« PreviousContinue »
afraid of him,” (looking solemnly up, and shuddering,) “I am speaking truth! What reason can I give? I have none. I am tired of being Lenore Herrick, that is all. It is a name that has brought me no luck; perhaps Lenore Scrope will bring me better.”
“God grant that it may!” he says, earnestly, drawing her towards him, into his arms and to his broad breast. “Sweet, give me one kiss, and I shall believe you.”
So she gives him one kiss. Only five days ago! Only five days ago !
WHAT JEMIMA SAYS.
MR. SCROPE returns to the drawing-room, as he left it, alone. As he enters, we both look up and smile, as one does smile with vague complacency at the sight of anything young and specially comely.
“Did you find her?” I ask, as I kneel before the fire, giving it a vigorous and searching poke, for his benefit.
He says merely this-almost the shortest of all monosyllables ; but there is something in the tone in which he says it that makes me pause, poker in hand, from my noisy toil, to examine him more narrowly.
“You have been quarrelling, as usual, I suppose ?” I say, with a wily attempt to come at the matter of their conversation without seeming too indecently curious.
“ Lenore always quarrels with everybody,” says Sylvia, patting the pug's fat stomach, as he lies on his back, with his eyes rolling awfully and a bit of rosy tongue showing between his black lips, in a state of Sybaritic enjoyment on her lap. “I tell her it is her way of flirting. She always maintains that she cannot flirt-does not know how; but of course that is nonsense. I
suppose we can all do a little in that way, if we try?"-holding her smooth head rather on one side, and looking arch.
“Has she been saying anything unusually exasperating ?” I ask, as, under my successful labours, the frosty fire spires and races upwards. “ Never mind if she has; she is not in very good tune just now, poor soul, and one can hardly wonder at it.”
While he speaks, Mr. Scrope has been stalking up and down in a fidgety way, making the boards creak. At my words he stops, and says abruptly, “Why?"
“ Have not you heard ? Oh, of course not! Stupid of me! She would not be likely to mention it herself—it is not a very pleasant subject to talk about—but her engagement is all off, and she is naturally rather low about it.”
“She is not in the least low; I never saw her in better spirits in my life,” says Scrope, with a brusqueness that amounts to incivility; and having delivered himself of this speech, he marches off to the window and turns his back to us.
“It must be your coming, then, that has cheered her,” says Sylvia, laughing lackadaisically; "and indeed to tell you the truth, at the risk of making you atrociously conceited, I must say I don't wonder at it. It is a shockingly fast sentiment, I suppose, but there is something in the timbre of a man's voice that quite invigorates me;
I suppose it is always having been so much used to men's society. I get on with them so much better than with women ; I understand them, and they understand me."
“Have you had any talk with her ?” I ask, rising precipitately, and following him to the embrasure of the window, perfectly heedless of the fact that my sister is comfortably mounted on her pet hobbyself, and is cantering complacently away on him. “Did she say anything to you?"
“ Listen !" he says, putting a hand on each of my shoulders, quite unconscious of the familiarity of the action--and indeed they might be posts for all he knows about them—and looking me redly and triumphantly in the face. “She has been saying this to me: 'I will marry you as soon as you like!'”
“WHAT!!!!!!” Six marks of admiration but poorly render the expression I throw into this innocent monosyllable. I feel my face becoming a series of round Os—astonishment stretching and opening every feature beyond its natural destiny.
“Why do you keep staring at me ?" says the young man, petulantly, giving me a little shake ;“why do you stand with your mouth wide open ? Why should not I marry? What is there to prevent me? Does not everybody do it? What is there so very surprising in it ?"
Still I maintain an absolute silence; his hands have dropped from my shoulders, but I still stand before him, like a block of stupid stone. Neither does Sylvia speak; she is affecting to blow her nose, and has covered the more part of her face with her pocket-handkerchief; what yet remains is excessively red. For once her hobby-horse has given her a nasty fall.
“Why do you stare at me like a wild beast ?” cries Scrope angrily. “Is this the way you always take a piece of news? Pleasant for the person who tells you, if it is. If I had told you that she had just fallen down dead in the next room you could not look at me with greater dismay.”
I cannot contradict it. Sputtering and breathless, I still face him, trying hard to speak; but in all the wide range of good, noble, and useful words that the English tongue affords, I can find not one that suits the present crisis.
"Why don't you say something ?” says the young man, with checks on fire and lightning eye. « The most disagreeable sentence you could invent would be better than this. Oh, come! I cannot stand it any longer—to be stared at by two perfectly silent women with their mouths open ; it would make ”_laughing fiercely—“it would make the bravest man in Europe run like a hare !"
He turns quickly to the door as he speaks. Then I find my tongue; its hinges are not well oiled, and it does not run smoothly, but it goes somehow. I catch hold of his arm or his coat tail-I am not quite sure which, in my excitement. “Stop, stop!” I cry incoherently; "don't be cross !—I mean to say something-I am going to say something-but-but-you take my breath away! It is 80 sudden—so unnaturally sudden !"
“ Unnaturally ?” repeats he tartly; the painful consciousness that I have hit upon the joints of his harness making him defend the weak part with all the greater acrimony. “ Why unnaturally, pray ? If it does not seem too sudden to her or to me, I do not see why it need
appear so to any one else.” “ But-but-are you sure you are not mistaken ?" I say, disbelievingly, mindful of the tear-swollen desperate face I had seen lying among its tossed hair on my sister's bedroom floor; "are you quite sure she said those words? She is an odd girl-Lenore-very odd, and sometimes she has a random way of talking; I do not think she quite knows always what she is saying.”
