HE did follow her, and, convinced that she would be engaged ten deep in five minutes, hustled up to the master of the ceremonies and begged an introduction. The great banker’s son was attended to at once. Julia saw them coming, as her sex can see, without looking. Her eyes were on fire, and a delicious blush on her cheeks, when the M. C. introduced Mr. Alfred Hardie with due pomp. He asked her to dance.
“I am engaged for this dance, sir,” said she softly.
“The next?” asked Hardie timidly.
But when they had got so far they were both seized with bashful silence; and just as Alfred was going to try and break it, Cornet Bosanquet, aged 18, height 5 feet 4 inches, strutted up with clanking heel, and, glancing haughtily up at him, carried Julia off, like a steam-tug towing away some fair schooner. To these little thorns society treats all anxious lovers, but the incident was new to Alfred, and discomposed him; and, besides, he had nosed a rival in Sampson’s prescription. So now he thought to himself, “that little ensign is ‘his puppy.’”
To get rid of Mrs. Dodd he offered to conduct her to a seat. She thanked him; she would rather stand where she could see her daughter dance: on this he took her to the embrasure of a window opposite where Julia and her partner stood, and they entered a circle of spectators. The band struck up, and the solemn skating began.
“Who is this lovely creature in white?” asked a middle-aged solicitor. “In white? I did not see any beauty in white,” replied his daughter. “Why there, before your eyes,” said the gentleman, loudly.
“What, that girl dancing with the little captain? I don’t see much beauty in her. And what a rubbishing dress.”
“It never cost a pound, making and all,” suggested another Barkingtonian nymph.
“But what splendid pearls!” said a third: “can they be real?”
“Real! what an idea!” ejaculated a fourth: “who puts on real pearls as big as peas with muslin at twenty pence the yard?”
“Weasels!” muttered Alfred, and quivered all over: and he felt to Mrs. Dodd so like a savage going to spring, that she laid her hand upon his wrist, and said gently, but with authority, “Be calm, sir! and oblige me by not noticing these people.”
Then they threw dirt on her bouquet, and then on her shoes, while she was winding in and out before their eyes a Grace, and her soft muslin drifting and flowing like an appropriate cloud round a young goddess.
“A little starch would make it set out better. It’s as limp as a towel on the line.”
“I’ll be sworn it was washed at home.”
“Where it was made.”
“I call it a rag, not a gown.”
“Do let us move,” whispered Alfred.
“I am very comfortable here,” whispered Mrs. Dodd. “How can these things annoy my ears while I have eyes? Look at her: she is the best-dressed lady in the room; her muslin is Indian, and of a quality unknown to these provincial shopkeepers; a rajah gave it us: her pearls were my mother’s, and have been in every court in Europe; and she herself is beautiful, would be beautiful dressed like the dowdies who are criticising her: and I think, sir, she dances as well as any lady can encumbered with an Atom that does not know the figure.” All this with the utmost placidity.
Then, as if to extinguish all doubt, Julia flung them a heavenly smile; she had been furtively watching them all the time, and she saw they were talking about her.
The other Oxonian squeezed up to Hardie. “Do you know the beauty? She smiled your way.
“Ah!” said Hardie, deliberately, “you mean that young lady with the court pearls, in that exquisite Indian muslin, which floats so gracefully, while the other muslin girls are all crimp and stiff; like little pigs clad in crackling.”
“Ha! ha! ha! Yes. Introduce me.”
“I could not take such a liberty with the queen of the ball.”
Mrs. Dodd smiled, but felt nervous and ill at ease. She thought to herself, “Now here is a generous, impetuous thing.” As for the hostile party, staggered at first by the masculine insolence of young Hardy, it soon recovered, and, true to its sex, attacked him obliquely, through his white ladye.
“Who is the beauty of the ball?” asked one, haughtily.
“I don’t know, but not that mawkish thing in limp muslin.”
“I should say Miss Hetherington is the belle,” suggested a third.
“Which is Miss Hetherington?” asked the Oxonian coolly of Alfred.
“Oh, she won’t do for us. It is that little chalk-faced girl, dressed in pink with red roses; the pink of vulgarity and bad taste.”
At this both Oxonians laughed arrogantly, and Mrs. Dodd withdrew her hand from the speaker’s arm and glided away behind the throng. Julia looked at him with marked anxiety. He returned her look, and was sore puzzled what it meant, till he found Mrs. Dodd had withdrawn softly from him; then he stood confused, regretting too late he had not obeyed her positive request, and tried to imitate her dignified forbearance.
The quadrille ended. He instantly stepped forward, and bowing politely to the cornet, said authoritatively, “Mrs. Dodd sends me to conduct you to her. With your permission, sir.” His arm was offered and taken before the little warrior knew where he was.
He had her on his arm, soft, light, and fragrant as zephyr, and her cool breath wooing his neck; oh, the thrill of that moment! but her first word was to ask him, with considerable anxiety, “Why did mamma leave you?”
“Miss Dodd, I am the most unhappy of men.”
“No doubt! no doubt!” said she, a little crossly. She added with one of her gushes of naivete, “and I shall be unhappy too if you go and displease mamma.”
“What could I do? A gang of snobbesses were detracting from — somebody. To speak plainly, they were running down the loveliest of her sex. Your mamma told me to keep quiet. And so I did till I got a fair chance, and then I gave it them in their teeth.” He ground his own, and added, “I think I was very good not to kick them.”
.Julia coloured with pleasure, and proceeded to turn it off. “Oh! most forbearing and considerate,” said she. “Ah! by the way, I think I did hear some ladies express a misgiving as to the pecuniary value of my costume; ha! ha! Oh — you — foolish! — Fancy noticing that! Why it is in little sneers that the approval of the ladies shows itself at a ball, and it is a much sincerer compliment than the gentlemen’s bombastical praises: ‘the fairest of her sex,’ and so on; that none but the ‘silliest of her sex’ believe.”
“Miss Dodd, I never said the fairest of her sex. I said the loveliest.”
“Oh, that alters the case entirely,” said Julia, whose spirits were mounting with the lights and music, and Alfred’s company; “so now come and be reconciled to the best and wisest of her sex; ay, and the beautifullest, if you but knew her sweet, dear, darling face as I do. There she is; let us fly.”
