Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/Evan Harrington - Part 19
EVAN HARRINGTON; or, HE WOULD BE A GENTLEMAN.
BY GEORGE MEREDITH.
CHAPTER XXV.IN WHICH THE STREAM FLOWS MUDDY AND CLEAR.
You will think it odd, not to say reprehensible, and a fatal declension from heroics, that Miss Rose Jocelyn should devote the better part of the day following her love-avowal, to dog-breaking; and I doubt not that you wonder how a young man could be inspired by such a person with transcendent, with holy, and with melting images. It was that Evan felt the soul of Rose, and felt it akin to his own. Her tastes, her habits, could not obscure the bright and perfect steadfastness which was in her, and which Evan worshipped more than her face; and indeed that firm truth of her character gave a charm to all her actions. Among girls you have creatures of the morning, of the night, and of the twilight. Rose was of Aurora’s train: soft when you caught her, shy in your shadow; capable of melting wholly to your kiss, but untroubled, and light-limbed, and brisk, a fresh young maid when you withdrew the charm. Her friend Jenny Graine flitted bat-like round William’s figure, and Juliana Bonner loved sombrely. There are some who neither thoroughly sleep nor thoroughly waken, but dream while they walk, and toss while they lie. Rose was a cool sleeper, and the light flowed into her open eyes as into a house that lifts the blinds. Slightly, perhaps, even while dog-breaking, a little thought would thrill her, and move a quivering corner in her lips. but it passed like a happy bird from the bough, and was as innocent under heaven.
An Irish retriever-pup of the Shannon breed, Pat, by name, was undergoing tuition on the sward close by the kennels, Rose’s hunting-whip being passed through his collar to restrain erratic propensities. The particular point of instruction which now made poor Pat hang out his tongue, and agitate his crisp brown curls, was the performance of the “down-charge;” a ceremony demanding implicit obedience from the animal in the midst of volatile gambadoes, and a simulation of profound repose when his desire to be up and bounding was mighty. Pat’s Irish eyes were watching Rose, as he lay with his head couched between his fore-paws in the required attitude. He had but half learnt his lesson, and something in his half-humorous half-melancholy look talked to Rose more eloquently than her friend Ferdinand at her elbow. Laxley was her assistant dog-breaker. Rose would not abandon her friends because she had accepted a lover. On the contrary, Rose was very kind to Ferdinand, and perhaps felt bound to be so to-day. To-day, also, her face was lighted very sweetly. A readiness to colour, and an expression of deeper knowledge which she now had, made the girl dangerous to friends. This was not Rose’s fault: but there is no doubt among the faculty that love is a contagious disease, and we ought not to come within a thousand miles of the creatures in whom it lodges.
Pat’s tail kept hinting to his mistress that a change would afford him great satisfaction. After a time she withdrew her wistful gaze from him, and listened entirely to Ferdinand; and it struck her that he spoke particularly well to-day, though she did not see so much in his eyes as in Pat’s. The subject concerned his departure, and he asked Rose if she should be sorry. Rose, to make him sure of it, threw a music into her voice dangerous to friends. For she had given heart and soul to Evan, and had a sense, therefore, of being irredeemably in debt to her old associates, and wished to be doubly kind to them.
Pat took advantage of the diversion to stand up quietly and have a shake. He then began to kiss his mistress’s hand to show that all was right on both sides; and followed this with a playful pretence at a bite, that there might be no subsequent misunderstanding, and then a bark and a whine. As no attention was paid to this amount of plain-speaking, Pat made a bolt. He got no farther than the length of the whip, and all he gained was to bring on himself the terrible word of drill once more. But Pat had tasted liberty. Irish rebellion against constituted authority was exhibited. Pat would not: his ears tossed over his head, and he jumped to right and left, and looked the raggedest rapparee that ever his ancestry trotted after. Rose laughed at his fruitless efforts to get free; but Ferdinand meditatively appeared to catch a sentiment in them.
“Down charge, sir, will you? Ah, Pat! Pat! You’ll have to obey me, my boy. Now, down charge!”
While Rose addressed the language of reason to Pat, Ferdinand slipped in a soft word or two. Presently she saw him on one knee.
