Adrian really bore the news he had heard with creditable disinterestedness, and admirable repression of anything beneath the dignity of a philosopher. When one has attained that felicitous point of wisdom from which one sees all mankind to be fools, the diminutive objects may make what new moves they please, one does not marvel at them: their sedateness is as comical as their frolic, and their frenzies more comical still. On this intellectual eminence the wise youth had built his castle, and he had lived in it from an early period. Astonishment never shook the foundations, nor did envy of greater heights tempt him to relinquish the security of his stronghold, for he saw none. Jugglers he saw running up ladders that overtopped him, and air-balloons scaling the empyrean; but the former came precipitately down again, and the latter were at the mercy of the winds; while he remained tranquil on his solid unambitious ground, fitting his morality to the laws, his conscience to his morality, his comfort to his conscience. Not that voluntarily he cut himself off from his fellows: on the contrary, his sole amusement was their society. Alone he was rather dull, as a man who beholds but one thing must naturally be. Study of the animated varieties of that one thing excited him sufficiently to think life a pleasant play; and the faculties he had forfeited to hold his elevated position he could serenely enjoy by contemplation of them in others. Thus:—wonder at Master Richard’s madness: though he himself did not experience it, he was eager to mark the effect on his beloved relatives. As he carried along his vindictive hunch of cake, he shaped out their different attitudes of amaze, bewilderment, horror; passing by some personal chagrin in the prospect. For his patron had projected a journey, commencing with Paris, culminating on the Alps, and lapsing in Rome: a delightful journey to show Richard the highways of History and tear him from the risk of further ignoble fascinations, that his spirit might be altogether bathed in freshness and revived. This had been planned during Richard’s absence to surprise him.
Now the dream of travel was to Adrian what the love of woman is to the race of young men. It supplanted that foolishness. It was his Romance, as we say; that buoyant anticipation on which in youth we ride the airs, and which, as we wax older and too heavy for our atmosphere, hardens to the Hobby, which, if an obstinate animal, is a safer horse, and conducts man at a slower pace to the sexton. Adrian had never travelled. He was aware that his romance was earthly and had discomforts only to be evaded by the one potent talisman possessed by his patron. His Alp would hardly be grand to him without an obsequious landlord in the foreground: he must recline on Mammon’s imperial cushions in order to moralize becomingly on the ancient world. The search for pleasure at the expense of discomfort, as frantic lovers woo their mistresses to partake the shelter of a hut and batten on a crust, Adrian deemed the bitterness of beggarliness. Let his sweet mistress be given him in the pomp and splendour due to his superior emotions, or not at all. Consequently the wise youth had long nursed an ineffectual passion, and it argued a great nature in him, that at the moment when his wishes were to be crowned, he should look with such slight touches of spleen at the gorgeous composite fabric of Parisian cookery and Roman antiquities crumbling into unsubstantial mockery. Assuredly very few even of the philosophers would have turned away uncomplainingly to meaner delights the moment after.
Hippias received the first portion of the cake.
He was sitting by the window in his hotel, reading. He had fought down his breakfast with more than usual success, and was looking forward to his dinner at the Foreys’ with less than usual timidity.
“Ah! glad you’ve come, Adrian,” he said, and expanded his chest. “I was afraid I should have to ride down. This is kind of you. We’ll walk down together through the park. It’s absolutely dangerous to walk alone in these streets. My opinion is, that orange-peel lasts all through the year now, and will till legislation puts a stop to it. I give you my word I slipped on a piece of orange-peel yesterday afternoon in Piccadilly, and I thought I was down! I saved myself by a miracle.”
“You have an appetite, I hope?” asked Adrian.
“I think I shall get one, after a bit of a walk,” chirped Hippias. “Yes. I think I feel hungry now.”
“Charmed to hear it,” said Adrian, and began unpinning his parcel on his knees. “How should you define Folly?” he checked the process to inquire.
“Hm!” Hippias meditated; he prided himself on being oracular when such questions were addressed to him. “I think I should define it to be a slide.”
“Very good definition. In other words, a piece of orange-peel; once on it, your life and limbs are in danger, and you are saved by a miracle. You must present that to the PILGRIM. And the monument of folly, what would that be?”
Hippias meditated anew. “All the human race on one another’s shoulders.” He chuckled at the sweeping sourness of the instance.
