Though Mr Robert Kennedy was lying dead at Loughlinter, and though Phineas Finn, a member of Parliament, was in prison, accused of murdering another member of Parliament, still the world went on with its old ways, down in the neighbourhood of Harrington Hall and Spoon Hall as at other places. The hunting with the Brake hounds was now over for the season — had indeed been brought to an auspicious end three weeks since — and such gentlemen as Thomas Spooner had time on their hands to look about their other concerns. When a man hunts five days a week, regardless of distances, and devotes a due proportion of his energies to the necessary circumstances of hunting, the preservation of foxes, the maintenance of good humour with the farmers, the proper compensation for poultry really killed by four-legged favourites, the growth and arrangement of coverts, the lying-in of vixens, and the subsequent guardianship of nurseries, the persecution of enemies, and the warm protection of friends — when he follows the sport, accomplishing all the concomitant duties of a true sportsman, he has not much time left for anything. Such a one as Mr Spooner of Spoon Hall finds that his off day is occupied from breakfast to dinner with grooms, keepers, old women with turkeys’ heads, and gentlemen in velveteens with information about wires and unknown earths. His letters fall naturally to the Sunday afternoon, and are hardly written before sleep overpowers him. Many a large fortune has been made with less of true devotion to the work than is given to hunting by so genuine a sportsman as Mr Spooner.
Our friend had some inkling of this himself, and felt that many of the less important affairs of his life were neglected because he was so true to the one great object of his existence. He had wisely endeavoured to prevent wrack and ruin among the affairs of Spoon Hall — and had thoroughly succeeded by joining his cousin Ned with himself in the administration of his estate — but there were things which Ned with all his zeal and all his cleverness could not do for him. He was conscious that had he been as remiss in the matter of hunting, as that hard-riding but otherwise idle young scamp, Gerard Maule, he might have succeeded much better than he had hitherto done with Adelaide Palliser. “Hanging about and philandering, that’s what they want,” he said to his cousin Ned.
“I suppose it is,” said Ned. “I was fond of a girl once myself, and I hung about a good deal. But we hadn’t sixpence between us.”
“That was Polly Maxwell. I remember. You behaved very badly then.”
“Very badly, Tom; about as bad as a man could behave — and she was as bad. I loved her with all my heart, and I told her so. And she told me the same. There never was anything worse. We had just nothing between us, and nobody to give us anything.”
“It doesn’t pay; does it, Ned, that kind of thing?”
“It doesn’t pay at all. I wouldn’t give her up — nor she me. She was about as pretty a girl as I remember to have seen.”
“I suppose you were a decent-looking fellow in those days yourself. They say so, but I never quite believed it.”
“There wasn’t much in that,” said Ned. “Girls don’t want a man to be good-looking, but that he should speak up and not be afraid of them. There were lots of fellows came after her. You remember Blinks, of the Carabineers. He was full of money, and he asked her three times. She is an old maid to this day, and is living as companion to some crusty crochetty countess.”
“I think you did behave badly, Ned. Why didn’t you set her free?”
“Of course, I behaved badly. And why didn’t she set me free, if you come to that? I might have found a female Blinks of my own — only for her. I wonder whether it will come against us when we die, and whether we shall be brought up together to receive punishment.”
“Not if you repent, I suppose,” said Tom Spooner, very seriously.
“I sometimes ask myself whether she has repented. I made her swear that she’d never give me up. She might have broken her word a score of times, and I wish she had.”
“I think she was a fool, Ned.”
“Of course she was a fool. She knows that now, I dare say. And perhaps she has repented. Do you mean to try it again with that girl at Harrington Hall?”
