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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Blood Royal » CHAPTER IX. A SUDDEN RESOLVE.
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Now, then, young gentlemen, choose your partners!' Mr. Plantagenet murmured with a bland and inane smile. ('Strike up the violin, Maud!' aside.) 'Bow, and fall into places. Eight bars before beginning. No, not yet, Miss Tradescant. Explain to this young lady, if you please, Miss Tudor, that she must always wait eight bars—eight bars exactly—before she begins to chasser. That's right. Just so! Advance in couples—right, left—right, left—right, left—down the middle. Very nicely done, indeed: very nicely, very nicely. Now!—yes—that's it. Change hands, and over again!'

A year and more had passed, and Mr. Plantagenet's face bore distincter signs than ever of his ruling passion. It was coarse and red under the bland exterior. Maud watched him intently now on the morning of lesson days to see he didn't slink away unobserved into the bar of the White Horse before the appointed hour for the meeting in the Assembly Rooms. Once let him cross the threshold of the inn, except to enter the big hall where he received his pupils, and all was up with him. On such occasions Maud was compelled with grief and shame to stick a notice on the door: 'Mr. Plantagenet is indisposed to-day, and will be unable to meet his usual classes.' Nobody else ever knew what agony those notices cost the poor shrinking girl; but on the next appointed afternoon Mr. Plantagenet would be at his place again as if nothing had happened, and would murmur plaintively, with one hand on his left breast and the other on the bow of his faithful violin:

'My old complaint, ladies and gentlemen—my old complaint! I suffer so much from my heart. I regret I was unable to receive you on Wednesday.' Everybody in Chiddingwick knew quite well the real nature of Mr. Plantagenet's 'old complaint,' but he was an institution of the place, and everybody pretended to believe in it and to sympathize with him.

On this particular day, however, in the middle of November, Mr. Plantagenet seemed even more consequential and more dignified than usual, if such a thing were possible. He received Lady Agatha's little girls with princely condescension. Maud, who stood by trembling, and watching him with dismay, as he fiddled with a will on his well-tried violin, wondered to herself, with a mute feeling of terror in her heart, what on earth could have put her father into such visible good humour. She didn't discover the secret till the end of the lesson. Then Mr. Plantagenet, rising with great importance and a conscious smirk, observed in his suavest and most professional tone:

'I am sorry to say, young ladies and gentlemen—and you, Miss Tudor—I won't be able to give the usual lessons next Tuesday and Wednesday. The fact of the matter is, I shall be away from Chiddingwick. It doesn't often happen that I take a holiday; but on this occasion I shall be away from Chiddingwick. Long and close attention to the duties of a harassing and wearisome task has undermined my constitution; you can sympathize with my feelings, and next week I propose to give myself a well-earned repose in order to visit my dear son at the University of Oxford.'

It was a perfect bombshell. To Maud, sitting by wearily, with her small violin clasped in her bloodless hands, the announcement came like a thunderbolt. He was going to Oxford! She turned deadly pale at once, and clutched the bow of her instrument with a spasmodic action. Mary Tudor, sitting near, noticed the pallor on her cheek, and guessed the cause of it instantly. The two girls looked up; for a second their eyes met, then Maud let hers drop suddenly. Though on that one dearest point Dick had never taken her into his confidence, Maud had guessed the whole truth during last Christmas vacation, and if anything could make the cup of her bitterness even bitterer than it was, 'twas the thought that Dick's friend, Dick's future wife, perhaps, should see and understand the full depths of her misery.

Mary had tact enough and feeling enough, however, not to press her sympathy upon the poor wounded creature. With a hasty side-glance she hurried her charges out of the room as quick as she could, and motioned to the other governesses to do the same for theirs with all possible expedition. Two minutes later the big hall was fairly cleared, and father and daughter stood face to face in silence.

If Maud had followed only the prompting of her own personal feelings, she would have sat down where she was, covered her face with her hands, and cried long and bitterly.

But her sense of duty towards her father prevented her from so giving way. She couldn't bear to let him see how deeply, for Dick's sake, she dreaded the idea of his going to Oxford. All she could do was to look up at him with a scared white face, and murmur in a terrified, half-articulate tone: 'Oh, father, father, you never told me of this! What on earth do you mean by it?'

Mr. Plantagenet eyed his daughter askance out of the corner of his eyes. He was more afraid of Maud than of anyone else on earth; in point of fact, she was his domestic keeper. But he tried to assume his jaunty, happy-go-lucky air, for all that.

'Well, my dear,' he said, examining the strings of his fiddle with profound attention, 'I haven't had a holiday for a very long time, away from Chiddingwick, and I'm tired with the duties—the duties of my very exacting profession—and I felt I needed a change, and I haven't been up to Oxford since your brother Richard entered into residence as a member of the University. Now, I naturally feel a desire to see my son in that position in life which a Plantagenet ought to occupy. And so, the long and the short of it is,' Mr. Plantagenet went on, shuffling about, and glancing up at her anxiously, 'the long and the short of it is, as you heard me inform my class just now, I think next week of allowing myself the luxury of a trip to Oxford.'

Maud rose and seized his arm. His grandeur and indefiniteness positively alarmed her. Did he think she would be taken in by such grandiose words?

'Now, father,' she said boldly, 'that sort of talk won't do between us two, you know, at a serious crisis. This is important, very. You must tell me quite plainly what you mean by it all. Does Dick know you're coming, and why do you want to go to him?'

