G.J. Whyte-Melville.

M. or N. Similia similibus curantur. online

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wholly and irretrievably lost. Mr. Ryfe would have felt this, could
he have seen the gestures of the woman he loved, while she tore his
letter into shreds - could he have marked the carriage of her haughty
head, the compression of her sweet, resolute lips, the fierce energy
of her white, cruel hands. Maud paced the floor for some half-dozen
turns, opened the window, arranged the bottles on her toilet-table,
the flowers on her chimney-piece, even took a good long look at
herself in the glass, and sat down to think.

For weeks she had been revolving in her mind the necessity of breaking
with Tom Ryfe, the policy of securing position and freedom by an early
marriage. That odious letter decided her; and now it only remained to
make her choice. There are women - and these, though sometimes the
most fascinating, by no means the most trustworthy of their sex - who
possess over mankind a mesmeric influence, almost akin to witchcraft.
Without themselves feeling deeply, perhaps for the very reason that
they do _not_, they are capable of exercising a magic sway over those
with whom they come in contact; and while they attract more admirers
than they know what to do with, are seldom very fortunate in their
selection, or happy in their eventual lot. Miss Bruce was one of these
witches, far more mischievous than the old conventional hags we used
to burn under the sapient government of our first Stuart, and she knew
a deal better than any old woman who ever mounted a broom-stick the
credulity of her victims, the dangerous power of her spells. These she
had lately been using freely. It was time to turn their exercise to
good account.

"Mr. Stanmore _would_, in a moment," thought Maud, "if I only gave him
the slightest hint. And I like him. Yes, I like him very much indeed.
Poor Dick! What a fool one can make a man look, to be sure, when he's
in love, as people call it! Aunt Agatha wouldn't much fancy it, I
suppose; not that I should care two pins about that. And Dick's very
easy to manage - too easy, I think. He seems as if I couldn't make him
angry. I made him _sorry_, though, the other day, poor fellow! but
that's not half such fun. Now Lord Bearwarden _has_ got a temper, I'm
sure. I wonder, if we were to quarrel, which would give in first. I
don't think I should. I declare it would be rather nice to try. He's
good-looking - that's to say, good-looking for a _man_. It's an ugly
animal at best. And they tell me the Den is such a pretty place in the
autumn! And twenty thousand a year! I don't care so much about the
money part of it. Of course one must have money; but Selina St. Croix
assured me that they called him The Impenetrable; and there wasn't a
girl in London he ever danced with twice. _Wasn't_ there? He danced
with me three times in two hours; but I didn't say so. I suppose
people _would_ open their eyes. I've a great mind - a _very_ great
mind. But then, there's Dick. He'd be horribly bored, poor fellow! And
the worst of it is, he wouldn't _say_ anything; but I know exactly how
he'd look, and I should feel I was a least! What a bother it all is!
But something must be done. I can't go on with this sort of life; I
can't stand Aunt Agatha much longer. There she goes, calling on the
stairs again! Why can't she send my maid up, if she wants me?"

But Miss Bruce ran down willingly enough when her aunt informed her,
from the first floor, that she must make haste, and Dick was in the
large drawing-room.

She found mother and son, as they called themselves, buried in a
litter of cards, envelopes, papers of every description referring to
"Peerage," "Court Guide," visiting-list - all such aids to memory - the
charts, as it were, of that voyage which begins in the middle of
April, and ends with the last week in July. As usual on great
undertakings, from the opening of a campaign to the issuing of
invitations for a ball, too much had been left to the last moment;
there was a great deal to do, and little time to do it.

"We can't get on without _you_, Miss Bruce," said Dick, with rising
colour and averted eyes, that denoted how much less efficient an
auxiliary he would prove since she had come into the room. "My mother
has mislaid the old visiting-list, and the new one only goes down to
T: so that the U's, and the V's, and W's will be all left out. Think
how we shall be hated in London next week! To be sure it's what my
mother calls 'small and early' like young potatoes, and I hear there
are three hundred cards sent out already."

"You'll only hinder us, Mr. Stanmore," said Maud. "Hadn't you better
go away again?" but observing Dick's face fall, the smiling eyes
added, plainly as words could speak, "if you _can_!" She looked pale
though, and unhappy, he thought. Of course he felt fonder of her than
ever.

"Hinder you!" he repeated. "Why, I'm the mainstay of the whole
performance. Don't I bring you eight-and-twenty dancing men? all at
once if you wish it, in a body, like soldiers."

