“Then you’ll–ask a man?”
“I’ll ask a man.”
The first speaker was Miss Douglas, the second Mrs. Lushington. These
ladies, having agreed to go to the play together, the former at once
secured adjoining stalls, for herself, her admirer, her friend, and her
friend’s admirer. Only in such little parties of four can the modern
drama be appreciated or enjoyed.
Miss Douglas had long promised General St. Josephs that she would
accompany him to the performance of a popular farce called _Uncle
Jack_, whereof the humour consisted in an abstraction by “Boots” of a
certain traveller’s garments at his hotel, and consequent engagement
of this denuded wayfarer to the lady of his affections. The General
would have walked barefoot to Canterbury for the delight of taking Miss
Douglas to the play; and, after many misfires, a night was at length
fixed for that treat, of course under the supervision of a chaperon.
Like others who follow “will-o’-the-wisps,” St. Josephs was getting
deeper into the mire at every step. Day by day this dark bewitching
woman occupied more of his thoughts, wound herself tighter round his
weary heart. Now for the first time since she died he could bear to
recall the memory of the blue-eyed girl he was to have married long
ago. Now he felt truly thankful to have baffled the widow at Simla, and
behaved like “a monster,” as she said, to the foreign countess who used
to ride with him in the Park.
Hitherto he was persuaded his best affections had been thrown away,
all the nobility of his character wasted and misunderstood. At last he
had found the four-leaved shamrock. He cared not how low he stooped to
pluck it, so he might wear it in his breast.
For one of his age and standing, such an attachment has its ridiculous
as well as its pitiful side. He laughed grimly in his grizzled
moustache to find how particular he was growing about the freshness
of his gloves and the fit of his coat. When he rode he lengthened his
stirrups, and brought his horse more on its haunches. He even adopted
the indispensable flower in his button-hole; but could never keep it
there, because of his large circle of child-friends, to whom he denied
nothing, and who regularly despoiled him of any possession that took
their fancy. There was one little gipsy, a flirt, three years of age,
who could and would, have coaxed him out of a keepsake even from Miss
Nobody, I suppose, is insane enough to imagine a man feels happier for
being in love. There were moments when St. Josephs positively hated
himself, and everybody else. Moments of vexation, longing, and a bitter
sense of ill-usage, akin to rage, but for the leavening of sadness,
that toned it down to grief. He knew from theory and practice how to
manage a woman, just as he knew how to bridle and ride a horse. Alas!
that each bends only to the careless ease of conscious mastery. He
could have controlled the Satanella on four legs almost as well as
reckless Daisy. He had no influence whatever over her namesake on two.
Most of us possess the faculty of looking on those affairs in which we
are deeply interested, from the outside, as it were, and with the eyes
of an unbiassed spectator. Such impartial perception, however, while
it increases our self-reproach, seems in no way to affect our conduct.
General St. Josephs cursed himself for an old fool twenty times a day,
but none the more for that did he strive or wish to put from him the
folly he deplored.
It was provoking, degrading, to know that, in presence of Miss Douglas
he appeared at his very worst; that when he rode out with her, he
was either idiotically simple, or morosely preoccupied; that when he
called at her house, he could neither find topics for conversation,
nor excuses to go away; that in every society, others, whom he rated
as his inferiors, must have seemed infinitely pleasanter, wiser,
better informed, and more agreeable: and that he, professedly a man
of experience, and a man of the world, lost his head, like a raw boy,
at the first word she addressed him, without succeeding in convincing
her that he had lost his heart. Then he vowed to rebel–to wean himself
by degrees–to break the whole thing off at once–to go out of town,
leaving no address–to assert his independence, show he could live
without her, and never see her again! But when she asked him to take
her to the play, he said he should be delighted, and _was_!
Among the many strange functions of society, few seem more
unaccountable than its tendency to select a theatre as the _rendezvous_
of sincere affection. Of all places, there is none, I should imagine,
where people are more _en evidence_–particularly in the stalls, a
part of the house specially affected, it would seem, as affording no
protection to front or rear. Every gesture is marked, every whisper
overheard, and even if you might speak aloud, which you mustn’t, during
the performances, you could hardly impart to a lady tender truths or
falsehoods, as the case may be, while surrounded by a mob of people who
have paid money with the view of keeping eyes and ears wide open till
they obtain its worth.
Nevertheless, and notwithstanding all these drawbacks to confidential
communication, no sooner does a fair angler of the present day feel
that, in fisherman’s language, she “has got a bite,” than straightway
she carries her prey off to a minor theatre, where by some inexplicable
method of her own, she proceeds to secure the gudgeon on its hook.
St. Josephs got himself up with extreme care on the evening in
question. He was no faded _petit maître_, no wrinkled dandy, curled,
padded, girthed, and tottering in polished boots towards his grave. On
the contrary, he had the wisdom to grow old gracefully, as far as dress
and deportment were concerned, rather advancing than putting back the
hand of time. Yet to-night he _did_ regret the lines on his worn face,
the bald place at the crown of his head. Ten years, he thought, rather
bitterly, only give him back ten years, and he could have held his own
with the best of them! She might have cared for him ten years ago.