“Pat won’t, and I will,” said he.
“But Pat shall, and you had better not,” said she. “Besides, my dear Ferdinand,” she added, laughing, “you don’t know how to do it.”
“Do you want me prostrate on all fours, Rose?”
“No. I hope not. Do get up, Ferdinand. You’ll be seen from the windows.”
Instead of quitting his posture, he caught her hand, and scared her with a declaration.
“Of all men, you to be on your knees! and to me, Ferdinand!” she cried, in utter discomfort.
“Why shouldn’t I, Rose?” was this youth’s answer.
He had somehow got the idea that foreign cavalier manners would take with her; but it was not so easy to make his speech correspond with his posture, and he lost his opportunity, which was pretty. However, he spoke plain English. The interview ended by Rose releasing Pat from drill, and running off in a hurry. Where was Evan? She must have his consent to speak to her mother and prevent a recurrence of these silly scenes.
Evan was with Caroline, his sister. After Mr. Raikes had driven off, he was coming back to Rose, but seeing Laxley at her side, the lover retired. Evan could not understand why Rose had pressed Laxley to remain and assist her with the dogs. He was half jealous: not from any doubt of Rose: from mere lover’s wilfulness and despotism. Rose certainly gave Laxley most of the messages; she made him fetch and carry, and be out of the way beautifully; but then also she gave him bright smiles; she spent her divine breath on him; and once or twice he touched her!
It was contrary to the double injunction of the Countess that Caroline should receive Evan during her absence, or that he should disturb the dear invalid with a visit. These two were not unlike both in organisation and character, and they had not sat together long before they found each other out. Now, to further Evan’s love-suit, the Countess had induced Caroline to continue yet awhile in the Purgatory Beckley Court had become to her; but Evan, in speaking of Rose, expressed a determination to leave her, and Caroline caught at it.
“Can you?—will you? Oh, dear, Van! have you the courage? I—look at me—you know the home I go to, and—and I think of it here as a place to be happy in. What have our marriages done for us? Better that we had married simple, stupid men who earn their bread, and would not have been ashamed of us! And, my dearest, it is not only that. None can tell what our temptations are. Louisa has strength, but I feel I have none; and though, dear, for your true interest, I would indeed sacrifice myself—I would, Van! I would!—it is not good for you to stay,—I know it is not. For you have Papa’s sense of honour—and, Oh! if you should learn to despise me, my dear brother!”
She kissed him convulsively. Her nerves were agitated by strong mental excitement. He attributed it to her recent attack of illness, but could not help asking, while he caressed her:
“What’s that? Despise you?”
It may have been that Caroline felt then, that to speak of something was to forfeit something. A light glimmered across the dewy blue of her beautiful eyes. Desire to breathe it to him, and have his loving aid: the fear of forfeiting it, evil as it №was to her, and, at the bottom of all, that doubt we choose to encourage of the harm in a pleasant sin unaccomplished; these might be read in the rich dim gleam that swept like sunlight over sea-water between breaks of cloud.
“Dear Van! do you love her so much?”
Caroline knew too well that she was shutting her own theme with iron clasps when she once touched on Evan’s.
Love her? Love Rose? Let the skylark go up and sing of her. It became an endless carol with Evan. Caroline sighed for him from her heart.
“You know—you understand me; don’t you?” he said, after a breathless excursion of his fancy.
“I believe you love her, dear. I think I have never loved any one but my one brother.”
His love for Rose he could pour out to Caroline: when it came to Rose’s love for him his blood thickened and his tongue felt guilty. He must speak to her, he said,—tell her all.
“Yes, tell her all,” echoed Caroline. “Do, do tell her. Trust a woman utterly, if she loves you, dear. Go to her instantly.”
“Could you bear it?” said Evan. He began to think it was for the sake of his sisters that he had hesitated.
“Bear it? bear anything rather than perpetual imposture. What have I not borne? Tell her, and then, if she is cold to you, let us go. Let us go. I shall be glad to. Ah, Van! I love you so.” Caroline’s voice deepened. “I love you so, my dear. You won’t let your new love drive me out? Shall you always love me?”
Of that she might be sure, whatever happened.