"Nonsense, my dear," interrupted Aunt Agatha. "The staircase will be
crowded enough as it is."

Maud laughed.

"But are they _real_ dancing men?" she asked, "not 'dummies,'
'duffers,' - what do you call them? people who only stand against the
wall and look idiotic. They're no use unless they work regularly
through, as if it was a match or a boat-race. I don't call it dancing
to hover about, and be always wanting to go down to tea or supper, and
to haunt one and look cross if one behaves with common propriety - like
some people I know."

Dick accepted the imputation.

"_I'm_ not a dancing man," said he, "though my eight-and-twenty
friends are. I cannot see the pleasure of being hustled about in a hot
room with a girl I never saw before in my life, and never want to see
again, - who is looking beyond me all the time, watching the door for
another fellow who never comes."

"Then why on earth do you go?" asked Miss Bruce simply.

"_You_ know why," he answered in a low voice, without raising his eyes
to her face.

"O! I dare say," replied Maud; but though it was couched in a tone of
banter, the smile that accompanied this pertinent remark seemed to
afford Dick unbounded satisfaction.

Mrs. Stanmore looked up from her writing-table.

"I can't get on while you two are jabbering in that corner." (She had
not heard a word either of them said.) "I'll take my visiting-list
up-stairs. You can put these cards in envelopes and direct them. It
will help me a little, but you're neither of you much use."

She gathered her materials together, and was leaving the room. Dick's
heart began beating to some purpose; but his step-mother stopped at
the door and addressed her niece.

"By the bye, Maud, I'd almost forgotten. I'm going to Rose and
Brilliant's. Fetch me your diamonds, and I'll take them to be cleaned.
I can see the people myself, you know, and make sure of your having
them back in time for the ball."

The girl turned white. Dick saw it, though his mother did not. He
observed, too, that she gasped as if she was trying to form words
which would not come.

"I am not going to wear them." She got it out at last with difficulty.

"Not wear them! nonsense!" was the reply. "Bring them down, my dear,
at any rate, and let me look them over. If you don't want it, you
might lend me the collar - it would go very well with my mauve satin."

Maud's eyes turned here and there as if to look for help, and it was
Dick's nature to throw himself in the gap.

"I'll take them, mother," said he. "My phaeton's at the door now.
You've plenty to do, and it will save you a long drive. Besides, I can
blow the people up more effectually than a lady."

"I'm not so sure of that," answered Mrs. Stanmore. "However, it's a
sensible plan enough. Maud can fetch them down for you, and you may
come back to dinner if you're disengaged."

So speaking, Mrs. Stanmore sailed off, leaving the young people alone.

Maud thanked him with such a look as would have repaid Dick for a far
longer expedition than from Belgravia to Bond Street.

"What should I do without you, Mr. Stanmore?" she said. "You always
come to the rescue just when I want you most."

He coloured with delight.

"I like doing things for _you_," said he simply; "but I don't know
that taking a parcel a mile and a half is such a favour after all. If
you'll bring it, I'll start directly you give the word."

Miss Bruce had been very pale hitherto, now a burning blush swept over
her face to the temples.

"I - I can't bring you my diamonds," said she, "for the first of those
thirty reasons that prevented Napoleon's general from bringing up his
guns - I haven't got them: they're at Rose and Brilliant's already."

"Maud!" he exclaimed, unconsciously using her Christian name - a
liberty with which she seemed in nowise offended.

"You may well say 'Maud'!" she murmured in a soft, low voice. "If you
knew all, you'd never call me Maud. I don't believe you'd ever speak
to me again." "Then I'd rather not know all," he replied. "Though it
would have to be something very bad indeed if it could make me think
ill of you! Don't tell me anything, Miss Bruce, except that you would
like your diamonds back again."

"They _must_ be got back!" she exclaimed. "I _must_ have them back by
fair means or foul. I can't face Aunt Agatha, now that she knows, and
can't appear at her ball without them. O! Mr. Stanmore, what shall I
do? Do you think Rose and Brilliant's would _lend_ them to me only for
one night?"

Dick began to suspect something, began to surmise that this young lady
had been "raising the wind," as he called it, and to wonder for what
mysterious purpose she could want so large a sum as had necessitated
the sacrifice of her most valuable jewels; but she seemed in such
distress that he felt this was no time for explanation.

"Do!" he repeated cheerfully, and walking to the window that he might
not seem to notice her trouble. "Why do as I wish you had done all
through. Leave everything to _me_. I was going to say 'trust me,' but
I don't want to be trusted. I only want to be made use of."