"Thank you,” replies he, bowing formally, though his face flames. “You are-if not polite--at least candid. I understand. A woman must be slightly deranged to consent to be my
wife?" My wits are still too far out woolgathering for me to be able to summon them back to compose some civil explanation and apology.
“You disbelieve me still ?” cries my future brother-in-law, greatly exasperated by my silence. “All right! do-it does me no harm; but if it should happen to strike you at any time that I may, by accident, be speaking truth, you have only to send for Lenore, and ask her.”
“Poor dear Lenore !” says Sylvia, speaking for the first time, and smiling sweetly. “She has not been long in consoling herself, has she? I am quite glad."
Mrs. Prodgers has finished blowing her nose, and her face has laid aside its transient redness, but she now holds her head quite straight, nor does she look at all arch. “You know, Jemima, if you remember, you laughed at me—but I always maintained that Paul Le Mesurier did not care two straws about her. I am sure I am the last
person to pretend to unusual clearsightedness, but one has one's instincts!”
“It is sudden, of course !” burst out Scrope, boyishly, not paying any attention to my sister, but looking straight and detiantly at me. “What is the good of telling me that ? How can I help it ? Tell me that January is colder than July-I know it is; but it is not my
fault. If I had had my way it would not have been sudden—it would have happened full six months ago. No one ought to know that better than you."
“Ought I?” say I vaguely. “I dare say—but to tell you the truth -so many incoherences about Lenore—her eyes, her ankles, and her inhumanities-have been poured into my ears, that I get them muddled together; I cannot, at a moment's notice, assign to each lover his own several Jeremiad.”
“You are spiteful,” replies the young fellow, laughing a little, but looking offended. “If I had known how little you were listening to me I would not have talked to you about her.”
“Poorest, dearest Lenore !" repeats Sylvia, smiling a little patronisingly. “Quite the dearest thing in the world, and, mercifully for her, incapable of fretting much about anything or anybody. What a gift!
-if she could but give one the receipt ”—sighing and pensively passing ugh her fingers the beads of a great jet rope, that she wears round her neck.
“Jemima !" says Scrope, impulsively, putting his hand again fraternally on my shoulder. “I do not suppose that they will do me any good—not a barleycorn ; but still I have a morbid desire for your good wishes; they will be tardy and lugubrious, I am aware, but such as they are, give them me. If I” (reproachfully)“ had heard that you were going to be married I should not have been so slow or so dismal in offering mine."
“That is a very safe position,” reply I drily; " if you had seen me flying towards the moon you would have complimented me on the ease and grace with which I flapped my wings. I do wish you good luck —there !—but whether you will get it or not is another matter.”
“But-but-you—think that it will be ?” says Scrope, with his whole eager heart in his voice. “Now that you have shut your mouth, and that your eyes no longer look as if they were falling out of your head, and that you can talk rationally-you believe it?”
“Upon my honour I cannot say,” reply I, laughing uncomfortably, “Lenore, as Sylvia truly observed just now, is quite the dearest thing in the world, but sometimes she goes round and round, like the sails of a windmill. I have a good mind to go and ask her myself.” So I go.
WHAT JEMIMA SAYS.
“Up and down, up and down, up and down, with her hands behind her back, I find her marching in the ordered solitude of her own room, as I had expected.
“Good heavens!" say I, entering, with my shoulders raised nearly to my ears, and my hands spread out.
She stops in her persevering trudge, looks me coolly over, and says, , “ Après ?”
I throw my eyes up to the ceiling, and shake my head several times, but words utter I none.
“ You have heard, I suppose,” she says quietly. “I see he is running all over the house button-holing everybody, as the Ancient Mariner did the Wedding Guest. I hope he has told Norris, and William, and Frederic—it would be a sad oversight if he has not.”
“It is true, then ?" I say, gasping. “When he told me I would not believe it-I said so-I said I would ask you myself.”
“You might have saved yourself the trouble of the journey upstairs,” replies she, calmly, “but as you are not ‘fat and scant of breath,' like Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, I suppose it does not matter much.”
“Good heavens !" say I, for the second time.
Try a new ejaculation,” suggests my sister, smiling; “I am tired of that one."
“And_and—and your reason 2”
“Reason ?” repeats she, laughing rather harshly. “What extraordinary questions you do ask! Is not it on the surface ? I am in love, to be sure—deeply in love."
I am on the verge of being delivered of a third “Good heavens !” but, recollecting myself, suppress it.
“If you remember, you did not approve of my first choice,” says Lenore, with a bitter smile ; “are you any better pleased with my second ?”
“Much better,” I answer emphatically ; " far better-only it is horribly and indecently sudden—that is all !"
“ As for the other,” I continue,"you are right. I never could understand what you saw in him: a long nose, a yard of scarlet beard, and a sulky temper, seemed to me his whole stock-in-trade.”
For one second her eyes flash with a furious pain, then grow quiet.
Exactly,” she says, composedly. “Now in the case of the present nose there is nothing to be desired, is there?- nice and short, and runs straight down the middle of his face, without deviating a hair's breadth to right or left; such nice curls, too, all over his head, as if they were put in curl papers every night-and such dear little teeth!”
“For shame!" cry I, indignantly; "you are describing a doll. Lenore ! Lenore! what are you made of ? Beauty and love are thrown away upon you, and you have a perverted taste for ugliness and indifference."
She shrugs her shoulders.