“Very good,” Adrian applauded, “or in default of that, some symbol of the thing, say; such as this of which I have here brought you a chip.”
Adrian displayed the quarter of the cake.
“This is the monument made portable—eh?”
“Cake!” cried Hippias, retreating to his chair to dramatize his intense disgust. “You’re right of them that eat it. If I—if I don’t mistake,” he peered at it, “the noxious composition bedizened in that way is what they call wedding-cake. It’s arrant poison! Who is it you want to kill? What are you carrying such stuff about for?”
Adrian rang the bell for a knife. “To present you with your due and proper portion. You will have friends and relatives, and can’t be saved from them, not even by miracle. It is a habit which exhibits, perhaps, the unconscious inherent cynicism of the human mind, for people who consider that they have reached the acme of mundane felicity, to distribute this token of esteem to their friends, with the object probably” (he took the knife from a waiter and went to the table to slice the cake) “of enabling those friends (these edifices require very delicate incision—each particular currant and subtle condiment hangs to its neighbour—a wedding-cake is evidently the most highly civilized of cakes, and partakes of the evils as well as the advantages of civilization!)—I was saying, they send us these love-tokens, no doubt (we shall have to weigh out the crumbs, if each is to have his fair share) that we may the better estimate their state of bliss by passing some hours in purgatory. This, as far as I can apportion it without weights and scales, is your share, my uncle!”
He pushed the corner of the table bearing the cake towards Hippias.
“Get away!” Hippias vehemently motioned, and started from his chair. “I’ll have none of it, I tell you! It’s death! It’s fifty times worse than that beastly compound Christmas pudding! What fool has been doing this, then? Who dares send me cake? Me! It’s an insult.”
“You are not compelled to eat any before dinner,” said Adrian, pointing the corner of the table after him, “but your share you must take, and appear to consume. One who has done so much to bring about the marriage cannot in conscience refuse his allotment of the fruits. Maidens, I hear, first cook it under their pillows, and extract nuptial dreams therefrom—said to be of a lighter class, taken that way. It’s a capital cake, and, upon my honour, you have helped to make it—you have indeed! So here it is.”
The table again went at Hippias. He ran nimbly round it, and flung himself on a sofa exhausted, crying: “There! . . . My appetite’s gone for today!”
“Then shall I tell Richard that you won’t touch a morsel of his cake?” said Adrian, leaning on his two hands over the table and looking at his uncle.
“Yes, your nephew: my cousin: Richard! Your companion since you’ve been in town. He’s married, you know. Married this morning at Kensington parish church, by licence, at half-past eleven of the clock, or twenty to twelve. Married, and gone to spend his honeymoon in the Isle of Wight: a very delectable place for a month’s residence. I have to announce to you that, thanks to your assistance, the experiment is launched, sir!——”
There was something to think and to say in objection to it, but the wits of poor Hippias was softened by the shock. His hand travelled half-way to his forehead, spread out to smooth the surface of that seat of reason, and then fell.
“Surely you knew all about it? you were so anxious to have him in town under your charge.”
“Married?” Hippias jumped up—he had it. “Why, he’s under age! he’s an infant.”
“So he is. But the infant is not the less married. Fib like a man and pay your fee—what does it matter? Any one who is breeched can obtain a licence in our noble country. And the interests of morality demand that it should not be difficult. Is it true—can you persuade anybody that you have known nothing about it?”
“Ha! infamous joke! I wish, sir, you would play your pranks on somebody else,” said Hippias, sternly, as he sank back on the sofa. “You’ve done me up for the day, I can assure you.”
Adrian sat down to instil belief by gentle degrees, and put an artistic finish to the work. He had the gratification of passing his uncle through varied contortions, and at last Hippias perspired in conviction, and exclaimed, “This accounts for his conduct to me. That boy must have a cunning nothing short of infernal! I feel . . . I feel it just here,” he drew a hand along his midriff.
“I’m not equal to this world of fools,” he added faintly, and shut his eyes. “No, I can’t dine. Eat? ha! . . . no. Go without me!”
Shortly after Hippias went to bed, saying to himself, as he undressed, “See what comes of our fine schemes! Poor Austin!” and as the pillow swelled over his ears, “I’m not sure that a day’s fast won’t do me good.” The Dyspepsy had bought his philosophy at a heavy price; he had a right to use it.
