Let her flirt with him

Mr. Holdern dined with us that evening, and when he and I had the table
to ourselves, and little clouds of blue smoke began to curl upwards to
the ceiling, he made a sudden request to rue.

“I want you to let me have Marian at once,” he said. “Why not let us
be married before you go away?”

I raised but few objections, for the plan suited me. But Marian, when
we told her, protested that a month was much too soon. Strangely
enough, however, when I took her view, and rescinded my consent, she
went over to the other side; so I gave in, and it was settled as they
wished. An aunt of Mr. Holdern’s was written for, and arrived in a few
days in a most excited state, with two tin trunks and a box of caps. A
dressmaker took up her abode in our other spare room, and peace at the
cottage was at an end. Even in my sanctum I was never safe, for Marian
would keep waltzing in with her mouth full of pins and her hair all
disarranged, to beseech me to give my opinion as to the draping of a
gown, or to inquire shyly, with a blushing face, whether I thought
Charlie would like this or that! Altogether those few last weeks at
the cottage were not quiet ones.

Lady Olive came often and assisted eagerly at the grave consultations.
But I saw her only for a moment or two now and then, for there were
many things on the estate which needed my attention just then,
especially as I was going so soon, and I was out most nights till long
after our usual dinner-hour.

Once Maud came, but I did not see her, and I was glad of it. If it had
been possible I would have left Devereux without another word with her.
But that was not to be.

On the morning before the wedding I saddled Black Prince myself, and
took him out for a farewell ride. I would sooner say farewell to a man
than a horse any day! The Black Prince had been my chief companion at
Devereux, and a very faithful one too. He had never been the same to
any one else, they told me; in fact, he had got the name of being a
brute, but whenever I entered the stable he would whinny and rub his
head against my coat-sleeve, holding it there sometimes, and looking up
at me out of his mild, brown eyes as though imploring me to take him
out. And now I was riding him for the last time! For the last time I
watched him stretch out his legs for a gallop, and felt him bound away
under me as he thundered over the turf. For the last time he picked up
his legs as clean as a Leicestershire hunter, and flew over the park
railings like a bird. And then who should we meet, as though to spoil
our ride, but Maud and her father cantering over the moor towards us,
Maud with flashing eyes and a colour springing into her soft cheeks as
she waved her whip ever so slightly, with a half-imperative gesture.
But I would see none of it. What had Black Prince and I to do with
them? Nobly he answered my whisper, and cleared the high stone wall
which separated us, and left them on their way to the house, whilst he
and I flew on towards the desolate moorland, heedless whither we went,
so that we were alone.

Three days more and I shall be away–out of temptation, out of
Paradise, alone in the world, with my life’s work before me. What
matter! Banish such thoughts–away with them! Away with that sweet,
sad face, with its proud lips and sorrowing eyes! What are these to my
Prince and I, whilst we fly across the moorland, over hedges and
fences, with the earth skimming beneath and the wind-swept sky clear
and bright above! Live the present! Bury the past! Welcome the
future! Regrets and haunting memories are the plagues of the devil.
The Black Prince and I will have none of them.

Ah! that was a wild ride. The wonder to me now is that we ever reached
home safely. But we did, and when we got there I led him into the
stable myself, and took the bit out of his mouth, and the saddle from
his back. I watched him munch his corn, and daintily thrust his nose
into the bucket of chilled water, and when I turned away and walked
into the house there was a lump in my throat.

A gentleman was waiting to see me in my study, I was told–and without
asking his name, and with very little curiosity, I crossed the hall and
entered the room. Then I gave a great start, and my fingers closed
upon my riding-whip, for upon the hearthrug, hat in hand, stood my
Uncle Rupert.

Had he not been Maud’s father I should have taken him by the neck and
thrown him from the house. As it was, I stood waiting with the door in
my hand and an angry sparkle in my eyes.

“You are not pleased to see me, Mr. Arbuthnot,” he began, nervously.
“I did not expect that you would be. But my daughter tells me that she
has scarcely thanked you for your gallant behaviour the other night,
and, as her father, I trusted that I might be permitted to come and
offer you my most heartfelt thanks.”

