Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

Yes, he was jealous-poor devil! I write “poor devil” advisedly, because I think that a man who marries, not exactly out of the gutter, and who doubts he can keep as a husband what he won as a lover, must be a poor devil indeed. When I say won as a lover," I of course mean won fairly; and in this case there had been very foul play. Harry Norton could hardly say that he had won his wife at all. He had bought her with money, knowing that the only one she had ever loved was his brother. The men who surrounded her now were of a very different class to the curates and subalterns of dragoons with whom she had flirted in her unmarried days; were-he was obliged to admit it to himself—superior to him in many important respects. If that shameful secret were ever to come out, and she were to punish him? I say again, Poor devil !

CHAPTER XIV.

ROSEY'S LOVE AFFAIR. The first batch of visitors—all but one-had left Climbury, and its master had a little time to talk to its mistress on a subject which had been troubling him.

“Have you remarked, my dear,” he asked, “ the constant attentions that Captain Vyner is paying Rosey ?"

“Yes. I noticed them about three months ago, when we were in London."

“And what do you think?"
“That Captain Vyner is a goose."

“That is hardly the language to use in a matter as grave as the happiness of my sister.”

"When I say he is a goose,” she replied, not noticing the reproof, “I mean that he does not bear in mind the axiom that · Faint heart ne'er won fair lady.''

“ You think Rosey likes him ?”

"I am sure she does, only she is such a dear, good, little girl that she will never let him know it.”

“It is time that he made up his mind one way or another. I shall ask Captain Vyner what his intentions are.”

“I beg that you will do no such thing. Take my word for it, they are honourable; only, as I before said, he is a goose.

“ You seem to be in his confidence."
“I am in his confidence."
“ About Rosey?"
“Of course."

“I think, considering that I am the head of the family, it would have been better taste if he had spoken to me.”

“My dear, there are a great many things which a man can say to a

woman which he would bite his tongue out rather than say to a man. Captain Vyner leaves us the day after to-morrow, and you may depend upon it that Rosey will be a very happy little woman before then.”

You seem to have quite made up your mind to the match ?” "What possible objection can there be to it? I have the highest respect and regard for Captain Vyner. Do you know," she added in a lower tone, " that he sometimes reminds me of poor George ?”.

“I must say that I can see no resemblance : Vyner is a very gentlemanly man."

“Ob, Harry! as though George was not a gentleman. He who had the heart of a prince !"

“Yes—yes; oh, of course. He was very good, and that sort of thing ; I was thinking of his manners."

“No; you were thinking of his coats and trousers," Addy replied, with just a shade of scorn in her tone. “By-the-by, Captain Vyner told me the other day that he was at Colon, waiting for the mail, when

you were there after the wreck.” "Oh, indeed! What did he say else ? Tell me, Addy, what he said."

“Oh, nothing of any importance. He only asked me if you had ever found some pocket-book which you had lost.”

“How did he know I had lost a pocket-book ?" asked Mr. Norton, with very pale lips.

“I really don't remember exactly. I don't even know that he told me. Oh, yes he did. He was living with the vice-consul, because the hotel was so disgusting, and was present when you came and spoke about offering a reward."

“There was no one present. I could swear we were alone,” cried her husband, and the next instant he would have given ten years of his life to have held his tongue.

" It is not very likely that Captain Vyner would tell a falsehood on such a subject. Did you, in fact, lose a pocket-book at Colon and offer a reward for it?" “A pocket-book !" scoffed Mr. Norton.

“ Am I a cheesemongər, or a lawyer's clerk, that I should carry a pocket-book! Did you ever know me carry one ?” He rose as he spoke, and looked at his watch. " The first dinner-bell will ring in a few minutes. Did I tell you that your father is dining with us to-day ?”

“Have you told Bryce to get his room ready?”

“Not yet.”

"Ah! you skould not have forgotten that. There has not been a fire there for days.” She rang the bell as she spoke, and all thoughts about lost pocket-books went out of her head in her anxiety for her father's comfort.

Her husband left the boudoir, thinking that he had turned off an ugly subject very cleverly; but as he dressed for dinner conscience began to summon up its ghosts. How much did Captain Vyner know? Why had he asked about that wretched myth, the pocketbook? It was evident to the self-torturer, from his wife's manner, that she had no suspicion—at present. It was probable that Rosey's lover knew only the story that had been current at Colon. But suppose he were to renew the subject with her or Addy, and they were to compare notes? Why, good God! the bare horrid truth would come out. If Vyner were to marry Rosey, and so become one of the family, the subject would be sure to turn up again sooner or later. By the time his white cravat was tied, Mr. Norton, of Climbury, had determined that Captain Vyner should not become one of the family, or remain upon visiting terms with any of its members.

He sought his wife's sanctum again that night, and opened fire at once.

“I have been thinking carefully over what you told me to day, my love, before dinner, and I have come to the conclusion that we must not permit it to go on.”

Addy was sitting over the fire, in a very charming white cashmere dressing-gown, fastened down the front with blue bows, and caught in at the waist by a broad blue ribbon. Her maid was behind her, brushing her soft brown hair. Her maid was agreeably surprised to see “master” come in. He generally went straight to his own room, and “missis” had a weary habit of sitting over the fire, and having her hair brushed for hours.

“It will come to an end to-morrow,” she said carelessly. “I will take care it does.”

She just lifted her eyes and looked at him, caught his meaning in his face, and prepared for action. Prepared for action as a sand-bag battery would prepare itself—if it had volition-against an assault by cricket-balls.