Her better nature was conquering her fast.

"But indeed I _will_ trust you," she murmured. "You deserve to be
trusted. You are so kind, so good, so true. You will despise me, I
know - very likely hate me, and never come to see me again; but I don't
care - I can't help it. Sit down, and I will tell you everything."

He did not blush nor stammer now, his voice was very firm, and he
stood up like a man.

"Miss Bruce," said he, "Maud - yes, I'm not afraid to call you Maud - I
won't hear another word. I don't want to be told anything. Whatever
you have done makes no difference to me. Some day, perhaps, you'll
remember how I believed in you. In the meantime tell my mother that
the diamonds will be back in time for her ball. How late it is! I must
be off like a shot. Those horses will be perfectly wild with waiting.
I'm coming to dinner. Good-bye!"

He hurried away without another look, and Maud, burying her head in
the sofa-cushions, burst out crying, as she had not cried since she
was a child.

"He's too good for me! - he's too good for me!" she repeated, between
the sobs she tried hard to keep back. "How wicked and vile I should be
to throw him over! He's too good for me! - too good for me by far!"




CHAPTER XII


"A CRUEL PARTING"


The phaeton-horses went off like wildfire, Dick driving as if he was
drunk. Omnibus-cads looked after him with undisguised admiration,
and hansom cabmen, catching the enthusiasm of pace, found themselves
actually wishing they were gentlemen's servants, to have their beer
found, and sit behind such steppers as those!

The white foam stood on flank and shoulder when the pair were pulled
up at Rose and Brilliant's door.

Dick bustled in with so agitated an air that an experienced shopman
instantly lifted the glass from a tray containing the usual assortment
of wedding-rings.

"I'm come about some diamonds," panted the customer, casting a wistful
glance towards these implements of coercion the while. "A set of
diamonds - very valuable - left here by a lady - a young lady - I want
them back again."

He looked about him helplessly; nevertheless, the shopman, himself a
married man, became at once less commiserating, and more confidential.

"Diamonds!" he repeated. "Let me see - yes, sir - quite so - I think I
recollect. Perhaps you'll step in and speak to our principal. Mind
your hat, if you please, sir - yes, sir - this way, sir."

So saying, he ushered Mr. Stanmore through glass doors into a neat
little room at the back, where sat a bald, smiling personage in sober
attire, something between that of a provincial master of hounds and a
low-church clergyman, whose cool composure, as it struck Dick at the
time, afforded a ludicrous contrast to his own fuss and agitation.

"_My_ name is Rose, sir," said the placid man. "Pray take a seat."

Nobody can "take a seat" under feelings of strong excitement. Dick
grasped the proffered chair by the back.

"Mr. Rose," he began, "what I have to say to you goes no farther."

"O dear, no! - certainly not - Mr. Stanmore, I believe? I hope I see you
well, sir. This is my _private_ room, you understand, sir. Whatever
affairs we transact here are _in_ private. How can I accommodate you,
Mr. Stanmore?" Dick looked so eager, the placid man was persuaded he
must want money.

"There's a young lady," said Dick, plunging at his subject, "who left
her diamonds here last week - quite a young lady - very handsome. Did
she give you her name?"

Mr. Rose smiled and shook his head benevolently. "If any jewels of
value were left with _us_, you may be sure we satisfied ourselves of
the party's name and address. Perhaps I can help you, Mr. Stanmore.
Can you favour me with the date?"

"Yes, I can," answered Dick, "and the name too. It's no use humbugging
about it. Miss Bruce was the lady's name. There! Now she wants her
jewels back again. She's changed her mind."

Mr. Rose took a ledger off the table, and ran his finger down its
columns. "Quite correct, sir," said he, stopping at a particular
entry. "You are acquainted with the circumstances, of course."

Dick nodded, esteeming it little breach of confidence to look as if he
knew all about it.

"There is no difficulty whatever," continued the bland Mr. Rose.
"Happy to oblige Miss Bruce. Happy to oblige _you_. We shall charge a
small sum for commission. Nothing more - O dear, no! Have them cleaned
up? Certainly, sir; and you may depend on their being sent home in
time. At your convenience, Mr. Stanmore. No hurry, sir. You can write
me your cheque for the amount. Perhaps I'd better draw out a little
memorandum. We shall make a mere nominal charge for cleaning."

