RICHARD got through the following week he hardly knew how. He found occupation, to a much greater extent than he was actually aware of, in a sordid and yet heroic struggle with himself. For several months now, he had been leading, under Gertrude’s inspiration, a strictly decent and sober life. So long as he was at comparative peace with Gertrude and with himself, such a life was more than easy; it was delightful. It produced a moral buoyancy infinitely more delicate and more constant than the gross exhilaration of his old habits. There was a kind of fascination in adding hour to hour, and day to day, in this record of his new-born austerity. Having abjured excesses, he practised temperance after the fashion of a novice: he raised it (or reduced it) to abstinence. He was like an unclean man who, having washed himself clean, remains in the water for the love of it. He wished to be religiously, superstitiously pure. This was easy, as we have said, so long as his goddess smiled, even though it were as a goddess indeed,—as a creature unattainable. But when she frowned, and the heavens grew dark, Richard’s sole dependence was in his own will, — as flimsy a trust for an upward scramble, one would have premised, as a tuft of grass on the face of a perpendicular cliff. Flimsy as it looked, however, it served him. It started and crumbled, but it held, if only by a single fibre. When Richard had cantered fifty yards away from Gertrude’s gate in a fit of stupid rage, he suddenly pulled up his horse and gulped down his passion, and swore an oath, that, suffer what torments of feeling he might, he would not at least break the continuity of his gross physical soberness. It was enough to be drunk in mind ; he would not be drunk in body. A singular, almost ridiculous feeling of antagonism to Gertrude lent force to this resolution. “ No, madam,” he cried within himself, “ I shall not fall back. Do your best ! I shall keep straight.” We often outweather great offences and afflictions through a certain, healthy instinct of egotism. Richard went to bed that night as grim and sober as a Trappist monk ; and his foremost impulse the next day was to plunge headlong into some physical labor which should not allow him a moment’s interval of idleness. He found no labor to his taste ; but he spent the day so actively, in the mechanical annihilation of the successive hours, that Gertrude’s image found no chance squarely to face him. He was engaged in the work of self-preservation, — the most serious and absorbing work possible to man. Compared to the results here at stake, his passion for Gertrude seemed but a fiction. It is perhaps difficult to give a more lively impression of the vigor of this passion, of its maturity and its strength, than by simply stating that it discreetly held itself in abeyance until Richard had set at rest his doubts of that which lies nearer than all else to the heart of man, — his doubts of the Strength of his will. He answered these doubts by subjecting his resolution to a course of such cruel temptations as were likely either to shiver it to a myriad of pieces, or to season it perfectly to all the possible requirements of life. He took long rides over the country, passing within a stone’s throw of as many of the scattered wayside taverns as could be combined in a single circuit. As he drew near them he sometimes slackened his pace, as if he were about to dismount, pulled up his horse, gazed a moment, then, thrusting in his spurs, galloped away again like one pursued. At other times, in the late evening, when the window-panes were aglow with the ruddy light within, he would walk slowly by, looking at the stars, and, after maintaining this stoical pace for a couple of miles, would hurry home to his own lonely and blackwindowed dwelling. Having successfully performed this feat a certain number of times, he found his love coming back to him, bereft in the interval of its attendant jealousy. In obedience to it, he one morning leaped upon his horse and repaired to Gertrude's abode, with no definite notion of the terms in which he should introduce himself.
He had made himself comparatively sure of his will; but he was yet to acquire the mastery of his impulses. As he gave up his horse, according to his wont, to one of the men at the stable, he saw another steed stalled there which he recognized as Captain Severn’s. “ Steady, my boy,” he murmured to himself, as he would have done to a frightened horse. On his way across the broad court-yard toward the house, he encountered the Captain, who had just taken his leave. Richard gave him a generous salute (he could not trust himself to more), and Severn answered with what was at least a strictly just one. Richard observed, however, that he was very pale, and that he was pulling a rosebud to pieces as he walked ; whereupon our young man quickened his step. Finding the parlor empty, he instinctively crossed over to a small room adjoining it, which Gertrude had converted into a modest conservatory ; and as he did so, hardly knowing it, he lightened his heavy-shod tread. The glass door was open and Richard looked in. There stood Gertrude with her back to him, bending apart with her hands a couple of tall flowering plants, and looking through the glazed partition behind them. Advancing a step, and glancing over the young girl’s shoulder, Richard had just time to see Severn mounting his horse at the stable door, before Gertrude, startled by his approach, turned hastily round. Herface was flushed hot, and her eyes brimming with tears.
