The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/A Study in Temptations/Chapter 17
IN WHICH A YOUNG GENTLEMAN OWNS HIS UNWORTHINESS.
THE Dowager Countess of Warbeck was confined to her bed for some days after the unhappy disagreement with her grandson. Sir Claretie Mull did not, however, find in her symptoms any grave cause for alarm, and he told the young Earl as much, adding, that if he thought of leaving England, there was no earthly reason why he should not do so. His lordship, therefore, wrote the Dowager an affectionate adieu, expressing his regret that she would not see him, and assuring her of his unalterable love. With kindest regards to his cousin, Lady Jane, he remained ever her devoted grandson, Warbeck.
"Never mention his name in my presence," said the Countess to Jane, after she had read this; "when he repents of his impious conduct, I will forgive him. But until then my only course is to forget."
On the following Monday, she was still weak, but able to lie on the sofa. Jane was reading aloud to her when a visitor was announced in the person of "Mr. Mauden." He had asked to see Lady Jane Shannon.
"You cannot see him to-day," said the Countess, sharply; "it would be most improper. Tell him to come when I am strong enough to receive visitors."
"I am afraid I must see him, dear grandmama," said Jane, with a fine blush, "whether it is proper or not."
"What?" said the Dowager. "A little louder, my love. This attack has affected my hearing." And her blue eyes looked black.
"I said," repeated Jane, without flinching, "I am afraid I must see Mr. Mauden whether it is proper or improper. He is a very old friend."
"Oh!" said her ladyship—"oh! I remember now who he is. The farmer person who is going to be a schoolmaster. See the good creature, by all means!"
The Countess was always most triumphant when she was most defeated.
As Jane ran downstairs to the drawing-room she lost a little of her colour, but when she opened the door, and saw De Boys actually standing on the hearthrug, she grew quite white. He, on his part, blushed as he came forward to meet her.
She gave him her right hand and he took the other. Thus he held them both, nor did he seem anxious to release either.
"Jane," he said, "why have you got this beastly money? and why are you living at this awful Queen's Gate? and—why have you forgotten me?"
"But you have. Here is your last letter—all about the South Kensington Museum and Greek vases. I don't want to hear about Greek vases; I want to hear about you. Dear, dear, dearest, win have you got so cultured? why do you quote Drowning; uh do you write about ideals and all such tiresome rubbish? I would not give your old letters about the guinea-pig for the whole of Tennyson! And you have got your hair done differently. Let me see whether I like it? Yes, I do. Are the sleeves meant to look like a bishop's? Jane, may I kiss you?"
"No," said Jane.
Perhaps he did not hear. At all events, it made no difference. And, indeed, she did not seem to think that it would. His kisses were becoming (from his own point of view) agreeably indefinite when she asked a question. This was the question—
"Did you leave The Cloisters very early this morning?"
"Shall we sit over there by that green dragon?" he suggested, gravely.
He chose a chair with its back to the light. Jane sat opposite with the sun shining in on her face. This, he felt, was as it should be. He did not like to see women afraid of the sun.
"I left The Cloisters this morning," he said, "and I return to Oxford this afternoon."
She checked a sigh ; she certainly could not expect him to waste his time with her.
"Do you like Lady Hyde-Bassett ?" she said, trying to look cheerful.
"Very much," said De Boys; "she is charming. But she is whim-ish, of course, like most women."
"And that Miss Bellarmine you mentioned in your last letter?"
"She has a fine figure, but she jaws too much. No one can get a word in, when she takes up an argument. I cannot bear these blue-stockings myself. Fielding's Amelia is, in my mind, the highest type of woman!"
"You used to say she was insipid."
"Ah, that was a schoolboy's verdict."
"And what about that Miss Sophia Jenyns you mentioned in your first letter? She must have been the most interesting of them all."
"Yes, I think one would call her interesting. In the beginning she reminded me—in a very faint degree—of you. But you have really nothing in common."
"I suppose she is very beautiful?" she sighed.
"Grandmama says she is the loveliest actress in Europe."