“Should you love me, Van, if evil befel me?”
Thrice as well, he swore to her.
“But if I—if I, Van Oh! my life is intolerable! Supposing I should ever disgrace you in any way, and not turn out all you fancied me. I am very weak and unhappy.”
Evan kissed her confidently, with a warm smile. He said a few words of the great faith he had in her: words that were bitter comfort to Caroline. This brother who might save her, to him she dared not speak. Did she wish to be saved? She only knew that to wound Evan’s sense of honour and the high and chivalrous veneration for her sex and pride in himself, and those of his blood, would be wicked and unpardonable, and that no earthly pleasure could drown it. Thinking this, with her hands joined in pale dejection, Caroline sat silent, and Evan left her to lay bare his heart to Rose. On his way to find Rose, he met Harry Jocelyn slouching about the grounds, and Harry linked his arm in Evan’s and plunged with extraordinary spontaneity and candour into the state of his money-affairs. What the deuce he was to do for money, he did not know. From the impressive manner in which he put it, it appeared to be one of Nature’s great problems that the whole human race were bound to set their heads together to solve. A hundred pounds—Harry wanted no more, and he could not get it. His uncles? they were as poor as rats; and all the spare money they could club was going for Mel’s election expenses. A hundred and fifty was what Harry really wanted; but he could do with a hundred. Ferdinand, who had plenty, would not even lend him fifty. Ferdinand had dared to hint at a debt already unsettled, and he called himself a gentleman!
“You wouldn’t speak of money-matters now, would you, Harrington?”
“I dislike the subject, I confess,” said Evan.
“And so do I.” Harry jumped at the perfect similarity between them. “You can’t think how it bothers one to have to talk about it. You and I are tremendously alike.”
Evan might naturally suppose that a subject Harry detested he would not continue, but for a whole hour Harry turned it over and over with grim glances at Jewry.
“You see,” he wound up, “I’m in a fix. I want to help that poor girl, and one or two things——”
“It’s for that you want it?” cried Evan, brightening, to him. “Accept it from me.”
It is a thing familiar to the experience of money-borrowers, that your “last chance” is the man who is to accommodate you; but we are always astonished, nevertheless; and Harry was, when notes to the amount of the largest sum named by him were placed in his hand by one whom he looked upon as the last to lend.
“What a trump you are, Harrington!” was all he could say; and then he was for hurrying Evan into the house, to find pen and paper, and write down a memorandum of the loan; but Evan insisted upon sparing him the trouble, though Harry, with the admirable scruples of an inveterate borrower, begged hard to be allowed to bind himself legally to repay the money.
“’Pon my soul, Harrington, you make me remember I once doubted whether you were a gentleman,” said Harry. “You’ll bury that, won’t you?”
“Till your doubts recur,” Evan observed; and Harry burst out, “Gad, if you weren’t such a melancholy beggar, you’d be the jolliest fellow I know! There, go after Rosey. Dashed if I don’t think you’re ahead of Ferdinand, long chalks. Your style does for girls. I like women.”
With a chuckle and a wink, Harry swung off. Evan had now to reflect that he had just thrown away part of the price of his bondage to Tailordom; the mention of Rose filled his mind. Where was she? Both were seeking one another. Rose was in the cypress walk. He saw the star-like figure up the length of it, between the swelling tall dark pillars, and was hurrying to her, resolute not to let one minute of deception blacken further the soul that loved so true a soul. She saw him, and stood smiling, when the Countess issued, shadow-like, from a side path, and declared that she must claim her brother for a few instants. Would her sweet Rose pardon her? Rose bowed coolly. The hearts of the lovers were chilled, not that they perceived any malice in the Countess, but their keen instincts felt an evil fate.
The Countess had but to tell Evan that she had met the insolvent in apples, and recognised him under his change of fortune, and had no doubt that at least he would amuse the company. Then she asked her brother the superfluous question, whether he loved her, which Evan answered satisfactorily enough, as he thought, but practical ladies require proofs.
“Quick,” said Evan, seeing Rose vanish, “what do you want? I’ll do anything.”
“Anything? ah, but this will be disagreeable to you.”
“Name it at once. I promise beforehand.”
