An afternoon of high summer blazed over London through the City’s awning of smoke, and the three classes of the population, relaxed by the weariful engagement with what to them was a fruitless heat, were severally bathing their ideas in dreams of the contrast possible to embrace: breezy seas or moors, aerial Alps, cool beer. The latter, if confessedly the lower comfort, is the readier at command; and Thomas Redworth, whose perspiring frame was directing his inward vision to fly for solace to a trim new yacht, built on his lines, beckoning from Southampton Water, had some of the amusement proper to things plucked off the levels, in the conversation of a couple of journeymen close ahead of him, as he made his way from a quiet street of brokers’ offices to a City Bank. One asked the other if he had ever tried any of that cold stuff they were now selling out of barrows, with cream. His companion answered, that he had not got much opinion of stuff of the sort; and what was it like?
‘Well, it’s cheap, it ain’t bad; it’s cooling. But it ain’t refreshing.’
‘Just what I reckoned all that newfangle rubbish.’
Without a consultation, the conservatives in beverage filed with a smart turn about, worthy of veterans at parade on the drill-ground, into a public-house; and a dialogue chiefly remarkable for absence of point, furnished matter to the politician’s head of the hearer. Provided that their beer was unadulterated! Beer they would have; and why not, in weather like this? But how to make the publican honest! And he was not the only trickster preying on the multitudinous poor copper crowd, rightly to be protected by the silver and the golden. Revelations of the arts practised to plump them with raw-earth and minerals in the guise of nourishment, had recently knocked at the door of the general conscience and obtained a civil reply from the footman. Repulsive as the thought was to one still holding to Whiggish Liberalism, though flying various Radical kites, he was caught by the decisive ultratorrent, and whirled to amid the necessity for the interference of the State, to stop the poisoning of the poor. Upper classes have never legislated systematically in their interests; and quid . . . rabidae tradis ovile lupae? says one of the multitude. We may be seeing fangs of wolves where fleeces waxed. The State that makes it a vital principle to concern itself with the helpless poor, meets instead of waiting for Democracy; which is a perilous flood but when it is dammed. Or else, in course of time, luxurious yachting, my friend, will encounter other reefs and breakers than briny ocean’s! Capital, whereat Diana Warwick aimed her superbest sneer, has its instant duties. She theorized on the side of poverty, and might do so: he had no right to be theorizing on the side of riches. Across St. George’s Channel, the cry for humanity in Capital was an agony. He ought to be there, doing, not cogitating. The post of Irish Secretary must be won by real service founded on absolute local knowledge. Yes, and sympathy, if you like; but sympathy is for proving, not prating. . . .
These were the meditations of a man in love; veins, arteries, headpiece in love, and constantly brooding at a solitary height over the beautiful coveted object; only too bewildered by her multifarious evanescent feminine evasions, as of colours on a ruffle water, to think of pouncing for he could do nothing to soften, nothing that seemed to please her: and all the while, the motive of her mind impelled him in reflection beyond practicable limits: even pointing him to apt quotations! Either he thought within her thoughts, or his own were at her disposal. Nor was it sufficient for him to be sensible of her influence, to restrain the impetus he took from her. He had already wedded her morally, and much that he did, as well as whatever he debated, came of Diana; more than if they had been coupled, when his downright practical good sense could have spoken. She held him suspended, swaying him in that posture; and he was not a whit ashamed of it. The beloved woman was throned on the very highest of the man.
Furthermore, not being encouraged, he had his peculiar reason for delay, though now he could offer her wealth. She had once in his hearing derided the unpleasant hiss of the ungainly English matron’s title of Mrs. There was no harm in the accustomed title, to his taste; but she disliking it, he did the same, on her special behalf; and the prospect, funereally draped, of a title sweeter-sounding to her ears, was above his horizon. Bear in mind, that he underwent the reverse of encouragement. Any small thing to please her was magnified, and the anticipation of it nerved the modest hopes of one who deemed himself and any man alive deeply her inferior.
Such was the mood of the lover condemned to hear another malignant scandal defiling the name of the woman he worshipped. Sir Lukin Dunstane, extremely hurried, bumped him on the lower step of the busy Bank, and said:
‘Pardon!’ and ‘Ha! Redwarth! making money?’
‘Why, what are you up to down here?’ he was asked, and he answered: ‘Down to the Tower, to an officer quartered there. Not bad quarters, but an infernal distance. Business.’
Having cloaked his expedition to the distance with the comprehensive word, he repeated it; by which he feared he had rendered it too significant, and he said: ‘No, no; nothing particular’; and that caused the secret he contained to swell in his breast rebelliously, informing the candid creature of the fact of his hating to lie: whereupon thus he poured himself out, in the quieter bustle of an alley, off the main thoroughfare. ‘You’re a friend of hers. I ‘m sure you care for her reputation; you’re an old friend of hers, and she’s my wife’s dearest friend; and I’m fond of her too; and I ought to be, and ought to know, and do know:—pure? Strike off my fist if there’s a spot on her character! And a scoundrel like that fellow Wroxeter! Damnedest rage I ever was in!—Swears . . . down at Lockton . . . when she was a girl. Why, Redworth, I can tell you, when Diana Warwick was a girl!’