And this was my Uncle Rupert! this tall, thin man with the eager eyes
and nervous manner, and sad, sweet tone. For, though I hated him, I
could not help noticing that I had never heard a man’s voice more
pleasant to listen to. Whence had come the affected manners and
thinly-veiled snobbism of my cousin Francis? Not from his father.

“I fear that Miss Devereux, in her very natural terror, has exaggerated
the service I was fortunate enough to be able to render her,” I
answered icily. “I trust that she has recovered from the shock.”

“Quite, thank you. Mr. Arbuthnot, there was another reason which
brought me here. All through my life–which has been a most unhappy
one–I have constantly been troubled with the reflection that though
innocently (that you will not believe, but no matter), I was the cause
of poor Herbert’s–your father’s trouble. If I could render his son
even the slightest service it would be a great happiness to me. You
are going to London, I hear. You know no one there, and you have no
friends. Could you not make my house your home? You will not take the
name of Devereux, I hear, but Mr. Arbuthnot would always be a welcome
and an honoured guest.”

“You have a conscience, then, Rupert Devereux?” I said, quietly.

He looked at me appealingly, flushing to the very roots of his hair.

“I scarcely understand,” he began, hesitatingly.

“Let me explain, then,” I said, looking at him steadily. “It seems to
me that, having wrecked my father’s life by a deliberate conspiracy,
you are now seeking to expiate that most damnable sin by conferring
favours upon his son. It will not do, Rupert Devereux!”

I should have pitied him had he been any other man, for he stood there
looking distressed and disappointed. But, remembering who it was, I
watched him with a bitter, sneering smile.

“Then there is nothing more to be said, I suppose,” he remarked, with a
sigh. “I had better go.”

“You had better go,” I echoed. “The only words I shall ever care to
hear from your lips will be a confession of your villainous lie. I
cannot believe that you will have the courage to die with that foul sin
on your conscience.”

He moved his position, and then for the first time I remarked how like
he was in the outline of the face and the features to Maud. But the
likeness softened me not one whit towards him, whilst it made me feel
harder towards her.

He moved towards the door with a dejected gesture.

“You are very hard,” he said, in a low tone, “very hard for one so
young. But I daresay that, according to your view of the matter, you
are right, quite right. If you won’t let me help you in any way, you
won’t. It’s only another disappointment in a life of disappointments.
I must go, then, Mr. Arbuthnot. But if at any time you should change
your mind, come to me. I live in Mayfair, London.”

He walked out, and, without answering his farewell, I opened the door,
and let him go in silence. This was my first interview with my Uncle
Rupert.

On the morrow Marian was married to Mr. Holdern. It was a very quiet
wedding down at the village church, but it went off very pleasantly,
and Marian looked charming in her plain white satin gown and simple
veil. As we were entering the church I had a great surprise. Sir
Francis Devereux, in a black frock-coat, and with an orchid in his
buttonhole, called me on one side for a moment, and asked for
permission to give away the bride. I would have preferred refusing
such an unusual request–unusual, at any rate, as it would seem to
those who knew us as Mr. and Miss Arbuthnot–but he looked so much in
earnest that I could not find it in my heart to hurt his feelings. So,
in ignorance of what they were beholding, the villagers of Devereux saw
Sir Francis give his granddaughter away, whilst I, his grandson, stood
a few yards behind.

A woman once told me that she always felt inclined to cry at weddings
and laugh at funerals. I can understand it. There is something in the
former exquisitely, though covertly, pathetic; whilst in the latter
case tears are so obviously the correct thing, that sometimes they
absolutely refuse to come. I feel certain that the tears were not far
from Sir Francis’s eyes as he shook hands with us in the churchyard.
Perhaps they were not far from mine.

There were presents from nearly every one at the Court, and a sealed
envelope from Sir Francis, which, when we opened it, contained a cheque
for a thousand pounds. I had offered to make over to Marian half of my
little income, but Mr. Holdern was resolute, and even peremptory, in
his refusal. They would have a good deal more money now than they
could spend in their quiet country home, and eventually, feeling that
Holdern was sincere in his refusal, I had given way. Money would
certainly be useful, nay, necessary, for me in carrying out the course
of action on which I had decided. And so I kept it.