“Mamma, here is a penitent for you, real or feigned, I don’t know which.”
“Real, Mrs. Dodd,” said Alfred. “ I had no right to disobey you and risk a scene. You served me right by abandoning me; I feel the rebuke and its justice. Let me hope your vengeance will go no further.”
Mrs. Dodd smiled at the grandiloquence of youth, and told him he had mistaken her character. “I saw I had acquired a generous, hot-headed ally, who was bent on doing battle with insects; so I withdrew; but so I should at Waterloo, or anywhere else where people put themselves in a passion.”
The band struck up again.
“Ah!” said Julia, “and I promised you this dance; but it is a waltz and my guardian angel objects to the valse a deux temps.”
“Decidedly. Should all the mothers in England permit their daughters to romp and wrestle in public, and call it waltzing, I must stand firm till they return to their senses.”
Julia looked at Alfred despondently. He took his cue and said with a smile, “Well, perhaps it is a little rompy; a donkey’s gallop and then twirl her like a mop.”
“Since you admit that, perhaps you can waltz properly?” said Mrs. Dodd.
Alfred said he ought; he had given his whole soul to it in Germany last Long.
“Then I can have the pleasure of dropping the tyrant. Away with you both while there is room to circulate.”
Alfred took his partner delicately; they made just two catlike steps forward, and melted into the old-fashioned waltz.
It was an exquisite moment. To most young people Love comes after a great deal of waltzing. But this pair brought the awakened tenderness and trembling sensibilities of two burning hearts to this their first intoxicating whirl. To them, therefore, everything was an event, everything was a thrill — the first meeting and timid pressure of their hands, the first delicate enfolding of her supple waist by his strong arm but trembling hand, the delightful unison of their unerring feet, the movement, the music, the soft delicious whirl, her cool breath saluting his neck, his ardent but now liquid eyes seeking hers tenderly, and drinking them deep, hers that now and then sipped his so sweetly — all these were new and separate joys, that linked themselves in one soft delirium of bliss. It was not a waltz it was an Ecstasy.
Starting almost alone, this peerless pair danced a gauntlet. On each side admiration and detraction buzzed all the time.
“Beautiful! They are turning in the air.”
“Quite gone by. That’s how the old fogies dance.”
Chorus of shallow males: “How well she waltzes.”
Chorus of shallow females: “How well he waltzes.”
But they noted neither praise nor detraction: they saw nothing, heard nothing, felt nothing, but themselves and the other music, till two valsers a deux temps plunged into them. Thus smartly reminded they had not earth all to themselves, they laughed good-humouredly and paused.
“Ah! I am happy!” gushed from Julia. She hushed at herself, and said severely, “You dance very well, sir.” This was said to justify her unguarded admission, and did, after a fashion. “I think it is time to go to mamma,” said she demurely.
“So soon? And I had so much to say to you.”
“Oh, very well. I am all attention.”
The sudden facility offered set Alfred stammering a little. “I wanted to apologise to you for something — you are so good you seem to have forgotten it — but I dare not hope that — I mean at Henley — when the beauty of your character, and your goodness, so overpowered me, that a fatal impulse ——”
“What do you mean, sir?” said Julia, looking him full in the face, like an offended lion, while, with true feminine and Julian inconsistency her bosom fluttered like a dove. “I never exchanged one word with you in my life before today; and I never shall again if you pretend the contrary.”
Alfred stood stupified, and looked at her in piteous amazement.
“I value your acquaintance highly, Mr. Hardie, now I have made it, as acquaintances are made; but please to observe, I never saw you before — scarcely; not even in church.”
“As you please,” said he, recovering his wits in part. “What you say I’ll swear to.”
“Then I say, never remind a lady of what you ought to wish her to forget.”
“I was a fool, and you are an angel of tact and goodness.”
“Oh, now I am sure it is time to join mamma,” said she in the driest, drollest way. “Valsons.”
They waltzed down to Mrs. Dodd, exchanging hearts at every turn, and they took a good many in the space of a round table, for in truth both were equally loth to part.
At two o’clock Mrs. Dodd resumed common-place views of a daughter’s health, and rose to go.
Her fly had played her false, and, being our island home, it rained buckets. Alfred ran, before they could stop him, and caught a fly. He was dripping. Mrs. Dodd expressed her regrets; he told her it did not matter; for him the ball was now over, the flowers faded, and the lights darkness visible.
“The extravagance of these children!” said Mrs. Dodd to Julia, with a smile, as soon as he was out of hearing. Julia made no reply.
Next day she was at evening church: the congregation was very sparse. The first glance revealed Alfred Hardie standing in the very next pew. He wore a calm front of conscious rectitude; under which peeped sheep-faced misgivings as to the result of this advance; for, like all true lovers, he was half impudence, half timidity; and both on the grand scale.
Now Julia in a ball-room was one creature, another in church. After the first surprise, which sent the blood for a moment to her cheek, she found he had come without a prayer-book. She looked sadly and half reproachfully at him; then put her white hand calmly over the wooden partition, and made him read with her out of her book. She shared her hymn-book with him, too, and sang her Maker’s praise modestly and soberly, but earnestly, and quite undisturbed by her lover’s presence. It seemed as if this pure creature was drawing him to heaven holding by that good book, and by her touching voice. He felt good all over. To be like her, be tried to bend his whole mind on the prayers of the church, and for the first time realised how beautiful they are.
After service he followed her to the door. Island home again, by the pailful; and she had a thick shawl but no umbrella. He had brought a large one on the chance; he would see her home.
“Quite unnecessary; it is so near.”
He insisted; she persisted; and, persisting, yielded. They said but little; yet they seemed to interchange volumes; and, at each gaslight they passed, they stole a look and treasured it to feed on.
That night was one broad step more towards the great happiness, or great misery, which awaits a noble love. Such loves, somewhat rare in Nature, have lately become so very rare in Fiction that I have ventured, with many misgivings, to detail the peculiarities of its rise and progress. But now for a time it advanced on beaten tracks. Alfred had the right to call at Albion Villa, and he came twice; once when Mrs. Dodd was out. This was the time he stayed the two hours. A Mrs. James invited Jane and him to tea and exposition. There he met Julia and Edward, who had just returned. Edward was taken with Jane Hardie’s face and dovelike eyes; eyes that dwelt with a soft and chastened admiration on his masculine face and his model form, and their owner felt she had received “a call” to watch over his spiritual weal. So they paired off.