Redworth stopped him. ‘Did he say it in your presence?’
Sir Lukin was drawn-up by the harsh question. ‘Well, no; not exactly.’ He tried to hesitate, but he was in the hot vein of a confidence and he wanted advice. ‘The cur said it to a woman—hang the woman! And she hates Diana Warwick: I can’t tell why—a regular snake’s hate. By Jove! how women carp hate!’
‘Who is the woman?’ said Redworth.
Sir Lukin complained of the mob at his elbows. ‘I don’t like mentioning names here.’
A convenient open door of offices invited him to drag his receptacle, and possible counsellor, into the passage, where immediately he bethought him of a postponement of the distinct communication; but the vein was too hot. ‘I say, Redworth, I wish you’d dine with me. Let’s drive up to my Club.—Very well, two words. And I warn you, I shall call him out, and make it appear it ‘s about another woman, who’ll like nothing so much, if I know the Jezebel. Some women are hussies, let ’em be handsome as houris. And she’s a fire-ship; by heaven, she is! Come, you’re a friend of my wife’s, but you’re a man of the world and my friend, and you know how fellows are tempted, Tom Redworth.—Cur though he is, he’s likely to step out and receive a lesson.—Well, he’s the favoured cavalier for the present . . . h’m . . . Fryar–Gannett. Swears he told her, circumstantially; and it was down at Lockton, when Diana Warwick was a girl. Swears she’ll spit her venom at her, so that Diana Warwick shan’t hold her head up in London Society, what with that cur Wroxeter, Old Dannisburgh, and Dacier. And it does count a list, doesn’t it? confound the handsome hag! She’s jealous of a dark rival. I’ve been down to Colonel Hartswood at the Tower, and he thinks Wroxeter deserves horsewhipping, and we may manage it. I know you’re dead against duelling; and so am I, on my honour. But you see there are cases where a lady must be protected; and anything new, left to circulate against a lady who has been talked of twice—Oh, by Jove! it must be stopped. If she has a male friend on earth, it must be stopped on the spot.’
Redworth eyed Sir Lukin curiously through his wrath.
‘We’ll drive up to your Club,’ he said.
‘Hartswood dines with me this evening, to confer,’ rejoined Sir Lukin. ‘Will you meet him?’
‘I can’t,’ said Redworth, ‘I have to see a lady, whose affairs I have been attending to in the City; and I ‘m engaged for the evening. You perceive, my good fellow,’ he resumed, as they rolled along, ‘this is a delicate business. You have to consider your wife. Mrs. Warwick’s, name won’t come up, but another woman’s will.’
‘I meet Wroxeter at a gambling-house he frequents, and publicly call him cheat—slap his face, if need be.’
‘Sure to!’ repeated Redworth. ‘No stupid pretext will quash the woman’s name. Now, such a thing as a duel would give pain enough.’
‘Of course; I understand,’ Sir Lukin nodded his clear comprehension. ‘But what is it you advise, to trounce the scoundrel, and silence him?’
‘Leave it to me for a day. Let me have your word that you won’t take a step: positively—neither you nor Colonel Hartswood. I’ll see you by appointment at your Club.’ Redworth looked up over the chimneys. ‘We’re going to have a storm and a gale, I can tell you.’
‘Gale and storm!’ cried Sir Lukin; ‘what has that got to do with it?’
‘Think of something else for, a time.’
‘And that brute of a woman—deuced handsome she is!—if you care for fair women, Redworth:—she’s a Venus, jumped slap out of the waves, and the Devil for sire—that you learn: running about, sowing her lies. She’s a yellow witch. Oh! but she’s a shameless minx. And a black-leg cur like Wroxeter! Any woman intimate with a fellow like that, stamps herself. I loathe her. Sort of woman who swears in the morning you’re the only man on earth; and next day—that evening-engaged!—fee to Polly Hopkins—and it’s a gentleman, a nobleman, my lord!—been going on behind your back half the season!—and she isn’t hissed when she abuses a lady, a saint in comparison! You know the world, old fellow:— Brighton, Richmond, visits to a friend as deep in the bog. How Fryar–Gunnett—a man, after all—can stand it! And drives of an afternoon for an airing-by heaven! You’re out of that mess, Redworth: not much taste for the sex; and you’re right, you’re lucky. Upon my word, the corruption of society in the present day is awful; it’s appalling.—I rattled at her: and oh! dear me, perks on her hind heels and defies me to prove: and she’s no pretender, but hopes she’s as good as any of my “chaste Dianas.” My dear old friend, it’s when you come upon women of that kind you have a sickener. And I’m bound by the best there is in a man-honour, gratitude, all the’ list—to defend Diana Warwick.’
‘So, you see, for your wife’s sake, your name can’t be hung on a woman of that kind,’ said Redworth. ‘I’ll call here the day after tomorrow at three P.M.’
Sir Lukin descended and vainly pressed Redworth to run up into his Club for refreshment. Said he roguishly:
‘Who ‘s the lady?’
The tone threw Redworth on his frankness.