Could she care for him now? Yes, surely she must, he loved her so!
“Your brougham is at the door, sir,” said his servant, once a soldier,
like himself, a person of calm temperament and a certain grim humour,
whose private opinion it was that his master had of late been
conducting himself like an old fool.
The General got into his carriage with an abstracted air, and was
driven off to dine nervously and without appetite at the Senior United.
How flabby seemed the fish, how tasteless the cutlets, how insufferably
prosy the conversation of an old comrade at the next table–a jovial
veteran, who loved highly-seasoned stories, and could still drink the
_quantum_ he was pleased to call his “whack of Port.” Never before had
this worthy’s discourse seemed so idiotic, his stomach so obtrusive,
his chuckles so fatuous and inane. What did he mean by talking about
“fellows of _our_ age” to St. Josephs, who was seven years his junior
in the Army List, and five in his baptismal register? Why couldn’t he
eat without wheezing, laugh without coughing; and why, oh! why could
he not give a comrade greeting, without slapping him on the back? St.
Josephs, drinking scalding coffee before the other arrived at cheese,
felt his sense of approaching relief damped by remorse for the reserve
and coldness with which he treated his old, tried friend. Something
whispered to him, even then, how the jolly gormandising red face would
turn to him, true and hearty, when all the love of all the women in
London had faded and grown cold.
Nevertheless, at the doors of the theatre his pulses leapt with
delight. So well timed was his arrival, that Mrs. Lushington and Miss
Douglas were getting out of their carriage when his own stopped.
Pleased, eager as a boy, he entered the house with Satanella on his
arm, placing himself between that Lady and her friend, while he
arranged shawls, foot-stools, scent-bottles, and procured for them
programmes of the entertainment; chary, indeed, of information, but
smelling strong of musk.
Need I say that he addressed himself at first to Mrs. Lushington? or
that, perceiving a vacant stall on the other side of Miss Douglas,
his spirit sank within him while he wondered when and how it would be
Satanella seemed tired and abstracted. “Uncle Jack’s” jokes fell
pointless on her ear. When St. Josephs could at last think of
something to say, she bent her head kindly enough, but persistently
refused to accept or understand his tender allusions, interesting
herself, then, and then only, in the business of the stage. In sheer
self-defence, the General felt obliged to do the same.
The house roared with laughter. A celebrated low comedian was running
up and down before the foot-lights in shirt and drawers. The scene
represented a bedroom at an inn. The actor rang his bell, tripped over
his coal-scuttle, finally upset his water-jug. Everybody went into
convulsions, and St. Josephs found himself thinking of the immortal
Pickwick, who “envied the facility with which the friends of Mr. Peter
Magnus were amused.” Turning to his tormentor, he observed the place by
her side no longer vacant, and its occupant was–Daisy!
Mischievous Mrs. Lushington had “asked a man,” you see, and this was
the man she asked.
Captious, jealous, sensitive, because he really cared for her, St.
Josephs’ vexation seemed out of all proportion to its cause. He felt
it would have relieved him intensely to “have it out” with Miss
Douglas–to scold her, take her to task, reproach her roundly–and
for what? _She_ had never asked Daisy to come; _she_ had not kept a
seat for him at her elbow. From her flushed cheek, her bright smile,
it could not but be inferred that this was an unexpected meeting–a
Calm and imperturbable, Daisy settled himself as if he were sitting
by his grandmother. Not till he had smoothed his moustache, buttoned
his gloves, and adjusted his glasses, did he find time to inform Miss
Douglas “that he knew she would be here, but did not think she could
have got away from dinner so soon; that the house was hot, the stalls
were uncomfortable, and this thing was not half bad fun if you’d never
seen it before.” The General, cursing him for “a cub,” wondered she
could find anything in such conversation to provoke a smile on that
proud beautiful face.
What was it she whispered behind her fan?–the fan he loved to hold
because of the fragrance it seemed to breathe from _her_. He scarcely
knew whether to be relieved or irritated when he overheard certain
questions as to the progress of the black mare. It vexed him to think
these two should have a common interest, should find it so engrossing,
should talk about it so low. Why couldn’t they attend to the farce they
had come on purpose to see?
Mrs. Lushington, although she must have been surfeited with that
unmeaning and rather tiresome admiration which such ladies find
floating in abundance on the surface of London society, was yet ready
at all times to accept fresh homage, add another captive to the net she
dragged so diligently through smooth and troubled waters alike. Till
the suggestion came from her friend, it had never occurred to her that
the General was worth capturing. She began now in the usual way.
“What a number of pretty women!” she whispered, “Don’t you think
so, General? I haven’t seen as much beauty under one roof since Lady
Abstracted though he was, her companion had those habits of society
which of all others seem to be second nature, so he answered:–
“There are only _two_ pretty women in the house as far as I can see;
and they asked me to come to the play with them to-night.”
