“She’ll make a chaser annyhow!”
The speaker was a rough-looking man in a frieze coat, with wide mouth,
short nose, and grey, honest Irish eyes, that twinkled with humour on
occasion, though clouded for the present by disappointment, not to say
disgust, and with some reason. In his hand he held a broken strap, with
broad and dingy buckle; at his feet, detached from shafts and wheels,
lay the body of an ungainly vehicle, neither gig, dog-cart, nor outside
car, but something of each, battered and splintered in a dozen places:
while “foreaninst” him, as he called it, winced and fretted a young
black mare, snorting, trembling, fractious, and terrified, with ears
laid back, tail tucked down to her strong cowering quarters, and an
obvious determination on the slightest alarm to kick herself clear of
everything once more.
At her head stood a ragged urchin of fourteen; although her eyes showed
wild and red above the shabby blinkers, she rubbed her nose against the
lad’s waistcoat, and seemed to consider him the only friend she had
left in the world.
“Get on her back, Patsy,” said the man. “Faix, she’s a well-lepped
wan, an’ we’ll take a hate out of her at Punchestown, with the
blessin’!–Augh! See now, here’s the young Captain! Ye’re welcome,
Captain! It’s meself was proud when I see how ye cleaned them out last
week on ‘Garryowen.’ Ye’ll come in, and welcome, Captain. Go on in
front now, and I’ll show you the way!”
So, while a slim, blue-eyed, young gentleman, with curled moustache,
accompanied his entertainer into the house, Patsy took the mare to
the stable, where he accoutred her in an ancient saddle, pulpy,
weather-stained, with stirrups of most unequal length; proceeding
thereafter to force a rusty snaffle into her mouth, with the
tightest possible nose-band and a faded green and white front.
These arrangements completed, he surveyed the whole, grinning and
That the newcomer could only be a subaltern of Light Dragoons, was
obvious from his trim equestrian appearance, his sleek, well-cropped
head, the easy sit of his garments, also, perhaps, from an air of
imperturbable good-humour and self-confidence, equal to any occasion
that might present itself, social, moral, or physical.
[Illustration: “These arrangements completed, he surveyed the whole,
grinning, and well pleased.”
_Satanella._ _Page 8_]
Proof against “dandies of punch” and such hospitable provocatives, he
soon deserted the parlour for the stable.
“And how is the mare coming on?” said he standing in the doorway of
that animal’s dwelling, which she shared with a little cropped jackass,
a Kerry cow, and a litter of pigs. “I always said she could gallop a
bit, and they’re the right sort to stay. But can she jump?”
“The beautifullest ever ye see!” replied her enthusiastic owner.
“She’ll go whereiver a cat would follow a rat. If there’s a harse in
Connemara that ‘ud charge on the sharp edge of a razor, there’s the
wan that can do’t! Kick–stick _and_ plasther! it’s in their breed;
and like th’ould mare before her, so long as you’d hould her, it’s my
belief she’d stay in the air!”
The object of these praises had now emerged from her stall, and a very
likely animal she looked; poor and angular indeed, with a loose neck
and somewhat long ears, but in her lengthy frame, and large clean
limbs, affording promise for the future of great beauty, no less than
extraordinary power and speed. Her head was exceedingly characteristic,
lean and taper, showing every vein and articulation beneath the glossy
skin, with a wide scarlet nostril and flashing eye, suggestive of
courage and resolution, not without a considerable leavening of temper.
There are horses, and women too, that stick at nothing. To a bold
rider, the former are invaluable, because with these it is possible to
keep their mettle under control.
“Hurry now, Patsy!” said the owner, as that little personage, diving
for the stirrup, which he missed, looked imploringly to his full-grown
companions for a “leg up.”
But it was not in the nature of our young officer, by name John
Walters, known in his regiment as “Daisy,” to behold an empty saddle
at any time without longing to fill it. He had altered the stirrups,
cocked up his left leg for a lift, and lit fairly in his seat, before
the astonished filly could make any more vigorous protest than a lurch
of her great strong back and whisk of her long tail.
“Begorra! ye’ll get it now!” said her owner, half to himself, half to
the Kerry cow, on which discreet animal he thought it prudent to rivet
his attention, distrusting alike the docility of his own filly, and the
English man’s equestrian skill.