“ You ! ” she exclaimed, sharply.
Richard’s head swam. That single word was so charged with cordial impatience that it seemed the death-knell of his hope. He stepped inside the room and closed the door, keeping his hand on the knob.
“ Gertrude,” he said, “you love that man ! ”
“ Well, sir ? ”
“ Do you confess it ? ” cried Richard.
“ Confess it ? Richard Clare, how dare you use such language ? I’m in no humor for a scene. Let me pass."
Gertrude was angry; but as for Richard, it may almost be said that he was mad. “ One scene a day is enough,
I suppose,” he cried. “ What are these tears about ? Would n’t he have you ? Did he refuse you, as you refused me ? Poor Gertrude ! ”
Gertrude looked at him a moment with concentrated scorn. “You fool! ” she said, for all answer. She pushed his hand from the latch, flung open the door, and moved rapidly away.
Left alone, Richard sank down on a sofa and covered his face with his hands. It burned them, but he sat motionless, repeating to himself, mechanically, as if to avert thought, “You fool ! you fool !” At last he got up and made his way out.
It seemed to Gertrude, for several hours after this scene, that she had at this juncture a strong case against Fortune. It is not our purpose to repeat the words which she had exchanged with Captain Severn. They had come within a single step of an élaircissement, and when but another movement would have flooded their souls with light, some malignant influence had seized them by the throats. Had they too much pride ? — too little imagination ? We must content ourselves with this hypothesis. Severn, then, had walked mechanically across the yard, saying to himself, “ She belongs to another ” ; and adding, as he saw Richard, “and such another ! ” Gertrude had stood at her window, repeating, under her breath, “ He belongs to himself, himself alone.” And as if this was not enough, when misconceived, slighted, wounded, she had faced about to her old, passionless, dutiful past, there on the path of retreat to this asylum Richard Clare had arisen to forewarn her that she should find no peace even at home. There was something in the violent impertinence of his appearance at this moment which gave her a dreadful feeling that fate was against her. More than this. There entered into her emotions a certain minute particle of awe of the man whose passion was so uncompromising. She felt that it was out of place any longer to pity him. He was the slave of his passion ; but his passion was strong. In her reaction against the splendid civility of Severn’s silence, (the real antithesis of which would have been simply the perfect courtesy of explicit devotion,) she found herself touching with pleasure on the fact of Richard’s brutality. He at least had ventured to insult her. He had loved her enough to forget himself. He had dared to make himself odious in her eyes, because he had cast away his sanity. What cared he for the impression he made ? He cared only for the impression he received. The violence of this reaction, however, was the measure of its duration. It was impossible that she should walk backward so fast without stumbling. Brought to her senses by this accident, she became aware that her judgment was missing. She smiled to herself as she reflected that it had been taking holiday for a whole afternoon. “ Richard was right,” she said to herself. “ I am no fool. I can’t be a fool if I try. I’m too thoroughly my father’s daughter for that. I love that man, but I love myself better. Of course, then, I don’t deserve to have him. If I loved him in a way to merit his love, I would sit down this moment and write him a note telling him that if he does not come back to me, I shall die. But I shall neither write the note nor die. I shall live and grow stout, and look after my chickens and my flowers and my colts, and thank the Lord in my old age that I have never done anything unwomanly. Well ! I ’m as He made me. Whether I can deceive others, I know not; but I certainly can’t deceive myself. I ’m quite as sharp as Gertrude Whittaker ; and this it is that has kept me from making a fool of myself and writing to poor Richard the note that I would n’t write to Captain Severn. I needed to fancy myself wronged. I suffer so little ! I needed a sensation ! So, shrewd Yankee that I am, I thought I would get one cheaply by taking up that unhappy boy! Heaven preserve me from the heroics, especially the economical heroics ! The one heroic course possible, I decline. What, then, have I to complain of? Must I tear my hair because a man of taste has resisted my unspeakable charms ? To be charming, you must be charmed yourself, or at least you must be able to be charmed ; and that apparently I’m not. I did n’t love him, or he would have known it. Love gets love, and no-love gets none.”
