It was nearly three when Archie Clavering found himself in Bolton Street, having calculated that Lady Ongar might be more probably found at home then than at a later hour. But when he came to the door, instead of knocking, he passed by it. He began to remember that he had not yet made up his mind by what means he would bring it about that she should certainly know that he was there. So he took a little turn up the street, away from Piccadilly, through a narrow passage that there is in those parts, and by some stables, and down into Piccadilly, and again to Bolton Street, during which little tour he had made up his mind that it could hardly become his duty to teach her that great lesson on this occasion. She must undoubtedly be taught to know that he was there, but not so taught on this, his first visit. That lesson should quickly precede his offer; and, although he had almost hoped, in the interval between two of his beakers of gin-and-water on the preceding evening, that he might ride the race and win it altogether during this very morning visit he was about to make, in his cooler moments he had begun to reflect that that would hardly be practicable. The mare must get a gallop before she would be in a condition to be brought out. So Archie knocked at the door, intending merely to give the mare a gallop if he should find her in to-day.
He gave his name, and was shown at once up into Lady Ongar’s drawing-room. Lady Ongar was not there, but she soon came down, and entered the room with a smile on her face and with an outstretched hand. Between the man-servant who took the captain’s name, and the maid-servant who carried it up to her mistress, but who did not see the gentleman before she did so, there had arisen some mistake; and Lady Ongar, as she came down from her chamber above, expected that she was to meet another man. Harry Clavering, she thought, had come to her at last. “I’ll be down at once,” Lady Ongar had said, dismissing the girl, and then standing for a moment before her mirror as she smoothed her hair, obliterated, as far as it might be possible, the ugliness of her cap, and shook out the folds of her dress. A countess, a widow, a woman of the world who had seen enough to make her composed under all circumstances, one would say — a trained mare, as Doodles had called her — she stood before her glass, doubting and trembling like a girl, when she heard that Harry Clavering was waiting for her below. We may surmise that she would have spared herself some of this trouble had she known the real name of her visitor. Then, as she came slowly down the stairs, she reflected how she would receive him. He had stayed away from her, and she would be cold to him — cold and formal as she had been on the railway platform. She knew well how to play that part. Yes, it was his turn now to show some eagerness of friendship, if there was ever to be anything more than friendship between them. But she changed all this as she put her hand upon the look of the door. She would be honest to him — honest and true. She was, in truth, glad to see him, and he should know it. What cared she now for the common ways of women and the usual coyness of feminine coquetry? She told herself also, in language somewhat differing from that which Doodles had used, that her filly days were gone by, and that she was now a trained mare. All this passed through her mind as her hand was on the door, and then she opened it, with a smiling face and ready hand, to find herself in the presence of — Captain Archie Clavering.
The captain was sharp-sighted enough to observe the change in her manner. The change, indeed, was visible enough, and was such that it at once knocked out of Archie’s breast some portion of the courage with which his friend’s lessons had inspired him. The outsretched hand fell slowly to her side, the smile gave place to a look of composed dignity, which made Archie at once feel that the fate which called upon him to woo a countess was in itself hard. And she walked slowly into the room before she spoke to him, or he to her.
“Captain Clavering!” she said at last, and there was much more of surprise than of welcome in her words as she uttered them.
“Yes, Lady On — Julia, that is; I thought I might as well come and call, as I found we weren’t to see you at Clavering when we were all there at Easter.” When she had been living in his brother’s house as one of the family, he had called her Julia as Hugh had done. The connection between them had been close, and it had come naturally to him to do so. He had thought much of this since his present project had been initiated, and had strongly resolved not to lose the advantage of his former familiarity. He had very nearly broken down at the onset, but, as the reader will have observed, had recovered himself.
“You are very good,” she said; and then, as he had been some time standing with his right hand presented to her, she just touched it with her own.