Over the rough paved yard, through the stone gap by the peat-stack, not
the little cropped jackass himself could have behaved more soberly. But
where the spring flowers were peeping in the turf enclosure beyond, and
the upright bank blazed in its golden glory of gorse-bloom, the devilry
of many ancestors seemed to pass with the keen mountain-air into the
filly’s mettle. Her first plunge of hilarity and insubordination would
have unseated half the rough-riders that ever mishandled a charger in
Once–twice, she reached forward, with long, powerful plunges, shaking
her ears, and dashing wildly at her bridle, till she got rein enough
to stick her nose in the air, and break away at speed.
A snaffle, with or without a nose-band, is scarcely the instrument by
which a violent animal can be brought on its haunches at short notice;
but Daisy was a consummate horseman, firm of seat and cool of temper,
with a head that never failed him, even when debarred from the proper
use of his hands.
He could guide the mare, though incapable of controlling her. So he
sent her at the highest place in the fence before him, and, fast as she
was going, the active filly changed her stride on the bank with the
accuracy of a goat, landing lightly beyond, to scour away once more
like a frightened deer.
“You _can_ jump!” said he, as she threw up the head that had been in
its right place hardly an instant, while she steadied herself for the
leap; “and I believe you’re a flyer. But, by Jove! you’re a rum one to
She was quite out of his hand again, and laid herself down to her work
with the vigour of a steam-engine. The daisy-sprinkled turf fleeted
like falling water beneath those long, smooth, sweeping strides.
They were careering over an open upland country, always slightly on
the rise, till it grew to a bleak brown mountain far away under the
western sky. The enclosures were small; but notwithstanding the many
formidable banks and ditches with which it was intersected, the whole
landscape wore that appearance of space and freedom so peculiar to
Irish scenery, so pleasing to the sportsman’s eye. “It looked like
galloping,” as they say, though no horse, without great jumping powers,
could have gone two fields.
It took a long Irish mile, at racing pace, to bring the mare to her
bridle, and nothing but her unusual activity saved the rider from
half-a-dozen rattling falls during his perilous experiment. She bent
her neck at last, and gave to her bit in a potato-ground; nor, if he
had resolved to buy her for the sake of her speed and stamina while
she was running away with him, did he like her less, we may be sure,
when they arrived at that mutual understanding, which links together so
mysteriously the intelligences of the horse and its rider.
Turning homewards, the pair seemed equally pleased with each other. She
played gaily with the snaffle now, answering hand and heel cheerfully,
desirous only of being ridden at the largest fences, a fancy in which
he indulged her, nothing loth. Trotting up to four feet and a half of
stone wall, round her own stable-yard, she slipped over it without an
effort, and her owner, a discerning person enough, added fifty to her
price on the spot.
“She’s a good sort,” said the soldier, patting her reeking neck, as he
slid to the ground; “but she’s uncommon bad to steer when her monkey’s
up! Sound, you say, and rising four year old? I wonder how she’s bred?”
Such a question could not but entail a voluminous reply. Never, it
appeared, in one strain, had been united the qualities of so many
illustrious ancestors. Her pedigree seemed enriched with “all the blood
of all the Howards,” and her great-great-great-grandam was “Camilla by
Trentham, out of Phantom, sister to Magistrate!”
“An’ now ye’ve bought her, Captain,” said our friend in frieze, “ye’ve
taken the best iver I bred, an’ the best iver I seen. Av’ I’d let her
out o’my sight wanst at Ballinasloe, the Lord-Liftinint ‘ud have been
acrass her back, while I’m tellin’ ye, an’ him leadin’ the hunt, up in
Meath, or about the Fairy House and Kilrue. The spade wasn’t soldered
yet that would dig a ditch to hould her; and when them sort’s tired,
Captain, begorra! the very breeches ‘ud be wore to rags betwixt your
knees! You trust _her_, and you trust _me_! Wait till I tell ye now.
There’s only wan thing on this mortial earth she won’t do for ye!”
“And what’s that?” asked the other, well pleased.
“She’ll not back a bill!” was the answer; “but if iver she schames with
ye, renaging or such like, by this book, I’ll be ashamed to look a
harse, or so much as a jackass in the face again!”
So the mare was sent for; and Patsy, with a stud reduced to the donkey
and the Kerry cow, shed bitter tears when she went away.
It is time to explain how the young black mare became linked with the
fate of certain persons, whose fortunes and doings, good or bad, are
related in this story.