She had a fascinating way of looking down and up again, very quick,
with a glance, half shy, half funny, but altogether deadly. Even her
preoccupied neighbour felt its influence, while she replied:–
“You say so because you think all women are vain, and like to be
flattered, and have no heart. It only shows how little you know us. Do
you mean to tell me,” she added, in a lighter tone, “_that’s_ not a
pretty girl, in the second row there, with a _mauve_ ribbon through her
She _was_ pretty, and he thought so; but St. Josephs, being an old
soldier in more senses than one, observed sententiously:–
“Wants colouring–too pale–too sandy, and I should say freckled by
“We all know you admire dark beauties,” retorted the lady, “or you
wouldn’t be here now.”
“_You’re_ not a dark beauty,” returned the ready General; “and I knew
you were coming too.”
“That ‘_too_’ spoils it all,” said she, with another of her killing
glances. “Hush! you needn’t say any more. If you won’t talk to _her_,
at least attend to the stage.”
Satanella meanwhile was perusing Daisy’s profile as he sat beside
her, and wondering whether anybody was ever half so good-looking
and so unconscious of his personal advantages. Not in the slightest
degree embarrassed by this examination, Mr. Walters expressed his
entire approval of the farce as it proceeded, laughing heartily at its
“situations” and even nudging Miss Douglas with his elbow, that she
might not miss the broadest of the fun. Was there another man in the
house who could have accepted so calmly such an enviable situation?
and did she like him more or less for this strange insensibility to
her charms? The question must be answered by ladies who are weary of
slaughter, and satiated with victory.
“Will she win, Daisy?” hazarded Miss Douglas at last, in a low whisper,
such as would have vibrated through the General’s whole frame, but only
caused Daisy to request she would “speak up.” Repeating her question,
she added a tender hope that “it was all right, and that her darling
(meaning the black mare) would pull him through.”
“If she don’t,” replied Daisy, “there’s no more to be said. I must
leave the regiment. ‘Soldier Bill’ gets the troop; and I am simply
“Oh, Daisy,” she exclaimed earnestly, “how much would it take to set
Mr. Walters worked an imaginary sum on the gloved fingers of his right
hand, carried over a balance of liabilities to his left, looked as
grave as he could and replied, briefly, “Two thou–would tide me over.
It would take _three_ to pull me through.”
Her face fell, and the rich colour faded in her cheek. He did not
notice her vexation; for the crisis of the farce had now arrived,
and the stage was crowded with all its _dramatis personæ_, tumbling
each other about in the intensely humorous dilemma of a hunt for the
traveller’s clothes; but he _did_ remark how grave and sorrowful was
her “good-night,” while she took the General’s proffered arm with an
alacrity extremely gratifying to that love-stricken veteran. She had
never before seemed so womanly, so tender, so confiding. St. Josephs,
pressing her elbow very cautiously against his beating heart, almost
fancied the pressure returned. He was sure her hand clung longer than
usual in his clasp when the time came to say “Good-bye.”
In spite of a headache and certain angry twinges of rheumatism, this
gallant officer had never felt so happy in his life.
Outside the theatre the pavement was dry, the air seemed frosty, and
the moon shone bright and cold. With head down, hands in pockets,
and a large cigar in his mouth, Daisy meditated gravely enough on
the untoward changes a lowered temperature might produce in his own
fortunes. Hard ground would put a stop to Satanella’s gallops, and
the horses trained in Ireland–where it seldom freezes–would have an
unspeakable advantage. Thinking of the black mare somehow reminded him
of Miss Douglas, and pacing thoughtfully along Pall Mall, he recalled
their first meeting, tracing through many an hour of sunshine and
lamplight the links that had riveted their intimacy and made them fast
It was almost two years ago–though it seemed like yesterday–that,
driving the regimental coach to Ascot, he had stopped his team with
considerable risk at an awkward turn on the Heath, to make room for
her pony-carriage; a courtesy soon followed by an introduction in
the enclosure, not without many thanks and acknowledgments from the
fair charioteer and her companion. He could remember how she kept him
talking till it was too late to back Judæus for the Cup, and recalled
his own vexation when that gallant animal galloped freely in, to the
delight of the chosen people.
He had not forgotten how she asked him to call on her in London, nor
how he went riding with her in the morning, meeting her at balls and
parties by night, inaugurating a pic-nic at Hampton Court for her
especial benefit, while always esteeming her the nicest girl out,
and the best horse-woman in the world. He would have liked her to be
his sister, or his sister-in-law; but of marrying her himself, the
idea never entered Daisy’s head. Thinking of her now, with her rich
beauty, and her bright black hair, he neither sighed nor smiled. He was
calculating how he could “put her on” for a good stake, and send her
back their mutual favourite none the worse in limbs or temper for the
great race he hoped to win!
All Light Dragoons are not equally susceptible, and Mr. Walters was
a difficult subject, partly from his active habits of mind and body,
partly from the energy with which he threw himself into the business of
the moment whatever it might be.