Julia’s fluctuating spirits settled now into a calm, demure, complacency. Her mother, finding this strange remedial virtue in youthful society, gave young parties, inviting Jane and Alfred in their turn. Jane hesitated, but, as she could no longer keep Julia from knowing her worldly brother, and hoped a way might be opened for her to rescue Edward, she relaxed her general rule, which was to go into no company unless some religious service formed part of the entertainment. Yet her conscience was ill at ease; and, to set them an example, she took care, when she asked the Dodds in return, to have a clergyman there of her own party, who could pray and expound with unction.
Mrs. Dodd, not to throw cold water on what seemed to gratify her children, accepted Miss Hardie’s invitation; but she never intended to go, and at the last moment wrote to say she was slightly indisposed. The nature of her indisposition she revealed to Julia alone. “That young lady keeps me on thorns. I never feel secure she will not say or do something extravagant or unusual: she seems to suspect sobriety and good taste of being in league with impiety. Here I succeed in bridling her a little; but encounter a female enthusiast in her own house? merci! After all, there must be something good in her, since she is your friend, and you are hers. But I have something more serious to say before you go there: it is about her brother. He is a flirt: in fact, a notorious one, more than one lady tells me.”
Julia was silent, but began to be very uneasy; they were sitting and talking after sunset, yet without candles. She profited for once by that prodigious gap in the intelligence of “the sex.”
“I hear he pays you compliments, and I have seen a disposition to single you out. Now, my love, you have the good sense to know that, whatever a young gentleman of that age says to you, he says to many other ladies; but your experience is not equal to your sense; so profit by mine. A girl of your age must never be talked of with a person of the other sex: it is fatal; fatal! but if you permit yourself to be singled out, you will be talked of, and distress those who love you. It is easy to avoid injudicious duets in society; oblige me by doing so to-night.” To show how much she was in earnest, Mrs. Dodd hinted that, were her admonition neglected, she should regret for once having kept clear of an enthusiast.
Julia had no alternative; she assented in a faint voice. After a pause she faltered out, “And suppose he should esteem me seriously?”
Mrs. Dodd replied quickly, “Then that would be much worse. But,” said she, “I have no apprehensions on that score; you are a child, and he is a precocious boy, and rather a flirt. But forewarned is forearmed. So now run away and dress, sweet one: my lecture is quite ended.”
The sensitive girl went up to her room with a heavy heart. All the fears she had lulled of late revived. She saw plainly now that Mrs. Dodd only accepted Alfred as a pleasant acquaintance: as a son-inlaw he was out of the question. “Oh, what will she say when she knows all?” thought Julia.
Next day, sitting near the window, she saw him coming up the road. After the first movement of pleasure at the bare sight of him, she was sorry he had come. Mamma’s suspicions awake at last, and here he was again; the third call in one fortnight! She dared not risk an interview with him, ardent and unguarded, under that penetrating eye, which she felt would now be on the watch. She rose hurriedly, said as carelessly as she could, “I am going to the school,” and tying her bonnet on all in a flurry, whipped out at the back-door with her shawl in her hand just as Sarah opened the front door to Alfred. She then shuffled on her shawl, and whisked through the little shrubbery into the open field, and reached a path that led to the school, and so gratified was she at her dexterity in evading her favourite, that she hung her head, and went murmuring, “Cruel, cruel, cruel!”
Alfred entered the drawing-room gaily, with a good-sized card and a prepared speech. His was not the visit of a friend, but a functionary; the treasurer of the cricket-ground come to book two of his eighteen to play against the All–England Eleven next month. “As for you, my worthy sir (turning to Edward), I shall just put you down without ceremony. But I must ask leave to book Captain Dodd. Mrs. Dodd, I come at the universal desire of the club; they say it is sure to be a dull match without Captain Dodd. Besides, he is a capital player.”
“Mamma, don’t you be caught by his chaff,” said Edward, quietly. “Papa is no player at all. Anything more unlike cricket than his way of making runs!”
“But he makes them, old fellow; now you and I, at Lord’s the other day, played in first-rate form, left shoulder well up, and achieved — with neatness, precision, dexterity, and despatch — the British duck’s-egg.
“Misericorde! What is that?” inquired Mrs. Dodd.
Why, a round O,” said the other Oxonian, coming to his friend’s aid.
“And what is that, pray?”
Alfred told her “the round O,” which had yielded to “the duck’s egg,” and was becoming obsolete, meant the cypher set by the scorer against a player’s name who is out without making a run.
“I see,” sighed Mrs. Dodd. “The jargon of the day penetrates to your very sports and games. And why British?”
“Oh, ‘British’ is redundant: thrown in by the universities.”
“But what does it mean?”
“It means nothing. That is the beauty of it. British is inserted in imitation of our idols, the Greeks; they adored redundancy.”
In short, poor Alfred, though not an M. P., was talking to put off time, till Julia should come in: so he now favoured Mrs. Dodd, of all people, with a flowery description of her husband’s play, which I, who have not his motive for volubility, suppress. However, he wound up with the captains “moral influence.” “Last match,” said he, “Barkington did not do itself justice. Several, that could have made a stand, were frightened out, rather than bowled, by the London professionals. Then Captain Dodd went in, and treated those artists with the same good-humoured contempt he would a parish bowler, and, in particular, sent Mynne’s over-tossed balls flying over his head for five, or to square leg for four, and, on his retiring with twenty-five, scored in eight minutes, the remaining Barkingtonians were less funky, and made some fair scores.”
Mrs. Dodd smiled a little ironically at this tirade, but said she thought she might venture to promise Mr. Dodd’s cooperation, should he reach home in time. Then, to get rid of Alfred before Julia’s return, the amiable worldling turned to Edward. “Your sister will not be back, so you may as well ring the bell for luncheon at once. Perhaps Mr. Hardie will join us.”
Alfred declined, and took his leave with far less alacrity than he had entered; Edward went down-stairs with him.