To that end the scene must be shifted, and laid in London–London,
on a mild February morning, when even South Audley Street and its
tributaries seemed to exhale a balmy fragrance from the breath of
In one of these, a window stood open on the drawing-room floor–so wide
open that the baker, resting his burden on the area railings below,
sniffed the perfume of hyacinths bursting their bulbs, and beat time
with floury shoes to the notes of a wild and plaintive melody, wailing
from the pianoforte within.
Though a delicate little breakfast-service had not yet been removed
from its spider-legged table, the performer at the instrument was
already hatted and habited for a ride. Her whole heart, nevertheless,
seemed to be in the tips of her fingers while she played, drawing from
the keys such sighs of piteous plaint, such sobs of sweet seductive
sorrow, as ravished the soul of the baker below, creating a strong
desire to scale the window-sill, and peep into the room. Could he have
executed such a feat, this is what he would have seen.
A woman of twenty-five, tall, slim-waisted, with a wealth of blue-black
hair, all made fast and coiled away beneath her riding-hat in shining
folds, massive as a three-inch cable. A woman of graceful gestures,
undulating like the serpent; of a shapely figure, denoting rather the
graces of action, than the beauty of repose; lithe, self-reliant, full
of latent energy, betraying in every movement an inborn pride, tameless
though kept down, and incurable as Lucifer’s before his fall.
The white hands moving so deftly over the keys were strong and nervous,
with large blue veins and taper fingers; such hands as denote a
vigorous nature and a resolute will–such hands as strike without pity,
and hold with tenacious grasp–such hands as many a lofty head has
bowed its pride to kiss, and thought no shame.
Lower and lower, she bent over them while she played–softer and softer
sank and swelled, and died away, the sad suggestive notes, bursting at
last into a peal and crash of harmony, through which there came a short
quick gasp for breath like a sob. Then she shut the pianoforte with a
bang, and walked to the glass over the fire-place.
It reflected a strangely-fascinating face, so irregular of features
that women sometimes called it “positively plain;” but on which the
other sex felt neither better nor wiser men when they looked. The
cheek-bones, chin, and jaws were prominent; the eyebrows, though
arched, too thick; and for feminine beauty, the mouth too firm, in
spite of its broad white teeth, and dark shade pencilled on the upper
lip, in spite even of its saucy curl and bright bewildering smile.
But when she lifted her flashing eyes fringed in their long black
lashes, there was no more to be said. They seemed to blaze and soften,
shine and swim, all in one glance that went straight to a man’s heart
and made him wince with a thrill akin to pain.
Pale women protested she had too much colour, and vowed she painted:
but no cosmetics ever yet concocted could have imitated her deep rich
tints, glowing like those of the black-browed beauties one sees in
Southern Europe, as if the blood ran crimson beneath her skin–as if
she, too, had caught warmth and vitality from their generous climate
and their sunny, smiling skies. When she blushed, it was like the glory
of noonday; and she blushed now, while there came a trampling of hoofs
in the street, a ring at the door-bell.
The colour faded from her brow, nevertheless, before a man’s step dwelt
heavily on the staircase, and her visitor was ushered into the room as
“General St. Josephs.”
“You are early, General,” said she, giving him her hand with royal
condescension; “early, but welcome, and–and–The horses will be round
in five minutes–Have you had any breakfast? I am afraid my coffee is
General St. Josephs knew what it was to starve in the Crimea and broil
in the Mutiny; had been shot at very often by guns of various calibres;
had brought into discipline one of the worst-drilled regiments in the
service, and was a distinguished officer, past forty years of age. What
made his heart beat, and his hands turn cold? Why did the blood rush to
his temples, while she gave him greeting?
“Don’t hurry, pray!” said he; “I can wait as long as you like. I’d wait
the whole day for you, if that was all!”
He spoke in a husky voice, as if his lips were dry. Perhaps that was
the reason she seemed not to hear.
Throwing the window wide open, she looked down the street. Taking more
of that thoroughfare than was convenient by advancing lengthways, with
many plunges and lashings out, and whiskings of her long square tail, a
black mare with a side-saddle was gradually approaching the door. The
groom who led her seemed not a little relieved when he got her to stand
by the kerb-stone, patting her nose and whispering many expletives
suggestive of composure and docility.
This attendant, though gloved, booted, and belted for a ride, felt
obviously that one such charge as he had taken in hand was enough. He
meant to fetch his own horse from the stable as soon as his mistress
was in the saddle.