Satanella’s work, her shoeing, her food, her water, were such
engrossing topics now, that, but for her connection with the mare, the
lady from whom that animal took its name would have had no chance of
occupying a place in his thoughts. He had got back to the probability
of frost, and the possibility of making a tan-gallop, when he turned
out of St. James’s Street into one of those pleasant haunts where men
congregate after nightfall to smoke and talk, accosting each other with
the easy good-fellowship that springs from community of tastes, and
generous dinners washed down with rosy wine.
Notwithstanding the time of year, a member in his shirt-sleeves was
sprawling over the billiard-table; a dozen more were sprinkled about
the room. Acclamations, less loud than earnest, greeted Daisy’s
entrance, and tumblers of cunning drinks were raised to bearded lips,
in mute but hearty welcome.
“You young beggar, you’ve made me miss my stroke!” exclaimed the
billiard-player, failing egregiously to score an obvious and easy
hazard. “Daisy, you’re always in the way, and you’re always welcome.
But what are you doing out of the Shires in such weather as this?”
“Daisy never cared a hang for _hunting_,” said a tall, stout man
on the sofa. “He’s only one of your galloping Brummagem sportsmen,
always amongst the hounds. How many couples have you scored now, this
season–tell the truth, my boy–off your own bat?”
“More than _you_ have of foxes, counting those that were fairly
killed,” answered Daisy calmly. “And that is not saying much.
Seriously, Jack, something must be done about those hounds of yours.
I’m told they’ve got so slow you have to meet at half-past ten, and
never get home till after dark. I suppose if once you began to draft
there would be nothing left in the kennel but the terrier!”
“You be hanged!” answered the big man, laughing. “You conceited young
devil, you think you’re entitled to give an opinion because you’re not
afraid to ride. And, after all, you can’t half do that, unless the
places are flagged out for you in the fences! If you cared two straws
about the _real_ sport, you wouldn’t be in London now.”
“How can I hunt without horses?” replied Daisy, burying his fair young
face in an enormous beaker. “_All_ hounds are not like yours, you know.
Thick shoes and gaiters make a capital mount in some countries; but if
I _am_ to put on boots and breeches I want to go faster than a Paddy
driving a pig. That’s why I’ve never been to pay _you_ a visit.”
“D–n your impudence!” was all the other could find breath to retort,
adding, after a pause of admiration, “What a beggar it is to chaff!
But I won’t let you off all the same. Come to me directly after
Northampton. It’s right in your way home.”
“Nothing I should like better,” answered Daisy. “But it can’t be done.
I’m due at Punchestown on the seventeenth, and I ought to be in Ireland
at least a fortnight before the races.”
“At Punchestown!” exclaimed half-a-dozen voices. “There’s something
up! You’ve got a good thing, cut and dried. It’s no use, Daisy! Tell us
all about it!”
Walters turned from one to another with an expression of innocent
surprise. He looked as if he had never heard of a steeple-chase in his
“I don’t know what you fellows call ‘a good thing,'” said he. “When I
drop into one I’ll put you all on, you may be sure. No. I must be at
Punchestown simply because I’ve got to ride there.”
“I’m sorry for the nag,” observed the billiard-player, who had finished
(and lost) his game. “What is it?”
“She’s a mare none of you ever heard of,” answered Daisy. “They call
her Satanella. She can gallop a little, I think.”
“Is she going for this new handicap?” asked a shrill voice out of a
cloud of tobacco smoke in the corner.
“It’s her best chance, if she ever comes to the post,” replied Daisy.
“They’re crushing weights, though, and the course is over four miles.”
“Back her, me boy! And I’ll stand in with ye!” exclaimed an Irish peer,
handsome in spite of years, jovial in spite of gout, good-hearted in
spite of fashion, and good-humoured in spite of everything. “Is she an
Irish-bred one? Roscommon did ye say? Ah, now, back for a monkey, and
I’ll go ye halves! We’ll let them see how we do’t in Kildare!”
Daisy would have liked nothing better; but people do not lay “monkeys”
on steeple-chases at one o’clock in the morning. Nevertheless curiosity
had been excited about Satanella, and his cross-examination continued.
“Is she thorough-bred?” asked a cornet of the household cavalry, whose
simple creed for man and beast, or rather horse and woman, was summed
up in these two articles–blood and good looks.
“Thoroughbred?” repeated Daisy thoughtfully. “Her sire is I’m sure, and
she’s out of a ‘Connemara mare,’ as they say in Ireland, whatever that
“_I know_,” observed the peer, with a wink. “Ah, ye divil, ye’ve got
your lesson perfect annyhow.”
“Do you want to back her?” asked a tall, thin man, who had hitherto
kept silence, drawing at the same time a very business-like
betting-book from his breast-pocket.
“You ought to lay long odds,” answered Daisy. “The race will fill well.
