threatened to be for them. The gallant solidity, of the house on the
beach had withstood heavy gales: it was a brave house. Heaven be
thanked, no fishing boats were out. Chiefly well-to-do people would be
the sufferers--an exceptional case. For it is the mysterious and
unexplained dispensation that: "Mostly heaven chastises we."
A knot of excited gazers drew the rest of the field to them. Mrs.
Crickledon, on the edge of the crowd, reported what was doing to Annette
and Miss Fellingham. A boat had been launched from the town. "Praise
the Lord, there's none but coastguard in it!" she exclaimed, and excused
herself for having her heart on her husband.
Annette was as deeply thankful that her father was not in the boat.
They looked round and saw Herbert beside them. Van Diemen was in the
rear, panting, and straining his neck to catch sight of the boat now
pulling fast across a tumbled sea to where Tinman himself was perceived,
beckoning them wildly, half out of one of the windows.
"A pound apiece to those fellows, and two if they land Mart Tinman dry;
I've promised it, and they'll earn it. Look at that! Quick, you
To the east a portion of the house had fallen, melted away. Where it
stood, just below the line of shingle, it was now like a structure
wasting on a tormented submerged reef. The whole line was given over to
"Where is his sister?" Annette shrieked to her father.
"Safe ashore; and one of the women with her. But Mart Tinman would stop,
the fool! to-poor old boy! save his papers and things; and has n't a
head to do it, Martha Cavely tells me. They're at him now! They've got
him in! There's another? Oh! it's a girl, who would n't go and leave
him. They'll pull to the field here. Brave lads!--By jingo, why ain't
Englishmen always in danger!--eh? if you want to see them shine!"
"It's little Jane," said Mrs. Crickledon, who had been joined by her
husband, and now that she knew him to be no longer in peril, kept her
hand on him to restrain him, just for comfort's sake.
The boat held under the lee of the house-wreck a minute; then, as if
shooting a small rapid, came down on a wave crowned with foam, to hurrahs
from the townsmen.
"They're all right," said Van Diemen, puffing as at a mist before his
eyes. "They'll pull westward, with the wind, and land him among us. I
remember when old Mart and I were bathing once, he was younger than me,
and could n't swim much, and I saw him going down. It'd have been hard
to see him washed off before one's eyes thirty years afterwards. Here
they come. He's all right. He's in his dressing-gown!"
The crowd made way for Mr. Van Diemen Smith to welcome his friend. Two
of the coastguard jumped out, and handed him to the dry bank, while
Herbert, Van Diemen, and Crickledon took him by hand and arm, and hoisted
him on to the flint wall, preparatory to his descent into the field. In
this exposed situation the wind, whose pranks are endless when it is once
up, seized and blew Martin Tinman's dressing-gown wide as two violently
flapping wings on each side of him, and finally over his head.
Van Diemen turned a pair of stupefied flat eyes on Herbert, who cast a
sly look at the ladies. Tinman had sprung down. But not before the.
world, in one tempestuous glimpse, had caught sight of the Court suit.
Perfect gravity greeted him from the crowd.
"Safe, old Mart! and glad to be able to say it," said Van Diemen.
"We are so happy," said Annette.
"House, furniture, property, everything I possess!" ejaculated Tinman,
"Fiddle, man; you want some hot breakfast in you. Your sister has gone
on--to Elba. Come you too, old Man; and where's that plucky little girl
who stood by--"
"Was there a girl?" said Tinman.
"Yes, and there was a boy wanted to help." Van Diemen pointed at
Tinman looked, and piteously asked, "Have you examined Marine Parade and
Belle Vue? It depends on the tide!"
"Here is little Jane, sir," said Mrs. Crickledon.
"Fall in," Van Diemen said to little Jane.
The girl was bobbing curtseys to Annette, on her introduction by Mrs.
"Martin, you stay at my house; you stay at Elba till you get things
comfortable about you, and then you shall have the Crouch for a year,
rent free. Eh, Netty?"
Annette chimed in: "Anything we can do, anything. Nothing can be too
Van Diemen was praising little Jane for her devotion to her master.
"Master have been so kind to me," said little Jane.
"Now, march; it is cold," Van Diemen gave the word, and Herbert stood by
Mary rather dejectedly, foreseeing that his prospects at Elba were
"Now then, Mart, left leg forward," Van Diemen linked his arm in his
"I must have a look," Tinman broke from him, and cast a forlorn look of
farewell on the last of the house on the beach.
"You've got me left to you, old Mart; don't forget that," said Van
Tinman's chest fell. "Yes, yes," he responded. He was touched.
"And I told those fellows if they landed you dry they should have--I'd
give them double pay; and I do believe they've earned their money."
"I don't think I'm very wet, I'm cold," said Tinman.
"You can't help being cold, so come along."
"But, Philip!" Tinman lifted his voice; "I've lost everything. I tried
to save a little. I worked hard, I exposed my life, and all in vain."
The voice of little Jane was heard.
"What's the matter with the child?" said Van Diemen.
Annette went up to her quietly.
But little Jane was addressing her master.
"Oh! if you please, I did manage to save something the last thing when
the boat was at the window, and if you please, sir, all the bundles is
lost, but I saved you a papercutter, and a letter Horse Guards, and here
they are, sir."
The grateful little creature drew the square letter and paper-cutter from
her bosom, and held them out to Mr. Tinman.
It was a letter of the imposing size, with THE HORSE GUARDS very
distinctly inscribed on it in Tinman's best round hand, to strike his
vindictive spirit as positively intended for transmission, and give him
sight of his power to wound if it pleased him; as it might.
"What!" cried he, not clearly comprehending how much her devotion had
accomplished for him.
"A letter to the Horse Guards!" cried Van Diemen.
"Here, give it me," said little Jane's master, and grasped it nervously.
"What's in that letter?" Van Diemen asked. "Let me look at that letter.
Don't tell me it's private correspondence."
"My dear Philip, dear friend, kind thanks; it's not a letter," said
"Not a letter! why, I read the address, 'Horse Guards.' I read it as it
passed into your hands. Now, my man, one look at that letter, or take
"Kind thanks for your assistance, dear Philip, indeed! Oh! this? Oh!
it's nothing." He tore it in halves.
His face was of the winter sea-colour, with the chalk wash on it.
"Tear again, and I shall know what to think of the contents," Van Diemen
frowned. "Let me see what you've said. You've sworn you would do it,
and there it is at last, by miracle; but let me see it and I'll overlook
it, and you shall be my house-mate still. If not!----"
Tinman tore away.
"You mistake, you mistake, you're entirely wrong," he said, as he pursued
with desperation his task of rendering every word unreadable.
Van Diemen stood fronting him; the accumulation of stores of petty
injuries and meannesses which he had endured from this man, swelled under
the whip of the conclusive exhibition of treachery. He looked so black
that Annette called, "Papa!"
"Philip," said Tinman. "Philip! my best friend!"