A staid person, out of livery, came to the door, looking up and down
the street with the weary air of a man who resides chiefly in his
pantry. He condescended to remark, however, that “Miss Douglas was
a-comin’ down, and the mare’s coat had a polish on her same as if she’d
While the groom winked in reply, Miss Douglas appeared on the pavement;
and the baker, delivering loaves three doors off, turned round to
wonder and approve.
“May I put you up?” said the General meekly, almost timidly.
How different the tone, and yet it was the same voice that had
heretofore rung out so firm and clear in stress of mortal danger, with
its stirring order–
“The Light Brigade will advance!”
“No, thank you,” said Miss Douglas coldly; “Tiger Tim does the heavy
business. Now, Tim–one–two–three!”
“Three” landed her lightly in the saddle, and the black mare stood like
a sheep. One turn of her foot, one kick of her habit–Miss Douglas was
established where she looked her best, felt her best, and liked best to
be in the world.
So she patted the black mare’s neck, a caress her favourite
acknowledged with such a bound as might have unseated Bellerophon; and
followed by Tim, on a good-looking chestnut, rode off with her admiring
General to the Park.
Who _is_ Miss Douglas? This was the question everybody asked, and
answered too, for that matter, but not satisfactorily. Blanche
Douglas–such was the misnomer of this black-browed lady–had been in
London for two years, yet given no account of her antecedents, shown
no vouchers for her identity. To cross-question her was not a pleasant
undertaking, as certain venturous ladies found to their cost. They
called her “The Black Douglas,” indeed, out of spite, till a feminine
wit and genius gave her the nickname of “Satanella;” and as Satanella
she was henceforth known in all societies.
After that people seemed more reassured, and discovered, or possibly
invented for her, such histories as they considered satisfactory to
themselves. She was the orphan, some said, of a speculative naval
officer, who had married the cousin of a peer. Her father was drowned
off Teneriffe; her mother died of a broken heart. The girl was brought
up in a west-country school till she came of age; she had a thousand
a year, and lived near South Audley Street with her aunt, a person
of weak intellect, like many old women of both sexes. She was oddish
herself, and rather bad style; but there was no harm in her!
This was the good-natured version. The ill-natured one was the above
travestied. The father had cut his throat; the mother ran away from
him, and went mad; and the west-country school was a French convent.
The aunt and the thousand a year were equally fabulous. She was loud,
bold, horsy, more than queer, and where the money came from that kept
the little house near South Audley Street and enabled her to carry on,
goodness only knew!
Still she held her own, and the old men fell in love with her. “My
admirers,” she told Mrs. Cullender, who told _me_, “are romantic–very,
and rheumatic also, _à faire pleurer_. The combination, my dear, is
touching, but exceedingly inconvenient.”
Mrs. Cullender further affirms that old Buxton would have married and
made her a peeress, had she but held up her finger; and declares she
saw Counsellor Cramp go down on his knees to her, falling forward on
his hands, however, before he could get up again, and thus finishing
his declaration, as it were, on all-fours!
But she would have none of these, inclining rather to men of firmer
mould, and captivating especially the gallant defenders of their
country by sea and land. Admirals are all susceptible more or less, and
fickle as the winds they record in their log-books. So she scarcely
allowed them to count in her score; but at one time she had seven
general-officers on the list, with colonels and majors in proportion.
Her last conquest was St. Josephs–a handsome man, and a proud, cold,
reserved, deep-hearted, veiling under an icy demeanour a temper
sensitive as a girl’s. How many women would have delighted to lead
such a captive up and down the Ride, and show him off as the keeper
shows off his bear in its chain! How many would have paraded their
sovereignty over this stern and quiet veteran, till their own hearts
were gone, and they longed to change places with their victim, to serve
where they had thought only to command!
In February London begins to awake out of its winter sleep. Some
of the great houses have already got their blinds up, and their
doorsteps cleaned. Well-known faces are hurrying about the streets,
and a few equestrians spot the Ride, like early flies crawling over a
window-pane. The black mare lashed out at one of these with a violence
that brought his heart into the soldier’s mouth, executing thereafter
some half-dozen long and dangerous plunges. Miss Douglas sat perfectly
still, giving the animal plenty of rein; then administered one severe
cut with a stiff riding-whip, that left its mark on the smooth shining
skin; and, having thus asserted herself, made much of her favourite, as
if she loved it all the better for its wilfulness.