Mr Thomas Spooner did mean to try it again with the girl at Harrington Hall. He had never quite trusted the note which he had got from his friend Chiltern, and had made up his mind that, to say the least of it, there had been very little friendship shown in the letter. Had Chiltern meant to have stood to him “like a brick,” as he ought to have stood by his right hand man in the Brake country, at any rate a fair chance might have been given him. “Where the devil would he be in such a country as this without me,” — Tom had said to his cousin — “not knowing a soul, and with all the shooting men against him? I might have had the hounds myself — and might have ’em now if I cared to take them. It’s not standing by a fellow as he ought to do. He writes to me, by George, just as he might do to some fellow who never had a fox about his place.”
“I suppose he didn’t put the two things together,” said Ned Spooner.
“I hate a fellow that can’t put two things together. If I stand to you you’ve a right to stand to me. That’s what you mean by putting two things together. I mean to have another shy at her. She has quarrelled with that fellow Maule altogether. I’ve learned that from the gardener’s girl at Harrington.”
Yes — he would make another attempt. All history, all romance, all poetry and all prose, taught him that perseverance in love was generally crowned with success — that true love rarely was crowned with success except by perseverance. Such a simple little tale of boy’s passion as that told him by his cousin had no attraction for him. A wife would hardly be worth having, and worth keeping, so won. And all proverbs were on his side. “None but the brave deserve the fair,” said his cousin. “I shall stick to it,” said Tom Spooner. ” Labor omnia vincit,” said his cousin. But what should be his next step? Gerard Maule had been sent away with a flea in his ear — so, at least, Mr Spooner asserted, and expressed an undoubting opinion that this imperative dismissal had come from the fact that Gerard Maule, when “put through his facings” about income was not able to “show the money’. “She’s not one of your Polly Maxwells, Ned.” Ned said that he supposed she was not one of that sort. “Heaven knows I couldn’t show the money,” said Ned, “but that didn’t make her any wiser.” Then Tom gave it as his opinion that Miss Palliser was one of those young women who won’t go anywhere without having everything about them. “She could have her own carriage with me, and her own horses, and her own maid, and everything.”
“Her own way into the bargain,” said Ned. Whereupon Tom Spooner winked, and suggested that that might be as things turned out after the marriage. He was quite willing to run his chance for that.
But how was he to get at her to prosecute his suit? As to writing to her direct — he didn’t much believe in that. “It looks as though one were afraid of her, you know — which I ain’t the least. I stood up to her before, and I wasn’t a bit more nervous than I am at this moment. Were you nervous in that affair with Miss Maxwell?”
“Ah — it’s a long time ago. There wasn’t much nervousness there.”
“A sort of milkmaid affair?”
“That is different, you know. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll just drive slap over to Harrington and chance it. I’ll take the two bays in the phaeton. Who’s afraid?”
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” said Ned.
“Old Chiltern is such a d — cantankerous fellow, and perhaps Lady C. may say that I oughtn’t to have taken advantage of her absence. But, what’s the odds? If she takes me there’ll be an end of it. If she don’t, they can’t eat me.”
“The only thing is whether they’ll let you in.”
“I’ll try at any rate,” said Tom, “and you shall go over with me. You won’t mind trotting about the grounds while I’m carrying on the war inside? I’ll take the two bays, and Dick Farren behind, and I don’t think there’s a prettier got-up trap in the county. We’ll go tomorrow.”
And on the morrow they did start, having heard on that very morning of the arrest of Phineas Finn. “By George, don’t it feel odd,” said Tom just as they started — “a fellow that we used to know down here, having him out hunting and all that, and now he’s — a murderer! Isn’t it a coincidence?”
“It startles one,” said Ned.
“That’s what I mean. It’s such a strange thing that it should be the man we know ourselves. These things always are happening to me. Do you remember when poor Fred Fellows got his bad fall and died the next year? You weren’t here then.”
“I’ve heard you speak of it.”
“I was in the very same field, and should have been the man to pick him up, only the hounds had just turned to the left. It’s very odd that these coincidences always are happening to some men and never do happen to others. It makes one feel that he’s marked out, you know.”