But at this point of her meditations Gertrude almost broke down. She felt that she was assigning herself but a dreary future. Never to be loved but by such a one as Richard Clare was a cheerless prospect ; for it was identical with an eternal spinsterhood. “ Am I, then,” she exclaimed, quite as passionately as a woman need do,— “am I, then, cut off from a woman’s dearest joys ? What blasphemous nonsense ! One thing is plain : I am made to be a mother ; the wife may take care of herself. I am made to be a wife ; the mistress may take care of herself. I am in the Lord’s hands,” added the poor girl, who, whether or no she could forget herself in an earthly love, had at all events this mark of a spontaneous nature, that she could forget herself in a heavenly one. But in the midst of her pious emotion, she was unable to subdue her conscience. It smote her heavily for her meditated falsity to Richard, for her miserable readiness to succumb to the strong temptation to seek a momentary resting-place in his gaping heart. She recoiled from this thought as from an act cruel and immoral. Was Richard's heart the place for her now, any more than it had been a month before ? Was she to apply for comfort where she would not apply for counsel ? Was she to drown her decent sorrows and regrets in a base, a dishonest, an extemporized passion ? Having done the young man so bitter a wrong in intention, nothing would appease her magnanimous remorse (as time went on) but to repair it in fact. She went so far as keenly to regret the harsh words she had cast upon him in the conservatory. He had been insolent and unmannerly; but he had an excuse. Much should be forgiven him, for he loved much. Even now that Gertrude had imposed upon her feelings a sterner regimen than ever, she could not defend herself from a sweet and sentimental thrill — a thrill in which, as we have intimated, there was something of a tremor — at the recollection of his strident accents and his angry eyes. It was yet far from her heart to desire a renewal, however brief, of this exhibition. She wished simply to efface from the young man’s morbid soul the impression of a real contempt; for she knew — or she thought that she knew — that against such an impression he was capable of taking the most fatal and inconsiderate comfort.
Before many mornings had passed, accordingly, she had a horse saddled, and, dispensing with attendance, she rode rapidly over to his farm. The house door and half the windows stood open ; but no answer came to her repeated summons. She made her way to the rear of the house, to the barn-yard, thinly tenanted by a few common fowl, and across the yard to a road which skirted its lower extremity and was accessible by an open gate. No human figure was in sight; nothing was visible in the hot stillness but the scattered and ripening crops, over which, in spite of her nervous solicitude, Miss Whittaker cast the glance of a connoisseur. A great uneasiness filled her mind as she measured the rich domain apparently deserted of its young master, and reflected that she perhaps was the cause of its abandonment. Ah, where was Richard ? As she looked and listened in vain, her heart rose to her throat, and she felt herself on the point of calling all too wistfully upon his name. But her voice was stayed by the sound of a heavy rumble, as of cart-wheels, beyond a turn in the road. She touched up her horse and cantered along until she reached the turn. A great four-wheeled cart, laden with masses of newly broken stone, and drawn by four oxen, was slowly advancing towards her. Beside it, patiently cracking his whip and shouting monotonously, walked a young man in a slouched hat and a red shirt, with his trousers thrust into his dusty boots. It was Richard. As he saw Gertrude, he halted a moment, amazed, and then advanced, flicking the air with his whip. Gertrude’s heart went out towards him in a silent Thank God ! Her next reflection was that he had never looked so well. The truth is, that, in this rough adjustment, the native barbarian was duly represented. His face and neck were browned by a week in the fields, his eye was clear, his step seemed to have learned a certain manly dignity from its attendance on the heavy bestial tramp. Gertrude, as he reached her side, pulled up her horse and held out her gloved fingers to his brown dusty hand. He took them, looked for a moment into her face, and for the second time raised them to his lips.
“ Excuse my glove,” she said, with a little smile.