There are sure to be a lot of starters, and no end of falls. Hang it! I
suppose I am bound to have something on. I’ll tell you what. I’ll take
twelve to one in hundreds–there!”
“I’ll lay you ten,” said the other.
“Done!” replied Daisy. “A thousand to a hundred.” And he entered it
methodically in his book, looking round, pencil in mouth, to know “if
anybody would do it again?”
“I’ll lay you eight to one in ponies.” Daisy nodded, and put down
the name of the billiard-player. “And I in tens!” exclaimed another.
“And I don’t mind laying you seven!” screamed a shrill voice from the
corner, “if you’ll have it in fifties.” Whereat Daisy shook his head,
but accepted the offer nevertheless ere he shut up his book, observing
calmly that “he was full now, and must have something more to drink.”
“And who does this mare belong to?” asked a man who had just come in.
“It’s a queer game, steeple-chasing, even with gentlemen up. I like
to know something about owners before I back my little fancy, for or
“Well, she’s more mine than anybody else’s,” answered Daisy, buttoning
his overcoat to depart. “There’s only one thing certain about her, and
that is–she’ll start if she’s alive, and she’ll win if she _can_!”
With these words he disappeared through the swing-doors into the empty
street, walking leisurely homeward, with the contented step of one who
has done a good day’s work, and earned his repose.
In Piccadilly he met a drunken woman; in Curzon Street, a single
policeman; by Audley Square a libertine cat darted swiftly and
noiselessly across his path. Working steadily northward, he perceived
another passenger on the opposite side of the way. Passing under a
lamp, this figure, in spite of hat pushed down and collar pulled up,
proved to be none other than St. Josephs, wrapped in a brown study, and
proceeding as slowly as if it was the hottest night in June.
“Now what can _he_ be up to?” thought Daisy, deeming it unnecessary to
cross over at so late an hour for polite salutation. “Ought to have
had his nose under the blankets long ago. It must be something _very_
good to take an old duffer like that out in an east wind at two in the
morning. Might have sown his wild oats by this time, one would think!
Well, it’s no business of mine, only I hope he wears flannel next his
skin, and won’t catch cold. It would almost serve him right, too, if he
Sticking his hands in his pockets, Daisy shook his head in virtuous
disapproval of his senior, never dreaming that a man of the General’s
age could be fool enough to pace a wind-swept street under a lady’s
window for an hour after she had retired to bed.
“My Dear General,
“As I know it is impossible to catch you for luncheon, come and see me
at three, before I go out.
“Yours most sincerely,
No date, of course. The General, nevertheless, ordered his hack at
half-past two, in confident expectation of finding his correspondent at
He was ushered into, perhaps, the prettiest _boudoir_ in London–a
nest of muslin, fillagree, porcelain, and exotics, with a miniature
aviary in one window, a miniature aquarium in the other, a curtain
over the door, and a fountain opposite the fire-place. Here he
had an opportunity of admiring her taste before the fair owner
appeared, examining in turn all the ornaments on her chimney-piece
and writing-table, amongst which, with pardonable ostentation, a
beautifully-mounted photograph of her husband was put in the most
He was considering what on earth could have induced her to marry its
original, when the door opened for the lady in person, who appeared,
fresh, smiling, and exceedingly well-dressed. Though she had kept
her visitor waiting, he could not grudge the time thus spent when he
observed how successfully it had been turned to account.
“You got my note,” said she, pulling a low chair for him close to the
sofa on which she seated herself. “I wonder, if _you_ wondered why I
wanted to see you!”
The experience of St. Josephs had taught him it is well to let these
lively fish run out plenty of line before they are checked, so he
bowed, and said, “He hoped she had found something in which he could be
“Use!” repeated the lady. “Then you want me to think you consider
yourself more useful than ornamental. General, I should like to know if
you are the least bit vain?”
“A little, perhaps, of your taking me up,” he replied, laughing; “of
nothing else, I think, in the world.”
She stole a glance at him from under her eyelashes, none the less
effective that these had been darkened before she came down. “And yet,
I am sure, you might be,” she said softly, with something of a sigh.
The process, he thought, was by no means unpleasant; a man could
undergo it a long time without being tired.
“Do you know I’m interested about you?” she continued, looking frankly
in his face. “For your own sake–a little; for somebody else’s–a great
deal. Have you never heard of flowers that waste their ‘sweetness on
the desert air?'”
“And blush unseen?” he replied. “I’m blushing now. Don’t you think it’s
“Do be serious!” she interposed, laying a slim white hand on his
sleeve. “I tell you I have your welfare at heart. That’s the reason
you are here now. If I cannot be happy myself, at least I like to help
others. Everybody ought to marry the right person. Don’t you think so?
You’ve got a right person. Why don’t you marry her?”
Watching him narrowly, she perceived, by the catch of his breath, the
quiver of his eyelid, that for all his self-command her thrust had gone
His was too manly a nature to deny its allegiance.
“Do you think she would have me,” said he simply and frankly, “if I was
to ask her?”