“I hope you’ll be marked out by victory today.”
“Well — yes. That’s more important just now than Mr Bonteen’s murder. Do you know, I wish you’d drive. These horses are pulling, and I don’t want to be all in a flurry when I get to Harrington.” Now it was a fact very well known to all concerned with Spoon Hall, that there was nothing as to which the Squire was so jealous as the driving of his own horses. He would never trust the reins to a friend, and even Ned had hardly ever been allowed the honour of the whip when sitting with his cousin. “I’m apt to get red in the face when I’m overheated,” said Tom as he made himself comfortable and easy in the left hand seat.
There were not many more words spoken during the journey. The lover was probably justified in feeling some trepidation. He had been quite correct in suggesting that the matter between him and Miss Palliser bore no resemblance at all to that old affair between his cousin Ned and Polly Maxwell. There had been as little trepidation as money in that case — simply love and kisses, parting, despair, and a broken heart. Here things were more august. There was plenty of money, and, let affairs go as they might, there would be no broken heart. But that perseverance in love of which Mr Spooner intended to make himself so bright an example does require some courage. The Adelaide Pallisers of the world have a way of making themselves uncommonly unpleasant to a man when they refuse him for the third or fourth time. They allow themselves sometimes to express a contempt which is almost akin to disgust, and to speak to a lover as though he were no better than a footman. And then the lover is bound to bear it all, and when he has borne it, finds it so very difficult to get out of the room. Mr Spooner had some idea of all this as his cousin drove him up to the door, at what he then thought a very fast pace. “D— it all,” he said, “you needn’t have brought them up so confoundedly hot.” But it was not of the horses that he was really thinking, but of the colour of his own nose. There was something working within him which had flurried him, in spite of the tranquillity of his idle seat.
Not the less did he spring out of the phaeton with a quite youthful jump. It was well that everyone about Harrington Hall should know how alert he was on his legs; a little weather-beaten about the face he might be; but he could get in and out of his saddle as quickly as Gerard Maule even yet; and for a short distance would run Gerard Maule for a ten-pound note. He dashed briskly up to the door, and rang the bell as though he feared neither Adelaide nor Lord Chiltern any more than he did his own servants at Spoon Hall. “Was Miss Palliser at home?” The maid-servant who opened the door told him that Miss Palliser was at home, with a celerity which he certainly had not expected. The male members of the establishment were probably disporting themselves in the absence of their master and mistress, and Adelaide Palliser was thus left to the insufficient guardianship of young women who were altogether without discretion. “Yes, sir; Miss Palliser is at home.” So said the indiscreet female, and Mr Spooner was for the moment confounded by his own success. He had hardly told himself what reception he had expected, or whether, in the event of the servant informing him at the front door that the young lady was not at home he would make any further immediate effort to prolong the siege so as to force an entry; but now, when he had carried the very fortress by surprise, his heart almost misgave him. He certainly had not thought, when he descended from his chariot like a young Bacchus in quest of his Ariadne, that he should so soon be enabled to repeat the tale of his love. But there he was, confronted with Ariadne before he had had a moment to shake his godlike locks or arrange the divinity of his thoughts. “Mr Spooner,” said the maid, opening the door.
“Oh dear!” exclaimed Ariadne, feeling the vainness of her wish to fly from the god. “You know, Mary, that Lady Chiltern is up in London.”
“But he didn’t ask for Lady Chiltern, Miss.” Then there was a pause, during which the maid-servant managed to shut the door and to escape.
“Lord Chiltern is up in London,” said Miss Palliser, rising from her chair, “and Lady Chiltern is with him. They will be at home, I think, tomorrow, but I am not quite sure.” She looked at him rather as Diana might have looked at poor Orion than as any Ariadne at any Bacchus; and for a moment Mr Spooner felt that the pale chillness of the moon was entering in upon his very heart and freezing the blood in his veins.
“Miss Palliser — “ he began.