"Pooh, you're a poor creature. Come along and breakfast at Elba, and you
can sleep at the Crouch, and goodnight to you. Crickledon," he called to
the houseless couple, "you stop at Elba till I build you a shop."
With these words, Van Diemen led the way, walking alone. Herbert was
compelled to walk with Tinman.
Mary and Annette came behind, and Mary pinched Annette's arm so sharply
that she must have cried out aloud had it been possible for her to feel
pain at that moment, instead of a personal exultation, flying wildly over
the clash of astonishment and horror, like a sea-bird over the foam.
In the first silent place they came to, Mary murmured the words: "Little
Annette looked round at Mrs. Crickledon, who wound up the procession,
taking little Jane by the hand. Little Jane was walking demurely, with a
placid face. Annette glanced at Tinman. Her excited feelings nearly
rose to a scream of laughter. For hours after, Mary had only to say to
her: "Little Jane," to produce the same convulsion. It rolled her heart
and senses in a headlong surge, shook her to burning tears, and seemed to
her ideas the most wonderful running together of opposite things ever
known on this earth. The young lady was ashamed of her laughter; but she
was deeply indebted to it, for never was mind made so clear by that
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Adversary at once offensive and helpless provokes brutality
Causes him to be popularly weighed
Distinguished by his not allowing himself to be provoked
Eccentric behaviour in trifles
Excited, glad of catastrophe if it but killed monotony
Generally he noticed nothing
Good jokes are not always good policy
I make a point of never recommending my own house
Indulged in their privilege of thinking what they liked
Infants are said to have their ideas, and why not young ladies?
Lend him your own generosity
Men love to boast of things nobody else has seen
Naughtily Australian and kangarooly
Not in love--She was only not unwilling to be in love
Rich and poor 's all right, if I'm rich and you're poor
She began to feel that this was life in earnest
She dealt in the flashes which connect ideas
She sought, by looking hard, to understand it better
Sunning itself in the glass of Envy
That which fine cookery does for the cementing of couples
The intricate, which she takes for the infinite
Tossed him from repulsion to incredulity, and so back
Two principal roads by which poor sinners come to a conscience
THE GENTLEMAN OF FIFTY AND THE DAMSEL OF NINETEEN
(An early uncompleted and hitherto unpublished fragment.)
By GEORGE MEREDITH
Passing over Ickleworth Bridge and rounding up the heavily-shadowed river
of our narrow valley, I perceived a commotion as of bathers in a certain
bright space immediately underneath the vicar's terrace-garden steps. My
astonishment was considerable when it became evident to me that the vicar
himself was disporting in the water, which, reaching no higher than his
waist, disclosed him in the ordinary habiliments of his cloth. I knew my
friend to be one of the most absent-minded of men, and my first effort to
explain the phenomenon of his appearance there, suggested that he might
have walked in, the victim of a fit of abstraction, and that he had not
yet fully comprehended his plight; but this idea was dispersed when I
beheld the very portly lady, his partner in joy and adversity, standing
immersed, and perfectly attired, some short distance nearer to the bank.
As I advanced along the bank opposed to them, I was further amazed to
hear them discoursing quite equably together, so that it was impossible
to say on the face of it whether a catastrophe had occurred, or the great
heat of a cloudless summer day had tempted an eccentric couple to seek
for coolness in the directest fashion, without absolute disregard to
propriety. I made a point of listening for the accentuation of the
'my dear' which was being interchanged, but the key-note to the harmony
existing between husband and wife was neither excessively unctuous, nor
shrewd, and the connubial shuttlecock was so well kept up on both sides
that I chose to await the issue rather than speculate on the origin of
this strange exhibition. I therefore, as I could not be accused of an
outrage to modesty, permitted myself to maintain what might be
invidiously termed a satyr-like watch from behind a forward flinging
willow, whose business in life was to look at its image in a brown depth,
branches, trunk, and roots. The sole indication of discomfort displayed
by the pair was that the lady's hand worked somewhat fretfully to keep
her dress from ballooning and puffing out of all proportion round about
her person, while the vicar, who stood without his hat, employed a spongy
handkerchief from time to time in tempering the ardours of a vertical
sun. If you will consent to imagine a bald blackbird, his neck being
shrunk in apprehensively, as you may see him in the first rolling of the
thunder, you will gather an image of my friend's appearance.
He performed his capital ablutions with many loud 'poofs,' and a casting
up of dazzled eyes, an action that gave point to his recital of the
invocation of Chryses to Smintheus which brought upon the Greeks disaster
and much woe. Between the lines he replied to his wife, whose remarks
increased in quantity, and also, as I thought, in emphasis, under the
river of verse which he poured forth unbaffled, broadening his chest to
the sonorous Greek music in a singular rapture of obliviousness.
A wise man will not squander his laughter if he can help it, but will
keep the agitation of it down as long as he may. The simmering of humour
sends a lively spirit into the mind, whereas the boiling over is but a
prodigal expenditure and the disturbance of a clear current: for the
comic element is visible to you in all things, if you do but keep your
mind charged with the perception of it, as I have heard a great expounder
deliver himself on another subject; and he spoke very truly. So, I
continued to look on with the gravity of Nature herself, and I could not
but fancy, and with less than our usual wilfulness when we fancy things
about Nature's moods, that the Mother of men beheld this scene with half
a smile, differently from the simple observation of those cows whisking
the flies from their flanks at the edge of the shorn meadow and its
aspens, seen beneath the curved roof of a broad oak-branch. Save for
this happy upward curve of the branch, we are encompassed by breathless
foliage; even the gloom was hot; the little insects that are food for
fish tried a flight and fell on the water's surface, as if panting. Here
and there, a sullen fish consented to take them, and a circle spread,
telling of past excitement.
I had listened to the vicar's Homeric lowing for the space of a minute or
so--what some one has called, the great beast-like, bellow-like, roar and
roll of the Iliad hexameter: it stopped like a cut cord. One of the
numerous daughters of his house appeared in the arch of white cluster-
roses on the lower garden-terrace, and with an exclamation, stood
petrified at the extraordinary spectacle, and then she laughed outright.
I had hitherto resisted, but the young lady's frank and boisterous
laughter carried me along, and I too let loose a peal, and discovered
myself. The vicar, seeing me, acknowledged a consciousness of his absurd
position with a laugh as loud. As for the scapegrace girl, she went off
into a run of high-pitched shriekings like twenty woodpeckers, crying: I
Mama, mama, you look as if you were in Jordan!'
The vicar cleared his throat admonishingly, for it was apparent that Miss
Alice was giving offence to her mother, and I presume he thought it was
enough for one of the family to have done so.
'Wilt thou come out of Jordan?' I cried.
'I am sufficiently baptized with the water,' said the helpless man. . .
'Indeed, Mr. Amble,' observed his spouse, 'you can lecture a woman for
not making the best of circumstances; I hope you'll bear in mind that
it's you who are irreverent. I can endure this no longer. You deserve
Mr. Pollingray's ridicule.'
