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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Blood Royal » CHAPTER VII. AFFAIRS OF THE HEART.
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The return to Chiddingwick was a triumphal entry. Before seven o'clock that evening, when the South-Eastern train crawled at its accustomed leisurely pace, with a few weary gasps, into Chiddingwick Station, Mr. Plantagenet had spread the news of his son's success broadcast through the town, via the White Horse parlour. Already, on the strength of Dick's great achievement, he had become the partaker, at other people's expense, of no fewer than three separate brandies-and-sodas; which simple Bacchic rites, more frequently repeated, would have left him almost incapable of meeting the hero of the hour with suitable effect, had not Maud impounded him, so to speak, by main force after five o'clock tea, and compelled him to remain under strict supervision in the domestic gaol till the eve of Dick's arrival.

Dick jumped out, all eagerness. On the platform his mother stood waiting to receive him, proud, but tearful; for to her, good woman, the glories of the Plantagenet name were far less a matter of interest than the thought of losing for the best part of three years the mainstay of the family. Maud was there, too, beaming over with pure delight, and even prouder than she had ever been in her life before of her handsome brother. Mr. Plantagenet himself really rose for once to the dignity, of the occasion, and instead of greeting Richard with the theatrical grace and professional flourish he had originally contemplated, forgot in the hurry of the moment the high-flown speech he had mentally composed for delivery on the platform, and only remembered to grasp his son's hand hard with genuine warmth as he murmured in some broken and inarticulate way: 'My boy—my dear boy, we're all so pleased and delighted to hear it.' He reflected afterwards, with regret, to be sure, that he had thrown away a magnificent opportunity for a most effective display by his stupid emotion; but Dick was the gainer by it. Never before in his life did he remember to have seen his father act or speak with so much simple and natural dignity.

All Chiddingwick, indeed, rejoiced with their joy. For Chiddingwick, we know, was proud in its way of the Plantagenets. Did not the most respectable families send their children to take dancing lessons at the White Horse Assembly Rooms from the disreputable old scamp, on the strength of his name, his faded literary character, and his shadowy claim to regal ancestry? The station-master himself—that mighty man in office—shook hands with 'Mr. Richard' immediately on his arrival; the porters presented him with a bouquet of white pinks fresh plucked from the Company's garden; and even Mr. Wells raised his hat to his late assistant with full consciousness of what respect was due from a country tradesman to a gentleman who had been admitted with flying colours to 'Oxford College.'

Dick's progress up the High Street was one long shaking of many friendly hands; and if that benevolent soul, Mr. Trevor Gillingham, of Rugby School, could only have seen the deep interest which his rival's success excited in an entire community, he would have felt more than ever, what he frequently told all his Sixth Form friends—that he was glad he'd been able 'practically to retire' in favour of a young man so popular and so deserving.

And then, after the first flush of delight in his victory had worn off, there grew up in Richard's mind the more practical question of ways and means. What was he to do with his time in the interval, till term began in October? Neither his father nor Mr. Wells would hear of his returning meanwhile to his old employment.

'No, no, Dick—Mr. Richard, I mean,' the good bookseller said seriously. 'For your sake and the business's, I couldn't dream of permitting it. It's out of place entirely. A scholar of Durham College, Oxford, mustn't soil his hands with waiting in a shop. It wouldn't be respectable. No self-respecting tradesman can have a gentleman in your present position standing behind his counter. I call it untradesmanlike. It's calculated to upset the natural and proper relations of classes. You must look out for some work more suited to your existing position and prospects; and I must look out for an assistant in turn who ain't a member of an ancient and respected University.'

Dick admitted with a sigh the eternal fitness of Mr. Wells's view; but, at the same time, he wondered what work on earth he could get which would allow him to earn his livelihood for the moment without interfering with the new and unpractical dignity of a Scholar of Durham College, Oxford. He had saved enough from his wages to eke out his Scholarship and enable him to live very economically at the University; but he must bridge over the time between now and October without trenching upon the little nest-egg laid by for the future.