“I wish you wouldn’t ride that brute!” said the General tenderly.
“She’ll get out of your hand some of these days, and then there’ll be a
“Not ride her!” answered Miss Douglas, opening her black eyes wide.
“Not ride my own beautiful pet! General, I should deserve never to get
into a side-saddle again!”
“For the sake of your friends,” urged the other, drawing very close
with a pressure of the leg to his own horse’s side; “for the sake of
those who care for you; for–for–_my_ sake–Miss Douglas!”
His hand was almost on the mare’s neck, his head bent towards its
rider. If a man of his age can look “spoony,” the General was at that
moment a fit subject for ridicule to every Cornet in the Service.
Laughing rather scornfully, with a turn of her wrist she put a couple
of yards between them.
“Not even for _your_ sake, General, will I give up my darling. Do you
think I have no heart?”
His brow clouded. He looked very stern and sad, but gulped down
whatever he was going to say, and asked instead, “Why are you so fond
of that mare? She’s handsome enough, no doubt, and she can go fast; but
still, she is not the least what I call a lady’s horse.”
“That’s my secret,” answered Miss Douglas playfully; “wouldn’t you give
the world to know?”
She had a very winning way, when she chose, all the more taking from
its contrast to her ordinary manner. He felt its influence now.
“I believe I would give _you_ the world if I had it, and not even ask
for your secret in exchange,” was his reply. “One more turn, Miss
Douglas, I entreat you!” (for she was edging away as if for home.) “It
is not near luncheon-time, and I was going to say–Miss Douglas–I was
going to say–”
“Don’t say it now!” she exclaimed, with a shake of her bridle that
brought the mare in two bounds close to the footway. “I _must_ go and
speak to him! I declare she knows him again. He’s got a new umbrella.
There he is!”
“D–n Daisy!” said the General, and rode moodily out of the Park.
Mr. Walters piqued himself on his _sang-froid_. If the _fractus orbis_
had gone, as he would have expressed it, “to blue smash,” “_impavidum
ferient ruinæ_,” he would have contemplated the predicament from a
ludicrous rather than a perplexing point of view. Nevertheless, his eye
grew brighter, and the colour deepened on his cheek, when Miss Douglas
halted to lean over the rails and shake hands with him.
He was very fond of the black mare, you see, and believed firmly in her
superiority to her kind.
“Oh! Daisy! I’m so glad to see you!” said Miss Douglas. “I never
thought you’d be in London this open weather. I’m so much obliged to
you, and you’re the kindest person in the world; and–and–isn’t she
“You’re _both_ looking well,” answered Daisy gallantly; “I thought I
couldn’t miss you if I walked up this side of the Row and down the
“Oh! Daisy! You didn’t come on purpose!” exclaimed the lady, with
rather a forced laugh, and symptoms of a blush.
For answer, I am sorry to say, this young gentleman executed a
solemn wink. The age of chivalry may or may not be on the wane, but
woman-worshippers of to-day adopt a free-and-easy manner in expressing
their adoration, little flattering to the shrines at which they bow.
“Did you really want to see me?” continued Miss Douglas; “and why
couldn’t you call? I’d have ridden with you this morning if I’d known
you were in town.”
“Got no quad.,” answered the laconic Daisy.
“And yet you lent me your mare!” said she. “Indeed, I can’t think of
keeping her; I’ll return her at once. Oh! Daisy! you unselfish–”
“Goose!” replied the lady. “Now, when will you have her back? She’s
as quiet again as she used to be, and I do believe there isn’t such
another beauty in the world.”
“That’s why I gave her to _you_,” answered Daisy. “It’s no question of
lending; she’s yours, just as much as this umbrella’s mine. Beauty!
I should think she _was_ a beauty. I don’t pay compliments, or I’d
say–there’s a pair of you! Now, look here, Miss Douglas, I might ask
you to lend her to me for a month, perhaps, if I saw my way into a real
good thing. I don’t think I ever told you how I came to buy that mare,
or what a clipper she is!”
“Tell me _now_!” said Miss Douglas eagerly. “Let’s move on; people
stare so if one stops. You can speak the truth walking, I suppose, as
well as standing still!”
“It’s truth I’m telling ye!” he answered, with a laugh. “I heard of
that mare up in Roscommon when she was two years old. I was a year
and a half trying to buy her; but I got her at last, for I’m not an
impatient fellow, you know, and I never lose sight of a thing I fancy I
“Watch and wait!” said the lady.