Upon this, I interposed: 'Pray, ma'am, don't imagine that you have
anything but sympathy from me.'--but as I was protesting, having my mouth
open, the terrible Miss Alice dragged the laughter remorselessly out of
They have been trying Frank's new boat, Mr. Pollingray, and they've upset
it. Oh! oh' and again there was the woodpeckers' chorus.
'Alice, I desire you instantly to go and fetch John the gardener,' said
the angry mother.
'Mama, I can't move; wait a minute, only a minute. John's gone about the
geraniums. Oh! don't look so resigned, papa; you'll kill me! Mama,
come and take my hand. Oh! oh!'
The young lady put her hands in against her waist and rolled her body
like a possessed one.
'Why don't you come in through the boat-house?' she asked when she had
mastered her fit.
'Ah!' said the vicar. I beheld him struck by this new thought.
'How utterly absurd you are, Mr. Amble!' exclaimed his wife, 'when you
know that the boat-house is locked, and that the boat was lying under the
camshot when you persuaded me to step into it.'
Hearing this explanation of the accident, Alice gave way to an
'You see, my dear,' the vicar addressed his wife, she can do nothing;
it's useless. If ever patience is counselled to us, it is when accidents
befall us, for then, as we are not responsible, we know we are in other
hands, and it is our duty to be comparatively passive. Perhaps I may say
that in every difficulty, patience is a life-belt. I beg of you to be
'Mr. Amble, I shall think you foolish,' said the spouse, with a nod of
more than emphasis.
My dear, you have only to decide,' was the meek reply.
By this time, Miss Alice had so far conquered the fiend of laughter that
she could venture to summon her mother close up to the bank and extend a
rescuing hand. Mrs. Amble waded to within reach, her husband following.
Arrangements were made for Alice to pull, and the vicar to push; both in
accordance with Mrs. Amble's stipulations, for even in her extremity of
helplessness she affected rule and sovereignty. Unhappily, at the
decisive moment, I chanced (and I admit it was more than an inadvertence
on my part, it was a most ill-considered thing to do) I chanced, I say,
to call out--and that I refrained from quoting Voltaire is something in
'How on earth did you manage to tumble in?'
There can be no contest of opinion that I might have kept my curiosity
waiting, and possibly it may be said with some justification that I was
the direct cause of my friend's unparalleled behaviour; but could a
mortal man guess that in the very act of assisting his wife's return to
dry land, and while she was--if I may put it so--modestly in his hands,
he would turn about with a quotation that compared him to old Palinurus,
all the while allowing his worthy and admirable burden to sink lower and
dispread in excess upon the surface of the water, until the vantage of
her daughter's help was lost to her; I beheld the consequences of my
indiscretion, dismayed. I would have checked the preposterous Virgilian,
but in contempt of my uplifted hand and averted head, and regardless of
the fact that his wife was then literally dependent upon him, the vicar
declaimed (and the drenching effect produced by Latin upon a lady at such
a season, may be thought on):
Vix primos inopina quies laxaverat artus,
Et super incumbens, cum puppis parte revulsa
Cumque gubernaclo liquidas projecit in undas.'
It is not easy when you are unacquainted with the language, to retort
upon Latin, even when the attempt to do so is made in English. Very few
even of the uneducated ears can tolerate such anti-climax vituperative as
English after sounding Latin. Mrs. Amble kept down those sentiments
which her vernacular might have expressed. I heard but one groan that
came from her as she lay huddled indistinguishably in the, arms of her
'Not--praecipitem! I am happy to say,' my senseless friend remarked
further, and laughed cheerfully as he fortified his statement with a run
of negatives. 'No, no'; in a way peculiar to him. 'No, no. If I plant
my grey hairs anywhere, it will be on dry land: no. But, now, my dear;
he returned to his duty; why, you're down again. Come: one, two, and
He was raising a dead weight. The passion for sarcastic speech was
manifestly at war with common prudence in the bosom of Mrs. Amble;
prudence, however, overcame it. She cast on him a look of a kind that
makes matrimony terrific in the dreams of bachelors, and then wedding her
energy to the assistance given she made one of those senseless springs of
the upper half of the body, which strike the philosophic eye with the
futility of an effort that does not arise from a solid basis. Owing to
the want of concert between them, the vicar's impulsive strength was
expended when his wife's came into play. Alice clutched her mother
bravely. The vicar had force enough to stay his wife's descent; but
Alice (she boasts of her muscle) had not the force in the other
direction--and no wonder. There are few young ladies who could pull
fourteen stone sheer up a camshot.
Mrs. Amble remained in suspense between the two.
Oh, Mr. Pollingray, if you were only on this side to help us,' Miss Alice
exclaimed very piteously, though I could see that she was half mad with
the internal struggle of laughter at the parents and concern for them.
'Now, pull, Alice,' shouted the vicar.
'No, not yet,' screamed Mrs. Amble; I'm sinking.'
'Up, Ma'am; Jane; woman, up.'
'Gently, Papa: Abraham, I will not.'
'My dear, but you must.'
'And that man opposite.'
'What, Pollingray? He's fifty.'
I found myself walking indignantly down the path. Even now I protest my
friend was guilty of bad manners, though I make every allowance for him;
I excuse, I pass the order; but why--what justifies one man's bawling out
another man's age? What purpose does it serve? I suppose the vicar
wished to reassure his wife, on the principle (I have heard him enunciate
it) that the sexes are merged at fifty--by which he means, I must
presume, that something which may be good or bad, and is generally silly
--of course, I admire and respect modesty and pudeur as much as any man--
something has gone: a recognition of the bounds of division. There is,
if that is a lamentable matter, a loss of certain of our young tricks at
fifty. We have ceased to blush readily: and let me ask you to define a
blush. Is it an involuntary truth or an ingenuous lie? I know that this
will sound like the language of a man not a little jealous of his
youthful compeers. I can but leave it to rightly judging persons to
consider whether a healthy man in his prime, who has enough, and is not
cursed by ambition, need be jealous of any living soul.
A shriek from Miss Alice checked my retreating steps. The vicar was
staggering to support the breathing half of his partner while she
regained her footing in the bed of the river. Their effort to scale the
camshot had failed. Happily at this moment I caught sight of Master
Frank's boat, which had floated, bottom upwards, against a projecting
mud-bank of forget-me-nots. I contrived to reach it and right it, and
having secured one of the sculls, I pulled up to the rescue; though not
before I had plucked a flower, actuated by a motive that I cannot account
for. The vicar held the boat firmly against the camshot, while I, at the
imminent risk of joining them (I shall not forget the combined expression
of Miss Alice's retreating eyes and the malicious corners of her mouth)
hoisted the lady in, and the river with her. From the seat of the boat
she stood sufficiently high to project the step towards land without
peril. When she had set her foot there, we all assumed an attitude of
respectful attention, and the vicar, who could soar over calamity like a
fairweather swallow, acknowledged the return of his wife to the element
with a series of apologetic yesses and short coughings.