The Countess wanted Evan to ask Andrew to be the very best brother-in-law in the world, and win, unknown to himself, her cheerful thanks, by lending Evan to lend to her the sum of one hundred pounds, as she was in absolute distress for money.
“Really, Louisa, this is a thing you might ask him yourself,” Evan remonstrated.
“It would not become me to do so, dear,” said the Countess demurely; and inasmuch as she had already drawn on Andrew in her own person pretty largely, her views of propriety were correct in this instance.
Evan had to consent before he could be released. He ran to the end of the walk, through the portal, into the park. Rose was not to be seen. She had gone in to dress for dinner. The opportunity might recur, but would his courage come with it? His courage had sunk on a sudden; or it may have been that it was worse for this young man to ask for a loan of money, than to tell his beloved that he was basely born, vile, and unworthy, and had snared her into loving him; for when he and Andrew were together, money was not alluded to. Andrew, however, betrayed remarkable discomposure. He said plainly that he wanted to leave Beckley Court, and wondered why he didn’t leave, and whether he was on his head or his feet, and how he had been such a fool as to come.
“Do you mean that for me?” said sensitive Evan.
“Oh, you! You’re a young buck,” returned Andrew, evasively. “We common-place business men—we’re out of our element; and there’s poor Carry can’t sit down to their dinners without an upset. I thank God I’m a radical, Van; one man’s the same as another to me, how he’s born, as long as he’s honest and agreeable. But a chap like that George Uploft to look down on anybody! ’Gad, I’ve a good mind to bring in a Bill for the Abolition of the Squirearchy.”
Ultimately, Andrew somehow contrived to stick a hint or two about the terrible dinner in Evan’s quivering flesh. He did it as delicately as possible, half begging pardon, and perspiring profusely. Evan grasped his hand, and thanked him. Caroline’s illness was now explained to him.
“I’ll take Caroline with me to-morrow,” he said. “Louisa wishes to stay—there’s a pic-nic. Will you look to her, and bring her with you?”
“My dear Van,” replied Andrew, “stop with Louisa? Now, in confidence, it’s as bad as a couple of wives; no disrespect to my excellent good Harry at home; but Louisa—I don’t know how it is—but Louisa,—you lose your head, you’re in a whirl, you’re an automaton, a teetotum! I haven’t a notion what I’ve been doing or saying since I came here. My belief is, I’ve been lying right and left. I shall be found out to a certainty. Oh! if she’s made her mind up for the pic-nic, somebody must stop. I can only tell you, Van, it’s one perpetual vapour-bath to me. There’ll be room for two in my trousers when I get back. I shall have to get the tailor to take them in a full half.”
Here occurred an opening for one of those acrid pleasantries which console us when there is horrid warfare within.
“You must give me the work,” said Evan, partly pleased with himself for being able to jest on the subject, as a piece of preliminary self-conquest.
“Aha!” went Andrew, as if the joke were too good to be dwelt on; “’Hem;” and by way of diverting from it cleverly and naturally, he remarked that the weather was fine. This made Evan allude to his letter written from Lymport, upon which Andrew said: “Tush! pish! humbug! nonsense! won’t hear a word. Don’t know anything about it. Van, you’re going to be a brewer. I say you are. You’re afraid you can’t? I tell you, sir, I’ve got a bet on it. You’re not going to make me lose, are you—eh? I have, and a stiff bet, too. You must and shall, so there’s an end. Only we can’t make arrangements just yet, my boy. Old Tom—very good old fellow—but you know—must get old Tom out of the way first. Now go and dress for dinner. And Lord preserve us from the Great Mel to-day!” Andrew mumbled as he turned away.
Evan could not reach his chamber without being waylaid by the Countess. Had he remembered the sister who sacrificed so much for him? “There, there!” cried Evan, and her hand closed on the delicious golden whispers of bank-notes. And “Oh, generous Andrew! dear good Evan!” were the exclamations of the gratified lady.