As often happens, chance stepped in at the very nick of time to fill up the vacancy. At the Rectory that night Mr. Tradescant was talking over with his wife the question of a tutor for their eldest son, that prodigiously stupid boy of seventeen—a pure portent of ignorance—who was to go in for an army examination at the end of September.

'No, I won't send him away, from home, Clara,' the Rector broke out testily. 'It's no earthly use sending him away from home. He's far too lazy. Unless Arthur's under my own eye, he'll never work with anyone. Let me see, he comes home from Marlborough on the 28th. We must get somebody somehow before then who'll be able to give him lessons at home, if possible. If he has two months and more of perfect idleness he'll forget all he ever knew (which isn't much), and go up for examination with his mind a perfect blank—a tabula rasa, a sheet of white note-paper. And yet, unless we get a tutor down from town every day—which would run into money—I'm sure I don't know who the—person is we could possibly get to teach him.'

Mary Tudor was sitting by, and being a very young and inexperienced girl, she hadn't yet learnt that the perfect governess, when she hears her employers discuss their private affairs, should behave as though her ears wore only for ornament. (And Mary's, indeed, were extremely ornamental.) So she intervened with a suggestion—a thing no fully-trained young woman from a modern Agency would ever dream of doing.

'There's that Plantagenet boy, you know, Mrs. Tradescant,' she remarked, without bearing him the slightest grudge for his curious behaviour over the bookbinding incident. 'He's just got a Scholarship at Oxford to-day, Mr. Wells was telling me. I wonder if he would do? They say he's a very clever, well-read young fellow.'

The Reverend Hugh received the suggestion with considerable favour.

'Why, there's something in that, Miss Tudor,' he said, leaning back in his easy-chair. 'I'm glad you thought of it. The young man must be fairly well up in his work to have taken a Scholarship—a very good one, too, a hundred a year, at my own old college. I met Plantagenet this afternoon in the High Street overflowing with it. This is worth looking into, Clara. He's on the spot, you must bear in mind; and under the circumstances, I expect, he'd be in want of work, and willing, I daresay, to take extremely little. He can't very well go back to Wells's, don't you see, and he can't afford to live at home without doing something.'

'The boy's as mad as a March hare, and not a very desirable companion for Arthur, you must feel yourself,' Mrs. Tradescant answered a little chillily, not over well pleased with Mary for having ventured to interfere in so domestic a matter. 'And, besides, there's the old man. Just consider the associations!'

'Well, he can't help being the son of his father,' the Rector replied with a man's greater tolerance. 'He was born with that encumbrance. And as to companions, my dear, young Plantagenet's at any rate a vast deal better than Reece and the groom, who seem to me to be Arthur's chief friends and allies whenever he's at home here. The boy may be mad, as you suggest—I dare say he is—but he's not too mad to get a Durham Scholarship; and I only wish Arthur had half his complaint in that matter. A fellow who can take a scholarship at Durham's no fool, I can tell you. I'll inquire about his terms when I go into town to-morrow.' And the Reverend Hugh did inquire accordingly, and found Dick's attainments so satisfactory for his purpose that he forthwith engaged the new scholar as tutor for Arthur, to come five days in the week and give four hours' tuition a day till the end of September, at a most modest salary, which to Dick nevertheless seemed as the very wealth of Croesus. Not till long after did Dick know that he owed this appointment in the first instance to a chance word of Mary Tudor's. Nor did Mary suspect, when, out of pure goodness of heart and sympathy for a deserving and struggling young man, she suggested him for the appointment, that his engagement would be the occasion of throwing them too much together in future.