“But Adelaide was for the moment an unmitigated Diana. Mr Spooner,” she said, “I cannot for an instant suppose that you wish to say anything to me.”
“But I do,” said he, laying his hand upon his heart.
“Then I must declare that — that — that you ought not to. And I hope you won’t. Lady Chiltern is not in the house, and I think that — that you ought to go away. I do, indeed.”
But Mr Spooner, though the interview had been commenced with unexpected and almost painful suddenness, was too much a man to be driven off by the first angry word. He remembered that this Diana was but mortal; and he remembered, too, that though he had entered in upon her privacy he had done so in a manner recognised by the world as lawful. There was no reason why he should allow himself to be congealed — or even banished out of the grotto of the nymph — without speaking a word on his own behalf. Were he to fly now, he must fly for ever; whereas, if he fought now — fought well, even though not successfully at the moment — he might fight again. While Miss Palliser was scowling at him he resolved upon fighting. “Miss Palliser,” he said, “I did not come to see Lady Chiltern; I came to see you. And now that I have been happy enough to find you I hope you will listen to me for a minute. I shan’t do you any harm.”
“I’m not afraid of any harm, but I cannot think that you have anything to say that can do anybody any good.” She sat down, however, and so far yielded. “Of course I cannot make you go away, Mr Spooner; but I should have thought, when I asked you — ”
Mr Spooner also seated himself, and uttered a sigh. Making love to a sweet, soft, blushing, willing, though silent girl is a pleasant employment; but the task of declaring love to a stony-hearted, obdurate, ill-conditioned Diana is very disagreeable for any gentleman. And it is the more so when the gentleman really loves — or thinks that he loves — his Diana. Mr Spooner did believe himself to be verily in love. Having sighed, he began: “Miss Palliser, this opportunity of declaring to you the state of my heart is too valuable to allow me to give it up without — without using it.”
“It can’t be of any use.”
“Oh, Miss Palliser — if you knew my feelings!”
“But I know my own.”
“They may change, Miss Palliser.”
“No, they can’t.”
“Don’t say that, Miss Palliser.”
“But I do say it. I say it over and over again. I don’t know what any gentleman can gain by persecuting a lady. You oughtn’t to have been shown up here at all.”
Mr Spooner knew well that women have been won even at the tenth time of asking, and this with him was only the third. “I think if you knew my heart — “ he commenced.
“I don’t want to know your heart.”
“You might listen to a man, at any rate.”
“I don’t want to listen. It can’t do any good. I only want you to leave me alone, and go away.”
“I don’t know what you take me for,” said Mr Spooner, beginning to wax angry.
“I haven’t taken you for anything at all. This is very disagreeable and very foolish. A lady has a right to know her own mind, and she has a right not to be persecuted.” She would have referred to Lord Chiltern’s letter had not all the hopes of her heart been so terribly crushed since that letter had been written. In it he had openly declared that she was already engaged to be married to Mr Maule, thinking that he would thus put an end to Mr Spooner’s little adventure. But since the writing of Lord Chiltern’s letter that unfortunate reference had been made to Boulogne, and every particle of her happiness had been destroyed. She was a miserable, blighted young woman, who had quarrelled irretrievably with her lover, feeling greatly angry with herself because she had made the quarrel, and yet conscious that her own self-respect had demanded the quarrel. She was full of regret, declaring to herself from morning to night that, in spite of all his manifest wickedness in having talked of Boulogne, she never could care at all for any other man. And now there was this aggravation to her misery — this horrid suitor, who disgraced her by making those around her suppose it to be possible that she should ever accept him; who had probably heard of her quarrel, and had been mean enough to suppose that therefore there might be a chance for himself! She did despise him, and wanted him to understand that she despised him.
“I believe I am in a condition to offer my hand and fortune to any young lady without impropriety,” said Mr Spooner.
“I don’t know anything about your condition.”
“But I will tell you everything.”