'That would furnish a good concert for the poets,' he remarked.
'A parting, a separation of lovers; "even as a body from the watertorn,"
or "from the water plucked"; eh? do you think--"so I weep round her,
tearful in her track," an excellent--'
But the outraged woman, dripping in grievous discomfort above him, made a
'Mr. Amble, will you come on shore instantly, I have borne with your
stupidity long enough. I insist upon your remembering, sir, that you
have a family dependent upon you. Other men may commit these follies.'
This was a blow at myself, a bachelor whom the lady had never persuaded
to dream of relinquishing his freedom.
'My dear, I am coming,' said the vicar.
'Then, come at once, or I shall think you idiotic,' the wife retorted.
'I have been endeavouring,' the vicar now addressed me, 'to prove by a
practical demonstration that women are capable of as much philosophy as
men, under any sudden and afflicting revolution of circumstances.'
'And if you get a sunstroke, you will be rightly punished, and I shall
not be sorry, Mr. Amble.'
'I am coming, my dear Jane. Pray run into the house and change your
'Not till I see you out of the water, sir.'
'You are losing your temper, my love.'
'You would make a saint lose his temper, Mr. Amble.'
'There were female saints, my dear,' the vicar mildly responded; and
addressed me further: 'Up to this point, I assure you, Pollingray, no
conduct could have been more exemplary than Mrs. Amble's. I had got her
into the boat--a good boat, a capital boat--but getting in myself, we
overturned. The first impulse of an ordinary woman would have been to
reproach and scold; but Mrs. Amble succumbed only to the first impulse.
Discovering that all effort unaided to climb the bank was fruitless, she
agreed to wait patiently and make the best of circumstances; and she did;
and she learnt to enjoy it. There is marrow in every bone. My dear.
Jane, I have never admired you so much. I tried her, Pollingray, in
metaphysics. I talked to her of the opera we last heard, I think fifty
years ago. And as it is less endurable for a woman to be patient in
tribulation--the honour is greater, when she overcomes the fleshy trial.
Insomuch,' the vicar put on a bland air of abnegation of honour, 'that I
am disposed to consider any male philosopher our superior; when you've
found one, ha, ha--when you've found one. O sol pulcher! I am ready to
sing that the day has been glorious, so far. Pulcher ille dies.'
Mrs. Amble appealed to me. 'Would anybody not swear that he is mad to
see him standing waist-deep in the water and the sun on his bald head,
I am reduced to entreat you not to--though you have no family of your
own--not to encourage him. It is amusing to you. Pray, reflect that
such folly is too often fatal. Compel him to come on shore.'
The logic of the appeal was no doubt distinctly visible in the lady's
mind, though it was not accurately worded. I saw that I stood marked to
be the scape goat of the day, and humbly continued to deserve well,
notwithstanding. By dint of simple signs and nods of affirmative,
and a constant propulsion of my friend's arm, I drew him into the boat,
and thence projected him up to the level with his wife, who had perhaps
deigned to understand that it was best to avoid the arresting of his
divergent mind by any remark during the passage, and remained silent.
No sooner was he established on his feet, than she plucked him away.
'Your papa's hat,' she called, flashing to her daughter, and streamed up
the lawn into the rose-trellised pathways leading on aloft to the
vicarage house. Behind roses the weeping couple disappeared. The last I
saw of my friend was a smiting of his hand upon his head in a vain effort
to catch at one of the fleeting ideas sowed in him by the quick passage
of objects before his vision, and shaken out of him by abnormal hurry.
The Rev. Abraham Amble had been lord of his wife in the water, but his
innings was over. He had evidently enjoyed it vastly, and I now
understood why he had chosen to prolong it as much as possible. Your
eccentric characters are not uncommonly amateurs of petty artifice.
There are hours of vengeance even for henpecked men.
I found myself sighing over the enslaved condition of every Benedict of
my acquaintance, when the thought came like a surprise that I was alone
with Alice. The fair and pleasant damsel made a clever descent into the
boat, and having seated herself, she began to twirl the scull in the
rowlock, and said: 'Do you feel disposed to join me in looking after the
other scull and papa's hat, Mr. Pollingray?' I suggested 'Will you not
get your feet wet? I couldn't manage to empty all the water in the
'Oh' cried she, with a toss of her head; I wet feet never hurt young
There was matter for an admonitory lecture in this. Let me confess I was
about to give it, when she added: But Mr. Pollingray, I am really afraid
that your feet are wet! You had to step into the water when you righted
My reply was to jump down by her side with as much agility as I could
combine with a proper discretion. The amateur craft rocked
threateningly, and I found myself grasped by and grasping the pretty
damsel, until by great good luck we were steadied and preserved from the
same misfortune which had befallen her parents. She laughed and blushed,
and we tottered asunder.
'Would you have talked metaphysics to me in the water, Mr. Pollingray?'
Alice was here guilty of one of those naughty sort of innocent speeches
smacking of Eve most strongly; though, of course, of Eve in her best
I took the rudder lines to steer against the sculling of her single
scull, and was Adam enough to respond to temptation: 'I should perhaps
have been grateful to your charitable construction of it as being
She laughed colloquially, to fill a pause. It had not been coquetry:
merely the woman unconsciously at play. A man is bound to remember the
seniority of his years when this occurs, for a veteran of ninety and a
worn out young debauchee will equally be subject to it if they do not
shun the society of the sex. My long robust health and perfect self-
reliance apparently tend to give me unguarded moments, or lay me open to
fitful impressions. Indeed there are times when I fear I have the heart
of a boy, and certainly nothing more calamitous can be conceived,
supposing that it should ever for one instant get complete mastery of my
head. This is the peril of a man who has lived soberly. Do we never
know when we are safe? I am, in reflecting thereupon, positively
prepared to say that if there is no fool like what they call an old fool
(and a man in his prime, who can be laughed at, is the world's old fool)
there is wisdom in the wild oats theory, and I shall come round to my
nephew's way of thinking: that is, as far as Master Charles by his acting
represents his thinking. I shall at all events be more lenient in my
judgement of him, and less stern in my allocutions, for I shall have no
text to preach from.
We picked up the hat and the scull in one of the little muddy bays of our
brown river, forming an amphitheatre for water-rats and draped with great
dockleaves, nettle-flowers, ragged robins, and other weeds for which the
learned young lady gave the botanical names. It was pleasant to hear her
speak with the full authority of absolute knowledge of her subject. She
has intelligence. She is decidedly too good for Charles, unless he
changes his method of living.
'Shall we row on?' she asked, settling her arms to work the pair of
'You have me in your power,' said I, and she struck out. Her shape is
exceedingly graceful; I was charmed by the occasional tightening in of
her lips as she exerted her muscle, while at intervals telling me of her
race with one of her boastful younger brothers, whom she had beaten.