Adrian resumed the procession of the cake.
He sighted his melancholy uncle Algernon hunting an appetite in the Row, and looking as if the hope ahead of him were also one-legged. The Captain did not pass without querying the ungainly parcel.
“I hope I carry it ostentatiously enough?” said Adrian. “Enclosed is wherewithal to quiet the alarm of the land. Now may the maids and wives of Merry England sleep secure. I had half a mind to fix it on a pole, and engage a band to parade it. This is our dear Richard’s wedding-cake. Married at half-past eleven this morning, by licence, at the Kensington parish church; his own ring being lost he employed the ring of his beautiful bride’s lachrymose landlady, she standing adjacent by the altar. His farewell to you as a bachelor, and hers as a maid, you can claim on the spot, if you think proper, and digest according to your powers.”
Algernon let off steam in a whistle. “Thompson, the solicitor’s daughter!” he said. “I met them the other day, somewhere about here. He introduced me to her. A pretty little baggage.”
“No.” Adrian set him right. “’Tis a Miss Desborough, a Roman Catholic dairymaid. Reminds one of pastoral England in the time of the Plantagenets! He’s quite equal to introducing her as Thompson’s daughter, and himself as Beelzebub’s son. However, the wild animal is in Hymen’s chains, and the cake is cut. Will you have your morsel?”
“Oh, by all means!—not now.” Algernon had an unwonted air of reflection.—“Father know it?”
“Not yet. He will to-night by nine o’clock.”
“Then I must see him by seven. Don’t say you met me.” He nodded, and pricked his horse.
“Wants money!” said Adrian, putting the combustible he carried once more in motion.
The women were the crowning joy of his contemplative mind. He had reserved them for his final discharge. Dear demonstrative creatures! Dyspepsia would not weaken their poignant outcries, or self-interest check their fainting fits. On the generic woman one could calculate. Well might THE PILGRIM’S SCRIP say of her that, “She is always at Nature’s breast”; not intending it as a compliment. Each woman is Eve throughout the ages; whereas the PILGRIM would have us believe that the Adam in men has become warier, if not wiser; and weak as he is, has learnt a lesson from time. Probably the PILGRIM’S meaning may be taken to be, that Man grows, and Woman does not.
At any rate, Adrian hoped for such natural choruses as you hear in the nursery when a bauble is lost. He was awake to Mrs. Doria’s maternal predestinations, and guessed that Clare stood ready with the best form of filial obedience. They were only a poor couple to gratify his Mephistophelian humour, to be sure, but Mrs. Doria was equal to twenty, and they would proclaim the diverse ways with which maidenhood and womanhood took disappointment, while the surrounding Forey girls and other females of the family assembly were expected to develop the finer shades and tapering edges of an agitation to which no woman could be cold.
All went well. He managed cleverly to leave the cake unchallenged in a conspicuous part of the drawing-room, and stepped gaily down to dinner. Much of the conversation adverted to Richard. Mrs. Doria asked him if he had seen the youth, or heard of him.
“Seen him? no! Heard of him? yes!” said Adrian. “I have heard of him. I heard that he was sublimely happy, and had eaten such a breakfast that dinner was impossible; claret and cold chicken, cake and——”
“Cake at breakfast!” they all interjected.
“That seems to be his fancy just now.”
“What an extraordinary taste!”
“You know, he is educated on a System.”
One fast young male Forey allied the System and the cake in a miserable pun. Adrian, a hater of puns, looked at him, and held the table silent, as if he were going to speak; but he said nothing, and the young gentleman vanished from the conversation in a blush, extinguished by his own spark.
Mrs. Doria peevishly exclaimed, “Oh! fish-cake, I suppose! I wish he understood a little better the obligations of relationship.”
“Whether he understands them, I can’t say,” observed Adrian, “but I assure you he is very energetic in extending them.”
The wise youth talked innuendoes whenever he had an opportunity, that his dear relative might be rendered sufficiently inflammable by and by at the aspect of the cake; but he was not thought more than commonly mysterious and deep.
“Was his appointment at the house of those Grandison people?” Mrs. Doria asked, with a hostile upper-lip.
Adrian warmed the blindfolded parties by replying, “Do they keep a beadle at the door?”
Mrs. Doria’s animosity to Mrs. Grandison made her treat this as a piece of satirical ingenuousness. “I daresay they do,” she said.