“Yes, I watched and I waited,” he continued, “till at last they gave me
a ride. She’d had a good deal of fun with a sort of go-cart they tried
to put her in; and when I saw her I think her owner was a little out of
conceit with his venture. She was very poor and starved-looking,–not
half the mare she is now; but she ran away with me for nearly two
miles, and I found she _could_–_just_! So I bargained, and jawed, and
bothered, though I gave a hatful of money for her all the same. When I
got her home to barracks, I had her regularly broke and bitted; but she
never was easy to ride, and she never will be!”
For all comment, Miss Douglas drew the curb-rein through her fingers,
while the mare bent willingly and gently to her hand.
“Oh! I know they all go pleasant with _you_!” said Daisy. “Men and
horses, you’ve the knack of bringing them to their bridles in a day!
Well, I hunted her that season in Meath and Kildare; but somehow we
never dropped into a run. At last one morning, late in the Spring,
we turned out a deer in the Dublin country, and took him in exactly
twenty-seven minutes. _Then_ this child knew what its plaything was
made of. Didn’t I, old girl?”
He patted the mare’s neck, and her rider, whose eyes brightened
with interest, laid hers on exactly the same spot when his hand was
“You found her as good as she looks,” said Miss Douglas. “Oh! Daisy! in
that grass country it must have felt like being in heaven!”
“I don’t know about that,” said the light dragoon; “but we were not
very far off, sometimes, on the tops of those banks. However, I found
nothing could touch her in jumping, or come near her for pace. Not
a horse was within a mile of us for the last ten minutes; so I took
her down to the Curragh–and–Miss Douglas, can you–_can_ you keep a
“Of course, I can,” replied the lady. “What a question, Daisy, as if I
wasn’t much more like a man than a woman!”
His face assumed an expression of solemnity befitting the communication
he had to impart. His voice sank to a whisper, and he looked stealthily
around, as if fearful of being overheard.
“We tried her at seven pound against Robber-Chief, four Irish miles
over a steeple-chase course. She gave the Chief seven pound, her year,
and a beating. Why, it makes her as good as the Lamb!”
Notwithstanding the gravity of such a topic, Miss Douglas laughed
“How _like_ you, Daisy, to run away with an idea. It does _not_ make
her as good as The Lamb, because you once told me yourself that
Robber-Chief never runs kindly in a trial. You see I don’t forget
things. But all the same, I daresay she’s as good again, the darling,
and I’m sure she’s twice as good-looking!”
“Now, don’t you see, Miss Douglas?” proceeded Daisy, “I’ve been
thinking you and I might do a good stroke of business if we stood in
together. My idea is this. I enter her at Punchestown for the Great
United Service Handicap. I send her down to be trained on the quiet at
a place I know of, not fifteen miles from where we’re standing now.
Nobody can guess how she’s bred, nor what she is. They mean to put
crushing weights on all the public runners. She’ll be very well in, I
should say, at about eleven stone ten. I’ll ride her myself, for I know
the course, and I’m used to that country. If we win, you must have half
the stakes, and you can back her, besides, for as much as you please.
What do you say to it?”
“I like the idea _immensely_!” answered Miss Douglas. “Only I don’t
quite understand about the weights and that– But, Daisy, are you
_sure_ it isn’t dangerous? I mean for _you_. I’ve heard of such
horrible accidents at those Irish steeple-chases.”
“I tell you she _can’t_ fall,” answered this sanguine young sportsman;
“and I hope I’m not likely to tumble off _her_!”
Miss Douglas hesitated. “Couldn’t I–” she said shyly; “couldn’t I ride
her in her gallops myself?”
He laughed; but his face clouded over the next moment.
“I ought not to have asked you,” said he; “it seems so selfish to take
away your favourite; but the truth is, Miss Douglas, I’m so awfully
hard up that, unless I can land a good stake, it’s all U–P with me!”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” exclaimed Miss Douglas; “Why didn’t you–”
Here she checked herself, and continued in rather a hard voice, “Of
course, if you’re in a fix, it must be got out of, with as little delay
as possible. So take the mare, by all means; and another time, Daisy–
Well, another time don’t be so shy of asking your friend’s advice. If
I’d been your brother-officer, for instance, should I have seemed such
a bad person to consult?”