I believe it is only when they are using physical exertion that the eyes
of young girls have entire simplicity--the simplicity of nature as
opposed to that other artificial simplicity which they learn from their
governesses, their mothers, and the admiration of witlings. Attractive
purity, or the nice glaze of no comprehension of anything which is
considered to be improper in a wicked world, and is no doubt very useful,
is not to my taste. French girls, as a rule, cannot compete with our
English in the purer graces. They are only incomparable when as women
they have resort to art.
Alice could look at me as she rowed, without thinking it necessary to
force a smile, or to speak, or to snigger and be foolish. I felt towards
the girl like a comrade.
We went no further than Hatchard's mile, where the water plumps the poor
sleepy river from a sidestream, and, as it turned the boat's head quite
round, I let the boat go. These studies of young women are very well as
a pastime; but they soon cease to be a recreation. She forms an
agreeable picture when she is rowing, and possesses a musical laugh. Now
and then she gives way to the bad trick of laughing without caring or
daring to explain the cause for it. She is moderately well-bred. I hope
that she has principle. Certain things a man of my time of life learns
by associating with very young people which are serviceable to him. What
a different matter this earth must be to that girl from what it is to me!
I knew it before. And--mark the difference--I feel it now.
Papa never will cease to meet with accidents and adventures. If he only
walks out to sit for half an hour with one of his old dames, as he calls
them, something is sure to happen to him, and it is almost as sure that
Mr. Pollingray will be passing at the time and mixed up in it.
Since Mr. Pollingray's return from his last residence on the Continent,
I have learnt to know him and like him. Charles is unjust to his uncle.
He is not at all the grave kind of man I expected from Charles's
description. He is extremely entertaining, and then he understands the
world, and I like to hear him talk, he is so unpretentious and uses just
the right words. No one would imagine his age, from his appearance, and
he has more fun than any young man I have listened to.
But, I am convinced I have discovered his weakness. It is my fatal.
peculiarity that I cannot be with people ten minutes without seeing some
point about them where they are tenderest. Mr. Pollingray wants to be
thought quite youthful. He can bear any amount of fatigue; he is always
fresh and a delightful companion; but you cannot get him to show even a
shadow of exhaustion or to admit that he ever knew what it was to lie
down beaten. This is really to pretend that he is superhuman. I like
him so much that I could wish him superior to such--it is nothing other
than--vanity. Which is worse? A young man giving himself the air of a
sage, or--but no one can call Mr. Pollingray an old man. He is a
confirmed bachelor. That puts the case. Charles, when he says of him
that he is a 'gentleman in a good state of preservation,' means to be
ironical. I doubt whether Charles at fifty would object to have the same
said of Mr. Charles Everett. Mr. Pollingray has always looked to his
health. He has not been disappointed. I am sure he was always very
good. But, whatever he was, he is now very pleasant, and he does not
talk to women as if he thought them singular, and feel timid, I mean,
confused, as some men show that they feel--the good ones. Perhaps he
felt so once, and that is why he is still free. Charles's dread that his
uncle will marry is most unworthy. He never will, but why should he not?
Mama declares that he is waiting for a woman of intellect, I can hear
her: 'Depend upon it, a woman of intellect will marry Dayton Manor.'
Should that mighty event not come to pass, poor Charles will have to sink
the name of Everett in that of Pollingray. Mr. Pollingray's name is the
worst thing about him. When I think of his name I see him ten times
older than he is. My feelings are in harmony with his pedigree
concerning the age of the name. One would have to be a woman of
profound intellect to see the advantage of sharing it.
'Mrs. Pollingray!' She must be a lady with a wig.
It was when we were rowing up by Hatchard's mill that I first perceived
his weakness, he was looking at me so kindly, and speaking of his
friendship for papa, and how glad he was to be fixed at last, near to us
at Dayton. I wished to use some term of endearment in reply, and said,
I remember, 'Yes, and we are also glad, Godpapa.' I was astonished that
he should look so disconcerted, and went on: 'Have you forgotten that you
are my godpapa?'
He answered: 'Am I? Oh! yes--the name of Alice.'
Still he looked uncertain, uncomfortable, and I said, 'Do you want to
cancel the past, and cast me off?'
'No, certainly not'; he, I suppose, thought he was assuring me.
I saw his lips move at the words I cancel the past,' though he did not
speak them out. He positively blushed. I know the sort of young man he
must have been. Exactly the sort of young man mama would like for a son-
in-law, and her daughters would accept in pure obedience when reduced to
be capable of the virtue by rigorous diet, or consumption.
He let the boat go round instantly. This was enough for me. It struck
me then that when papa had said to mama (as he did in that absurd
situation) 'He is fifty,' Mr. Pollingray must have heard it across the
river, for he walked away hurriedly. He came back, it is true, with the
boat, but I have my own ideas. He is always ready to do a service, but
on this occasion I think it was an afterthought. I shall not venture to
call him 'Godpapa' again.
Indeed, if I have a desire, it is that I may be blind to people's
weakness. My insight is inveterate. Papa says he has heard Mr.
Pollingray boast of his age. If so, there has come a change over him.
I cannot be deceived. I see it constantly. After my unfortunate speech,
Mr. Pollingray shunned our house for two whole weeks, and scarcely bowed
to us when coming out of church. Miss Pollingray idolises him--spoils
him. She says that he is worth twenty of Charles. Nous savons ce que
nous savons, nous autres. Charles is wild, but Charles would be above
these littlenesses. How could Miss Pollingray comprehend the romance of
My sister Evelina is now Mr. Pollingray's favourite. She could not say
Godpapa to him, if she would. Persons who are very much petted at home,
are always establishing favourites abroad. For my part, let them praise
me or not, I know that I can do any thing I set my mind upon. At present
I choose to be frivolous. I know I am frivolous. What then? If there
is fun in the world am I not to laugh at it? I shall astonish them by
and by. But, I will laugh while I can. I am sure, there is so much
misery in the world, it is a mercy to be able to laugh. Mr. Pollingray
may think what he likes of me. When Charles tells me that I must do my
utmost to propitiate his uncle, he cannot mean that I am to refrain from
laughing, because that is being a hypocrite, which I may become when I
have gone through all the potential moods and not before.
It is preposterous to suppose that I am to be tied down to the views of
life of elderly people.
I dare say I did laugh a little too much the other night, but could I
help it? We had a dinner party. Present were Mr. Pollingray, Mrs.
Kershaw, the Wilbury people (three), Charles, my brother Duncan, Evelina,
mama, papa, myself, and Mr. and Mrs. (put them last for emphasis) Romer
Pattlecombe, Mrs. Pattlecombe (the same number of syllables as
Pollingray, and a 'P' to begin with) is thirty-one years her husband's
junior, and she is twenty-six; full of fun, and always making fun of him,
the mildest, kindest, goody old thing, who has never distressed himself
for anything and never will. Mrs. Romer not only makes fun, but is fun.
When you have done laughing with her, you can laugh at her. She is the
salt of society in these parts. Some one, as we were sitting on the lawn
after dinner, alluded to the mishap to papa and mama, and mama, who has
never forgiven Mr. Pollingray for having seen her in her ridiculous
plight, said that men were in her opinion greater gossips than women.
