At the Sign of the Eagle is a Webnovel created by Gilbert Parker.
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“She is more than handsome, and she is the Honourable Gracia Raglan.”
“I don’t understand about ‘The Honourable.'”
“I will explain that another time.”
A moment later Miss Raglan, in a gentle bewilderment, walked down the ballroom on the arm of the millionaire, half afraid that something gauche would happen; but by the time she had got to the other end was rea.s.sured, and became interested.
Sir Duke said to his wife in an aside, before he left her with Mr.
Vandewaters’s financial partner: “What is your pretty conspiracy, Molly?”
“Do talk English, Duke, and do not interfere.”
A few hours later, on the way home, Sir Duke said: “You asked Mr. Pride too?”
“Yes; I grieve to say.”
“Because his experiences with us seem to make him dizzy. He will be terribly in earnest with every woman in the house, if–“
“If you do not keep him in line yourself?”
“Quite so. And the creature is not even interesting.”
“Cast your eye about. He has millions; you have cousins.”
“You do not mean that, Duke? I would see them in their graves first. He says ‘My lady’ every other sentence, and wants to send me flowers, and a box for the opera, and to drive me in the Park.”
Her husband laughed. “I’ll stake my life he can’t ride. You will have him about the place like a tame cat.” Then, seeing that his wife was annoyed: “Never mind, Molly, I will help you all I can. I want to be kind to them.”
“I know you do. But what is your ‘pretty conspiracy,’ Duke?”
“A well-stocked ranche in Colorado.” He did not mean it. And she knew it.
“How can you be so mercenary?” she replied.
Then they both laughed, and said that they were like the rest of the world.
Lady Lawless was an admirable hostess, and she never appeared to better advantage in the character than during the time when Miss Gracia Raglan, Mr. John Vandewaters, and Mr. Stephen Pride were guests at Craigruie.
The men accepted Mr. Vandewaters at once as a good fellow and a very sensible man. He was a heavy-weight for riding; but it was not the hunting season, and, when they did ride, a big horse carried him very well. At grouse-shooting he showed to advantage. Mr. Pride never rode.
He went shooting only once, and then, as Mr. Vandewaters told him, he got “rattled.” He was then advised by his friend to remain at home and cultivate his finer faculties. At the same time, Mr. Vandewaters parenthetically remarked to Sir Duke Lawless that Mr. Pride knew the poets backwards, and was smart at French. He insisted on bringing out the good qualities of his comrade; but he gave him much strong advice privately. He would have done it just the same at the risk of losing a fortune, were it his whim–he would have won the fortune back in due course.
At the present time Mr. Vandewaters was in the heat of some large commercial movements. No one would have supposed it, save for the fact that telegrams and cablegrams were brought to him day and night. He had liberally salaried the telegraph-clerk to work after hours, simply to be at his service. The contents of these messages never shook his equanimity. He was quiet, urbane, dry-mannered, at all times. Mr. Pride, however, was naturally excitable. He said of himself earnestly that he had a sensitive nature. He said it to Mrs. Gregory Thorne, whose reply was: “Dear me, and when things are irritating and painful to you do you never think of suicide?” Then she turned away to speak to some one, as if she had been interrupted, and intended to take up the subject again; but she never did. This remark caused Mr. Pride some nervous moments.
He was not quite sure how she meant it. But it did not depress him as it might otherwise have done, for his thoughts were running much in another channel with a foolish sort of elation.
As Lady Lawless had predicted, he was a.s.siduously attentive to her, and it needed all her tact and cheerful frankness to keep him in line. She managed it very well: Mr. Pride’s devotion was not too noticeable to the other guests. She tried to turn his attentions to some pretty girls; but, although there were one or two who might, in some weak moments, have compromised with his millions, he did no more than saunter with them on the terrace and oppress them with his lisping egotism. Every one hinted that he seemed an estimable, but trying, young man; and, as Sir Duke said to his wife, the men would not have him at any price.
As for Mr. Vandewaters and Gracia Raglan, Lady Lawless was not very sure that her delicate sympathy was certain of reward. The two were naturally thrown together a good deal; but Miss Raglan was a girl of singular individuality and high-mindedness, and she was keen enough to see from the start what Lady Lawless suspected might happen. She did not resent this,–she was a woman; but it roused in her a spirit of criticism, and she threw up a barrier of fine reserve, which puzzled Mr. Vandewaters.
He did not see that Lady Lawless was making a possible courtship easy for him. If he had, it would have made no difference: he would have looked at it as at most things, broadly. He was not blind to the fact that his money might be a “factor”, but, as he said to himself, his millions were a part of him–they represented, like whist-counters, so much pluck and mother-wit. He liked the general appreciation of them: he knew very well that people saw him in them and them in him. Miss Raglan attracted him from the moment of meeting. She was the first woman of her cla.s.s that he had ever met closely; and the possibility of having as his own so adorable a comrade was inspiring. He sat down sometimes as the days went on–it was generally when he was shaving–and thought upon his intention regarding Miss Raglan, in relation to his humble past; for he had fully made up his mind to marry her, if she would have him.