"She is lovely—for an actress," he said; "there is a glamour about her which some people might find very attractive...But I have nothing to say against her. She is rather uncertain in temper: not a woman one could depend on. She has no feeling. And what is a woman—no matter how pretty she may be—unless she has feeling? I would call Miss Jenyns an egoist; very fascinating, but for all that, an egoist. And egoism is, I think, the eighth deadly sin. It is the special sin of this century. But, Jane, don't let us talk of -Isms and -Ivities. I am sick of them, dearest. One heard of nothing else at The Cloisters. An enervating atmosphere! If I had been there another week I should have lost all ambition. I feel as though I had stepped from a window conservatory into the fresh woods. In God's name, let us be natural; let us drop jargon; let us only remember that we love each other—for nothing else matters."
"Are you sure you won't get tired of me? I am not clever and intellectual. I understand you, dear, but I cannot answer properly. It —it is horrid to feel so ignorant when you find yourself talking to—to some one who is accustomed to meet geniuses, and men—and women—who can say something about everything, and just in the right way. Now I suppose if I tried I could say something, too, but it wouldn't sound a bit like the conversation in novels. I always think in such short words!"
"The perfection of literary style—or of conversational style—is to be simple," said De Boys—" simplicity is delicious, and lamentably rare. I should hate a wife who could turn me into an epigram."
"A wife!" she murmured.
"Dearest, you are the only woman in my world. The rest are your reflection; when I see any beauty or charm in a woman it is because she reminds me of you."
Jane blushed. "I think I can understand that," she said, "because, after you had left Brentmore, I used to talk to Henry Burkett—the one who sings in the choir—and—and sometimes I used to forget, and think he was you. But I soon found the difference. You are not angry with me?"
"Burkett is such a smug!"
"But I missed you so terribly! And I never looked at him when I could help it. When I did look I used to half-close my eyes. That made him more indistinct."
"Still, I do not care to think that you have flirted with men. If any one else had told me——"
"It wasn't flirting, De Boys. We only talked about books, and poetry, and religion, and things like that. I hope you don't think——"
"I am quite sure, dearest, that your intentions in the matter were beyond reproach. At the same time, religion is rather an intimate subject; I mean, it covers everything or anything. If you begin a conversation on religion there is no saying how it will end. It would entirely depend on the view you happened to take. For this reason, it is not a subject for a young girl to discuss with strange men; nor, in fact, with any man except her husband—or some clergyman of whom he approved."
"A girl must say something," said Jane, whose meekness had its limit; "what did Miss Jenyns talk about? She is only two years older than I am."
"Miss Jenyns," said Mauden, "is a woman of the world. Some day I will tell you more about her. But now I want to hear about you. I must leave in half an hour."
"So soon?" said Jane. "I wish you had told me you were coming. I should have had so much happiness watching for you."
"I—I came here on impulse, my dearest. I—I—did not know myself that I was coming to see you when I left The Cloisters this morning. But when I reached London, I found I could not leave it until I had——" He stopped short, struggled with his conscience, and then blurted out—"Jane, I want you to forgive me for something."
"Forgive you?" she said, "what have you done?" and she kissed his hand.
"I am the meanest beast that walks," said her hero, blushing to his finger-tips—" I am, indeed. I do not deserve——" She smiled into his face with angelic disbelief. "I do not deserve you," he said, "and I have always known it." He sighed—"I am afraid we cannot marry for a year or two?"
"Not for ages!"
"And then, there is your money!"
"I can give most of it to the poor relations. It will soon go that way. They want ever so many more things than I do! But you will be rich, too, when you are a Professor and write learned books. Or, if you are not exactly rich, you will be famous— which is much better."
"You have always believed in me. But if I fail——"
"You would never fail; you might be unfortunate. But then I could only love you more than ever."
"Write to me every day, dearest, and tell me that."
"How much do you love me?"
"I don't know," he said, solemnly; "and that has been the cause of all my trouble."
"The trouble I want you to forgive."
She put her arms round his neck. "Didn't you say," she said, "that nothing mattered so long as we loved each other?"
"It would never have happened," he stammered, "if she had not been so much like you."
"I know all about it," she said; "don't tell me any more—unless you like."
"But—how do you know?"
"I saw it in your face—when I came in."
"I shall never understand women!" exclaimed De Boys.
"I suppose," she said, "we are rather difficult."
"I never told her," he murmured, "that I loved her. It—it was only sympathy....And, Jane—never write me cold letters again."
"Do you think I could—after this?" said his affianced.
And so, I think, we may leave them.