'That is indisputable, ma'am,' said Mr. Pollingray, he loves to bewilder
her; 'only, we never mention it.'
'There is an excuse for us,' said Mrs. Romer; 'our trials are so great,
we require a diversion, and so we talk of others.'
'Now really,' said Charles, 'I don't think your trials are equal to
For which remark papa bantered him, and his uncle was sharp on him; and
Charles, I know, spoke half seriously, though he was seeking to draw Mrs.
Romer out: he has troubles.
From this, we fell upon a comparison of sufferings, and Mrs. Romer took
up the word. She is a fair, smallish, nervous woman, with delicate hands
and outlines, exceedingly sympathetic; so much so that while you are
telling her anything, she makes half a face in anticipation, and is ready
to shriek with laughter or shake her head with uttermost grief; and
sometimes, if you let her go too far in one direction, she does both.
All her narrations are with ups and downs of her hands, her eyes, her
chin, and her voice. Taking poor, good old Mr. Romer by the roll of his
coat, she made as if posing him, and said: 'There! Now, it's all very
well for you to say that there is anything equal to a woman's sufferings
in this world. I do declare you know nothing of what we unhappy women
have to endure. It's dreadful! No male creature can possibly know what
tortures I have to undergo.'
Mama neatly contrived, after interrupting her, to divert the subject.
I think that all the ladies imagined they were in jeopardy, but I knew
Mrs. Romer was perfectly to be trusted. She has wit which pleases,
jusqu'aux ongles, and her sense of humour never overrides her discretion
with more than a glance--never with preparation.
'Now,' she pursued, 'let me tell you what excruciating trials I have to
go through. This man,' she rocked the patient old gentleman to and fro,
'this man will be the death of me. He is utterly devoid of a sense of
propriety. Again and again I say to him--cannot the tailor cut down
these trowsers of yours? Yes, Mr. Amble, you preach patience to women,
but this is too much for any woman's endurance. Now, do attempt to
picture to yourself what an agony it must be to me:--he will shave, and
he will wear those enormously high trowsers that, when they are braced,
reach up behind to the nape of his neck! Only yesterday morning, as I
was lying in bed, I could see him in his dressing-room. I tell you: he
will shave, and he will choose the time for shaving early after he has
braced these immensely high trowsers that make such a placard of him.
Oh, my goodness! My dear Romer, I have said to him fifty times if I have
said it once, my goodness me! why can you not get decent trowsers such as
other men wear? He has but one answer--he has been accustomed to wear
those trowsers, and he would not feel at home in another pair. And what
does he say if I continue to complain? and I cannot but continue to
complain, for it is not only moral, it is physical torment to see the
sight he makes of himself; he says: "My dear, you should not have married
an old man." What! I say to him, must an old man wear antiquated
trowsers? No! nothing will turn him; those are his habits. But, you
have not heard the worst. The sight of those hideous trowsers totally
destroying all shape in the man, is horrible enough; but it is absolutely
more than a woman can bear to see him--for he will shave--first cover his
face with white soap with that ridiculous centre-piece to his trowsers
reaching quite up to his poll, and then, you can fancy a woman's rage and
anguish! the figure lifts its nose by the extremist tip. Oh! it's
degradation! What respect can a woman have for her husband after that
sight? Imagine it! And I have implored him to spare me. It's useless.
You sneer at our hbops and say that you are inconvenienced by them but
you gentlemen are not degraded,--Oh! unutterably!--as I am every morning
of my life by that cruel spectacle of a husband.'
I have but faintly sketched Mrs. Romer's style. Evelina, who is prudish
and thinks her vulgar, refused to laugh, but it came upon me, as the
picture of 'your own old husband,' with so irresistibly comic an effect
that I was overcome by convulsions of laughter. I do not defend myself.
It was as much a fit as any other attack. I did all I could to arrest
it. At last, I ran indoors and upstairs to my bedroom and tried hard to
become dispossessed. I am sure I was an example of the sufferings of my
sex. It could hardly have been worse for Mrs. Romer than it was for me.
I was drowned in internal laughter long after I had got a grave face.
Early in the evening Mr. Pollingray left us.
I am carried by the fascination of a musical laugh. Apparently I am
doomed to hear it at my own expense. We are secure from nothing in this
I have determined to stand for the county. An unoccupied man is a prey
to every hook of folly. Be dilettante all your days, and you might as
fairly hope to reap a moral harvest as if you had chased butterflies.
The activities created by a profession or determined pursuit are
necessary to the growth of the mind.
Heavens! I find myself writing like an illegitimate son of La
Rochefoucauld, or of Vauvenargues. But, it is true that I am fifty years
old, and I am not mature. I am undeveloped somewhere.
The question for me to consider is, whether this development is to be
accomplished by my being guilty of an act of egregious folly.
Dans la cinquantaine! The reflection should produce a gravity in men.
Such a number of years will not ring like bridal bells in a man's ears.
I have my books about me, my horses, my dogs, a contented household.
I move in the centre of a perfect machine, and I am dissatisfied. I rise
early. I do not digest badly. What is wrong?
The calamity of my case is that I am in danger of betraying what is wrong
with me to others, without knowing it myself. Some woman will be
suspecting and tattling, because she has nothing else to do. Girls have
wonderfully shrewd eyes for a weakness in the sex which they are
instructed to look upon as superior. But I am on my guard.
The fact is manifest: I feel I have been living more or less uselessly.
It is a fat time. There are a certain set of men in every prosperous
country who, having wherewithal, and not being compelled to toil, become
subjected to the moral ideal. Most of them in the end sit down with our
sixth Henry or second Richard and philosophise on shepherds. To be no
better than a simple hind! Am I better? Prime bacon and an occasional
draft of shrewd beer content him, and they do not me. Yet I am sound,
and can sit through the night and be ready, and on the morrow I shall
stand for the county.
I made the announcement that I had thoughts of entering Parliament,
before I had half formed the determination, at my sister's lawn party
'Gilbert!' she cried, and raised her hands. A woman is hurt if you do
not confide to her your plans as soon as you can conceive them. She must
be present to assist at the birth, or your plans are unblessed plans.
I had been speaking aside in a casual manner to my friend Amble, whose
idea is that the Church is not represented with sufficient strength in
the Commons, and who at once, as I perceived, grasped the notion of
getting me to promote sundry measures connected with schools and clerical
stipends, for his eyes dilated; he said: 'Well, if you do, I can put you
up to several things,' and imparting the usual chorus of yesses to his
own mind, he continued absently: 'Pollingray might be made strong on
church rates. There is much to do. He has lived abroad and requires
schooling in these things. We want a man. Yes, yes, yes. It's a good
idea; a notion.'
My sister, however, was of another opinion. She did me the honour to
take me aside.
'Gilbert, were you serious just now?'
'Quite serious. Is it not my characteristic?'