“And a curate on hand?”
“Oh, I should think a dozen!”
Old Mr. Forey advised his punning grandson Clarence to give that house a wide berth, where he might be disposed of and dished-up at a moment’s notice, and the scent ran off at a jest.
The Foreys gave good dinners, and with the old gentleman the excellent old fashion remained in permanence of trooping off the ladies as soon as they had taken their sustenance and just exchanged a smile with the flowers and the dessert, when they rose to fade with a beautiful accord, and the gallant males breathed under easier waistcoats, and settled to the business of the table, sure that an hour for unbosoming and imbibing was their own. Adrian took a chair by Brandon Forey, a barrister of standing.
“I want to ask you,” he said, “whether an infant in law can legally bind himself.”
“If he’s old enough to affix his signature to an instrument, I suppose he can,” yawned Brandon.
“Is he responsible for his acts?”
“I’ve no doubt we could hang him.”
“Then what he could do for himself, you could do for him?”
“Not quite so much; pretty near.”
“For instance, he can marry?”
“That’s not a criminal case, you know.”
“And the marriage is valid?”
“You can dispute it.”
“Yes, and the Greeks and the Trojans can fight. It holds then?”
“Both water and fire!”
The patriarch of the table sang out to Adrian that he stopped the vigorous circulation of the claret.
“Dear me, sir!” said Adrian, “I beg pardon. The circumstances must excuse me. The fact is, my cousin Richard got married to a dairymaid this morning, and I wanted to know whether it held in law.”
It was amusing to watch the manly coolness with which the announcement was taken. Nothing was heard more energetic than, “Deuce he has!” and, “A dairymaid!”
“I thought it better to let the ladies dine in peace,” Adrian continued. “I wanted to be able to console my aunt——”
“Well, but—well, but,” the old gentleman, much the most excited, puffed—“eh, Brandon? He’s a boy, this young ass! Do you mean to tell me a boy can go and marry when he pleases, and any trull he pleases, and the marriage is good? If I thought that I’d turn every woman off my premises. I would! from the housekeeper to the scullery-maid. I’d have no woman near him till—till——”
“Till the young greenhorn was grey, sir?” suggested Brandon.
“Till he knew what women are made of, sir!” the old gentleman finished his sentence vehemently. “What, d’ye think, will Feverel say to it, Mr. Adrian?”
“He has been trying the very System you have proposed, sir—one that does not reckon on the powerful action of curiosity on the juvenile intelligence. I’m afraid it’s the very worst way of solving the problem.”
“Of course it is,” said Clarence. “None but a fool!——”
“At your age,” Adrian relieved his embarrassment, “it is natural, my dear Clarence, that you should consider the idea of an isolated or imprisoned manhood something monstrous, and we do not expect you to see what amount of wisdom it contains. You follow one extreme, and we the other. I don’t say that a middle course exists. The history of mankind shows our painful efforts to find one, but they have invariably resolved themselves into asceticism, or laxity, acting and reacting. The moral question is, if a naughty little man, by reason of his naughtiness, releases himself from foolishness, does a foolish little man, by reason of his foolishness, save himself from naughtiness?”
A discussion, peculiar to men of the world, succeeded the laugh at Mr. Clarence. Then coffee was handed round and the footman informed Adrian, in a low voice, that Mrs. Doria Forey particularly wished to speak with him. Adrian preferred not to go in alone. “Very well,” he said, and sipped his coffee. They talked on, sounding the depths of law in Brandon Forey, and receiving nought but hollow echoes from that profound cavity. He would not affirm that the marriage was invalid: he would not affirm that it could not be annulled. He thought not: still he thought it would be worth trying. A consummated and a non-consummated union were two different things. . . .
“Dear me!” said Adrian, “does the Law recognize that? Why, that’s almost human!”
Another message was brought to Adrian that Mrs. Doria Forey very particularly wished to speak with him.
“What can be the matter?” he exclaimed, pleased to have his faith in woman strengthened. The cake had exploded, no doubt.
So it proved, when the gentlemen joined the fair society. All the younger ladies stood about the table, whereon the cake stood displayed, gaps being left for those sitting to feast their vision, and intrude the comments and speculations continually arising from fresh shocks of wonder at the unaccountable apparition. Entering with the half-guilty air of men who know they have come from a grosser atmosphere, the gallant males also ranged themselves round the common object of curiosity.