One day longer I had to spend at Devereux, and a dreary day it was.
All the morning I was busy balancing accounts with the solicitor to the
estate, and in the afternoon I finished my packing. In the evening,
after dinner, I wrote a note to Sir Francis, bidding him farewell. He
would understand, I said, why I did not come to him personally. An
oath was not a thing to be broken, and I had sworn that over the
threshold of Devereux Court I would not pass, save with my father. So
I was compelled to write him instead, but I did my best to make my
letter as cordial and grateful as possible, and within an hour an
answer came back, short and informal.

“Farewell, Hugh, my boy. God bless you, wherever you may go, and
remember always that though you may call yourself Hugh Arbuthnot, you
are still a Devereux of Devereux, and this place is your home whenever
you care to make it so.–Ever yours,

“FRANCIS DEVEREUX.”

Through many lands and many years I carried with me that half-sheet of
thick, heavily-crested notepaper. And yellow with age it reposes now
in the secret drawer of my cabinet.

I sent no farewell to Maud. It were better not. My Maud she could
never be, though never another should take her place. Me she would
soon forget; I was not vain enough to think otherwise for a moment.
Only yesterday I had seen her riding with that ill-bred prig, Lord
Annerley, the son of a lawyer peer, with all his father’s innate
vulgarity, and never a feather’s weight of his brains. Let her have
him if she would, him or any other–or let her flirt with him, lead him
on by the beauty of her dazzling fair face and the glances of her deep
blue eyes. , and then throw him over with a
light laugh as very likely she would have done me. A fig for all
women! An ounce of philosophy would weigh them all down in the scales
of reason. But at twenty-four that ounce is hard to get!

Early on the following morning I mounted for the last time into the
high dog-cart, which had been kept in the coach-house at the “cottage”
for my use, and was driven rapidly away with my back to Devereux Court.
It was a grey, misty morning, and a watery sun was shining feebly down
from a cloud-strewn sky. It had been raining, and innumerable
glistening drops of moisture were hanging and falling from the
well-nigh leafless trees. A desolate morning; with a slight vapoury
mist rising from the ground and chilling the air. But my thoughts were
not of the weather, for I was taking my last lingering farewell of
Devereux Court. As we turned the corner and lost sight of it for a
while, a stronger ray of sunlight than any which had as yet succeeded
in piercing the bank of clouds reached its windows, and transformed its
whole appearance. A thousand rays of light seemed to be smiling down
at me from the massive stretching front and the frowning towers, all
the brighter from the contrast with the black woods above and around.
I was young and impressionable to anything in nature, especially with
my heart so full as it was then, and, with a sudden start, I rose up
and waved my hat in an answering farewell Then I sat down and would not
look round again lest the light should have died out from the
diamond-framed windows, and the gloom from the threatening clouds reign
there instead. I was superstitious, perhaps–but I wanted to carry
away with me in my heart the memory of Devereux Court, as I had seen it
a moment ago, with its dark grey front softened and its windows
sparkling gaily in that chance flickering ray of sunlight. And so I
would not look round, even when John slackened at the top of the last
hill, and, pointing with his whip, “reckoned that this wur the last I
should see of t’ould place, and rare sorry he wur too,” he added, with
grateful recollections of a piece of gold at that moment reposing
snugly in his waistcoat pocket.

But I would not look, and, a little offended, he touched the old hunter
with his whip, and before long we reached the station of Devereux.

In six hours I was in London, friendless, and I had well-nigh said,
purposeless, for, after I had written out and myself taken to the
office of the _Times_, a brief but imploring message to my father, I
knew not which way to turn or what to do with myself. London
disgusted, sickened me, and at every step I took I felt myself longing
the more for a strong fresh breeze from a Yorkshire moor, and for the
sight of a country lane and a few ruddy-cheeked, good-natured country
folk, instead of this never-ceasing stream of pale-faced anxious men
and over-dressed artificial women, and this interminable succession of
great dirty buildings. I felt awkward, too, and ill at ease, for
though in the country there had never seemed to be anything
extraordinary in my stature, here, as I walked down the Strand with my
hands behind my back, I seemed head and shoulders above everybody else,
and people looked up at me wonderingly and made laughing remarks to one
another, some of which I could not help but overhear. At last, in
despair, it occurred to me that my country costume had something to do
with it; so I went to a tailor’s in Bond Street, and, with a sigh,
abandoned my loose shooting jacket and breeches and brown deer-stalker
for a black frock coat, dark grey trousers, and tall hat. The change
was an effectual one, however, for though people still stared at me, it
was no longer as though I were some wild animal.