So luck would have it, however. Five days a week Dick went up with his little strapped parcel of books to the Rectory door to engage in the uncongenial and well-nigh impossible task of endeavouring to drive the faint shadow of an idea into Arthur Tradescant's impenetrable cranium. It was work—hard work—but it had its compensations. For, quite insensibly to both at first, it brought Dick and Mary a great deal into one another's society at many odd moments. In the very beginning, it is true, they only met quite by accident in the hall and passages or on the garden path; and Mary rather shrank from conversation with the young man who had been the hero of that curious episode about the binding of the 'Flora.' But gradually the same chance threw them more and more into contact; besides, their relative positions had been somewhat altered meanwhile by Dick's success at Durham. He was now no longer the bookseller's young man, but a student who was shortly to go up to Oxford. This told with Mary, as it tells with all of us, almost without our knowing it. We can seldom separate the man from the artificial place he holds in our social system. Indeed, the very similarity of their positions in the household—his as tutor and hers as governess—made to some extent now a bond of union between them. Before many weeks were out Mary had begun to look for Dick's pleasant smile of welcome when he arrived in the morning, and to see that the strange young man, whose grave demeanour and conscious self-respect had struck her so markedly that first day at Mr. Wells's, had really after all a great deal in him.

The more Dick saw of Mary, too, the better he liked her. Just at first, to be sure, his impulse had been a mere freak of fancy, based on the curious coincidence of their regal names; that alone, and nothing else, had made him think to himself he might possibly fall in love with her. But after awhile the mere fancy counted for comparatively little; it was the woman herself, bright, cheery, sensible, that really attracted him. From the very beginning he had admired her; he soon learned to love her; and Mary, for her part, found it pleasant, indeed, that there was somebody in this social wilderness of Chiddingwick who genuinely cared for her. A governess's lot is as a rule a most lonely one, and sympathy in particular is passing dear to her. Now Dick was able to let Mary feel he sympathized with her silently in her utter loneliness; and Mary grew soon to be grateful to Dick in turn for his kindness and attention. She forgot the handsome shopman with the long, yellow hair in the prospective glories of the Durham undergraduate.

The summer wore away, and the time drew near when Richard must begin to think about his preparations for going up to Oxford. A day or two before the date fixed for the meeting of the colleges, he was walking on the footpath that runs obliquely across the fields which stretch up the long slope of the hill behind Chiddingwick.

As he walked and reflected, he hardly noticed a light figure in a pretty print dress hurrying down the hillside towards him. As it approached, he looked up; a sudden thrill ran through him. It was Mary who was coming! How odd! He had been thinking about her that very moment! And yet not so odd, either; for how often he thought about her! He had been thinking just now that he couldn't bear to leave Chiddingwick without telling her how much she had lately become to him, and how very, very deeply he regretted leaving her. His face flushed at the sight and the thought; it seemed to him almost like an omen of success that she should happen to come up at the very moment when he was thinking such things of her. It was so unusual for Mary to go out beyond the Rectory grounds by herself; still more unusual for her to be coming home alone so late in that particular direction. He raised his hat as she approached. 'Oh, Miss Tudor,' he cried shyly, with a young man's mixture of timidity and warmth, 'I'm so glad to see you here. I—I was just thinking about you. I want to have a talk with you.'

'And I was just thinking about you,' Mary answered more frankly, with a scarcely perceptible blush—the charming blush that comes over a good girl's face when she ventures to say something really kind and sympathetic to a man she cares for. 'I was thinking how very soon we're going to lose you.' And as she said it, she reflected to herself what a very different young man this pleasant intelligent Oxford scholar seemed to her now from the singular person who had insisted, three months back, on putting her monogram with the Tudor rose on the 'British Flora'!

'No, were you really?' Dick cried, with a glowing cheek, much deeper red than her own. 'Now that was just kind of you. You can't think how much pleasanter and happier in every way you've made my time at the Rectory for me.' And he glanced down into her liquid eyes with grateful devotion.

'I might say the same thing to you,' Mary answered, very low, hardly knowing whether it was quite right of her even to admit such reciprocity.

Dick's face was on fire with ingenuous delight.

'No, you can't mean to say that?' he exclaimed, a delicious little thrill coursing through him to the finger-tips. 'Oh, how very, very kind of you!' He hesitated a moment; then he added with a tremor: 'You needn't walk so fast, you know. I may just turn round and walk back with you, mayn't I?'