“Miss Dodd gone on a visit?” asked Alfred, affecting carelessness.
“Only to the school. By-the-bye, I will go and fetch her.”
“No, don’t do that; call on my sister instead, and then you will pull me out of a scrape. I promised to bring her here; but her saintship was so long adorning ‘the poor perishable body,’ that I came alone.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Edward. “I am not the attraction here; it is Julia.”
“How do you know that? When a young lady interests herself in an undergraduate’s soul, it is a pretty sure sign she likes the looks of him. But perhaps you don’t want to be converted; if so, keep clear of her. ‘Bar the fell dragon’s blighting way; but shun that lovely snare.’”
“On the contrary,” said Edward calmly, “ I only wish she could make me as good as she is, or half as good.”
“Give her the chance, old fellow, and then it won’t be your fault if she makes a mess of it. Call at two, and Jenny will receive you very kindly, and will show you you are in the ‘gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.’ Now, won’t that be nice?”
“I will go,” said Edward gravely.
They parted. Where Alfred went the reader can perhaps guess; Edward to luncheon.
“Mamma,” said he, with that tranquillity which sat so well on him, “don’t you think Alfred Hardie is spoony upon our Julia?”
Mrs. Dodd suppressed a start, and (perhaps to gain time before replying sincerely) said she had not the honour of knowing what “spoony” meant.
“Why, sighs for her, and dies for her, and fancies she is prettier than Miss Hardie. He must be over head and ears to think that.”
“Fie, child! “ was the answer. “If I thought so, I should withdraw from their acquaintance. Excuse me; I must put on my bonnet at once, not to lose this fine afternoon.”
Edward did not relish her remark: it menaced more Spoons than one. However, he was not the man to be cast down at a word: he lighted a cigar, and strolled towards Hardie’s house. Mr. Hardie, senior, had left three days ago on a visit to London; Miss Hardie received him; he passed the afternoon in calm complacency, listening reverently to her admonitions, and looking her softly out of countenance, and into earthly affections, with his lion eyes.
Meantime his remark, so far from really seeming foolish to Mrs. Dodd, was the true reason for her leaving him so abruptly “Even this dear slow Thing sees it,” thought she. She must talk to Julia more seriously, and would go to the school at once. She went up-stairs, and put on her bonnet and shawl before the glass; then moulded on her gloves, and came down equipped. On the stairs was a large window, looking upon the open field; she naturally cast her eyes through it in the direction she was going, and what did she see but a young lady and gentleman coming slowly down the path towards the villa. Mrs. Dodd bit her lip with vexation, and looked keenly at them, to divine on what terms they were. And the more she looked the more uneasy she grew.
The head, the hand, the whole body of a sensitive young woman walking beside him she loves, betray her heart to experienced eyes watching unseen; and especially to female eyes. And why did Julia move so slowly, especially after that warning? Why was her head averted from that encroaching boy, and herself so near him? Why not keep her distance, and look him full in the face? Mrs. Dodd’s first impulse was that of leopardesses, lionesses, hens, and all the mothers in nature; to dart from her ambush and protect her young; but she controlled it by a strong effort; it seemed wiser to descry the truth, and then act with resolution: besides, the young people were now almost at the shrubbery; so the mischief if any, was done.
They entered the shrubbery.
To Mrs. Dodd’s surprise and dismay, they did not come out this side so quickly. She darted her eye into the plantation; and lo! Alfred had seized the fatal opportunity foliage offers, even when thinnish: he held Julia’s hand, and was pleading eagerly for something she seemed not disposed to grant; for she turned away and made an effort to leave him. But Mrs. Dodd, standing there quivering with maternal anxiety, and hot with shame, could not but doubt the sincerity of that graceful resistance. If she had been quite in earnest, Julia had fire enough in her to box the little wretch’s ears. She ceased even to doubt, when she saw that her daughter’s opposition ended in his getting hold of two hands instead of one, and devouring them with kisses, while Julia still drew her head and neck away, but the rest of her supple frame seemed to yield and incline, and draw softly towards her besieger by some irresistible spell.
“I can bear no more!” gasped Mrs. Dodd aloud, and turned to hasten and part them; but even as she curved her stately neck to go, she caught the lovers’ parting; and a very pretty one too, if she could but have looked at it, as these things ought always to be looked at: artistically.
Julia’s head and lovely throat, unable to draw the rest of her away, compromised: they turned, declined, drooped, and rested one half moment on her captor’s shoulder, like a settling dove: the next, she scudded from him, and made for the house alone.
Mrs. Dodd, deeply indignant, but too wise to court a painful interview, with her own heart beating high, went into the drawing-room, and there sat down, to recover some little composure. But she was hardly seated when Julia’s innocent voice was heard calling “Mamma, mamma!” and soon she came bounding into the drawing-room, brimful of good news, her cheeks as red as fire and her eyes wet with happy tears; and there confronted her mother, who had started up at her footstep, and now, with one hand nipping the back of the chair convulsively, stood lofty, looking strangely agitated and hostile.
The two ladies eyed one another, silent, yet expressive, like a picture facing a statue; but soon the colour died out of Julia’s face as well, and she began to cower with vague fears before that stately figure, so gentle and placid usually, but now so discomposed and stern.
“Where have you been, Julia?”
“Only at the school,” she faltered.
“Who was your companion home?”
“Oh, don’t be angry with me! It was Alfred.”
“Alfred! His Christian name! You try my patience too hard.”
“Forgive me. I was not to blame this time, indeed! indeed! You frighten me. What will become of me? What have I done for my own mamma to look at me so?”
Mrs. Dodd groaned. “Was that young coquette I watched from my window the child I have reared? No face on earth is to be trusted after this. ‘What have you done’ indeed? Only risked your own mother’s esteem, and nearly broken her heart!” And with these words her own courage began to give way, and she sank into a chair with a deep sigh.
At this Julia screamed, and threw herself on her knees beside her, and cried “Kill me! oh, pray kill me! but don’t drive me to despair with such cruel words and looks!” and fell to sobbing so wildly that Mrs. Dodd altered her tone with almost ludicrous rapidity. “There, do not terrify me with your impetuosity, after grieving me so. Be calm, child; let me see whether I cannot remedy your sad imprudence; and, that I may, pray tell me the whole truth. How did this come about?”