“I don’t want to know anything about it.”
“I have an estate of — ”
“I don’t want to know about your estate. I won’t hear about your estate. It can be nothing to me.”
“It is generally considered to be a matter of some importance.”
“It is of no importance to me, at all, Mr Spooner; and I won’t hear anything about it. If all the parish belonged to you, it would not make any difference.”
“All the parish does belong to me, and nearly all the next,” replied Mr Spooner, with great dignity.
“Then you’d better find some lady who would like to have two parishes. They haven’t any weight with me at all.” At that moment she told herself how much she would prefer even Bou — logne, to Mr Spooner’s two parishes.
“What is it that you find so wrong about me?” asked the unhappy suitor.
Adelaide looked at him, and longed to tell him that his nose was red. And, though she would not quite do that, she could not bring herself to spare him. What right had he to come to her — a nasty, red-nosed old man, who knew nothing about anything but foxes and horses — to her, who had never given him the encouragement of a single smile? She could not allude to his nose, but in regard to his other defects she would not spare him. “Our tastes are not the same, Mr Spooner.”
“You are very fond of hunting.”
“And our ages are not the same.”
“I always thought that there should be a difference of age,” said Mr Spooner, becoming very red.
“And — and — and — it’s altogether quite preposterous. I don’t believe that you can really think it yourself.”
“But I do.”
“Then you must unthink it. And, indeed, Mr Spooner, since you drive me to say so — I consider it to be very unmanly of you, after what Lord Chiltern told you in his letter.”
“But I believe that is all over.”
Then her anger flashed up very high. “And if you do believe it, what a mean man you must be to come to me when you must know how miserable I am, and to think that I should be driven to accept you after losing him! You never could have been anything to me. If you wanted to get married at all, you should have done it before I was born.” This was hard upon the man, as at that time he could not have been much more than twenty. “But you don’t know anything of the difference in people if you think that any girl would look at you, after having been — loved by Mr Maule. Now, as you do not seem inclined to go away, I shall leave you.” So saying, she walked off with stately step, out of the room, leaving the door open behind her to facilitate her escape.
She had certainly been very rude to him, and had treated him very badly. Of that he was sure. He had conferred upon her what is commonly called the highest compliment which a gentleman can pay to a lady, and she had insulted him — had doubly insulted him. She had referred to his age, greatly exaggerating his misfortune in that respect; and she had compared him to that poor beggar Maule in language most offensive. When she left him, he put his hand beneath his waistcoat, and turned with an air almost majestic towards the window. But in an instant he remembered that there was nobody there to see how he bore his punishment, and he sank down into human nature. “Damnation!” he said, as he put his hands into his trousers pockets.
Slowly he made his way down into the hall, and slowly he opened for himself the front door, and escaped from the house on to the gravel drive. There he found his cousin Ned still seated in the phaeton, and slowly driving round the circle in front of the hall door. The squire succeeded in gaining such command over his own gait and countenance that his cousin divined nothing of the truth as he clambered up into his seat. But he soon showed his temper. “What the devil have you got the reins in this way for?”
“The reins are all right,” said Ned.
“No they ain’t — they’re all wrong.” And then he drove down the avenue to Spoon Hall as quickly as he could make the horses trot.
“Did you see her?” said Ned, as soon as they were beyond the gates.
“See your grandmother.”
“Do you mean to say that I’m not to ask?”
“There’s nothing I hate so much as a fellow that’s always asking questions,” said Tom Spooner. “There are some men so d — d thick-headed that they never know when they ought to hold their tongue.”
For a minute or two Ned bore the reproof in silence, and then he spoke. “If you are unhappy, Tom, I can bear a good deal; but don’t overdo it — unless you want me to leave you.”
“She’s the d — t vixen that ever had a tongue in her head,” said Tom Spooner, lifting his whip and striking the poor off-horse in his agony. Then Ned forgave him.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14