“Here! Adrian!” Mrs. Doria cried. “Where is Adrian? Pray, come here. Tell me! Where did this cake come from? Whose is it? What does it do here? You know all about it, for you brought it. Clare saw you bring it into the room. What does it mean? I insist upon a direct answer. Now do not make me impatient, Adrian.”
Certainly Mrs. Doria was equal to twenty. By her concentrated rapidity and volcanic complexion it was evident that suspicion had kindled.
“I was really bound to bring it,” Adrian protested.
The wise youth bowed: “Categorically. This cake came from the house of a person, a female, of the name of Berry. It belongs to you partly, partly to me, partly to Clare, and to the rest of our family, on the principle of equal division: for which purpose it is present. . . . ”
“It means, my dear aunt, what that kind of cake usually does mean.”
“This, then, is the Breakfast! And the ring! Adrian! where is Richard?”
Mrs. Doria still clung to unbelief in the monstrous horror.
But when Adrian told her that Richard had left town, her struggling hope sank. “The wretched boy has ruined himself!” she said, and sat down trembling.
Oh! that System! The delicate vituperations gentle ladies use instead of oaths, Mrs. Doria showered on that System. She hesitated not to say that her brother had got what he deserved. Opinionated, morbid, weak, justice had overtaken him. Now he would see! but at what a price! at what a sacrifice!
Mrs. Doria commanded Adrian to confirm her fears.
Sadly the wise youth recapitulated Berry’s words. “He was married this morning at half-past eleven of the clock, or twenty to twelve, by licence, at the Kensington parish church.”
“Then that was his appointment!” Mrs. Doria murmured.
“That was the cake for breakfast!” breathed a second of her sex.
“And it was his ring!” exclaimed a third.
The men were silent, and made long faces.
Clare stood cold and sedate. She and her mother avoided each other’s eyes.
“Is it that abominable country person, Adrian?”
“The happy damsel is, I regret to say, the Papist dairymaid,” said Adrian, in sorrowful but deliberate accents.
Then arose a feminine hum, in the midst of which Mrs. Doria cried, “Brandon!” She was a woman of energy. Her thoughts resolved to action spontaneously.
“Brandon,” she drew the barrister a little aside, “can they not be followed, and separated? I want your advice. Cannot we separate them? A boy! it is really shameful if he should be allowed to fall into the toils of a designing creature to ruin himself irrevocably. Can we not, Brandon?”
The worthy barrister felt inclined to laugh, but he answered her entreaties: “From what I hear of the young groom I should imagine the office perilous.”
“I’m speaking of law, Brandon. Can we not obtain an order from one of your Courts to pursue them and separate them instantly?”
Brandon was sorry to say she decidedly could not.
“You might call on one of your Judges, Brandon.”
Brandon assured her that the Judges were a hard-worked race, and to a man slept heavily after dinner.
“Will you do so tomorrow, the first thing in the morning? Will you promise me to do so, Brandon?—Or a magistrate! A magistrate would send a policeman after them. My dear Brandon! I beg—I beg you to assist us in this dreadful extremity. It will be the death of my poor brother. I believe he would forgive anything but this. You have no idea what his notions are of blood.”
Brandon tipped Adrian a significant nod to step in and aid.
“What is it, aunt?” asked the wise youth. “You want them followed and torn asunder by wild policemen?”
“To-morrow;” Brandon queerly interposed.
“Won’t that be-just too late?” Adrian suggested.
Mrs. Doria sighed out her last spark of hope.
“You see,” said Adrian. . . .
“Yes! yes!” Mrs. Doria did not require any of his elucidations. “Pray be quiet, Adrian, and let me speak. Brandon! it cannot be! it’s quite impossible! Can you stand there and tell me that boy is legally married? I never will believe it! The law cannot be so shamefully bad as to permit a boy—a mere child—to do such absurd things. Grandpapa!” she beckoned to the old gentleman. “Grandpapa! pray do make Brandon speak. These lawyers never will. He might stop it, if he would. If I were a man, do you think I would stand here?”
“Well, my dear,” the old gentleman toddled to compose her, “I’m quite of your opinion. I believe he knows no more than you or I. My belief is they none of them know anything till they join issue and go into Court. I want to see a few female lawyers.”