'I don't quite know,' Mary answered, looking round her, a little uncertain. She didn't feel sure in her own heart whether she ought to allow him. He was a very nice fellow, to be sure, and she liked him immensely, now she'd got to know him; but would Mrs. Tradescant approve of her permitting him to accompany her? 'Perhaps you'd better not,' she faltered again; but her lingering tones belied her words. 'I'm—I'm in a hurry to get home. I really mustn't wait a minute.'

In spite of what she said, however, Dick continued—just like a man—to walk on by her side; and Mary, it must be admitted by the candid historian, took no great pains to prevent him. 'I'm so glad you say you'll miss me, Miss Tudor,' he began timidly, after a very long pause—oh, those eloquent pauses! 'For. I too shall miss you.

We've seen so much of each other, you know, these last six or eight weeks; and it's been such a pleasure to me.'

Mary answered nothing, but walked on faster than ever, as if in particular haste to return to the Rectory, where they were really awaiting her. Still, a great round spot burned bright red in her cheek, and her poor throbbing heart gave a terrible flutter.

Dick tried to slacken the pace, but Mary wouldn't allow him. 'Do you know,' he went on, glancing down at her appealingly, 'it may seem a queer thing to you for a fellow to say, but until I met you, my sister Maud was the only girl I'd ever met whom I could consider—well, my equal.'

He said it quite simply, with all the pride of a Plantagenet; and as he spoke, Mary felt conscious to herself that, whatever else Dick might be, after all he was a gentleman. Yes, and, in spite of old Mr. Plantagenet's many obvious faults, a descendant of gentlemen too; for even in his last disreputable and broken old age traces of breeding still clung about the Chiddingwick dancing-master. Mary instinctively understood and sympathized with the poor lad's feeling. She spoke very softly. 'I know what you mean,' she said, 'and I can understand it with you. I've met your sister—at—the White Horse, and I felt, of course——'

She checked herself suddenly. She had just been going to say, 'I felt she was a lady,' but instinct taught her at once how rude and pretentious the expression would sound to him; so she altered her unspoken phrase to, 'I felt at once we should have a great deal in common.'

'I'm so glad you think so,' Dick murmured in return, growing fiery red once more, for he knew Mary was accustomed to accompany the Rectory children to the Assembly Rooms dancing lessons, where Maud' often helped her father with her violin; and he couldn't bear to think she should have seen the head of the house engaged in such an unworthy and degrading occupation. 'Well, I was just going to say, you're the only girl I ever met in my life with whom I could speak—you know what I mean—why, just speak my whole heart out.'

'It's very kind of you to say so,' Mary answered, beginning to walk much faster. She was really getting frightened now what Dick might go on to say to her.

'And so,' the young man continued, floundering on after the fashion of young men in love, 'I—I shall feel going away from you.'

Mary's heart beat fast. She liked Dick very much—oh, very much indeed; but she didn't feel quite sure it was anything more than liking. (Women, you know, make in these matters such nice distinctions.) 'You'll meet plenty of new friends,' she said faintly, 'at Oxford.'

'Oh, but that won't be at all the same!' Dick answered, trembling. 'They'll all be men, you see.' And then he paused, wondering whether perhaps he had spoken too plainly.

Mary's pace by this time had become almost unladylike, so fast was she walking. Still, just to break the awkward silence which followed Dick's last words, she felt compelled to say something. 'You'll meet plenty of girls, too, I expect,' she interposed nervously.

'Perhaps; but they won't be you,' Dick blurted out with a timid gasp, gazing straight into her eyes; and then recoiled, aghast, at his own exceeding temerity.

Mary blushed again and cast down her eyes. 'Don't let me take you out of your way any farther,' she said after another short pause, just to cover her confusion. 'I really must get back now. Mrs. Tradescant'll be so angry.'