There remained nearly another hundred. Evan laid out the notes, and eyed them while dressing. They seemed to say to him, “We have you now.” Materially, he was bound to Tailordom before; now he was bound in honour. At the thought he turned cold; it shot him in an instant millions of miles away from sunny Rose. And he must speak to her and tell her all. How would she look? The glass brought Polly Wheedle somehow to his mind; and then came that horrible image of Rose mouthing the word “snip,” and shuddering at the hag-like ugliness it reduced her to. Speak to her, and see that aspect with his own eyes? Impossible. Besides, there was no necessity. A letter would explain everything fully. Evan walked up and down the room, rejoicing in the inspired idea of the letter, and not aware that it was the suggestion of his cowardice. The pains and aches of the word snip, too, set him thinking of his merits. He brought that mighty host to encounter the obnoxious epithet, and quite overwhelmed it; he all but stifled it. Unfortunately, it would give a faint squeak still. And in company his merits evaporated; and though there was no talk of tailors, Snip arose in its might, and was dominant. I am doing the young man a certain injustice in thus baring to you his secret soul, for he made himself agreeable, and talked affably and easily, while within him the morbid conflict was going on; but if you care for him at all, you should know the springs of his conduct.
That night the letter was written. When written, Evan burned to have Rose reading it to the end, just as condemned criminals long for instant execution. He heard a step in the passage. It was Polly Wheedle. Polly had put her young mistress to bed, and was retiring to her own slumbers. He made her take the letter and promise to deliver it immediately. Would not to-morrow morning do, she asked, as Miss Rose was very sleepy. He seemed to hesitate—he was picturing how Rose looked when very sleepy, and a delicious dreamy languor crept through his veins, and he felt an unutterable pang then. Why should he surrender this darling? And subtler question—why should he make her unhappy? Why disturb her at all in her sweet sleep?
“Well,” said Evan. “To-morrow will do.—No, take it to-night, for God’s sake!” he cried, as one who bursts the spell of an opiate. “Go at once.” The temptation had almost overcome him.
Polly thought his proceedings very queer. And what could the letter contain? A declaration, of course. She walked slowly along the passage, meditating on love, and remotely on its slave, Mr. Nicholas Frim. Nicholas had never written her a letter; but she was determined that he should, some day. She wondered what love-letters were like? Like valentines without the Cupids. Practical valentines, one might say. Not vapoury and wild, but hot and to the point. Delightful things! No harm in peeping at a love-letter, if you do it with the eye of a friend.
“I call you so for the last——”
Polly spelt thus far when a door opened at her elbow. She dropped her candle, thrust the letter in her bosom, and curtsied to the Countess’s voice. The Countess desired her to enter, and all in a tremble Polly crept in. Her air of guilt made the Countess thrill, scenting prey. She had merely called her in to extract daily gossip. The corner of the letter sticking up under Polly’s neck attracted her strangely, and beginning with the familiar “Well, child,” she talked of things interesting to Polly, and then exhibited the pic-nic dress. It was a lovely half-mourning; airy sorrows, gauzy griefs, you might imagine to constitute the wearer. White delicately striped, exquisitely trimmed, and of a stuff to make the feminine mouth water!
Could Polly refuse to try it on, when the flattering proposal met her ears? Blushing, shamefaced, adoring the lady who made her look so adorable, Polly tried it on, and the Countess complimented her, and made a doll of her, and turned her this way and that way, and intoxicated her.
“A rich husband, Polly, child! and you are a lady ready made.”
Infamous poison to poor Polly; but as the thunder destroys small insects, exalted schemers are to be excused for riding down their few thousands. Moreover, the Countess really looked upon domestics as being only half-souls.
Dressed in her own attire again, Polly felt in her pockets, and at her bosom, and sang out: “Oh, my! Oh, where! Oh!”
The letter was lost. The letter could not be found. The Countess grew extremely fatigued, and had to dismiss Polly, in spite of her eager petitions to be allowed to search under the carpets and inside the bed.
In the morning came Evan’s great trial. There stood Rose. She turned to him, and her eyes were happy and unclouded.
“You are not changed?” he said.
“Changed? what could change me?”
The God of true hearts bless her! He could hardly believe it.
“You are the Rose I knew yesterday?”
“Yes, Evan. But you—you look as if you had not slept.”