“To encourage the bankrupt perruquier, sir?” said Adrian. “They would have to keep a large supply of wigs on hand.”
“And you can jest, Adrian!” his aunt reproached him. “But I will not be beaten. I know—I am firmly convinced that no law would ever allow a boy to disgrace his family and ruin himself like that, and nothing shall persuade me that it is so. Now, tell me, Brandon, and pray do speak in answer to my questions, and please to forget you are dealing with a woman. Can my nephew be rescued from the consequences of his folly? Is what he has done legitimate? Is he bound for life by what he has done while a boy?”
“Well—a,” Brandon breathed through his teeth. “A—hm! the matter’s so very delicate, you see, Helen.”
“You’re to forget that,” Adrian remarked.
“A—hm! well!” pursued Brandon. “Perhaps if you could arrest and divide them before nightfall, and make affidavit of certain facts”. . . .
“Yes?” the eager woman hastened his lagging mouth.
“Well . . . hm! a . . . in that case . . . a. . . . Or if a lunatic, you could prove him to have been of unsound mind.” . . .
“Oh! there’s no doubt of his madness on my mind, Brandon.”
“Yes! well! in that case. . . . Or if of different religious persuasions”. . . .
“She is a Catholic!” Mrs. Doria joyfully interjected.
“Yes! well! in that case . . . objections might be taken to the form of the marriage. . . . Might be proved fictitious. . . . Or if he’s under, say, eighteen years.”
“He can’t be much more,” cried Mrs. Doria. “I think,” she appeared to reflect, and then faltered imploringly to Adrian, “What is Richard’s age?”
The kind wise youth could not find it in his heart to strike away the phantom straw she caught at.
“Oh! about that, I should fancy,” he muttered, and found it necessary at the same time to duck and turn his head for concealment. Mrs. Doria surpassed his expectations.
“Yes! well, then. . . . ” Brandon was resuming with a shrug, which was meant to say he still pledged himself to nothing, when Clare’s voice was heard from out the buzzing circle of her cousins: “Richard is nineteen years and six months old today, mama.”
“He is, mama.” Clare’s voice was very steadfast.
“Nonsense, I tell you. How can you know?”
“Richard is one year and nine months older than me, mama.”
Mrs. Doria fought the fact by years and finally by months. Clare was too strong for her.
“Singular child!” she mentally apostrophized the girl who scornfully rejected straws while drowning.
“But there’s the religion still!” she comforted herself, and sat down to cogitate.
The men smiled and looked vacuous.
Music was proposed. There are times when soft music hath not charms; when it is put to as base uses as Imperial Cæsar’s dust and is taken to fill horrid pauses. Angelica Forey thumped the piano, and sang: “I’m a laughing Gitana, ha—ha! ha—ha!” Matilda Forey and her cousin Mary Bransburne wedded their voices, and songfully incited all young people to Haste to the bower that love has built, and defy the wise ones of the world; but the wise ones of the world were in a majority there, and very few places of assembly will be found where they are not; so the glowing appeal of the British ballad-monger passed into the bosom of the emptiness he addressed. Clare was asked to entertain the company. The singular child calmly marched to the instrument, and turned over the appropriate illustrations to the ballad-monger’s repertory.
Clare sang a little Irish air. Her duty done, she marched from the piano. Mothers are rarely deceived by their daughters in these matters; but Clare deceived her mother; and Mrs. Doria only persisted in feeling an agony of pity for her child, that she might the more warrantably pity herself—a not uncommon form of the emotion, for there is no juggler like that heart the ballad-monger puts into our mouths so boldly. Remember that she saw years of self-denial, years of a ripening scheme, rendered fruitless in a minute, and by the System which had almost reduced her to the condition of constitutional hypocrite. She had enough of bitterness to brood over, and some excuse for self-pity.
Still, even when she was cooler, Mrs. Doria’s energetic nature prevented her from giving up. Straws were straws, and the frailer they were the harder she clutched them.
She rose from her chair, and left the room, calling to Adrian to follow her.
“Adrian,” she said, turning upon him in the passage, “you mentioned a house where this horrible cake . . . where he was this morning. I desire you to take me to that woman immediately.”
The wise youth had not bargained for personal servitude. He had hoped he should be in time for the last act of the opera that night, after enjoying the comedy of real life.
“My dear aunt” . . . he was beginning to insinuate.