‘The lady I’ve been doing business for in the City, is Miss Paynham.’
‘I saw her once at Copsley; good-looking. Cleverish?’
‘She has ability.’
Entering his Club, Sir Lukin was accosted in the reading-room by a cavalry officer, a Colonel Launay, an old Harrovian, who stood at the window and asked him whether it was not Tom Redworth in the cab. Another, of the same School, standing squared before a sheet of one of the evening newspapers, heard the name and joined them, saying: ‘Tom Redworth is going to be married, some fellow told me.’
‘He’ll make a deuced good husband to any woman—if it’s true,’ said Sir Lukin, with Miss Paynham ringing in his head. ‘He’s a cold-blooded old boy, and likes women for their intellects.’
Colonel Launay hummed in meditative emphasis. He stared at vacancy with a tranced eye, and turning a similar gaze on Sir Lukin, as if through him, burst out: ‘Oh, by George, I say, what a hugging that woman’ll get!’
The cocking of ears and queries of Sir Lukin put him to the test of his right to the remark; for it sounded of occult acquaintance with interesting subterranean facts; and there was a communication, in brief syllables and the dot language, crudely masculine. Immensely surprised, Sir Lukin exclaimed: ‘Of course! when fellows live quietly and are careful of themselves. Ah! you may think you know a man for years, and you don’t: you don’t know more than an inch or two of him. Why, of course, Tom Redworth would be uxorious—the very man! And tell us what has become of the Firefly now? One never sees her. Didn’t complain?’
‘Very much the contrary.’
Both gentlemen were grave, believing their knowledge in the subterranean world of a wealthy city to give them a positive cognizance of female humanity; and the substance of Colonel Launay’s communication had its impressiveness for them.
‘Well, it’s a turn right-about-face for me,’ said Sir Lukin. ‘What a world we live in! I fancy I’ve hit on the woman he means to marry;—had an idea of another woman once; but he’s one of your friendly fellows with women. That’s how it was I took him for a fish. Great mistake, I admit. But Tom Redworth ‘s a man of morals after all; and when those men do break loose for a plunge—ha! Have you ever boxed with him? Well, he keeps himself in training, I can tell you.’
Sir Lukin’s round of visits drew him at night to Lady Singleby’s, where he sighted the identical young lady of his thoughts, Miss Paynham, temporarily a guest of the house; and he talked to her of Redworth, and had the satisfaction to spy a blush, a rageing blush: which avowal presented her to his view as an exceedingly good-looking girl; so that he began mentally to praise Redworth for a manly superiority to small trifles and the world’s tattle.
‘You saw him today,’ he said.
She answered: ‘Yes. He goes down to Copsley tomorrow.’
‘I think not,’ said Sir Lukin.’
‘I have it from him.’ She closed her eyelids in speaking.
‘He and I have some rather serious business in town.’
‘Don’t be alarmed: not concerning him.’
‘Whom, then? You have told me so much—I have a right to know.’
‘Not an atom of danger, I assure you?’
‘It concerns Mrs. Warwick!’ said she.
Sir Lukin thought the guess extraordinary. He preserved an impenetrable air. But he had spoken enough to set that giddy head spinning.
Nowhere during the night was Mrs. Fryar–Gannett visible. Earlier than usual, she was riding next day in the Row, alone for perhaps two minutes, and Sir Lukin passed her, formally saluting. He could not help the look behind him, she sat so bewitchingly on horseback! He looked, and behold, her riding-whip was raised erect from the elbow. It was his horse that wheeled; compulsorily he was borne at a short canter to her side.
The handsome Amabel threw him a sombre glance from the corners of her uplifted eyelids; and snakish he felt it; but her colour and the line of her face went well with sullenness; and, her arts of fascination cast aside, she fascinated him more in seeming homelier, girlish. If the trial of her beauty of a woman in a temper can bear the strain, she has attractive lures indeed; irresistible to the amorous idler: and when, in addition, being the guilty person, she plays the injured, her show of temper on the taking face pitches him into perplexity with his own emotions, creating a desire to strike and be stricken, howl and set howling, which is of the happiest augury for tender reconcilement, on the terms of the gentleman on his kneecap.
‘You’ve been doing a pretty thing!’ she said, and briefly she named her house and half an hour, and flew. Sir Lukin was left to admire the figure of the horsewoman. Really, her figure had an air of vindicating her successfully, except for the poison she spat at Diana Warwick. And what pretty thing had he been doing? He reviewed dozens of speculations until the impossibility of seizing one determined him to go to Mrs. Fryar–Gunnett at the end of the half-hour—‘Just to see what these women have to say for themselves.’
Some big advance drops of Redworth’s thunderstorm drawing gloomily overhead, warned him to be quick and get his horse into stables. Dismounted, the sensational man was irresolute, suspecting a female trap. But curiosity, combined with the instinctive turning of his nose in the direction of the lady’s house, led him thither, to an accompaniment of celestial growls, which impressed him, judging by that naughty-girl face of hers and the woman’s tongue she had, as a likely prelude to the scene to come below.
Last updated Tuesday, January 12, 2016 at 18:34