“ Excuse mine,” he answered, exhibiting his sunburnt, work-stained hand.
“ Richard,” said Gertrude, “you never had less need of excuse in your life. You never looked half so well.”
He fixed his eyes upon her a moment. “Why, you have forgiven me ! ” he exclaimed.
“ Yes,” said Gertrude, “ I have forgiven you, —both you and myself. We both of us behaved very absurdly, but we both of us had reason. I wish you had come back.”
Richard looked about him, apparently at loss for a rejoinder. " I have been very busy,” he said, at last, with a simplicity of tone slightly studied. An odd sense of dramatic effect prompted him to say neither more nor less.
An equally delicate instinct forbade Gertrude to express all the joy which this assurance gave her. Excessive joy would have implied undue surprise; and it was a part of her plan frankly to expect the best things of her companion. “ If you have been busy,” she said, “ I congratulate you. What have you been doing ? ”
“ O, a hundred things. I have been quarrying, and draining, and clearing, and I don’t know what all. I thought the best thing was just to put my own hands to it. I am going to make a stone fence along the great lot on the hill there. Wallace is forever grumbling about his boundaries. I ’ll fix them once for all. What are you laughing at ? ”
“ I am laughing at certain foolish apprehensions that I have been indulging for a week past. You ’re wiser than I, Richard. I have no imagination.”
“ Do you mean that I have ? I have n’t enough to guess what you do mean.”
“ Why, do you suppose, have I come over this morning ? ”
“ Because you thought I was sulking on account of your having called me a fool.”
“ Sulking, or worse. What do I deserve for the wrong I have done you ?”
“ You have done me no wrong. You reasoned fairly enough. You are not obliged to know me better than I know myself. It’s just like you to be ready to take back that bad word, and try to make yourself believe that it was unjust. But it was perfectly just, and therefore I have managed to bear it. I was a fool at that moment, — a stupid, impudent fool. I don’t know whether that man had been making love to you or not. But you had, I think, been feeling love for him, — you looked it; I should have been less than a man, I should be unworthy of your — your affection, if I had failed to see it. I did see it,—I saw it as clearly as I see those oxen now ; and yet I bounced in with my own ill-timed claims. To do so was to be a fool. To have been other than a fool would have been to have waited, to have backed out, to have bitten my tongue off before I spoke, to have done anything but what I did. I have no right to claim you, Gertrude, until I can woo you better than that. It was the most fortunate thing in the world that you spoke as you did : it was even kind. It saved me all the misery of groping about for a starting-point. Not to have spoken as you did would have been to fail of justice ; and then, probably, I should have sulked, or, as you very considerately say, done worse. I had made a false move in the game, and the only thing to do was to repair it. But you were not obliged to know that I would so readily admit my move to have been false. Whenever I have made a fool of myself before, I have been for sticking it out, and trying to turn all mankind — that is,you — into a a fool too, so that I should n’t be an exception. But this time, I think, I had a kind of inspiration. I felt that my case was desperate. I felt that if I adopted my folly now I adopted it forever. The other day I met a man who had just come home from Europe, and who spent last summer in Switzerland. He was telling me about the mountainclimbing over there, —how they get over the glaciers, and all that. He said that you sometimes came upon great slippery, steep, snow-covered slopes that end short off in a precipice, and that if you stumble or lose your footing as you cross them horizontally, why you go shooting down, and you ’re gone ; that is, but for one little dodge. You have a long walking-pole with a sharp end, you know, and as you feed yourself sliding, — it’s as likely as not to be in a sitting posture, — you just take this and ram it into the snow before you, and there you are, stopped. The thing is, of course, to drive it in far enough, so that it won’t yield or break ; and in any case it hurts infernally to come whizzing down upon this upright pole. But the interruption gives you time to pick yourself up. Well, so it was with me the other day. I stumbled and fell ; I slipped, and was whizzing downward; but I just drove in my pole and pulled up short. It nearly tore me in two ; but it saved my life.” Richard made this speech with one hand leaning on the neck of Gertrude’s horse, and the other on his own side, and with his head slightly thrown back and his eyes on hers. She had sat quietly in her saddle, returning his gaze. He had spoken slowly and deliberately; but without hesitation and without heat. “ This is not romance,” thought Gertrude, “ it’s reality.” And this feeling it was that dictated her reply, divesting it of romance so effectually as almost to make it sound trivial.