In reply to this question, which she somewhat mistook, Julia sobbed out, “He met me c-coming out of the school, and asked to s-see me home. I said ‘No thank you,’ because I th-thought of your warning. ‘Oh yes!’ said he, and would walk with me, and keep saying he loved me. So, to stop him, I said, ‘M-much ob-liged, but I was b-busy and had no time to flirt.’ ‘Nor have I the ininclination,’ said he. ‘That is not what others say of you,’ said I— you know what you t-told me, mamma — so at last he said d-did ever he ask any lady to be his wife? ‘I suppose not,’ said I, ‘or you would be p-p-private property by now instead of p-public.’”
“Now there was a foolish speech; as much as to say nobody could resist him.”
“W-wasn’t it? And n-no more they could. You have no idea how he makes love; so unladylike: keeps advancing and advancing, and never once retreats, nor even st-ops. ‘But I ask you to be my wife,’ said he. Oh, mamma, I trembled so. Why did I tremble? I don’t know. I made myself cold and haughty; ‘I should make no reply to such ridiculous questions; say that to mamma, if you dare!’ I said.”
Mrs. Dodd bit her lip, and said, “Was there ever such simplicity?”
“Simple! Why that was my cunning. You are the only creature he is afraid of; so I thought to stop his mouth with you. But instead of that, my lord said calmly, ‘That was understood; he loved me too well to steal me from her to whom he was indebted for me.’ Oh, he has always an answer ready. And that makes him such a p-pest.”
“It was an answer that did him credit.”
“Dear mamma! now did it not? Then at parting he said he would come tomorrow, and ask you for my hand; but I must intercede with you first, or you would be sure to say ‘No.’ So I declined to interfere: ‘W-w-what was it to me?’ I said. He begged and prayed me: ‘Was it likely you would give him such a treasure as Me unless I stood his friend?’ (For the b-b-brazen Thing turns humble now and then.) And, oh, mamma, he did so implore me to pity him, and kept saying no man ever loved as he loved me, and with his begging and praying me so passionately — oh, so passionately — I felt something warm drop from his poor eyes on my hand. Oh! oh! oh! oh! — What could I do? And then, you know, I wanted to get away from him. So I am afraid I did just say ‘Yes.’ But only in a whisper. Mamma! my own, good, kind, darling mamma, have pity on him and on me; we love one another so.”
A shower of tender tears gushed out in support of this appeal and in a moment she was caught up with Love’s mighty arms, and her head laid on her mother’s yearning bosom. No word was needed to reconcile these two.
After a long silence, Mrs. Dodd said this would be a warning never to judge her sweet child from a distance again, nor unheard. “And therefore,” said she, “let me hear from your own lips how so serious an attachment could spring up. Why, it is scarcely a month since you were first introduced at that ball.”
“Mamma,” murmured Julia, hanging her head, “you are mistaken; we knew each other before.”
Mrs. Dodd looked all astonishment.
“Now I will ease my heart,” said Julia, impetuously, addressing some invisible obstacle. “I tell you I am sick of having secrets from my own mother.” And with this out it all came. She told the story of her heart better than I have; and, woman-like, dwelt on the depths of loyalty and delicate love she had read in Alfred’s moonlit face that night at Henley. She said no eloquence could have touched her like it. “Mamma, something said to me, ‘Ay, look at him well, for that is your husband to be.’” She even tried to solve the mystery of her soi-disant sickness: “I was disturbed by a feeling so new and so powerful,5 but, above all, by having a secret from you; the first — the last.”
5 Perhaps even this faint attempt at self-analysis was due to the influence of Dr. Whately. For, by nature, young ladies of this age seldom turn the eye inward.
“Well, darling, then why have a secret? Why not trust me, your friend as well as your mother?”
“Ah! why, indeed? I am a puzzle to myself. I wanted you to know, and yet I could not tell you. I kept giving you hints, and hoped so you would take them, and make me speak out. But when I tried to tell you plump, something kept pull — pull — pulling me inside, and I couldn’t. Mark my words! some day it will turn out that I am neither more nor less than a fool.”
Mrs. Dodd slighted this ingenious solution. She said, after a moment’s reflection, that the fault of this misunderstanding lay between the two. “I remember now I have had many hints; my mind must surely have gone to sleep. I was a poor simple woman who thought her daughter was to be always a child. And you were very wrong to go and set a limit to your mother’s love: there is none — none whatever.” She added: “I must import a little prudence and respect for the world’s opinion into this new connection; but whoever you love shall find no enemy in me.”
Next day Alfred came to know his fate. He was received with ceremonious courtesy. At first he was a good deal embarrassed, but this was no sooner seen than it was relieved by Mrs. Dodd with tact and gentleness. When her turn came, she said, “Your papa? Of course you have communicated this step to him?”
Alfred looked a little confused, and said, “No: he left for London two days ago, as it happens.”
“That is unfortunate,” said Mrs. Dodd. “Your best plan would be to write to him at once. I need hardly tell you that we shall enter no family without an invitation from its head.”
Alfred replied that he was well aware of that, and that he knew his father, and could answer for him. “No doubt,” said Mrs. Dodd, “but, as a matter of reasonable form, I prefer he should answer for himself.” Alfred would write by this post. “It is a mere form,” said he, “for my father has but one answer to his children, ‘Please yourselves.’ He sometimes adds, ‘and how much money shall you want?’ These are his two formulae.”
He then delivered a glowing eulogy on his father; and Mrs. Dodd, to whom the boy’s character was now a grave and anxious study, saw with no common satisfaction his cheek flush and his eyes moisten as he dwelt on the calm, sober, unvarying affection, and reasonable indulgence he and his sister had met with all their lives from the best of parents. Returning to the topic of topics, he proposed an engagement. “I have a ring in my pocket,” said this brisk wooer, looking down. But this Mrs. Dodd thought premature and unnecessary. “You are nearly of age,” said she, “and then you will be able to marry, if you are in the same mind.” But, upon being warmly pressed, she half conceded even this. “Well,” said she, “on receiving your father’s consent, you can propose an engagement to Julia, and she shall use her own judgment; but, until then, you will not even mention such a thing to her. May I count on so much forbearance from you, sir?”