'Oh no; you can't go just yet!' Dick cried, growing desperate, and standing half across the path, with a man's masterful eagerness. 'Now I've once begun with it, I must say my say out to you. Miss Tudor, that very first day I ever saw you, I thought a great deal of you. You could tell I did by the mere fact that I took the trouble to make such a fool of myself over that unhappy book-cover. But the more I've seen of you, the better I've liked you. Liked you, oh, so much I can hardly tell you! And when I went up to Oxford about this Scholarship, which has given me a start in life, I thought about you so often that I really believe I owe my success in great part to you. Now, what I want to say before I go'—he paused and hesitated; it was so hard to word it—'what I want to say's just this. Perhaps you'll think it presumptuous of me; but do you feel, if I get on, and recover the place in the world that belongs by right to my family—do you feel as if there's any chance you might ever be able to care for me?'

He jerked it out, all trembling. Mary trembled herself, and hardly knew what to answer; for though she liked the young man very much—more than any other young man she'd ever yet met—she hadn't thought of him to herself in this light exactly—at least, not very often. So she stood for a moment in the corner of the path by that bend in the field where the hedge hides and shelters one, and replied diplomatically, with sound feminine common-sense, though with a quiver in her voice:

'Don't you think, Mr. Plantagenet, it's a little bit premature for you to talk of these things when you're only just going up to Oxford? For your own sake, you know, and your family's too, you ought to leave yourself as free and untrammelled as possible: you oughtn't to burden yourself beforehand with uncertainties and complications.'

Dick looked at her half reproachfully. 'Oh, Miss Tudor!' he cried, drawing back quite seriously, 'I wouldn't allow anybody else in the world to call you a complication.'

He said it so gravely that Mary laughed outright in spite of herself. But Dick was very much in earnest, for all that. 'I mean it, though,' he went on, hardly smiling to himself. 'I mean it, most literally. I want you to tell me, before I go up to Oxford, there's still some chance, some little chance in the future for me. Or at any rate I want to let you know what I feel, so that—well, so that if anybody else should speak to you meanwhile, you will remember at least—and———'

He broke off suddenly. 'Oh, Miss Tudor,' he cried once more, looking down at her with a mutely appealing look, 'it means so much to me!'

'You're very young, you know,' Mary answered, with a good woman's subterfuge, half to gain time. 'I think it would be very foolish, both for you and me, to tie ourselves down at our present ages. And besides, Mr. Plantagenet'—she played with her parasol a moment—'I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I'm not quite sure—whether or not I care for you.'

There was a tremor in her voice that made her words mean less than they seemed to mean; but she felt it too. This was all so sudden. Nevertheless, Dick seized her hand. She tried to withdraw it, but couldn't. Then he began in eager tones to pour forth his full heart to her. He knew he had no right to ask, but he couldn't bear to go away and leave the chance of winning her open to some other fellow. It must be for a very long time, of course; but, still, he could work better if he knew he was working for her. He didn't want her to say 'Yes'; he only wanted her not quite to say 'No' outright to him. This, and much else, he uttered from his heart with rapidly developing eloquence. He was so glad he'd met her, for he couldn't have left Chiddingwick without at least having spoken to her.

To all which Mary, with downcast eyes, very doubtful—though she liked him—whether it was quite right for her to talk in this strain at all to the dancing-master's son, replied demurely that 'twas all very premature, and that she didn't feel able to give him any answer of any sort, either positive or negative, till they had both of them had more time to look about them.

'And now,' she said finally, pulling out her watch, and starting, 'I really mustn't stop one moment longer. I must go back at once. It's dreadfully late. I'm sure I don't know what Mrs. Tradescant will think of me.'

'At least,' Dick cried, standing half in front of her yet again, and blocking up the pathway, 'you'll allow me to write to you?'

Yes, Mary thought, yielding, there'd be no harm in that—no objection to his writing.

Dick gave a little sigh of heartfelt satisfaction. 'Well, that's something!' he cried, much relieved. 'That's always something! If you'll allow me to write to you, I shall feel at any rate you can't quite forget me.'

And, indeed, when a girl lets a young man begin a correspondence, experience teaches me, from long observation, that other events are not unlikely to follow.


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