“By Jove, you’re a trump!” he exclaimed impulsively, adding, in
qualification of this outspoken sentiment, “I mean, you’ve so good a
heart, you ought to have been a man!”
She coloured with pleasure; but her face turned very grave and sad,
while she replied, “I wish I had been! Don’t you know what Tennyson
says? Never mind, you don’t read Tennyson very often, I dare say!”
“I can’t make out what fellows _mean_ in poetry,” answered Daisy. “But
I like a good song if it’s in English; and I like best of all to hear
“Now, what on earth has that to do with it?” she asked impatiently. “We
are talking about the mare. Send round for her to-morrow morning, and
you can enter her at once. Has she got a name?”
“It used to be The Dark Ladye,” he answered, smiling rather
mischievously, “out of compliment to _you_. But I’ve changed it now.”
“I ought to be very much flattered. And to what?”
She bit her lip, and tried to look vexed; but she couldn’t be angry
with Daisy, so laughed heartily as she waved him a good-bye, and
With all her independence of spirit, it cannot be supposed that Miss
Douglas went to and fro in the world of London without a chaperon. On
women, an immunity from supervision, and what we may call the freedom
of the city, is conferred by matrimony alone. This franchise seems
irrespective of age. A virgin of fifty gathers confidence under the
wing of a bride nineteen years old, shooting her arrows with the more
precision that she feels so safe behind the shield of that tender,
inexperienced matron. Why are these things so? Why do we dine at
nightfall, go to bed at sunrise, and get up at noon? Why do we herd
together in narrow staircases and inconvenient rooms at the hottest
season of the year? If people bore us, why do we ask them to dinner?
and suffer fools gladly, without ourselves being wise? I wonder if we
shall ever know.
Blanche Douglas accordingly, with more courage, resolution, and _savoir
faire_, than nine _men_ out of every ten, had placed herself under the
tutelage of Mrs. Francis Lushington, a lady with a convenient husband,
who, like the celebrated courtier, was never _in_ the way nor _out
of_ the way. She talked about “Frank,” as she called him, every ten
minutes; but somehow they were seldom seen together, except once a week
at afternoon church.
That gentleman himself must either have been the steadiest of mortals,
or the most cunning; his wife inclined to think him the latter.
Mrs. Lushington knew everybody, and went everywhere. There was no
particular reason why she should have attained popularity; but society
had taken her up, and seemed in no hurry to set her down again.
She was a little fair person, with pretty features and a soft pleading
voice, very much dressed, very much painted; as good a foil as could be
imagined to such a woman as Blanche Douglas.
They were sitting together in the dining-room of the latter about half
past two P.M. There never was such a lady for going out to luncheon
as Mrs. Lushington. If you were asked to that pleasant meal at any
house within a mile of Hyde Park Corner, it would have been a bad bet
to take five to one about not meeting her. She was like a nice little
luncheon herself. Not much of her; but what there was light, delicate,
palatable, with a good deal of garnish.
“And which is it to be, dear?” asked this lady of her hostess,
finishing a glass of sherry with considerable enjoyment. “I know
I shall have to congratulate one of them soon, and to send you a
wedding-present; but it’s no use talking about it, till I know
“Do you think it a wise thing to marry, Clara?” said the other in
reply, fixing her black eyes solemnly on her friend’s face.
Mrs. Lushington pondered. “There’s a good deal to be said on both
sides,” she answered; “and I haven’t quite made up my mind what I
should do if I were you. With me, you know, it was different. If I
hadn’t made a convenience of Frank, I should have been nursing my
dreadful old aunt still. You are very independent as you are, and do no
end of mischief. But, my dear, you won’t last for ever. That’s where we
fair women have the pull. And then you’ve so many to choose from. Yes;
I think if I were _you_, I _would_!”
“And–You’ll laugh at me, Clara, I feel,” said Miss Douglas. “Do you
think it’s a good plan to marry a man one don’t care for; I mean, who
rather bores one than otherwise?”
“I did, dear,” was the reply; “but I don’t know that I’ve found it
“It must be dreadful to see him all day long, and have to study his
fancies. Breakfast with him, perhaps, every morning at nine o’clock.”
“Frank would go without breakfast often enough, if he couldn’t make
his own tea, and insisted on such early hours. No, dear, there are
worse things than that. We have to be in the country when they want
to shoot, and in the spring too sometimes, if they’re fond of hunting.