Dick glanced over the memorandum, including its nominal charge for
cleaning, which, perhaps from ignorance, did not strike him as being
extraordinarily low. He was somewhat startled at the sum total, but
when this gentleman made up his mind, it was not easy to turn him from
an object in view.

The steppers, hardly cool, were hurried straight off to his bankers',
to be driven, after their owner's interview with one of the partners,
back again to the great emporium of their kind at Tattersall's.

A woman who wants to make a sacrifice parts with her jewels, a man
sells his horses. Honour to each, for each offers up what is nearest
and dearest to the heart.

Dick Stanmore lived no more within his income than other people. To
get back these diamonds he would have to raise a considerable sum.
There was nothing else to be done. The hunters must go: nay, the whole
stud, phaeton-horses, hacks, and all. Yet Dick marched into the office
to secure stalls for an early date, with a bright eye and a smiling
face. He was proving, to _himself_, at least, how well he loved her.

The first person he met in the yard was Lord Bearwarden. That
nobleman, though knowing him but slightly, had rather a liking for
Stanmore, cemented by a certain good run they once saw in company,
when each approved of the other's straightforward riding and unusual
forbearance towards hounds.

"There's a nice horse in the boxes," said my lord; "looks very like
your sort, Stanmore, and they say he'll go cheap, though he's quite
sound."

"Thanks," answered Dick. "But I'm all the other way. Been taking
stalls. Going to sell."

"Draft?" asked his lordship, who did not waste words.

"All of them," replied the other. "Even the hacks, saddlery, clothing,
in short, the whole plant, and without reserve - going to give it
up - at any rate for a time."

"Sorry for that," replied Bearwarden, adding, courteously, "Can I
offer you a lift? I'm going your way. Indeed, I'm going to call at
your mother's. Shall I find the ladies at home?"

"A little later you will," said honest, unsuspecting Dick, who had not
yet learned the lesson that teaches it is not worth while to trust or
mistrust any of the sex. "They'll be charmed to give you some tea. I'm
off to Croydon to look over my poor screws before they're sold, and
break it to my groom."

"That's a right good fellow," thought Lord Bearwarden, "and not a bad
connection if I was fool enough to marry the dark girl, after all." So
he called out to Dick, who had one foot on the step of his phaeton -

"I say, Stanmore, come and dine with us on the 11th; we've got two or
three hunting fellows, and we can go on together afterwards to your
mother's ball."

"All right," said Stanmore, and bowled away in the direction of
Croydon at the rate of fourteen miles an hour. If the horses were
to be sold, people might just as well be made aware of the class of
animal he kept. Though the sacrifice involved was considerable, it
would be wise to lessen it by all judicious means in his power.

_How_ great a sacrifice he scarcely felt till he arrived at his
country stables.

Dick Stanmore had been fonder of hunting than any other pursuit in the
world, ever since he went out for the first time on a Shetland pony,
and came home with his nose bleeding, at five years old.

The spin and "whizz" of his reel, the rush of a brown mountain stream
with its fringe of silver birch and stunted alder, the white side of a
leaping salmon, and the gasp of that noble fish towed deftly into the
shallows at last, afforded him a natural and unmixed pleasure. He
loved the heather dearly, the wild hillside, the keen pure air, the
steady setters, the flap and cackle of the rising grouse, the ringing
shot that laid him low, born in the purple, and fated there to die.
Nor, when corn-fields were cleared, and partridges, almost as swift as
bullets and as numerous as locusts, were driven to and fro across the
open, was his aim to be foiled by a flight little less rapid than the
shot that arrested it. With a rifle in his hand, a general knowledge
of the surrounding forest, and a couple of gillies, give him the wind
of a royal stag feeding amongst his hinds, and despite the feminine
jealousy and instinctive vigilance of the latter, an hour's stalk
would put the lord of the hills at the mercy of Dick Stanmore. In all
these sports he was a proficient, from all of them he derived a keen
gratification, but fox-hunting was his passion and his delight.

A fine rider, he loved the pursuit so well, and was so interested in
hounds, that he gave his horse every opportunity of carrying him in
front, and as his natural qualities included a good eye, and that
confidence in the immediate future which we call "nerve," he was
seen in difficulties less often than might be expected from his
predilection in favour of "the shortest way."

His horses generally appeared to go pleasantly, and to reciprocate
their rider's confidence, for he certainly seemed to get more work out
of them than his neighbours.