“You will not leave me this morning, before I go, Rose? Oh, my darling! this that you do for me is the work of an angel—nothing less! I have been such a coward. And my beloved! to feel vile is such agony to me—it makes me feel unworthy of the hand I press. Now all is clear between us. I go: I am forgiven.”
Rose repeated his last words, and then added hurriedly: “All is clear between us? Shall I speak to mama this morning? Dear Evan! it will be right that I should.”
For the moment he could not understand why, but supposing a scrupulous honesty in her, said: “Yes: tell Lady Jocelyn all.”
“And then, Evan, you will never need to go.”
They separated. The deep-toned sentence sang in Evan’s heart. Rose and her mother were of one stamp, and Rose might speak for her mother. To take the hands of such a pair and be lifted out of the slough, he thought no shame: and all through the hours of the morning the image of two angels stooping to touch a leper, pressed on his brain like a reality, and went divinely through his blood.
Towards mid-day Rose beckoned to him, and led him out across the lawn into the park, and along the borders of the stream.
“Evan,” she said, “shall I really speak to mama?”
“You have not yet?” he answered.
“No. I have been with Juliana and with Drummond. Look at this, Evan.” She showed a small black speck in the palm of her hand, which turned out, on your viewing it closely, to be a brand of the letter L. “Mama did that when I was a little girl, because I told lies. I never could distinguish between truth and falsehood; and mama set that mark on me, and I have never told a lie since. She forgives anything but that. She will be our friend; she will never forsake us, Evan, if we do not deceive her. Oh, Evan! it never is of any use. But deceive her, and she cannot forgive you. It is not in her nature.”
Evan paused before he replied: “You have only to tell her what I have told you. You know everything.”
Rose gave him a flying look of pain: “Everything, Evan? What do I know?”
“Ah, Rose! do you compel me to repeat it?”
Bewildered, Rose thought: “Have I slept and forgotten it?”
He saw the persistent grieved interrogation of her eye-brows.
“Well!” she sighed resignedly: “I am yours; you know that, Evan.”
But he was a lover, and quarrelled with her sigh.
“It may well make you sad now, Rose.”
“Sad? no, that does not make me sad. No; but my hands are tied. I cannot defend you or justify myself, and induce mama to stand by us. Oh, Evan! you love me! why can you not open your heart to me entirely, and trust me?”
“More?” cried Evan: “Can I trust you more?” He spoke of the letter: Rose caught his hand.
“I never had it, Evan. You wrote it last night? and all was written in it? I never saw it—but I know all.”
Their eyes fronted. The gates of Rose’s were wide open, and he saw no hurtful beasts or lurking snakes in the happy garden within, but Love, like a fixed star.
“Then you know why I must leave, Rose?”
“Leave? Leave me? On the contrary, you must stay by me, and support me. Why, Evan, we have to fight a battle.”
Much as he worshipped her, this intrepid directness of soul startled him—almost humbled him. And her eyes shone with a firm cheerful light, as she exclaimed: “It makes me so happy to think you were the first to mention this. You meant to be, and that’s the same thing. I heard it this morning: you wrote it last night. It’s you I love, Evan. Your birth, and what you were obliged to do—that’s nothing. Of course I’m sorry for it, dear. But I’m more sorry for the pain I must have sometimes put you to. It happened through my mother’s father being a merchant; and that side of the family the men and women are quite sordid and unendurable; and that’s how it came that I spoke of disliking tradesmen. I little thought I should ever love one sprung from that class.”
She turned to him tenderly.
“And in spite of what my birth is, you do love me, Rose?”
“There’s no spite in it, Evan. I do.”
Hard for him, while his heart was melting to caress her, the thought that he had snared this bird of heaven in a net! Rose gave him no time for reflection, or the moony imagining of their raptures lovers love to dwell upon.
“You gave the letter to Polly, of course.”
“Oh, naughty Polly! I must punish you,” Rose apostrophised her. “You might have divided us for ever. Well, we shall have to fight a battle, you understand that. Will you stand by me?”
Would he not risk his soul for her?