“Dear Mrs. Dodd,” said Alfred, “of course you may. I should indeed be ungrateful if I could not wait a post for that. May I write to my father here?” added he, naively.
Mrs. Dodd smiled, furnished him with writing materials, and left him, with a polite excuse.
“ALBION VILLA, September 29.
“MY DEAR FATHER— You are too thorough a man of the world, and too well versed in human nature, to be surprised at hearing that I, so long invulnerable, have at last formed a devoted attachment to one whose beauty, goodness, and accomplishments I will not now enlarge upon; they are indescribable, and you will very soon see them and judge for yourself. The attachment, though short in weeks and months, has been a very long one in hopes, and fears, and devotion. I should have told you of it before you left, but in truth I had no idea I was so near the goal of all my earthly hopes; there were many difficulties: but these have just cleared away almost miraculously, and nothing now is wanting to my happiness but your consent. It would be affectation, or worse, in me to doubt that you will grant it. But, in a matter so delicate, I venture to ask you for something more: the mother of my ever and only beloved Julia is a lady of high breeding and sentiments: she will not let her daughter enter any family without a cordial invitation from its head. Indeed she has just told me so. I ask, therefore, not your bare consent, of which I am sure, since my happiness for life depends on it, but a consent so gracefully worded — and who can do this better than you? — as to gratify the just pride and sensibilities of the high-minded family about to confide its brightest ornament to my care.
“My dear father, in the midst of felicity almost more than mortal, the thought has come that this letter is my first step towards leaving the paternal roof under which I have been so happy all my life, thanks to you. I should indeed be unworthy of all your goodness if this thought caused me no emotion.
“Yet I do but yield to Nature’s universal law. And, should I be master of my own destiny, I will not go far from you. I have been unjust to Barkington: or rather I have echoed, without thought, Oxonian prejudices and affectation. On mature reflection, I know no better residence for a married man.
“Do you remember about a year ago you mentioned a Miss Lucy Fountain to us as ‘the most perfect gentlewoman you had ever met?’ Well, strange to say, it is that very lady’s daughter; and I think when you see her you will say the breed has anything but declined, in spite of Horace mind his ’damnosa quid non.‘ Her brother is my dearest friend, and she is Jenny’s; so a more happy alliance for all parties was never projected.
“Write to me by return, dear father, and believe me, ever your dutiful and grateful son,
As he concluded, Julia came in, and he insisted on her reading this masterpiece. She hesitated. Then he told her with juvenile severity that a good husband always shares his letters with his wife.
“His wife! Alfred!” and she coloured all over. “Don’t call me names,” said she, turning it off after her fashion. “I can’t bear it: it makes me tremble. With fury.”
“This will never do, sweet one,” said Alfred gravely. “You and I are to have no separate existence now; you are to be I, and I am to be you. Come!”
“No; you read me so much of it as is proper for me to hear. I shall not like it so well from your lips: but never mind.”
When he came to read it, he appreciated the delicacy that had tempered her curiosity. He did not read it all to her, but nearly.
“It is a beautiful letter,” said she; “a little pomposer than mamma and I write. ‘The paternal roof!’ But all that becomes you; you are a scholar: and, dear Alfred, if I should separate you from your papa, I will never estrange you from him; oh, never, never. May I go for my work? For methinks, O most erudite, the ‘maternal dame,’ on domestic cares intent, hath confided to her offspring the recreation of your highness.” The gay creature dropt him a curtsey, and fled to tell Mrs. Dodd the substance of “the sweet letter the dear high-flown Thing had written.”
By then he had folded and addressed it, she returned and brought her work: charity children’s great cloaks: her mother had cut them, and in the height of the fashion, to Jane Hardie’s dismay; and Julia was binding, hooding, etcetering them.
How demurely she bent her lovely head over her charitable work, while Alfred poured his tale into her ears! How careful she was not to speak, when there was a chance of his speaking! How often she said one thing so as to express its opposite, a process for which she might have taken out a patent! How she and Alfred compared heart-notes, and their feelings at each stage of their passion! Their hearts put forth tendril after tendril, and so curled, and clung, round each other.
In the afternoon of the second blissful day, Julia suddenly remembered that this was dull for her mother. To have such a thought was to fly to her; and she flew so swiftly that she caught Mrs. Dodd in tears, and trying adroitly and vainly to hide them.
“What is the matter? I am a wretch. I have left you alone.”
Do not think me so peevish, love! you have but surprised the natural regrets of a mother at the loss of her child.”
“Oh, mamma,” said Julia, warmly, “and do you think all the marriage in the world can ever divide you and me — can make me lukewarm to my own sweet, darling, beautiful, blessed, angel mother? Look at me: I am as much your Julia as ever; and shall be while I live. Your son is your son till he gets him a wife: but your daughter’s your daughter, ALL— THE—— DAYS— OF HER LIFE.
Divine power of native eloquence: with this trite distich you made hexameters tame; it gushed from that great young heart with a sweet infantine ardour, that even virtue can only pour when young, and youth when virtuous; and, at the words I have emphasised by the poor device of capitals, two lovely, supple arms flew wide out like a soaring albatross’s wings, and then went all round the sad mother, and gathered every bit of her up to the generous young bosom.
“I know it, I know it!” cried Mrs. Dodd, kissing her; I shall never lose my daughter while she breathes. But I am losing my child. You are turning to a woman visibly: and you were such a happy child. Hence my misgivings, and these weak tears, which you have dried with a word: see!” And she contrived to smile. “And now go down, dearest: he may be impatient; men’s love is so fiery.”
The next day Mrs. Dodd took Julia apart and asked her whether there was an answer from Mr. Hardie. Julia replied, from Alfred, that Jane had received a letter last night, and, to judge by the contents, Mr. Hardie must have left London before Alfred’s letter got there. “He is gone to see poor Uncle Thomas.”
“Why do you call him ‘poor?’”
“Oh, he is not very clever; has not much mind, Alfred says; indeed, hardly any.”
“You alarm me, Julia!” cried Mrs. Dodd. “What? madness in the family you propose to marry into?”