As Mr. Crop, his stud-groom, remarked in the peculiar style of English
affected by that trustworthy but exceedingly impracticable servant -

"Take and put him on a 'arf-bred' 'oss, an' he rides him like a
hangel, nussin' of him, and coaxin' of him, and sendin' of him along,
_beautiful_ for ground, an' uncommon liberal for fences. Take an' put
him on a thoro'-bred 'un, like our Vampire 'oss, and - Lor!"

One secret perhaps of that success in the hunting-field, which, when
well mounted, even Mr. Crop's eloquence was powerless to express but
by an interjection, lay in his master's affection for the animal.
Dick Stanmore dearly loved a horse, as some men do love them, totally
irrespective of any pleasure or advantage to be derived from their
use.

There is a fanciful oriental legend which teaches that when Allah was
engaged in the work of creation, he tempered the lightning with the
south wind, and thus created the horse. Whimsical as is this idea, it
yet suggests the swiftness, the fire, the mettlesome, generous, but
plastic temperament of our favourite quadruped - the only one of
our dumb servants in whose spirit we can rouse at will the utmost
emulation, the keenest desire for the approval of its lord. Even the
countenance of this animal denotes most of the qualities we affect to
esteem in the human race - courage, docility, good-temper, reflection
(for few faces are so thoughtful as that of the horse), gratitude,
benevolence, and, above all, trust. Yes, the full brown eye, large,
and mild, and loving, expresses neither spite, nor suspicion, nor
revenge. It turns on you with the mute unquestioning confidence
of real affection, and you may depend on it under all pressure of
circumstance, in the last extremity of danger or death. Will you say
as much for the bluest eyes that ever sparkled in mirth, or swam in
tears, or shone and deepened under the combined influence of triumph,
belladonna, and war-paint?

I once heard a man affirm that for him there was in every horse's face
the beauty each of us sees in the one woman he adores. This outrageous
position he assumed after a good run, and, indeed, after the dinner
which succeeded it. I will not go quite so far as to agree with him,
but I will say that in generosity, temper, and fidelity, there is
many a woman, and man too, who might well take example from the noble
qualities of the horse.

And now Dick Stanmore was about to offer up half-a-dozen of these
valued servants before the idol he had lately begun to worship, for
whom, indeed, he esteemed no victim too precious, no sacrifice too
dear.

Driving into his stable-yard, he threw the reins to a couple of
helpers, and made use of Mr. Crop's arm to assist his descent. That
worthy's face shone with delight. Next to his horses he loved his
master - chiefly, it is fair to say, as an important ingredient without
which there would be no stud.

"I was expectin' of ye, sir," said he, touching an exceedingly
straight-brimmed hat. "Glad to see ye lookin' so well."

To do him justice, Mr. Crop did his duty as if he always _was_
expecting his master.

"Horses all right?" asked Dick, moving towards the stable-door.

"'Osses _is_ 'ealthy, I am thankful to say," replied the groom
gravely, "and lookin', too, pretty nigh as I could wish, now they've
done breakin' with their coats. There's Firetail got a queerish
look - them Northamptonshire 'osses is mostly unsound ones - and the
mare's off leg's filled; and the Vampire 'oss, he's got a bit of a
splent a-comin', but I'll soon frighten that away; an' old Dandybrush,
he's awful, but not wuss nor I counted; and the young un - "

"I'll look 'em over," said Dick, interrupting what threatened to be
a long catalogue. "I came down on purpose. The fact is (take those
horses out and feed them) - the fact is, Crop, I'm going to sell them
all. I'm going to send them up to Tattersall's."

Every groom is more or less a sporting man, and it is the peculiarity
of sporting men to betray astonishment at no eventuality, however
startling; therefore Mr. Crop, doing violence to his feelings, moved
not a muscle of his countenance.

"I'm sorry to part with them, Crop," added Dick, a little put out by
the silence of his retainer, and not knowing exactly what to say next.
"They've carried me very well - I've seen a deal of fun on them - I
don't suppose I shall ever have such good ones - I don't suppose I
shall ever hunt much again."

Mr. Crop began to thaw. "They're _good_ 'osses," he observed
sententiously; "but that's not to say as there isn't good 'osses
elsewheres. In regard of not huntin' there's a many seasons, askin'
your pardon, atween you and me, and I should be sorry to think as I
wasn't goin' huntin', ay, twenty years from now! When is 'em goin' up,
sir?" added he, sinking sentiment and coming to business at once.

"Monday fortnight," answered Dick, entering a loose box, in which



Online LibraryG.J. Whyte-MelvilleM. or N. Similia similibus curantur. → online text (page 9 of 24)