Mr. Plantagenet, thus attacked, produced from his pocket a rather dirty silk handkerchief, and began to whimper. 'Has it come to this, then?' he cried with theatrical pathos; 'has it come to this, I ask you, that I, the head of all the Plantagenets, have to beg leave and make explanations to my own eldest daughter before I can go to visit my own son at Oxford?' and he hid his face in the pocket-handkerchief with a studied burst of emotion.

But Maud was inexorable. Dick's happiness was at stake. Not for worlds, if she could help it, would she have him shamed by the appearance before all the world of Oxford of that shabby, degraded, disreputable old man in the guise of his father.

'We must be practical,' she said coldly, taking no notice of his hysterics. 'You must explain what this means. I want to know all about it. How have you got money to go up to Oxford with—and all those bills unpaid—and Mrs. Waite still dunning us for the rent from last quarter? And where are you going to stop? And does Richard know you're coming? And have you proper things to go in? Why, I should think the very pride of a Plantagenet ought to prevent you from going to a place where your son lives like a gentleman, as he is, unless you can afford to go in such clothes as won't disgrace him!'

Thus put upon his mettle, Mr. Plantagenet, deeply moved, at first admitted by slow degrees that he had taken proper steps to replenish his wardrobe for this important occasion. He had ordered a suit of good clothes—very good clothes—at Wilkins's. And they would be paid for, too, the Head of the House added proudly. Oh, he wasn't quite so devoid of friends and resources in his old age as his undutiful daughter appeared to imagine. He could sometimes do a thing or two on his own account without asking her assistance. He had money in hand—loads—plenty of money for the journey!

'The more high-flown and enigmatical Mr. Plantagenet grew, the more terribly was poor Maud distressed and frightened. At last she could stand it no longer. Plantagenet though she was, and as proud as Heaven makes them, she couldn't prevent the tears from stealing through and betraying her. She flung herself into a chair and took her face in her hands.

'Now, father,' she said simply, giving way at last, 'you must tell me what you mean by it. You must explain the whole thing. Where did you get this money?'

Then, bit by bit, hard pressed, Mr. Plantagenet admitted, with many magnificent disclaimers and curious salves to his offended dignity, how he had become seized of a sum of unexpected magnitude. When he took the last rent of the Assembly Rooms, for the afternoon dancing-lessons, to the landlord of the White Horse, a fortnight earlier, the landlord had given him a receipt in full, and then, to his great surprise, had handed him back the money.

'You've been an old customer to me, Mr. Plantagenet,' Barnes had said—'with real feeling, my dear—I assure you, with very real feeling'—'and a good customer, too, and a customer one could reckon upon, both for the Rooms and the parlour; and I feel, sir, now your son's gone up to Oxford College, and you a gentleman born, and so brought up, in the manner of speaking, it 'ud be a comfort to you, and a comfort to him, if you was to go up and see him. This 'ere little matter of the quarter's rent ain't nothing to me: you've brought me in as much and more in your time, as I says to my missus, with your conversational faculties. It draws people to the house, that it do, when they know there's a gent there of your conversational faculties.'

So, in the end, Mr. Plantagenet, after some decent parley, had accepted the gift, 'in the spirit in which it was offered, my dear—in the spirit in which it was offered,' and had resolved to apply it to the purpose which the donor indicated, as a means of paying a visit to Bichard at Oxford.

Poor Maud! she sat there heart-broken. She didn't know what to do. Pure filial feeling made her shrink from acknowledging, even to her own wounded soul, how ashamed she was of her father; far more did it prevent her from letting the poor broken old drunkard himself too plainly perceive it. All she could do was to sit there in blank despair, her hands folded before her, and reflect how all the care and pains she had taken to keep the rent-money sacred from his itching hands had only resulted at last in this supreme discomfiture. It was terrible—terrible! And Dick, she knew, had had social difficulties to contend with at Oxford at first, and was now just overcoming them, and beginning to be recognised as odd, very odd, but a decent sort of fellow. Mr. Plantagenet's visit would put an end to all that. He couldn't be kept sober for three days at a stretch; and he would disgrace dear Dick before the whole University.

However, Maud saw at once remonstrance was impossible. All she could conceivably do was to warn Dick beforehand. Forewarned is forearmed. She must warn Dick beforehand. Sorrowfully she went off by herself towards the post-office in the High Street. She would send a telegram. And then, even as she thought it, the idea came over her, how could she ever allow that fuzzy-headed Miss Janson at the Chiddingwick office to suspect the depth of the family disgrace? and another plan suggested itself. The third-class fare to Broughton, the next town of any size, was eightpence-ha'penny return: telegram would be sixpence; one and twopence-ha'penny in all: that was a lot of money! But still, for Dick's sake, she must venture upon the extravagance. With a beating heart in her breast, she hurried down to the station and took a ticket for Broughton. All the way there she was occupied in making up a telegram that should not compromise Richard; for she imagined to herself that a scholar of Durham would be a public personage of such distinction at Oxford that the telegraph clerks would be sure to note and retail whatever was said to him. At last, after infinite trials, she succeeded in satisfying herself.

'Plantagenet: Durham College, Oxford.—E. P. visits Oxford to-morrow as surprise. Take precautions.—Maud.'

That came to sevenpence. But try as she would, she couldn't make it any shorter. Not for worlds would she describe E. P.'s relationship to the Scholar of Durham. And she blushed to herself as she handed it in to think she should have to ask the brother of whom she was so proud to take precautions against a visit from their own father!


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