“Order a cab to be sent for, and get your hat,” said Mrs. Doria.
There was nothing for it but to obey. He stamped his assent to the PILGRIM’S dictum, that Women are practical creatures, and now reflected on his own account, that relationship to a young fool may be a vexation and a nuisance. However, Mrs. Doria compensated him.
What Mrs. Doria intended to do, the practical creature did not plainly know; but her energy positively demanded to be used in some way or other, and her instinct directed her to the offender on whom she could use it in wrath. She wanted somebody to be angry with, somebody to abuse. She dared not abuse her brother to his face: him she would have to console. Adrian was a fellow-hypocrite to the System, and would, she was aware, bring her into painfully delicate, albeit highly philosophic, ground by a discussion of the case. So she drove to Bessy Berry simply to inquire whither her nephew had flown.
When a soft woman, and that soft woman a sinner, is matched with a woman of energy, she does not show much fight, and she meets no mercy. Bessy Berry’s creditor came to her in female form that night. She then beheld it in all its terrors. Hitherto it had appeared to her as a male, a disembodied spirit of her imagination possessing male attributes, and the peculiar male characteristic of being moved, and ultimately silenced, by tears. As female, her creditor was terrible indeed. Still, had it not been a late hour, Bessy Berry would have died rather than speak openly that her babes had sped to make their nest in the Isle of Wight. They had a long start, they were out of the reach of pursuers, they were safe, and she told what she had to tell. She told more than was wise of her to tell. She made mention of her early service in the family, and of her little pension. Alas! her little pension! Her creditor had come expecting no payment—come, as creditors are wont in such moods, just to take it out of her—to employ the familiar term. At once Mrs. Doria pounced upon the pension.
“That, of course, you know is at an end,” she said in the calmest manner, and Berry did not plead for the little bit of bread to her. She only asked a little consideration for her feelings.
True admirers of women had better stand aside from the scene. Undoubtedly it was very sad for Adrian to be compelled to witness it. Mrs. Doria was not generous. The PILGRIM may be wrong about the sex not growing; but its fashion of conducting warfare we must allow to be barbarous, and according to what is deemed the pristine, or wild cat, method. Ruin, nothing short of it, accompanied poor Berry to her bed that night, and her character bled till morning on her pillow.
The scene over, Adrian reconducted Mrs. Doria to her home. Mice had been at the cake during her absence apparently. The ladies and gentlemen present put it on the greedy mice, who were accused of having gorged and gone to bed.
“I’m sure they’re quite welcome,” said Mrs. Doria. “It’s a farce, this marriage, and Adrian has quite come to my way of thinking. I would not touch an atom of it. Why, they were married in a married woman’s ring! Can that be legal, as you call it? Oh, I’m convinced! Don’t tell me. Austin will be in town tomorrow, and if he is true to his principles, he will instantly adopt measures to rescue his son from infamy. I want no legal advice. I go upon common sense, common decency. This marriage is false.”
Mrs. Doria’s fine scheme had become so much a part of her life, that she could not give it up. She took Clare to her bed, and caressed and wept over her, as she would not have done had she known the singular child, saying, “Poor Richard! my dear poor boy! we must save him, Clare! we must save him!” Of the two the mother showed the greater want of iron on this occasion. Clare lay in her arms rigid and emotionless, with one of her hands tight-locked. All she said was: “I knew it in the morning, mama.” She slept clasping Richard’s nuptial ring.
By this time all specially concerned in the System knew it. The honeymoon was shining placidly above them. Is not happiness like another circulating medium? When we have a very great deal of it, some poor hearts are aching for what is taken away from them. When we have gone out and seized it on the highways, certain inscrutable laws are sure to be at work to bring us to the criminal bar, sooner or later. Who knows the honeymoon that did not steal somebody’s sweetness? Richard Turpin went forth, singing “Money or life” to the world: Richard Feverel has done the same, substituting “Happiness” for “Money,” frequently synonyms. The coin he wanted he would have, and was just as much a highway robber as his fellow Dick, so that those who have failed to recognize him as a hero before, may now regard him in that light. Meanwhile the world he has squeezed looks exceedingly patient and beautiful. His coin chinks delicious music to him. Nature and the order of things on earth have no warmer admirer than a jolly brigand or a young man made happy by the Jews.
Last updated Tuesday, January 12, 2016 at 15:11