“Very well, Evan. Then—but don’t be sensitive. Oh, how sensitive you are! I see it all now. This is what we shall have to do. We shall have to speak to mama to-day—this morning. Drummond has told me he’s going to speak to her, and we must be first. That’s decided. I begged a couple of hours. You must not be offended with Drummond. He does it out of pure affection for us, and I can see he’s right—or, at least, not quite wrong. He ought, I think, to know that he cannot change me. Very well, we shall win mama by what we do. My mother has ten times my wits, and yet I manage her like a feather. I have only to be honest and straightforward. Then mama will gain over papa. Papa, of course, won’t like it. He’s quiet and easy, but he likes blood, but he also likes peace better; and I think he loves Rosey—as well as somebody—almost? Look, dear, there is our seat where we—where you would rob me of my handkerchief. I can’t talk any more.”
Rose had suddenly fallen from her prattle, soft and short-breathed.
“Then, dear,” she went on, “we shall have to fight the family. Aunt Shorne will be terrible. My poor uncles! I pity them. But they will soon come round. They always have thought what I did was right, and why should they change their minds now? I shall tell them that at their time of life a change of any kind is very unwise and bad for them. Then there is grandmama Bonner. She can hurt us really, if she pleases. Oh, my dear Evan! if you had only been a curate! Why isn’t your name Parsley? Then my grandmama the Countess of Elburne. Well, we have a Countess on our side, haven’t we? And that reminds me, Evan, if we’re to be happy and succeed, you must promise one thing: you will not tell the Countess, your sister. Don’t confide this to her. Will you promise?”
Evan assured her he was not in the habit of pouring secrets into any bosom, the Countess’s as little as another’s.
“Very well, then, Evan, it’s unpleasant while it lasts, but we shall gain the day. Uncle Melville will give you an appointment, and then?”
At this arch question he seized her and kissed her. The sweet, fresh kiss! She let him take it as his own. Ah, the darling prize! Her cheeks were a little redder, and her eyes softer, and softer her voice, but all about her looked to him as her natural home.
“Yes, Rose,” he said, “I will do this, though I don’t think you can know what I shall have to endure—not in confessing what I am, but in feeling that I have brought you to my level.”
“Does it not raise me?” she cried.
He shook his head.
“But in reality, Evan—apart from mere appearances—in reality it does! it does!”
“Men will not think so, Rose, nor can I. Oh, my Rose! how different you make me. Up to this hour I have been so weak! torn two ways! You give me double strength. No! though all the ills on earth were heaped on me, I swear I could not surrender you. Nothing shall separate us.”
Then these lovers talked of distant days—compared their feelings on this and that occasion with mutual wonder and delight. Then the old hours lived anew. And—did you really think that, Evan? And—Oh, Rose! was that your dream? And the meaning of that by-gone look: was it what they fancied? And such and such a tone of voice; would it bear the wished interpretation? Thus does Love avenge himself on the unsatisfactory Past, and call out its essence.
Could Evan do less than adore her? She knew all, and she loved him! Since he was too shy to allude more than once to his letter, it was natural that he should not ask her how she came to know, and how much the “all” that she knew comprised. In his letter he had told all; the condition of his parents, and his own. Honestly, now, what with his dazzled state of mind, his deep inward happiness, and love’s endless delusions, he abstained from touching the subject further. Honestly, therefore, as far as a lover can be honest.
So they toyed, and then Rose, setting her fingers loose, whispered: “Are you ready?” And Evan nodded; and Rose, to make him think light of the matter in hand, laughed: “Pluck not quite up yet?”
“Quite, my Rose!” said Evan, and they walked to the house: not quite knowing what they were going to do.
On the steps they met Drummond with Mrs. Evremonde. Little imagining how heart and heart the two had grown, and that Evan would understand him, Drummond called to Rose playfully: “Time’s up.”
“Is it?” Rose answered, and to Mrs. Evremonde: “Give Drummond a walk. Poor Drummond is going silly.”
Evan looked into his eyes calmly as he passed.
“Where are you going, Rose?” said Mrs. Evremonde.
“Going to give my maid Polly a whipping for losing a letter she ought to have delivered to me last night,” said Rose, in a loud voice, looking at Drummond. “And then going to mama. Pleasure first—duty after. Isn’t that the proverb, Drummond?”
She kissed her fingers rather scornfully to her old friend.