He wondered what she would think when he told her of his life; and he laughed at the humour of the situation. He had been into Debrett, and he knew that she could trace her family back to the Crusades.
He determined to make a clean breast of it. One day he was obliged to remain at the house in expectation of receiving important telegrams, and the only people who appeared at lunch were Lady Lawless, Mrs. Gregory Thorne (who was expecting her husband), Miss Raglan; Pride, and himself.
While at luncheon he made up his mind to have a talk with Miss Raglan.
In the library after luncheon the opportunity was given. It was a warm, pleasant day, and delightful in the grounds.
After one or two vain efforts to escape, Mrs. Gregory Thorne and Lady Lawless resigned themselves to the attentions of Mr. Pride; and for once Lady Lawless did not check Mrs. Thorne’s irony. It was almost a satisfaction to see Mr. Pride’s bewildered looks, and his inability to know whether or not he should resent (whether it would be proper to resent) this softly-showered satire.
Mr. Vandewaters and Gracia Raglan talked more freely than they had ever done before.
“Do you really like England?” she said to him; then, waving her hand lightly to the beeches and the clean-cropped gra.s.s through the window, “I mean do you like our ‘trim parterres,’ our devotion to mere living, pleasure, sport, squiring, and that sort of thing?”
He raised his head, glanced out, drew in a deep breath, thrust his hands down in the pockets of his coat, and looking at her with respectful good humour, said: “Like it? Yes, right down to the ground. Why shouldn’t I! It’s the kind of place I should like to come to in my old days. You needn’t die in a hurry here. See?”
“Are you sure you would not be like the old sailors who must live where they can scent the brine? You have been used to an active, adventurous, hurried life. Do you think you could endure this humdrum of enjoyment?”
It would be hard to tell quite what was running in Gracia Raglan’s mind, and, for the moment, she herself hardly knew; but she had a sudden, overmastering wish to make the man talk: to explore and, maybe, find surprising–even trying–things. She was astonished that she enjoyed his society so keenly. Even now, as she spoke, she remembered a day and a night since his coming, when he was absent in London; also how the party seemed to have lost its character and life, and how, when Mr. Pride condescended, for a few moments, to decline from Lady Lawless upon herself, she was even pleasant to him, making him talk about Mr.
Vandewaters, and relishing the enthusiastic loyalty of the supine young man. She, like Lady Lawless, had learned to see behind the firm bold exterior, not merely a notable energy, force, self-reliance, and masterfulness, but a native courtesy, simplicity, and refinement which surprised her. Of all the men she knew not a half-dozen had an appreciation of nature or of art. They affected art, and some of them went to the Academy or the private views in Bond Street; but they had little feeling for the business. They did it in a well-bred way, with taste, but not with warmth.
Mr. Vandewaters now startled her by quoting suddenly lines from an English poet unknown to her. By chance she was turning over the Academy pictures of the year, and came at last to one called “A j.a.panese Beauty of Old Days”–an exquisite thing.
“Is it not fascinating?” she said. “So piquant and fresh.”
He gave a silent laugh, as was his custom when he enjoyed anything, and then replied:
“I came across a little book of verses one day in the States. A friend of mine, the president of a big railway, gave it to me. He does some painting himself when he travels in his Pullman in the Rockies. Well, it had some verses on just such a picture as that. Hits it off right, Miss Raglan.”
“Verses?” she remarked, lifting her eyebrows. She expected something out of the “poet’s corner” of a country newspaper. “What are they?”
“Well, one’s enough to show the style. This is it:
“‘Was I a Samurai renowned, Two-sworded, fierce, immense of bow?
A histrion angular and profound?
A priest? or porter? Child, although I have forgotten clean, I know That in the shade of Fujisan, What time the cherry-orchards blow, I loved you once in old j.a.pan.'”
The verse on the lips of Mr. Vandewaters struck her strangely. He was not like any man she had known. Most self-made Englishmen, with such a burly exterior and energy, and engaged in such pursuits, could not, to save themselves from hanging, have impressed her as Mr. Vandewaters did.
There was a big round sympathy in the tone, a timbre in the voice, which made the words entirely fitting. Besides, he said them without any kind of affectation, and with a certain turn of dry humour, as if he were inwardly laughing at the idea of the poem.
“The verses are charming,” she said, musingly; “and the idea put that way is charming also. But do you think there would be much amus.e.m.e.nt in living half-a-dozen times, or even twice, unless you were quite sure that you remembered everything? This gentleman was peculiarly fortunate to recall Fujisan, and the orange orchards–and the girl.”
“I believe you are right. One life is about enough for most of us.
Memory is all very fine; but you’d want a life set apart for remembering the others after awhile.”
“Why do you not add, ‘And that would bore one?’ Most of the men I know would say so.”
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