Mrs. Lushington never liked him better than now. To this worldly,
weary, manoeuvring woman, there was something inexpressibly refreshing
in his unaffected self-depreciation. “What a fool the girl is!”
she thought; “why, she ought to _jump_ at him!” But what she said,
was–“_Qui cherche trouve._ If you don’t put the question, how can you
expect to have an answer? Are you so spoilt, my dear General, that you
expect women to drop into your mouth like over-ripe fruit? What we
enjoy is, to be worried and teased over and over again, till at last we
are bored into saying “Yes” in sheer weariness, and to get rid of the
subject. How can you be _refused_, much more _accepted_, if you won’t
even make an offer?”
“Do you know what it is to care for somebody very much?” said he,
smoothing his hat with his elbow, as a village-maiden on the stage
plaits the hem of her apron. “What you suggest, seems the boldest game,
no doubt; but it is like putting all one’s fortune on a single throw.
Suppose the dice come up against me–can you wonder I am a little
afraid to lift the box?”
“I cannot fancy _you_ afraid of anything,” she answered with an
admiring glance; “not even of failure, though it would probably be a
new sensation. You know what Mr. Walters says–(he winced, and she saw
it)–‘When you go to a fighting-house, you should take a fighting man.’
So I say, ‘When you are in a tangle about women, ask a woman to get you
out of it.’ Put yourself in my hands, and when you dress for dinner,
you shall be a proud and a happy General!”
His face brightened. “I _should_ be very happy,” said he, “I honestly
confess, if Miss Douglas would consent to be my wife. Do you advise me
to ask her at once?”
“This very day, without losing a minute!” was the answer. “Let me have
to congratulate her, when I call to drive her out at half-past five.”
The General looked at the clock, smoothing his hat more vigorously
than ever. “It’s nearly four now,” said he, in a faltering voice.
“Mrs. Lushington, I am really most grateful. It’s too kind of you to
take such an interest in my affairs. Would you mind telling me? Women
understand these things much better than men. If you were in my place,
do you think I ought? I mean what is the best plan? In short, would you
advise me to call, and ask her point-blank, or to–write a line, you
know–very explicit and respectful, of course, and tell the servant to
wait for an answer?”
She was very near laughing in his face, but mastered her gravity, after
a moment’s reflection, and observed sententiously–
“Perhaps in your case a few lines would be best. You can write them
here if you like, or at your club. The shorter the better. And,” she
added, shaking hands with him very kindly, while he rose to take leave,
“whichever way it goes, you will let me know the result.”
As the street-door closed, she opened her blotting-book, and scribbled
off the following dispatch–
“Alarms! A skirmish! I write to put you on your guard. The General,
_your_ General, has been here for an hour. He seems to have made up his
mind, so prepare yourself for it at any moment. I think you _ought_
to accept him. He would relapse into a quiet, kind, and respectable
husband. Your own position, too, would be improved and what I call
established. Don’t be obstinate, there’s a dear. In haste. Ever your
“You mustn’t forget you dine here. Nobody but ourselves, Uncle John,
the two Gordon girls (Bessie has grown so pretty), and Daisy Walters,
who starts for Ireland to-morrow. As soon after eight as you can.”
* * * * *
Then she rang the bell, and sent off her note with directions for its
immediate transmission. Henry must take it at once. If Miss Douglas
was not at home, let him find out where she had gone, and follow her.
There was no answer. Only he must be quite sure she got it;–and pretty
Mrs. Lushington sank back on her sofa, with the pleasing reflection
that she had done what she called “a neat stroke of business, vigorous,
conclusive, and compromising nobody if it was ever found out!”
She saw her way now clearly enough. On Satanella’s refusal of her
veteran admirer, she calculated as surely as on her acceptance of an
invitation to meet Daisy at dinner, particularly with so dangerous
a competitor as Bessie Gordon in the field. That last touch she
considered worthy of her diplomacy. But, judging by herself, she was of
opinion that Miss Douglas would so modify her negative as to retain the
General in the vicinity of her charms, contemplating from day to day
the fair prospect that was never to be his own. In such an ignominious
state men are to be caught on the rebound, and he must ere long prove
an easy victim to her kinder fascinations, take his place, submissively
enough, with the other captives in the train of his conqueror. It would
be very nice, she thought, to secure him, and after that she could
turn her attention to Daisy, for Mrs. Lushington was never so happy as
when she had succeeded in detaching a gentleman from the lady of his
affections, if, in so doing, she inflicted on the latter the sorrow of
a wounded spirit and the pain of a vexed heart.
Therefore had she many enemies of her own sex, ever on the watch to
catch her tripping, and once down must have expected no quarter from
these gentle combatants.
A generous, masculine-minded woman, who is above these pretty vanities
and rivalries, enjoys considerable immunity in that society, of which
the laws are made by her sisters-in-arms, but they will _not_ forgive
the greedy, unreasonable spoiler, who eyes, covets, and abstracts the
property of others–who, to use their own expressive words, “takes
their men from them, while all the time she has got enough and to spare
of her own!”