“There’s nothing I hate so much as stuff and nonsense,” said Archie. To this remark she simply bowed, remaining awfully quiet. Captain Clavering felt that her silence was in truth awful. She had always been good at talking, and he had paused for her to say something; but when she bowed to him in that stiff manner —“doosed stiff she was; doosed stiff, and impudent, too,” he told Doodles afterward — he knew that he must go on himself. “Stuff and nonsense is the mischief, you know.” Then she bowed again. “There’s been something the matter with them all down at Clavering since you came home, Julia; but hang me if I can find out what it is!” Still she was silent. “It ain’t Hermy; that I must say. Hermy always speaks of you as though there had never been anything wrong.” This assurance, we may say, must have been flattering to the lady whom he was about to court.
“Hermy was always too good to me,” said Lady Ongar, smiling.
“By George, she always does. If there’s anything wrong it’s been with Hugh; and, by George, I don’t know what it is he was up to when you first came home. It wasn’t my doing — of course you know that.”
“I never thought that anything was your doing, Captain Clavering.”
“I think Hugh had been losing money; I do indeed. He was like a bear with a sore head just at that time. There was no living in the house with him. I daresay Hermy may have told you all about that.”
“Hermione is not by nature so communicative as you are, Captain Clavering.”
“Isn’t she? I should have thought between sisters —; but of course that’s no business of mine.” Again she was silent, awfully silent, and he became aware that he must either get up and go away or carry on the conversation himself. To do either seemed to be equally difficult, and for a while he sat there almost gasping in his misery. He was quite aware that as yet he had not made her know that he was there. He was not there, as he well knew, in his friend Doodles’ sense of the word. “At any rate there isn’t any good in quarrelling, is there, Julia?” he said at last. Now that he had asked a question, surely she must speak.
“There is great good sometimes, I think,” said she, “in people remaining apart and not seeing each other. Sir Hugh Clavering has not quarrelled with me, that I am aware. Indeed, since my marriage there have been no means of quarrelling between us. But I think it quite as well that he and I should not come together.”
“But he particularly wants you to go to Clavering.”
“Has he sent you here as his messenger?”
“Sent me! oh dear no; nothing of that sort. I have come altogether on my own hook. If Hugh wants a messenger he must find some one else. But you and I were always friends you know”— at this assertion she opened her large eyes widely, and simply smiled —“and I thought that perhaps you might be glad to see me if I called. That was all.”
“You are very good, Captain Clavering.”
“I couldn’t bear to think that you should be here in London, and that one shouldn’t see anything of you or know anything about you. Tell me now; is there anything I can do for you? Do you want anybody to settle anything for you in the city?”
“I think not, Captain Clavering; thank you very much.”
“Because I should be so happy; I should indeed. There’s nothing I should like so much as to make myself useful in some way. Isn’t there anything now? There must be so much to be looked after — about money and all that.”
“My lawyer does all that, Captain Clavering.”
“Those fellows are such harpies. There is no end to their charges; and all for doing things that would on!y be a pleasure to me.”
“I’m afraid I can’t employ you in any matter that would suit your tastes.”
“Can’t you indeed, now?” Then again there was a silence, and Captain Clavering was beginning to think that he must go. He was willing to work hard at talking or anything else; but he could not work if no ground for starting were allowed to him. He thought he must go, though he was aware that he had not made even the slightest preparation for future obedience to his friend’s precepts. He began to feel that he had commenced wrongly. He should have made her know that he was there from the first moment of her entrance into the room. He must retreat now in order that he might advance with more force on the next occasion. He had just made up his mind to this and was doubting how he might best get himself out of his chair with the purpose of going, when sudden relief came in the shape of another visitor. The door was thrown open and Madam Gordeloup was announced.
“Well, my angel,” said the little woman, running up to her friend and kissing her on either side of her face. Then she turned round as though she had only just seen the strange gentleman, and curtseyed to him. Captain Clavering, holding his hat in both his hands, bowed to the little woman.
“My sister’s brother-in-law, Captain Clavering,” said Lady Ongar. “Madam Gordeloup.”