'Not on these occasions. I saw the idea come suddenly upon you. You
were looking at Charles.'
'Continue: and at what was he looking?'
'He was looking at Alice Amble.'
'And the young lady?'
'She looked at you.'
I was here attacked by a singularly pertinacious fly, and came out of the
contest with a laugh.
'Did she have that condescension towards me? And from the glance,
my resolution to enter Parliament was born? It is the French
vaudevilliste's doctrine of great events from little causes. The slipper
of a soubrette trips the heart of a king and changes the destiny of a
nation-the history of mankind. It may be true. If I were but shot into
the House from a little girl's eye!'
With this I took her arm gaily, walked with her, and had nearly
overreached myself with excess of cunning. I suppose we are reduced to
see more plainly that which we systematically endeavour to veil from
others. It is best to flutter a handkerchief, instead of nailing up a
curtain. The principal advantage is that you may thereby go on deceiving
yourself, for this reason: few sentiments are wholly matter of fact; but
when they are half so, you make them concrete by deliberately seeking
either to crush or conceal them, and you are doubly betrayed--betrayed
to the besieging eye and to yourself. When a sentiment has grown to be
a passion (mercifully may I be spared!) different tactics are required.
By that time, you will have already betrayed yourself too deeply to dare
to be flippant: the investigating eye is aware that it has been purposely
diverted: knowing some things, it makes sure of the rest from which you
turn it away. If you want to hide a very grave case, you must speak
gravely about it.--At which season, be but sure of your voice, and
simulate a certain depth of sentimental philosophy, and you may once
more, and for a long period, bewilder the investigator of the secrets of
your bosom. To sum up: in the preliminary stages of a weakness, be
careful that you do not show your own alarm, or all will be suspected.
Should the weakness turn to fever, let a little of it be seen, like a
careless man, and nothing will really be thought.
I can say this, I can do this; and is it still possible that a pin's
point has got through the joints of the armour of a man like me?
Elizabeth quitted my side with the conviction that I am as considerate an
uncle as I am an affectionate brother.
I said to her, apropos, 'I have been observing those two. It seems to me
they are deciding things for themselves.'
'I have been going to speak to you about them Gilbert,' said she.
And I: 'The girl must be studied. The family is good. While Charles is
in Wales, you must have her at Dayton. She laughs rather vacantly, don't
you think? but the sound of it has the proper wholesome ring. I will
give her what attention I can while she is here, but in the meantime I
must have a bride of my own and commence courting.'
'Parliament, you mean,' said Elizabeth with a frank and tender smile.
The hostess was summoned to welcome a new guest, and she left me, pleased
with her successful effort to reach my meaning, and absorbed by it.
I would not have challenged Machiavelli; but I should not have
encountered the Florentine ruefully. I feel the same keen delight in
intellectual dexterity. On some points my sister is not a bad match for
me. She can beat me seven games out of twelve at chess; but the five I
win sequently, for then I am awake. There is natural art and artificial
art, and the last beats the first. Fortunately for us, women are
strangers to the last. They have had to throw off a mask before they
have, got the schooling; so, when they are thus armed we know what we
meet, and what are the weapons to be used.
Alice, if she is a fine fencer at all, will expect to meet the ordinary
English squire in me. I have seen her at the baptismal font! It is
inconceivable. She will fancy that at least she is ten times more subtle
than I. When I get the mastery--it is unlikely to make me the master.
What may happen is, that the nature of the girl will declare itself,
under the hard light of intimacy, vulgar. Charles I cause to be absent
for six weeks; so there will be time enough for the probation. I do not
see him till he returns. If by chance I had come earlier to see him and
he to allude to her, he would have had my conscience on his side, and
that is what a scrupulous man takes care to prevent.
I wonder whether my friends imagine me to be the same man whom they knew
as Gilbert Pollingray a month back? I see the change, I feel the change;
but I have no retrospection, no remorse, no looking forward, no feeling:
none for others, very little, for myself. I am told that I am losing
fluency as a dinner-table talker. There is now more savour to me in a
silvery laugh than in a spiced wit. And this is the man who knows women,
and is far too modest to give a decided opinion upon any of their merits.
Search myself through as I may, I cannot tell when the change began, or
what the change consists of, or what is the matter with me, or what charm
there is in the person who does the mischief. She is the counterpart of
dozens of girls; lively, brown-eyed, brown-haired, underbred--it is not
too harsh to say so--underbred slightly; half-educated, whether
quickwitted I dare not opine. She is undoubtedly the last whom I or
another person would have fixed upon as one to work me this unmitigated
evil. I do not know her, and I believe I do not care to know her, and I
am thirsting for the hour to come when I shall study her. Is not this to
have the poison of a bite in one's blood? The wrath of Venus is not a
fable. I was a hard reader and I despised the sex in my youth, before
the family estates fell to me; since when I have playfully admired the
sex; I have dallied with a passion, and not read at all, save for
diversion: her anger is not a fable. You may interpret many a mythic
tale by the facts which lie in your own blood. My emotions have lain
altogether dormant in sentimental attachment. I have, I suppose, boasted
of, Python slain, and Cupid has touched me up with an arrow. I trust to
my own skill rather than to his mercy for avoiding a second from his
quiver. I will understand this girl if I have to submit to a close
intimacy with her for six months. There is no doubt of the elegance of
her movements. Charles might as well take his tour, and let us see him
again next year. Yes, her movements are (or will be) gracious. In a
year's time she will have acquired the fuller tones and poetry of
womanliness. Perhaps then, too, her smile will linger instead of
flashing. I have known infinitely lovelier women than she. One I have
known! but let her be. Louise and I have long since said adieu.
Behold me installed in Dayton Manor House, and brought here for the
express purpose (so Charles has written me word) of my being studied,
that it may be seen whether I am worthy to be, on some august future
occasion--possibly--a member (Oh, so much to mumble!) of this great
family. Had I known it when I was leaving home, I should have
countermanded the cording of my boxes. If you please, I do the packing,
and not the cording. I must practise being polite, or I shall be
horrifying these good people.
I am mortally offended. I am very very angry. I shall show temper.
Indeed, I have shown it. Mr. Pollingray must and does think me a goose.
Dear sir, and I think you are justified. If any one pretends to guess
how, I have names to suit that person. I am a ninny, an ape, and mind
I call myself these bad things because I deserve worse. I am flighty,
I believe I am heartless. Charles is away, and I suffer no pangs.
The truth is, I fancied myself so exceedingly penetrating, and it was my
vanity looking in a glass. I saw something that answered to my nods and
howd'ye-do's and--but I am ashamed, and so penitent I might begin making
a collection of beetles. I cannot lift up my head.
Mr. Pollingray is such a different man from the one I had imagined!