One afternoon during the second week of my stay in London I turned with
a crowd of other loungers into the Park, and there, to my surprise, I
saw Maud. She was sitting in a victoria by herself, leaning back
amongst the cushions with pale face and a light in her cold blue eyes
which seemed to speak of indifference to everything and everybody
around her. As fate would have it there was a block just then, and her
carriage, with its pair of restless fuming bays, came almost to a
standstill close to where I was leaning over the railing. I would have
drawn back, but I could not. I seemed fascinated, and I remained there
with my eyes fixed upon hers, and from that moment I was a believer in
animal magnetism, for suddenly she looked languidly up, and her eyes
rested deliberately upon the little crowd of black-coated loungers of
whom I was one. She saw me, she singled me out from the rest in a
moment, and instantly the proud, bored look left her face, and she
leaned forward in her carriage towards me with her lips parted in a
slight smile. I obeyed her imperious little gesture, and, stepping
over the railings, stood by her side hat in hand.

She laid an exquisitely gloved little hand in mine for a moment, and
then leaned back, looking at me with the old look, half mocking, half
tender, altogether bewildering.

“Saul amongst the prophets!” she laughed. “Since when, might I ask,
has Mr. Arbuthnot become an acclimatised Londoner? Really you ought to
feel flattered that I recognised you,” she added, looking at my black
coat and hat and the gardenia in my buttonhole; I had bought it only
because other men were wearing them, and I wished to look as little
singular as possible.

Bandying words with Maud was beyond me. I rested my foot on the step
of her carriage, and pretended to be carefully examining it, for into
her eyes I dared not look.

“I am only waiting in London until I have news from abroad,” I
answered. “When did you come from Devereux?”

“Only yesterday. And I had not thought to see you so soon,” she said,
in an altered tone.

Why was I standing there at Maud’s feet? Why had I come into the Park
at all? I, who was so little of a man that, amidst all this great
crowd of people I was obliged to struggle hard to keep an unmoved
countenance and a measured tone. I felt bitterly angry with myself as
I answered, with averted face–

“Nor I you. I had forgotten that Devereux was not your home. You live
here, do you not?”

She smiled indulgently at my ignorance.

“We are generally here for the season,” she said. “We have a house in
Mayfair. Will you come and see me?”

I shook my head, and answered bluntly–

“Thank you, no, Miss Devereux.”

She leaned forward in her carriage, with a sudden increase of animation
in her manner.

“You are a Don Quixote, Hugh,” she said, half angrily, half
reproachfully. “How can you be so foolish as to believe that rubbish
about my father! Wait till you hear how people talk of him, and then
you will know how stupidly mistaken you have been. And he likes you so
much, too. You might come and see us whenever you liked, if you would
only not be so silly.”

“How do you do, Miss Devereux?”

She turned round quickly, and saw Lord Annerley, who had ridden up to
the other side of the carriage.

“Lord Annerley! Really, how very surprising! I thought that you had
gone off to break the bank at Monaco. Francis said so.”

“I had meant to go,” he began, twirling his little waxen moustache with
his small hand, of which he seemed inordinately proud; “but something
kept me in London.”

He looked down at her boldly in a manner which he, no doubt, considered
fascinating. Resisting a strong inclination to throw the little cad,
with his irreproachable tailor-like get-up into the mud, I raised my
hat to Maud, and turned away. But she called me back.

“You have not answered me, Mr. Arbuthnot. Is it to be no or yes?”

“I am sorry, Miss Devereux, that I have nothing to add to my previous
answer,” I said stiffly, for her beautiful smiling face seemed to me
like the face of a temptress just then.

“Just as you wish, of course,” she answered coldly, with a slight
haughty inclination of her head. “And now, Lord Annerley,” I heard her
add, in a very altered tone, “I hear that you have a new team. Do tell
me all about them. Are they greys or mixed?”

I walked away, nor did I enter the Park again whilst I was in London.

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