Captain Clavering bowed again. “Ah, Sir Oo’s brother,” said Madam Gordeloup. “I am very glad to see Captain Clavering; and is your sister come?”
“No; my sister is not come.”
“Lady Clavering is not in town this Spring,” said the captain.
“Ah, not in town! Then I do pity her. There is only de one place to live in, and that is London, for April, May, and June. Lady Clavering is not coming to London?”
“Her little boy isn’t quite the thing,” said the captain.
“Not quite de ting?” said the Franco-Pole in an inquiring voice, not exactly understanding the gentleman’s language.
“My little nephew is ill, and my sister does not think it wise to bring him to London.”
“Ah; that is a pity. And Sir Oo? Sir Oo is in London?”
“Yes,” said the captain; “my brother has been up some time.”
“And his lady left alone in the country? Poor lady! But your English ladies like the country. They are fond of the fields and the daisies. So they say; but I think often they lie. Me; I like the houses, and the people, and the pavé. The fields are damp, and I love not rheumatism at all.” Then the little woman shrugged her shoulders and shook herself. “Tell us the truth, Julie; which do you like best, the town or the country?”
“Whichever I’m not in, I think.”
“Ah, just so. Whichever you are not in at present. That is because you are still idle. You have not settled yourself!” At this reference to the possibility of Lady Ongar settling herself, Captain Clavering pricked up his ears, and listened eagerly for what might come next. He only knew of one way in which a young woman without a husband could settle herself. “You must wait, my dear, a little longer, just a little longer, till the time of your trouble has passed by.”
“Don’t talk such nonsense, Sophie,” said the countess.
“Ah, my dear, it is no nonsense. I am always telling her, Captain Clavering, that she must go through this black, troublesome time as quick as she can; and then nobody will enjoy the town so much as de rich and beautiful Lady Ongar. Is it not so, Captain Clavering?”
Archie thought that the time had now come for him to say something pretty, so that his love might begin to know that he was there. “By George, yes, there’ll be nobody so much admired when she comes out again. There never was anybody so much admired before — before — that is, when you were Julia Brabazon, you know; and I shouldn’t wonder if you didn’t come out quite as strong as ever.”
“As strong!” said the Franco-Pole. “A woman that has been married is always more admired than a meess.”
“Sophie, might I ask you and Captain Clavering to be a little less personal?”
“There is noting I hate so much as your meeses,” continued Madam Gordeloup; “noting! Your English meesses give themselves such airs. Now in Paris, or in dear Vienna, or in St. Petersburg, they are not like that at all. There they are nobodies — they are nobodies; but then they will be something very soon, which is to be better. Your English meess is so much and so grand; she never can be greater. and grander. So when she is a mamma, she lives down in the country by herself, and looks after de pills and de powders. I don’t like that. I don’t like that at all. No; if my husband had put me into the country to look after de pills and de powders, he should have had them all, all — himself, when he came to see me.” As she said this with great energy, she opened her eyes wide, and looked full into Archie’s face.
Captain Clavering, who was sitting with his hat in his two hands between his knees, stared at the little foreigner. He had heard before of women poisoning their husbands, but never had heard a woman advocate the system as expedient. Nor had he often heard a woman advocate any system with the vehemence which Madam Gordeloup now displayed on this matter, and with an allusion which was so very pointed to the special position of his own sister-in-law. Did Lady Ongar agree with her? He felt as though he should like to know his Julia’s opinion on that matter.
“Sophie, Captain Clavering will think that you are in earnest,” said the countess, laughing.
“So I aim — in earnest. It is all wrong. You boil all the water out of de pot before you put the gigot into it. So the gigot is no good, is tough and dry, and you shut it up in an old house in the country. Then, to make matters pretty, you talk about de fields and de daisies. I know. ‘Thank you,’ we should say. ‘De fields and de daisies are so nice and so good! Suppose you go down, my love, and walk in de fields, and pick de daisies, and send them up to me by de railway!’ Yes, that is what I would say.”