“ It was fortunate you had a walkingpole,” she said.
“ I shall never travel without one again.”
“ Never, at least,” smiled Gertrude, “with a companion who has the bad habit of pushing you off the path.”
“ O, you may push all you like,” said Richard. “ I give you leave. But is n’t this enough about myself? ”
“ That’s as you think.”
“ Well, it’s all I have to say for the present, except that I am prodigiously glad to see you, and that of course you will stay awhile.”
“ But you have your work to do.”
“ Dear me, never you mind my work. I’ve earned my dinner this morning, if you have no objection ; and I propose to share it with you. So we will go back to the house.” He turned her horse’s head about, started up his oxen with his voice, and walked along beside her on the grassy roadside, with one hand in the horse’s mane, and the other swinging his whip.
Before they reached the yard-gate, Gertrude had revolved his speech. “ Enough about himself,” she said, silently echoing his words. “ Yes, Heaven be praised, it is about himself. I am but a means in this matter,— he himself, his own character, his own happiness, is the end.” Under this conviction it seemed to her that her part was appreciably simplified. Richard was learning wisdom and self-control, and to exercise his reason. Such was the suit that he was destined to gain. Her duty was as far as possible to remain passive, and not to interfere with the working of the gods who had selected her as the instrument of their prodigy. As they reached the gate, Richard made a trumpet of his hands, and sent a ringing summons into the fields ; whereupon a farm - boy approached, and, with an undisguised stare of amazement at Gertrude, took charge of his master’s team. Gertrude rode up to the door-step, where her host assisted her to dismount, and bade her go in and make herself at home, while he busied himself with the bestowal of her horse. She found that, in her absence, the old woman who administered her friend’s household had reappeared, and had laid out the preparations for his mid-day meal. By the time he returned, with his face and head shining from a fresh ablution, and his shirt-sleeves decently concealed by a coat, Gertrude had apparently won the complete confidence of the good wife.
Gertrude doffed her hat, and tucked up her riding-skirt, and sat down to a tête-à-tête over Richard’s crumpled table-cloth. The young man played the host very soberly and naturally; and Gertrude hardly knew whether to augur from his perfect self-possession that her star was already on the wane, or that it had waxed into a steadfast and eternal sun. The solution of her doubts was not far to seek ; Richard was absolutely at his ease in her presence. He had told her indeed that she intoxicated him ; and truly, in those moments when she was compelled to oppose her dewy eloquence to his fervid importunities, her whole presence seemed to him to exhale a singularly potent sweetness. He had told her that she was an enchantress, and this assertion, too, had its measure of truth. But her spell was a steady one ; it sprang not from her beauty, her wit, her figure, —it sprang from her character. When she found herself aroused to appeal or to resistance, Richard’s pulses were quickened to what he had called intoxication, not by her smiles, her gestures, her glances, or any accession of that material beauty which she did not possess, but by a generous sense of her virtues in action. In other words, Gertrude exercised the magnificent power of making her lover forget her face. Agreeably to this fact, his habitual feeling in her presence was one of deep repose, — a sensation not unlike that which in the early afternoon, as he lounged in his orchard with a pipe, he derived from the sight of the hot and vaporous hills. He was innocent, then, of that delicious trouble which Gertrude’s thoughts had touched upon as a not unnatural result of her visit, aud which another woman’s fancy would perhaps have dwelt upon as an indispensable proof of its success. “ Porphyro grew faint,” the poet assures us, as he stood in Madeline’s chamber on Saint Agnes’ eve. But Richard did not in the least grow faint now that his mistress was actually filling his musty old room with her voice, her touch, her looks ; that she was sitting in his unfrequented chairs, trailing her skirt over his faded carpet, casting her perverted image upon his mirror, and breaking his daily bread. He was not fluttered when he sat at her well-served table, and trod her muffled floors. Why, then, should he be fluttered now ? Gertrude was herself in all plaees, and (once granted that she was at peace) to be at her side was to drink peace as fully in one place as in another.