But, on the other hand, we married women have certain advantages. We
can keep more flirtations going at once than you. Though, to be sure,
I don’t fancy the General would stand much of _that_! If ever I saw a
white Othello, it’s St. Josephs.”
“St. Josephs! Do you think I want to marry St. Josephs?”
Could the General have overheard the tone in which his name was spoken,
surely his honest heart would have felt very sore and sad.
“Well, he wants to marry _you_!” was the reply; “and, upon my word,
dear, the more I think of it, the more I am convinced you couldn’t do
better. He is rich enough, rather good-looking, and seems to know his
own mind. What would you have?”
“My dear, I _couldn’t_!”
“State your objections.”
“Well, in the first place, he’s _very_ fond of me.”
“That shows good taste; but it needn’t stand in the way, for you may be
sure it won’t last.”
“But it _will_ last, Clara, because I cannot care for _him_ in return.
My dear, if you knew what a brute I feel sometimes, when he goes away,
looking so proud and unhappy, without ever saying an impatient word.
Then I’m sorry for him, I own; but it’s no use, and I only wish he
would take up with somebody else. Don’t you think you could help me?
Clara, _would_ you mind? It’s uphill work, I know; but you’ve plenty of
others, and it wouldn’t tire you, as it does _me_!”
Miss Douglas looked so pitiful, and so much in earnest, that her friend
“I think I should like it very much,” replied the latter, “though I’ve
hardly room for another on the list. But if it’s not to be the General,
Blanche, we return to the previous question. Who is it?”
“I don’t think I shall ever marry at all,” answered the younger lady,
with a smothered sigh. “If I were a man, I certainly wouldn’t; and why
wasn’t I a man? Why can’t we be independent? go where we like, do what
we like, and for that matter, choose the people we like?”
“Then you _would_ choose somebody?”
“I didn’t say so. No, Clara; the sort of person I should fancy would be
sure never to care for me. His character must be so entirely different
from mine, and though they say, contrasts generally agree, black and
white, after all, only make a feeble kind of grey.”
“Whatever you do, dear,” expostulated Mrs. Lushington, “don’t go and
fall in love with a boy! Of all follies on earth, that pays the worst.
They are never the same two days together, and not one of them but
thinks more of the horse he bought last Monday at Tattersalls, than the
woman he ‘spooned,’ as they call it, last Saturday night at the Opera.”
Miss Douglas winced.
“I cannot agree with you,” said she, stooping to pick up her
handkerchief; “I think men grow worse rather than better, the more
they live in the world. I like people to be fresh, and earnest, and
hopeful. Perhaps it is because I am none of these myself, that I rather
Mrs. Lushington clapped her hands. “The very thing!” she exclaimed.
“He’s made on purpose for you. You ought to know Daisy!”
Miss Douglas drew herself up. “I _do_ know Mr. Walters,” she answered
coldly; “if you mean _him_. I believe he is called Daisy in his
regiment and by his very particular friends.”
“You know him! and you didn’t tell _me_!” replied the other gaily.
“Never mind. Then, of course you’re devoted to him. I am; we all are.
He’s so cheery, so imperturbable, and what I like him best for, is,
that he has no more heart than–than–well, than I have myself. There!”
Miss Douglas was on her guard now. The appropriative faculty, strong in
feminine nature as the maternal instinct, and somewhat akin to it, was
fully aroused. Only in London, no doubt, would it have been possible
for two such intimates to be ignorant of each other’s predilections;
but even here it struck Blanche there was something suspicious in her
friend’s astonishment, something not quite sincere in her enthusiasm
and her praise.
So she became exceedingly polite and affectionate, as a fencer goes
through a series of courteous salutes, while proposing to himself the
honour of running his adversary through the brisket.
“You make yourself out worse than you are, Clara,” said she; “it’s
lucky I know you so well. Indeed, you mustn’t go yet. You always run
away before I’ve said half my say. You’ll be sure to come again very
soon though. Promise, dear. What a love of a carriage!”
It was, indeed, a very pretty Victoria that stopped at the
door–fragile, costly, delicate, like a piece of porcelain on
wheels–and very pretty Mrs. Lushington looked therein, as she drove
She had turned the corner of the street some minutes before Miss
Douglas left the window. Passing a mirror, that lady caught the
reflection of her own face, and stopped, smiling, but not in mirth.
“They may well call you Satanella,” she said; “and yet I could have
been so good–so good!”