“Oh no, mamma,” said Julia, in a great hurry; “no madness; only a little imbecility.”
Mrs. Dodd’s lip curved at this Julian answer; but just then her mind was more drawn to another topic. A serious doubt passed through her, whether, if Mr. Hardie did not write soon, she ought not to limit his son’s attendance on her daughter. “He follows her about like a little dog,” said she half fretfully.
Next day, by previous invitation, Dr. Sampson made Albion Villa his head-quarters. Darting in from London, he found Alfred sitting very close to Julia over a book.
“Lordsake!” cried he, “here’s ‘my puppy,’ and ‘m’ enthusiast,’ cheek by chowl.” Julia turned scarlet, and Alfred ejaculated so loudly, that Sampson inquired “what on airth was the matter now?”
“Oh, nothing; only here have I been jealous of my own shadow, and pestering her who ‘your puppy’ was: and she never would tell me. All I could get from her,” added he, turning suddenly from gratitude to revenge, “was that he was no greater a puppy than yourself, doctor.”
“Oh, Alfred, no; I only said no vainer,” cried Julia in dismay.
“Well, it is true,” said Sampson contentedly, and proceeded to dissect himself just as he would a stranger. “I am a vain man; a remarkably vain man. But then I’m a man of great mirit.”
“All vain people are that,” suggested Alfred dryly.
“Who should know better than you, young Oxford? Y’ have got a hidache.”
“Don’t tell lies now. Ye can’t deceive me; man, I’ve an eye like a hawk. And what’s that ye’re studying with her? Ovid, for a pound.”
“No; medicine; a treatise on your favourite organ, the brain, by one Dr. Whately.”
“He is chaffing you, doctor,” said Edward; “it is logic. He is coaching her; and then she will coach me.”
“Then I forbid the chaff-cutting, young Pidant. Logic is an ill plaster to a sore head.”
“Oh, ‘the labour we delight in, physics pain.’”
Take care o’ your carkuss,”
retorted the master of doggrel. “And that is a profounder remark than you seem to think, by your grinning, all of ye.”
Julia settled the question by putting away the book. And she murmured to Alfred, “I wish I could steal your poor dear headaches: you might give me half of them at least; you would, too, if you really loved me.”
This sound remonstrance escaped criticism by being nearly inaudible, and by Mrs. Dodd entering at the same moment.
After the first greeting, Sampson asked her with merry arrogance, how his prescription had worked? “Is her sleep broken still, ma’am? Are her spirits up and down? Shall we have to go back t’ old Short and his black draught? How’s her mookis membrin? And her biliary ducks? an’— she’s off like a flash.”
“And no wonder,” said Mrs. Dodd reproachfully.
Thus splashed Sampson among the ducks: one of them did not show her face again till dinner.
Jane Hardie accompanied her brother by invitation. The general amity was diversified and the mirth nowise lessened by constant passages of arms between Messrs. Sampson and Alfred Hardie.
After tea came the first contretemps. Sampson liked a game of cards: he could play, yet talk chronothermalism, as the fair can knit babies’ shoes and imbibe the poetasters of the day.
Mrs. Dodd had asked Edward to bring a fresh pack. He was seen by his guardian angel to take them out of his pocket and undo them; presently Sampson, in his rapid way, clutched hold of them; and found a slip of paper curled round the ace of spades, with this written very clear in pencil,
“REMEMBER THY CREATOR IN THE DAYS OF THY YOUTH!”
“What is this?” cried Sampson, and read it out aloud. Jane Hardie coloured, and so betrayed herself. Her “word in season” had strayed. It was the young and comely Edward she wished to save from the diabolical literature, the painted perdition, and not the uninteresting old sinner Sampson, who proceeded to justify her preference by remarking that “Remember not to trump your partner’s best card, ladies,” would be more to the point.
Everybody, except this hardened personage, was thoroughly uncomfortable. As for Alfred, his face betrayed a degree of youthful mortification little short of agony. Mrs. Dodd was profoundly disgusted, but fortunately for the Hardies, caught sight of his burning cheeks and compressed lips. “Dr. Sampson,” said she, with cold dignity, “you will, I am sure, oblige me by making no more comments; sincerity is not always discreet; but it is always respectable: it is one of your own titles to esteem. I dare say,” added she with great sweetness, “our resources are not so narrow that we need shock anybody’s prejudices, and, as it happens, I was just going to ask Julia to sing: open the piano, love, and try if you can persuade Miss Hardie to join you in a duet.”
At this, Jane and Julia had an earnest conversation at the piano, and their words, uttered in a low voice, were covered by a contemporaneous discussion between Sampson and Mrs. Dodd.
Jane. No, you must not ask me: I have forsworn these vanities. I have not opened my piano this two years.
Julia. Oh, what a pity; music is so beautiful; and surely we can choose our songs, as easily as our words; ah, how much more easily.
Jane. Oh, I don’t go so far as to call music wicked: but music in society is such a snare. At least I found it so; my playing was highly praised, and that stirred up vanity: and so did my singing, with which I had even more reason to be satisfied. Snares! snares!
Julia. Goodness me! I don’t find them so. Now you mention it, gentlemen do praise one; but, dear me, they praise every lady, even when we have been singing every other note out of tune. The little unmeaning compliments of society, can they catch anything so great as a soul?
Jane. I pray daily not to be led into temptation, and shall I go into it of my own accord?
Julia. Not if you find it a temptation. At that rate I ought to decline.
Jane. That doesn’t follow. My conscience is not a law to yours. Besides, your mamma said “sing:” and a parent is not to be disobeyed upon a doubt. If papa were to insist on my going to a ball even, or reading a novel, I think I should obey; and lay the whole case before Him.
Mrs. Dodd (from a distance). Come, my dears, Dr. Sampson is getting so impatient for your song.
Sampson. Hum! for all that, young ladies’ singing is a poor substitute for cards, and even for conversation.
Mrs. Dodd. That depends upon the singer, I presume.
Sampson. Mai — dear — madam, they all sing alike; just as they all write alike. I can hardly tell one fashionable tune from another; and nobody can tell one word from another, when they cut out all the consonants. N’ listen me. This is what I heard sung by a lady last night.