Captain Clavering was now quite in the dark, and began to regard the little woman as a lunatic. When she spoke of the pot and the gigot he vainly endeavored to follow her; and now that she had got among the daisies he was more at a loss than ever. Fruit, vegetables, and cut flowers came up, he knew, to London regularly from Clavering, when the family was in town — but no daisies. In France it must, he supposed, be different. He was aware, however, of his ignorance, and said nothing.
“No one ever did try to shut you up, Sophie!”
“No, indeed; M. Gordeloup knew better. What would he do if I were shut up? And no one will ever shut you up, my dear. If I were you, I would give no one a chance.”
“Don’t say that,” said the captain, almost passionately; “don’t say that.”
“Ha, ha! but I do say it. Why should a woman who has got everything marry again? If she wants de fields and de daisies she has got them of her own — yes, of her own. If she wants de town, she has got that, too. Jewels — she can go and buy them. Coaches — there they are. Parties — one, two, three, every night, as many as she please. Gentlemen, who will be her humble slaves; such a plenty — all London. Or, if she want to be alone, no one can come near her. Why should she marry? No.”
“But she might be in love with somebody,” said the captain, in a surprised but humble tone.
“Love! Bah! Be in love, so that she may be shut up in an old barrack with de powders!” The way in which that word barrack was pronounced, and the middle letters sounded, almost lifted the captain off his seat. “Love is very pretty at seventeen, when the imagination is telling a parcel of lies, and when life is one dream. To like people — oh, yes; to be very fond of your friend; — oh, yes; to be most attached — as I am to my Julie”— here she got hold of Lady Ongar’s hand —“it is the salt of life! But what you call love, booing and cooing, with rhymes and verses about de moon, it is to go back to pap and panade, and what you call bibs. No; if a woman wants a house, and de something to live on, let her marry a husband; or if a man want to have children, let him marry a wife. But to be shut up in a country house, when everything you have got of your own — I say it is bad”
Captain Clavering was heartily sorry that he had mentioned the fact of his sister-in-law being left at home at Clavering Park. It was most unfortunate. How could he make it understood that if he were married he would not think of shutting his wife up at Ongar Park? “Lady Clavering, you know, does come to London generally,” he said.
“Bah!” exclaimed the little Franco-Pole.
“And as for me, I never should be happy, if I were married, unless I had my wife with me everywhere,” said Captain Clavering.
“Bah-ah-ah!” ejaculated the lady.
Captain Clavering could not endure this any longer. He felt that the manner of the lady was, to say the least of it, unpleasant, and he perceived that he was doing no good to his own cause. So he rose from his chair and muttered some words with the intention of showing his purpose of departure.
“Good-by, Captain Clavering,” said Lady Ongar. “My love to my sister when you see her.”
Archie shook hands with her and then made his bow to Madam Gordeloup. “Au revoir, my friend,” she said, “and you remember all I say. It is not good for de wife to be alone in the country, while de husband walk about in the town and make an eye to every lady he see.” Archie would not trust himself to renew the argument, but bowing again, made his way off.
“He was come for one admirer,” said Sophie, as soon as the door was closed.
“An admirer of whom?”
“Not of me; oh, no; I was not in danger at all.”
“Of me? Captain Clavering! Sophie, you get your head full of the strangest nonsense.”
“Ah; very well. You see. What will you give me if I am right? Will you bet? Why had he got on his new gloves, and had his head all smelling with stuff from de hair-dresser? Does he come always perfumed like that? Does he wear shiny little boots to walk about in de morning, and make an eye always? Perhaps yes.”
“I never saw his boots or his eyes.”
“But I see them. I see many things. He come to have Ongere Park for his own. I tell you, yes. Ten thousand will come to have Ongere Park. Why not? To have Ongere Park and all de money a man will make himself smell a great deal.”
“You think much more about all that than is necessary.”