“That will do, Davis,” she said to the servant; "you can go to bed if you like, I shall not want you again to-night. Stay, give me that fan. That will do."

She held the fan between her face and the fire light, lounged still farther back in her chair, and said—nothing.

“I shall make a point,” her husband continued, as soon as the door had closed on Davis, “of speaking to Vyner early to-morrow, and informing him that I do not approve of his suit.”

“You said just now that you had come to the conclusion that we should not permit it to go on," observed his wife; "will

you

kindly let me know why I should interfere ?"

“Why, my dear,” he replied, drawing his chair closer to her side, "just consider. A sailor's wife is half a widow. He cannot take her with him on board his ship, and he cannot drag her about from station to station. I have no personal objection to Vyner, though I don't think he is quite the man for Rosey. But his profession puts it out of the question.”

“He will retire when he marries,” said Addy quietly. " And live on his wife's fortune ?"

My dear Harry, his father is a richer man than you are.” “But he has an elder brother."

“What does that matter? People like Mr. Vyner don't leave everything to one; besides Dick-I mean the captain-is his favourite."

"What is this Mr. Vyner ?" “I don't exactly know—something to do with cotton at Liverpool.” “A tradesman! A fine match for Rosey !" “Nonsense! You are a tradesman, if you take that view.” “I, Mrs. Norton ?” "You, Mr. Norton-you sell coals.” "A country gentleman may dispose of the produce of his land, without any taint of trade,” said he, with much dignity.

She had no reply ready, and did not trouble herself to think for one. Besides, she had that in reserve which would put an end to this skirmishing when it became tiresome. So she nestled her beautiful head still deeper in the “violet velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er," and shut her eyes.

This to her husband was the worst of signs. When in the height of controversy the Addy of the present leaned back in her chair and shut her

eyes, it was by no means to be understood that she was convinced. It meant merely that she had said all she cared to say, and that nothing that could be advanced would have any effect upon the resolution she had taken. Her lord (and servant) returned to the attack.

“There is no business, as I am given to understand, more precarious than the cotton trade. A man is wealthy-or seems soto-day, and is a beggar to-morrow. If Vyner were to marry Rosey and remain in the navy, he would make her miserable, for the reasons I have already given. If he retire, and they live on his father, they may wake up some fine morning and find the cotton fellow in the Gazette. No-no! I am sorry for Rosey's sake that it has gone so far. It won't do !"

“My dear, it's done,” Addy replied, languidly opening her eyes. " He proposed for her after dinner, whilst

papa were talking schools, and she accepted him.” "I will never consent! I-I—it is scandalous !

I-I-it is scandalous! He shall leave the house to-morrow!" blustered Mr. Norton.

"That is all arranged,” said his wife, gently fanning herself. “He will leave by the first train to see his father, and get his consent."

“He may get his consent, he never will have mine !"

" As you please. But remember, Rosey is of age. Her fortune is at her own disposal. Her mother is quite satisfied with Captain Vyner. I really don't see what you have got to do with it.” “As the head of the family

you and

“Thè head of the family! That is like your taint of trade'-it belongs to a past century. You tire me. Let us drop the subject, if you please, for to-night. Sleep upon it, and be reasonable. If you will be guided by me, you will not oppose Captain Vyner. Under all the circumstances I do not think it would be wise—or even safe. Good night.”

She sauntered from the room as she spoke, leaving him for the hundredth time since that irrevocable “No” had passed his lips, with a sinking heart. What did she mean by under all the circumstances it would not be wise-or even safe, to oppose Captain Vyner? She simply meant that as her husband had been employing Rosey's fortune, it would not be wise to allow people to say that he wished her to remain unmarried that he might contrive to enjoy the interest; that it would not be safe to drive the young folks too hard, because they might take affairs into their own hands, and marry without his consent, thereby causing a scandal. Worldly as she had become, some spark of the dear old romance of loving and being loved lived in Addy's heart. Plain, outspoken Dick Vyner was very like George. With all her wealth, ber beauty, and her power—with all her outward indifference and languor, she longed for the sparkle that such a man could throw into the goblet of her life. She was very fond of Rosey, and determined that she should be happy. That is what she meant. What her miserable husband—always thinking of himself and his secret—deemed she meant was that Vyner knew too much about him and his doings in Colombia ; and that, under the circumstances, it would not be wise to thwart him.

He never had an opportunity of doing so. The man he now feared and hated, as only one like himself can hate, was off before daybreak to see the “cotton fellow," and the first words which passed between the widow and her son were full of joy at what she called their good fortune. Theirs ! Why, when this talkative captain became intimate what fatal questions might be not ask! The most casual mention of “poor George's " name might act as a spark to blow the edifice of lies in which the traitor's brother lived into the air, and bury him in the ruins !

Addy was generally too idle and too selfish to pay much attention to the feelings of others; but that look of mingled surprise and despair which filled her husband's face as she left him, was not lost upon her. She, too, began to wonder what he meant. Why was he so anxious before dinner to hasten Captain Vyner's proposal, and so bent upon separating the lovers at 11 o'clock ? Could what she had said about the pocket-book have vexed him ? Did he dislike Vyner because he now reminded him of poor George's loss, and reopened that unhealed wound ? Far-fetched as the idea was, it made her think almost affectionately of her husband. How sensitive he was. The pocket-book! What could have induced the Captain to think that Harry had sent a ship to look after a pocket-book, when

« НазадПродовжити »