But even a woman cannot calculate with certainty on what another woman
will or will not do under given circumstances. The greatest generals
have been defeated by unforeseen obstacles. A night’s rain or a sandy
road may foil the wisest strategy, destroy the nicest combinations.
Miss Douglas never came to dinner after all, and Daisy, too, was
absent. Mrs. Lushington, outwardly deploring the want of a “young
man” for the “Gordon girls,” inwardly puzzled her brains to account
for the joint desertion of her principal performers, a frightful
suspicion crossing her mind that she might have been too vigorous in
her measures, and so frightened Satanella into carrying Daisy off with
her, _nolens volens_, once for all. She had short notes of excuse,
indeed, from both; but with these she was by no means satisfied: the
lady pleading headache, the gentleman a pre-engagement, since called to
mind–this might mean anything. But if they _had_ gone away together,
she thought, never would she meddle in such matters again!
Not till dinner was over, and Bessie Gordon had sat down to sing
plaintive ballads in the drawing-room, did she feel reassured; but the
last post brought a few lines from the General in fulfilment of his
pledge to let her know how his wooing had sped.
“Congratulate me,” he wrote, “my dear Mrs. Lushington, on having
taken your advice. You were right about procrastination” (the General
loved a long word, and was indeed somewhat pompous when he put pen to
paper). “I am convinced that but for your kind counsels I should hardly
have done justice to myself or the lady for whom I entertain so deep
and lasting a regard. I feel I may now venture to hope time will do
much–constant devotion more. At some future period, not far distant,
it may be my pride to present to you your beautiful young charge in a
new character, as the wife of your obliged and sincere friend–V. St.
“V. St. Josephs?” repeated Mrs. Lushington. “I wonder what V. stands
for. Valentine, if I remember right. And I wonder what on earth he
means _me_ to gather from his letter! I cannot make head or tail of it.
If she has accepted him, what makes him talk about time and devotion?
If she has refused him, surely he never can intend to persevere!
Blanche, Blanche! if you’re playing a double game, it will be the worse
for you, and I’ll never trust a woman with dark eyes again!”
The Gordon girls, going home in their hired brougham, voted that “dear
Mrs. Lushington had one of her headaches; that Mr. L. was delightful;
that after all, it seemed very selfish of Clara not to have secured
them a couple of men; finally, that they had spent a stupid evening,
and would be too glad to go to bed!”
All details of love-making are probably much alike, nor is there great
room for variety in the putting of that direct question, to which the
path of courtship necessarily conducts its dupe. General St. Josephs
kept no copy of the letter in which he solicited Miss Douglas to
become his wife. That lady tore it immediately into shreds, that went
fluttering up the chimney. Doubtless it was sincere and dignified, even
if diffuse; worthy, too, of a more elaborate answer than the single
line she scribbled in reply:–
“Come and talk it over. I am at home till seven.”
His courage rose, however, now he had got fairly into action, and never
had he felt less nervous while dismounting at the well-known door,
than on this supreme occasion, when he was to learn his fate, as he
believed, once for all, from the lips of the woman he loved.
Like most men trained in the school of danger, strong excitement strung
his nerves and cleared his vision, he no longer averted his eyes from
the face that heretofore so dazzled them; on the contrary, entering the
presence of Miss Douglas, he took in her form and features at a glance,
as a man scans the figure of an adversary, while he prepares for attack.
It did not escape him that she looked flurried and depressed, that her
hand trembled, and her colour went and came. Arguing favourably from
these symptoms, he was somewhat disappointed with the first sentence
she addressed to him.
“You wrote me a letter, General,” said she, forcing a nervous little
laugh. “Such a funny letter! I didn’t quite know what to make of it!”
A funny letter! And his heart had beat, his eyes had filled, his
highest, noblest feelings had been stirred with every line!
He was conscious that his bow seemed stern, even pompous, while he
answered with exceeding gravity–
“Surely I made my meaning clear enough. Surely, Miss Douglas–Blanche;
may I not call you _Blanche_?”
“Yes; if you like,” said she impatiently. “It’s a hateful name, I
think. That’s not my fault. Well, General, what were you going to say?”
He looked and indeed felt perplexed. “I was going to observe,” said
he, “that as my question was very straightforward, and very much in
earnest, so all my future happiness depends on your reply.”
“I wonder what there is you can see in me to like!” she retorted, with
an impatient movement of her whole body, as if she was in fetters,
and felt the restraint. “I’m not good enough for anybody to care for,
that’s the truth, General. There’s hardly a girl in London who wouldn’t
suit you better than me.”
He was looking in her face with sincere admiration.
“That is not the question,” he replied. “Surely I am old enough to know
my own mind. Besides, you do not seem conscious of your power. You
could make a bishop fall in love with you in ten minutes, if you chose!”
There came a depth of tenderness in her eyes, a smile, half sad, half
sweet, about her lips, which he interpreted in his own way.