Richard accordingly ate a great working-day dinner in Gertrude’s despite, and she ate a small one for his sake. She asked questions moreover, and offered counsel with most sisterly freedom. She deplored the rents in his table-cloth, and the dismemberments of his furniture ; and although by no means absurdly fastidious in the matter of household elegance, she could not but think that Richard would be a happier and a better man if he were a little more comfortable. She forbore, however, to criticise the poverty of his entourage, for she felt that the obvious answer was, that such a state of things was the penalty of his living alone; and it was desirable, under the circumstances, that this idea should remain implied.
When at last Gertrude began to bethink herself of going, Richard broke a long silence by the following question : “ Gertrude, do you love that man ? ”
“ Richard,” she answered, “ I refused to tell you before, because you asked the question as a right. Of course you do so no longer. No. I do not love him. I have been near it, — but I have missed it. And now good by.”
For a week after her visit, Richard worked as bravely and steadily as he had done before it. But one morning he woke up lifeless, morally speaking. His strength had suddenly left him. He had been straining his faith in himself to a prodigious tension, and the chord had suddenly snapped. In the hope that Gertrude’s tender fingers might repair it, he rode over to her towards evening. On his way through the village, he found people gathered in knots, reading fresh copies of the Boston newspapers over each other’s shoulders, and learned that tidings had just come of a great battle in Virginia, which was also a great defeat. He procured a copy of the paper from a man who had read it out, and made haste to Gertrude’s dwelling.
Gertrude received his story with those passionate imprecations and regrets which were then in fashion. Before long, Major Luttrel presented himself, and for half an hour there was no talk but about the battle. The talk, however, was chiefly between Gertrude and the Major, who found considerable ground for difference, she being a great radical and he a decided conservative. Richard sat by, listening apparently, but with the appearance of one to whom the matter of the discourse was of much less interest than the manner of those engaged in it. At last, when tea was announced, Gertrude told her friends, very frankly, that she would not invite them to remain, -—-that her heart was too heavy with her country’s woes, and with the thought of so great a butchery, to allow her to play the hostess, — and that, in short, she was in the humor to be alone. Of course there was nothing for the gentlemen but to obey; but Richard went out cursing the law, under which, in the hour of his mistress’s sorrow, his company was a burden and not a relief. He watched in vain, as he bade her farewell, for some little sign that she would fain have him stay, but that as she wished to get rid of his companion civility demanded that she should dismiss them both. No such sign was forthcoming, for the simple reason that Gertrude was sensible of no conflict between her desires. The men mounted their horses in silence, and rode slowly along the lane which led from Miss Whittaker’s stables to the high-road. As they approached the top of the lane, they perceived in the twilight a mounted figure coming towards them. Richard’s heart began to beat with an angry foreboding, which was confirmed as the rider drew near and disclosed Captain Severn’s features. Major Luttrel and he, being bound in courtesy to a brief greeting, pulled up their horses ; and as an attempt to pass them in narrow quarters would have been a greater incivility than even Richard was prepared to commit, he likewise halted.
“ This is ugly news, is n’t it ?” said Severn. “It has determined me to go back to-morrow.”
“ Go back where ? ” asked Richard.
“To my regiment.”
“ Are you well enough ? ” asked Major Luttrel. “ How is that wound ? ”
“It’s so much better that I believe it can finish getting well down there as easily as here. Good by, Major. I hope we shall meet again.” And he shook hands with Major Luttrel. “ Good by, Mr. Clare.” And, somewhat to Richard’s surprise, he stretched over and held out his hand to him.
Richard felt that it was tremulous, and, looking hard into his face, he thought it wore a certain unwonted look of excitement. And then his fancy coursed back to Gertrude, sitting where he had left her, in the sentimental twilight, alone with her heavy heart. With a word, he reflected, a single little word, a look, a motion, this happy man whose hand I hold can heal her sorrows. “ Oh ! ” cried Richard, “ that by this hand I might hold him fast forever ! ”
It seemed to the Captain that Richard’s grasp was needlessly protracted and severe. “ What a grip the poor fellow has ! ” he thought. “ Good by,” he repeated aloud, disengaging himself.