Eu un Da’ ei u aa an oo. By oo eeeeyee aa Vaullee, Vaullee, Vaullee, Vaullee, Vaullee om is igh eeaa An ellin in is ud.
Mrs. Dodd. That sounds like gibberish.
Sampson. It is gibberish, but it’s Drydenish in articulating mouths. It is —
He sung Darius great and good, By too severe a fate Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen, Fallen from his high estate, And wiltering in his blood.
Mrs. Dodd. I think you exaggerate. I will answer for Julia that she shall speak as distinctly to music as you do in conversation.
Sampson (all unconscious of the tap). Time will show, madam. At prisent they seem to be in no hurry to spatter us with their word-jelly. Does some spark of pity linger in their marble bos’ms? or do they prefer inaud’ble chit-chat t’ inarticulate mewing?
Julia, thus pressed, sang one of those songs that come and go every season. She spoke the words clearly, and with such variety and intelligence, that Sampson recanted, and broke in upon the —” very pretty “—“how sweet”— and “who is it by?” of the others, by shouting, “Very weak trash very cleanly sung. Now give us something worth the wear and tear of your orgins. Immortal vairse widded t’ immortal sounds; that is what I understand b’ a song.”
Alfred whispered, “No, no, dearest; sing something suitable to you and me.”
“Out of the question. Then go farther away, dear; I shall have more courage.”
He obeyed, and she turned over two or three music-books, and finally sung from memory. She cultivated musical memory, having observed the contempt with which men of sense visit the sorry pretenders to music, who are tuneless and songless among the nightingales, and anywhere else away from their books. How will they manage to sing in heaven? Answer me that.
The song Julia Dodd sang on this happy occasion, to meet the humble but heterogeneous views of Messrs. Sampson and Hardie, was a simple eloquent Irish song called Aileen Aroon. Whose history, by-the-bye, was a curious one. Early in this century it occurred to somebody to hymn a son of George the Third for his double merit in having been born, and going to a ball. People who thus apply the fine arts in modern days are seldom artists; accordingly, this parasite could not invent a melody; so he coolly stole Aileen Aroon, soiled it by inserting sordid and incongruous jerks into the refrain, and called the stolen and adulterated article Robin Adair. An artisan of the same kidney was soon found to write words down to the degraded ditty: and, so strong is Flunkeyism, and so weak is Criticism, in these islands, that the polluted tune actually superseded the clean melody; and this sort of thing —
Who was in uniform at the ball?
smothered the immortal lines.
But Mrs. Dodd’s severe taste in music rejected those ignoble jerks, and her enthusiastic daughter having the option to hymn immortal Constancy or mortal Fat, decided thus:—
When like the early rose,
Beauty in childhood glows,
When like a diadem,
Buds blush around the stem,
Which is the fairest gem?
Is it the laughing eye?
Is it the timid sigh?
Is it the tender tone?
Soft as the string’d harp’s mean?
No; it is Truth alone,
I know a valley fair,
I know a cottage there,
Far in that valley’s shade,
I know a gentle maid,
Flower of the hazel glade,
Who in the song so sweet?
Who in the dance so fleet?
Dear are her charms to me,
Dearer her laughter free,
Dearest her constancy.
Youth must with time decay,
Beauty must fade away,
Castles are sacked in war,
Chieftains are scattered far,
Truth is a fixed star,
The way the earnest singer sang these lines is beyond the conception of ordinary singers, public or private. Here one of nature’s orators spoke poetry to music with an eloquence as fervid and delicate as ever rung in the Forum. She gave each verse with the same just variety as if she had been reciting, and, when she came to the last, where the thought rises abruptly, and is truly noble, she sang it with the sudden pathos, the weight, and the swelling majesty, of a truthful soul hymning truth with all its powers.
All the hearers, even Sampson, were thrilled, astonished, spell-bound: so can one wave of immortal music and immortal verse (alas! how seldom they meet!) heave the inner man when genius interprets. Judge, then, what it was to Alfred, to whom, with these great words and thrilling tones of her rich, swelling, ringing voice, the darling of his own heart vowed constancy, while her inspired face beamed on him like an angel’s.
Even Mrs. Dodd, though acquainted with the song, and with her daughter’s rare powers, gazed at her now with some surprise, as well as admiration, and kept a note Sarah had brought her, open, but unread, in her hand, unable to take her eyes from the inspired songstress. However, just before the song ended, she did just glance down, and saw it was signed Richard Hardie. On this her eye devoured it; and in one moment she saw that the writer declined, politely but peremptorily, the proposed alliance between his son and her daughter.
The mother looked up from this paper at that living radiance and incarnate melody in a sort of stupor: it seemed hardly possible to her that a provincial banker could refuse an alliance with a creature so peerless as that. But so it was; and despite her habitual self-government, Mrs. Dodd’s white hand clenched the note till her nails dented it; and she reddened to the brow with anger and mortification.
Julia, whom she had trained never to monopolise attention in society, now left the piano in spite of remonstrance, and soon noticed her mother’s face; for from red it had become paler than usual. “Are you unwell, dear?” said she sotto voce.
“Is there anything the matter, then?”
“Hush! We have guests: our first duty is to them.” With this Mrs. Dodd rose, and, endeavouring not to look at her daughter at all, went round and drew each of her guests out in turn. It was the very heroism of courtesy; for their presence was torture to her. At last, to her infinite relief, they went, and she was left alone with her children. She sent the servants to bed, saying she would undress Miss Dodd, and accompanied her to her room. There the first thing she did was to lock the door; and the next was to turn round and look at her full.
“I always thought you the most lovable child I ever saw; but I never admired you as I have to-night, my noble, my beautiful daughter, who would grace the highest family in England.” With this Mrs. Dodd began to choke, and kissed Julia eagerly with the tears in her eyes, and drew her with tender, eloquent defiance to her bosom.
“My own mamma,” said Julia softly, “what has happened?”
“My darling, said Mrs. Dodd, trembling a little, “have you pride? have you spirit?”
“I think I have.”
“I hope so: for you will need them both. Read that!”
And she held out Mr. Hardie’s letter, but turned her own head away, not to see her girl’s face under the insult.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59