BY GEORGE MEREDITH.
Chapter XXVII A
Exhibits Rose’s generalship; Evan’s performance on the second fiddle; AND THE wretchedness OF THE COUNTESS.
We left Rose and Evan on their way to Lady Jocelyn. At the library-door Rose turned to him, and with her chin archly lifted sideways, said:
“I know what you feel; you feel foolish.”
Now the sense of honour, and of the necessity of acting the part it imposes on him, may be very strong in a young man; but certainly, as a rule, the sense of ridicule is more poignant, and Evan was suffering horrid pangs.
We none of us like to play second fiddle. To play second fiddle to a woman is an abomination to us all. But to have to perform upon that instrument to the darling of our hearts — would we not rather die?nay, almost rather end the duet precipitately and with violence.
Evan, when he passed Drummond into the house, and quietly returned his gaze, endured the first shock of this strange feeling. There could be no doubt that he was playing second fiddle to Rose. And what was he about to do? Oh, horror! to stand like a criminal, and say, or worse, have said for him, things to tip the ears with fire!
To tell the young lady’s mother that he had won her daughter’s love, and meant — what did he mean? He knew not. Alas! he was second fiddle; he could only mean what she meant. Evan loved Rose deeply and completely, but noble manhood was strong in him.
You may sneer at us if you please, ladies. We have been educated in a theory, that when you lead off with the bow, the order of Nature is reversed, and it is no wonder, therefore, that, having stript us of one attribute, our tine feathers moult, and the majestic cock-like march which distinguishes lis degenerates. You unsex us, if I may dare to say so. Ceasing to be men, what are we? If we are to please you right, always allow us to play First.
Poor Evan did feel foolish. Whether Rose saw it in his walk, or had a loving feminine intuition of it, and was aware of the golden rule I have just laid down, we need not inquire. She hit the fact, and he could only stammer, and bid her open the door.
“No,” she said, after a slight hesitation, “it will be better that I should speak to mama alone, I see. Walk out on the lawn, dear, and wait for me. And if you meet Drummond, don’t be angry with him. Drummond is very fond of me, and of course I shall teach him to be fond of you. He only thinks… what is not true, because he does not know you. I do thoroughly, and there, you see, I give you my hand.”
Evan drew the dear hand humbIy to his lips. Rose then nodded meaningly, and let her eyes dwell on him, and went in to her mother to open the battle.
Could it be that a flame had sprung up in those grey eyes latterly? Once they were like morning before sunrise. How soft and warm and tenderly transparent they could now be! Assuredly she loved him. And he, beloved by the noblest girl ever fashioned, why should he hang his head, and shrink at the thought of human faces, like a wretch doomed to the pillory? He visioned her last glance, and lightning emotions of pride and happiness flashed through his veins.
The generous, brave heart! Yes, with her hand in his, he could stand at bay — meet any fate. Evan accepted Rose because he believed in her love, and judged it by the strength of his own; her sacrifice of her position he accepted, because in his soul he knew he should have done no less. He mounted to the level of her nobleness, and losing nothing of the beauty of what she did, it was not so strange to him.
Still there was the baleful reflection that he was second fiddle to his beloved. No harmony came of it in his mind. How could he take an initiative? He walked forth on the lawn, where a group had gathered under the shade of a maple, consisting of Drummond Forth, Mrs. Evremonde, Mrs. Shorne, Mr. George Uploft, Seymour Jocelyn, and Ferdinand Laxley. A little apart Juliana Bonner was walking with Miss Carrington. Juliana, when she saw him, left her companion, and passing him swiftly, said,
“Follow me presently into the conservatory.”
Evan strolled near the group, and bowed to Mrs. Shorne, whom he had not seen that morning. The lady’s acknowledgment of his salute was constrained, and but a shade on the side of recognition. They were silent till he was out of earshot. He noticed that his second approach produced the same effect. In the conservatory Juliana was awaiting him.
“It is not to give you roses I called you here, Mr. Harrington,” she said.
“Not if I beg one?” he responded.
“Ah! but you do not want them from… It depends on the person.”
“Pluck this,” said Evan, pointing to a white rose.
She put her fingers to the stem.
“What folly!” she cried, and turned from it.
“Are you afraid that I shall compromise you?” asked Evan.
“You care for me too little for that.”
“My dear Miss Bonner!”
“How long did you know Rose before you called her by her Christian name?”
Evan really could not remember, and was beginning to wonder what he had been called there for. The little lady had feverish eyes and fingers, and seemed to be burning to speak, but afraid.
“I thought you had gone,” she dropped her voice,” without wishing me good bye.”
“I certainly should not do that, Miss Bonner.”
“Formal!” she exclaimed, half to herself. “Miss Bonner thanks you. Do you think I wish you to stay? No friend of yours would wish it. You do not know the selfishness — brutal! — of these people of birth, as they call it.”
“I have met with nothing but kindness here,” said Evan.
“Then go while you can feel that,” she answered;” for it cannot last another hour. Here is the rose.”
She broke it from the stem and handed it to him.” You may wear that, and they are not so likely to call you an adventurer, and names of that sort. I am hardly considered a lady by them.”
An adventurer! The full meaning of the phrase struck Evan’s senses when he was alone. Miss Bonner knew something of his condition, evidently. Perhaps it was generally known, and perhaps it was thought that he had come to win Rose for his worldly advantage! The idea was overwhelmingly new to him. Upstarted self-love in arms. He would renounce her.
It is no insignificant contest when love has to crush self-love utterly. At moments it can be done. Love has divine moments. There are times also when Love draws part of his being from self-love, and can find no support without it.