“ Good by,” said Richard. And then he added, he hardly knew why, “Are you going to bid good by to Miss Whittaker ? ”
“ Yes. Is n’t she at home ? ”
Whether Richard really paused or not before he answered, he never knew. There suddenly arose such a tumult in his bosom that it seemed to him several moments before he became conscious of his reply. But it is probable that to Severn it came only too soon.
“No,” said Richard; “she’s not at home. We have just been calling.” As he spoke, he shot a glance at his companion, armed with defiance of his impending denial. But the Major just met his glance and then dropped his eyes. This slight motion was a horrible revelation. He had served the Major too.
“Ah ? I ’m sorry,” said Severn, slacking his rein, — “ I ’m sorry.” And from his saddle he looked down toward the house more longingly and regretfully than he knew.
Richard felt himself turning from pale to consuming crimson. There was a simple sincerity in Severn’s words which was almost irresistible. For a moment he felt like shouting out a loud denial of his falsehood : “ She is there! she ’s alone and in tears, awaiting you. Go to her —and be damned ! ” But before he could gather his words into his throat, they were arrested by Major Luttrel’s cool, clear voice, which in its calmness seemed to cast scorn upon his weakness.
“ Captain,” said the Major, “ I shall be very happy to take charge of your farewell.”
“ Thank you, Major. Pray do. Say how extremely sorry I was. Good by again.” And Captain Severn hastily turned his horse about, gave him his spurs, and galloped away, leaving his friends standing alone in the middle of the road. As the sound of his retreat expired, Richard, in spite of himself, drew a long breath. He sat motionless in the saddle, hanging his head.
“ Mr. Clare,” said the Major, at last, “ that was very cleverly done.”
Richard looked up, “ I never told a lie before,” said he.
“ Upon my soul, then, you did it uncommonly well. You did it so well I almost believed you. No wonder that Severn did.”
Richard was silent. Then suddenly he broke out, “In God’s name, sir, why don’t you call me a blackguard ? I’ve clone a beastly act! ”
“ O, come,” said the Major, “ you need n’t mind that, with me. We ’ll consider that said. I feel bound to let you know that I’m very, very much obliged to you. If you had n’t spoken, how do you know but that I might ? ”
“ If you had, I would have given you the lie, square in your teeth.”
“ Would you, indeed ? It ’s very fortunate, then, I held ray tongue. If you will have it so, I won't deny that your little improvisation sounded very ugly. I 'm devilish glad I did n’t make it, if you come to that.”
Richard felt his wit sharpened by a most unholy scorn, — a scorn far greater for his companion than for himself. " I am glad to hear that it did sound ugly,” he said. “ To me, it seemed beautiful, holy, and just. For the space of a moment, it seemed absolutely right that I should say what I did. But you saw the lie in its horrid nakedness, and yet you let it pass. You have no excuse.”
" I beg your pardon. You are immensely ingenious, but you are immensely wrong. Are you going to make out that I am the guilty party ? Upon my word, you ' re a cool hand. I have an excuse. I have the excuse of being interested in Miss Whittaker’s remaining unengaged.”
“ So I suppose. But you don’t love her. Otherwise — ”
Major Luttrel laid his hand on Richard’s bridle. “ Mr. Clare,” said he, "I have no wish to talk metaphysics over this matter. You had better say no more. I know that your feelings are not of an enviable kind, and I am therefore prepared to be good-natured with you. But you must be civil yourself. You have done a shabby deed ; you are ashamed of it, and you wish to shift the responsibility upon me, which is more shabby still. My advice is, that you behave like a man of spirit, and swallow your apprehensions. I trust that you are not going to make a fool of yourself by any apology or retraction in any quarter. As for its having seemed holy and just to do what you did, that is mere bosh. A lie is a lie, and as such is often excusable. As anything else, — as a thing beautiful, holy, or just, — it’s quite inexcusable. Yours was a lie to you, and a lie to me. It serves me, and I accept it. I suppose you understand me. I adopt it. You don’t suppose it was because I was frightened by those big black eyes of yours that I held my tongue. As for my loving or not loving Miss Whittaker, I have no report to make to you about it. I will simply say that I intend, if possible, to marry her.”