“Do I, my dear? Very well. There are three already. There is Edouard, and there is this Clavering, who you say is a captain; and there is the other Clavering who goes with his nose in the air, and who thinks himself a clever fellow because he learned his lesson at school and did not get himself whipped. He will be whipped yet some day — perhaps.”
“Sophie, hold your tongue. Captain Clavering is my sister’s brother-in-law, and Harry Clavering is my friend.”
“Ah, friend! I know what sort of friend he wants to be. How much better to have a park and plenty of money than to work in a ditch and make a railway! But he do not know the way with a woman. Perhaps he may be more at home, as you say, in the ditch. I should say to him, ‘My friend, you will do well in de ditch if you work hard; suppose you stay there.’”
“You don’t seem to like my cousin, and, if you please, we will talk no more about him.”
“Why should I not like him? He don’t want to get any money from me.”
“That will do, Sophie.”
“Very well; it shall do for me. But this other man that come here to-day. He is a fool.”
“He did not learn his lesson without whipping.”
“Nor with whipping either.”
“No; he have learned nothing. He does not know what to do with his hat. He is a fool. Come, Julie, will you take me out for a drive. It is melancholy for you to go alone; I came to ask you for a drive. Shall we go?” And they did go, Lady Ongar and Sophie Gordeloup together. Lady Ongar, as she submitted, despised herself for her submission; but what was she to do? It is sometimes very difficult to escape from the meshes of friendship.
Captain Clavering, when he left Bolton Street, went down to his club, having first got rid of his shining boots and new gloves. He sauntered up into the billiard-room knowing that his friend would be there, and there he found Doodles with his coat off, the sleeves of his shirt turned back, and armed with his cue. His brother captain, the moment that he saw him, presented the cue at his breast. “Does she know you’re there, old fellow; I say, does she know you’re there?” The room was full of men, and the whole thing was done so publicly that Captain Clavering was almost offended.
“Come, Doodles, you go on with your game,” said he; “it’s you to play.”Doodles turned to the table, and scientifically pocketed the ball on which he played; then laid his own ball close under the cushion, picked up a shilling and put it into his waistcoat pocket, holding a lighted cigar in his mouth the while, and then he came back to his friend. “Well, Clavvy, how has it been?”
“Oh, nothing as yet, you know.”
“Haven’t you seen her?”
“Yes, I’ve seen her, of course. I’m not the fellow to let the grass grow under my feet. I’ve only just come from her house.”
“That’s nothing much to tell the first day, you know.”
“Did you let her know you were there? That’s the chat. Damme, did you let her know you were there?”
In answer to this Archie attempted to explain that he was not as yet quite sure that he had been successful in that particular; but in the middle of his story Captain Doodles was called off to exercise his skill again, and on this occasion to pick up two shillings. “I’m sorry for you, Griggs,” he said, as a very young lieutenant, whose last life he had taken, put up his cue with a look of ineffable disgust, and whose shilling Doodles had pocketed; “I’m sorry for you, very; but a fellow must play the game, you know.” Whereupon Griggs walked out of the room with a gait that seemed to show that he had his own ideas upon that matter, though he did not choose to divulge them. Doodles instantly returned to his friend. “With cattle of that kind it’s no use trying the waiting dodge,” said he. “You should make your running at once, and trust to bottom to carry you through.”
“But there was a horrid little Frenchwoman came in!”
“What; a servant?”
“No; a friend. Such a creature! You should have heard her talk. A kind of confidential friend she seemed, who called her Julie. I had to go away and leave her there, of course.”
“Ah! you’ll have to tip that woman.”
“What, with money?”
“I shouldn’t wonder.”
“It would come very expensive.”
“A tenner now and then, you know. She would do your business for you. Give her a brooch first, and then offer to lend her the money. You’d find she’ll rise fast enough, if you’re any hand for throwing a fly.”
“Oh! I could do it, you know.”
“Do it then, and let ‘em both know that you’re there. Yes, Parkyns, I’ll divide. And, Clavvy, you can come in now in Griggs’ place.” Then Captain Clavering stripped himself for the battle.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14