“Do you think so?” said she. “I wish I could believe you. I’ve not had
a happy youth, and I’ve not been brought up in a very good school. I
often tell myself I could, and ought to have been better, but somehow
one’s whole life seems to be a mistake!”
“A mistake I could rectify, if you would give me the right,” answered
St. Josephs, disheartened, but not despairing. “I only ask you to judge
me fairly, to trust me honestly, and to love me some day, if you _can_!”
She gave him her hand. He drew her towards him, and pressed his lips
to her cold, smooth brow. No more, and yet he fancied she was his own
at last. Already half pledged, already half an affianced wife. She
released herself quickly, and sat down on the farther side of her
“You are very generous,” she said, “and very good. I still maintain you
deserve somebody far superior to me. How odd these sort of things are,
and why do they never turn out as one–expects?”
She was going to say “wishes,” but stopped herself in time.
He would _not_ understand.
“Life is made up of hopes and disappointments,” he observed. “You do
not seem to hope much, Blanche. I trust, therefore, you will have
less cause for disappointment. I will do all in _my_ power. And now,
dearest, do not call me impatient, fidgetty; but, when do you think
I may look forward to–to making arrangements in which we are to be
“Oh! I don’t know!” she exclaimed, with considerable emphasis. “Not
yet, of course: there’s plenty of time. And I’m so hurried and worried,
I can hardly speak! Besides, it’s very late. I promised to dine with
Mrs. Lushington, and it’s nearly eight o’clock now.”
Even from a future help-meet, so broad a hint could not be disregarded.
The General was forced to put on his gloves and prepare for departure.
“But I shall see you again soon,” he pleaded. “Shall you be at the
opera–at Mrs. Cramwell’s–at Belgrave House?”
“Certainly not at Belgrave House!” she answered impatiently. “I hate a
crush; and that woman asks all the casuals in London. It’s a regular
refuge for the destitute. I’m not going there _yet_. I may, perhaps,
when I’m destitute!”
There was a hard ring in her voice that distressed him, and she
“Don’t look so wretched,” she added kindly. “There are places in the
world besides Belgrave Square and Covent Garden. What do you say to
Punchestown? It’s next week, and I’m sure to be _there_!”
He turned pale, seeming no whit reassured. “Punchestown,” he repeated.
“What on earth takes you to Punchestown?”
“Don’t you know I’ve got a horse to run?” she said lightly. “I should
like to see it win, and I do _not_ believe they have anything in
Ireland half as good as my beautiful Satanella!”
“Is that all?” he asked in a disturbed voice. “It seems such an odd
reason for a lady; and it’s a long journey, you know, with a horrible
crossing at this time of year! Blanche, Miss Douglas, can you not stay
away, as–as a favour to _me_?”
There was an angry flush on her cheek, an angry glitter in her eyes,
but she kept her temper bravely, and only said in mocking accents–
“Already, General! No; if you mean to be a tyrant you must wait till
you come to the throne. I intend to show at Punchestown the first day
of the races. I have made an assignation with _you_. If you like to
keep it, well and good; if you like to let it alone, do! I shall not
break my heart!”
He felt at a disadvantage. She seemed so cool, so unimpressionable,
so devoid of the sentiment and sensibility he longed to kindle in her
nature. For a moment, he could almost have wished to draw back, to
resume his freedom, while there was yet time; but no, she looked so
handsome, so queenly–he had rather be wretched with _her_ than happy
with any other woman in the world!
“Of course, I will not fail,” he answered. “I would go a deal further
than Punchestown, only to be within hearing of your voice. When do you
start? If Mrs. Lushington, or anybody you knew well, would accompany
you, why should we not cross over together?”
“Now, you’re too exacting,” she replied. “Haven’t I told you we
shall meet on the course, when the saddling-bell rings for the first
race. Not a moment sooner, and my wish is the law of the Medes and
The two last words carried a powerful charm. Had he been mature in
wisdom as in years, he ought never to have thought of marrying a woman
who could influence him so easily.
“I shall count the days till then,” he replied gallantly. “They will
pass very slowly, but, as the turnspit says in the Spanish proverb,
‘the largest leg of mutton must get done in time!’ Good-bye, Miss
Douglas. Good luck to you; and I hope Satanella will win!”
He bowed over the hand she gave him, but did not attempt to kiss it,
taking his leave with a mingled deference and interest she could not
but appreciate and admire.
“_Why_ can’t I care for him?” she murmured passionately, as the
street-door closed with a bang. “He’s good, he’s generous, he’s a
_gentleman_! Poor fellow, he loves me devotedly; he’s by no means ugly,
and he’s not so _very_ old! Yet I can’t, I can’t! And I’ve promised
him, _almost_ promised him! Well, come what may, I’ve got a clear week
of freedom still. But what a fool I’ve been, and oh! what a fool I
Then she sent her excuse to Mrs. Lushington, declined dinner at home,
ordered tea, didn’t drink any, and so crept sorrowful and supperless to