“ She ’ll not have you. She ’ll never marry a cold-blooded rascal.”
“ I think she ’ll prefer him to a hotblooded one. Do you want to pick a quarrel with me ? Do you want to make me lose my temper ? I shall refuse you that satisfaction. You have been a coward, and you want to frighten some one before you go to bed to make up for it. Strike me, and I ’ll strike you in self-defence, but I ’m not going to mind your talk. Have you anything to say? No? Well, then, good evening.” And Major Luttrel started away.
It was with rage that Richard was dumb. Had he been but a cat’s-paw after all ? Heaven forbid ! He sat irresolute for an instant, and then turned suddenly and cantered back to Gertrude’s gate. Here he stopped again ; but after a short pause he went in over the gravel with a fast-beating heart. O, if Luttrel were but there to see him! For a moment he fancied he heard the sound of the Major’s returning steps. If he would only come and find him at confession ! It would be so easy to confess before him ! He went along beside the house to the front, and stopped beneath the open drawingroom window.
“ Gertrude! ” he cried softly, from his saddle.
Gertrude immediately appeared. “You, Richard ! ” she exclaimed.
Her voice was neither harsh nor sweet; but her words and her intonation recalled vividly to Richard’s mind the scene in the conservatory. He fancied them keenly expressive of disappointment. He was invaded by a mischievous conviction that she had been expecting Captain Severn, or that at the least she had mistaken his voice for the Captain’s. The truth is that she had half fancied it might be, — Richard’s call having been little more than a loud whisper. The young man sat looking up at her, silent.
“What do you want?” she asked. “ Can I do anything for you ? ”
Richard was not destined to do his duty that evening. A certain infinitesimal dryness of tone on Gertrude’s part was the inevitable result of her finding that that whispered summons came only from Richard. She was preoccupied. Captain Severn had told her a fortnight before, that, in case of news of a defeat, he should not await the expiration of his leave of absence to return. Such news had now come, and her inference was that her friend would immediately take his departure. She could not but suppose that he would come and bid her farewell, and what might not be the incidents, the results, of such a visit ? To tell the whole truth, it was under the pressure of these reflections that, twenty minutes before, Gertrude had dismissed our two gentlemen. That this long story should be told in the dozen words with which she greeted Richard, will seem unnatural to the disinterested reader. But in those words, poor Richard, with a lover’s clairvoyance, read it at a single glance. The same resentful impulse, the same sickening of the heart, that he had felt in the conservatory, took possession of him once more. To be witness of Severn’s passion for Gertrude,—that he could endure. To be witness of Gertrude’s passion for Severn,— against that obligation his reason rebelled.
“What is it you wish, Richard?” Gertrude repeated. “ Have you forgotten anything ? ”
“ Nothing ! nothing ! ” cried the young man. “ It’s no matter !”
He gave a great pull at his bridle, and almost brought his horse back on his haunches, and then, wheeling him about on himself, he thrust in his spurs and galloped out of the gate.
On the highway he came upon Major Luttrel, who stood looking down the lane.
“ I ’m going to the Devil, sir! ” cried Richard. “ Give me your hand on it.”
Luttrel held out his hand. “ My poor young man,” said he, “you’re out of your head. I ’m sorry for you. You have n’t been making a fool of yourself? ”
“ Yes, a damnable fool of myself! ”
Luttrel breathed freely. “ You 'd better go home and go to bed,” he said. “ You ’ll make yourself ill by going on at this rate.”
“I — I ’m afraid to go home,” said Richard, in a broken voice. “ For God’s sake, come with me ! ” — and the wretched fellow burst into tears. “ I’m too bad for any company but yours,” he cried, in his sobs.
The Major winced, but he took pity. “Come, come,” said he, “we ’ll pull through. I ’ll go home with you.”
They rode off together. That night Richard went to bed miserably drunk ; although Major Luttrel had left him at ten o’clock, adjuring him to drink no more. He awoke the next morning in a violent fever; and before evening the doctor, whom one of his hired men had brought to his bedside, had come and looked grave and pronounced him very ill.