What that one was, I have now quite forgotten. I remember too clearly
what the wretched guesser was. I have been three weeks at Dayton, and if
my sisters know me when I return to the vicarage, they are not foolish
virgins. For my part, I know that I shall always hate Mrs. Romer
Pattlecombe, and that I am unjust to the good woman, but I do hate her,
and I think the stories shocking, and wonder intensely what it was that I
could have found in them to laugh at. I shall never laugh again for many
years. Perhaps, when I am an old woman, I may. I wish the time had
come. All young people seem to me so helplessly silly. I am one of them
for the present, and have no hope that I can appear to be anything else.
The young are a crowd--a shoal of small fry. Their elders are the select
of the world.
On the morning of the day when I was to leave home for Dayton, a distance
of eight miles, I looked out of my window while dressing--as early as
halfpast seven--and I saw Mr. Pollingray's groom on horseback, leading up
and down the walk a darling little, round, plump, black cob that made my
heart leap with an immense bound of longing to be on it and away across
the downs. And then the maid came to my door with a letter:
'Mr. Pollingray, in return for her considerate good behaviour and saving
of trouble to him officially, begs his goddaughter to accept the
accompanying little animal: height 14 h., age 31 years; hunts, is sure-
footed, and likely to be the best jumper in the county.'
I flew downstairs. I rushed out of the house and up to my treasure, and
kissed his nose and stroked his mane. I could not get my fingers away
from him. Horses are so like the very best and beautifullest of women
when you caress them. They show their pleasure so at being petted. They
curve their necks, and paw, and look proud. They take your flattery like
sunshine and are lovely in it. I kissed my beauty, peering at his black-
mottled skin, which is like Allingborough Heath in the twilight. The
smell of his new saddle and bridle-leather was sweeter than a garden to
me. The man handed me a large riding-whip mounted with silver. I longed
to jump up and ride till midnight.
Then mama and papa came out and read the note and looked, at my darling
little cob, and my sisters saw him and kissed me, for they are not
envious girls. The most distressing thing was that we had not a riding-
habit in the family. I was ready to wear any sort. I would have ridden
as a guy rather than not ride at all. But mama gave me a promise that in
two days a riding-habit should be sent on to Dayton, and I had to let my
pet be led back from where he came. I had no life till I was following
him. I could have believed him to be a fairy prince who had charmed me.
I called him Prince Leboo, because he was black and good. I forgive
anybody who talks about first love after what my experience has been with
What papa thought of the present I do not know, but I know very well what
mama thought: and for my part I thought everything, not distinctly
including that, for I could not suppose such selfishness in one so
generous as Mr. Pollingray. But I came to Dayton in a state of arrogant
pride, that gave assurance if not ease to my manners. I thanked Mr.
Pollingray warmly, but in a way to let him see it was the matter of a
horse between us. 'You give, I register thanks, and there's an end.'
'He thinks me a fool! a fool!
'My habit,' I said, 'comes after me. I hope we shall have some rides
'Many,' replied Mr. Pollingray, and his bow inflated me with ideas of my
And because Miss Pollingray (Queen Elizabeth he calls her) looked half
sad, I read it--! I do not write what I read it to be.
Behold the uttermost fool of all female creation led over the house by
Mr. Pollingray. He showed me the family pictures.
'I am no judge of pictures, Mr. Pollingray.'
'You will learn to see the merits of these.'
'I'm afraid not, though I were to study them for years.'
'You may have that opportunity.'
'Oh! that is more than I can expect.'
'You will develop intelligence on such subjects by and by.'
A dull sort of distant blow struck me in this remark; but I paid no heed
He led me over the gardens and the grounds. The Great John Methlyn
Pollingray planted those trees, and designed the house, and the flower-
garden still speaks of his task; but he is not my master, and
consequently I could not share his three great-grandsons' veneration for
him. There are high fir-woods and beech woods, and a long ascending
narrow meadow between them, through which a brook falls in continual
cascades. It is the sort of scene I love, for it has a woodland grandeur
and seclusion that leads, me to think, and makes a better girl of me.
But what I said was: 'Yes, it is the place of all others to come and
settle in for the evening of one's days.'
'You could not take to it now?' said Mr. Pollingray.
'Now?' my expression of face must have been a picture.
'You feel called upon to decline such a residence in the morning of your
He persisted in looking at me as he spoke, and I felt like something
I am convinced he saw through me, while his face was polished brass. My
self-possession returned, for my pride was not to be dispersed
'Please, take me to the stables,' I entreated; and there I was at home.
There I saw my Prince Leboo, and gave him a thousand caresses.'
'He knows me already,' I said.
Then he is some degrees in advance of me,' said Mr. Pollingray.
Is not cold dissection of one's character a cruel proceeding? And I
think, too, that a form of hospitality like this by which I am invited to
be analysed at leisure, is both mean and base. I have been kindly
treated and I am grateful, but I do still say (even though I may have
improved under it) it is unfair.
To proceed: the dinner hour arrived. The atmosphere of his own house
seems to favour Mr. Pollingray as certain soils and sites favour others.
He walked into the dining-room between us with his hands behind him,
talking to us both so easily and smoothly cheerfully--naturally and
pleasantly--inimitable by any young man! You hardly feel the change of
room. We were but three at table, but there was no lack of
entertainment. Mr. Pollingray is an admirable host; he talks just enough
himself and helps you to talk. What does comfort me is that it gives him
real pleasure to see a hearty appetite. Young men, I know it for a
certainty, never quite like us to be so human. Ah! which is right?
I would not miss the faith in our nobler essence which Charles has.
But, if it nobler? One who has lived longer in the world ought to know
better, and Mr. Pollingray approves of naturalness in everything. I have
now seen through Charles's eyes for several months; so implicitly that I
am timid when I dream of trusting to another's judgement. It is,
however, a fact that I am not quite natural with Charles.
Every day Mr. Pollingray puts on evening dress out of deference to his
sister. If young men had these good habits they would gain our respect,
and lose their own self-esteem less early.
After dinner I sang. Then Mr. Pollingray read an amusing essay to us,
and retired to his library. Miss Pollingray sat and talked to me of
her brother, and of her nephew--for whom it is that Mr. Pollingray is
beginning to receive company, and is going into society. Charles's
subsequently received letter explained the 'receive company.' I could
not comprehend it at the time.
'The house has been shut up for years, or rarely inhabited by us for more
than a month in the year. Mr. Pollingray prefers France. All his
asociations, I may say his sympathies, are in France. Latterly he seems
to have changed a little; but from Normandy to Touraine and Dauphiny--we
had a triangular home over there. Indeed, we have it still. I am never
certain of my brother.'
While Miss Pollingray was speaking, my eyes were fixed on a Vidal crayon
drawing, faintly coloured with chalks, of a foreign lady--I could have
sworn to her being French--young, quite girlish, I doubt if her age was
more than mine.
She is pretty, is she not?' said Miss Pollingray.
She is almost beautiful,' I exclaimed, and Miss Pollingray, seeing my
curiosity, was kind enough not to keep me in suspense.
'That is the Marquise de Mazardouin--nee Louise de Riverolles. You will
Back to Full Books