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up there !” And Tom struck his foot moodily with his whip and stared at the fluttering ribbon on Marion's bosom.
“You won't come in, then?” said Marion, who began to have a suspicion that Mr. Bendibow had been taking a little too much wine after his dinner; wherein she did him great injustice, inasmuch as he had drunk scarce a pint of spirits in the last three days. Her tone so plainly indicated a readiness to abbreviate the interview, that poor Tom felt it all the way through his perplexity and unhappiness.
“No, I'm going, Miss Lockhart,” he said, with a rueful bow. “I know I ain't on my good manners this evening, but I can't help it. If you only knew what a lot of things there is troubling me, you'd understand how 'tis with me. Beg your pardon for disturbing you, and wish you good evening."
“Good evening,” said Marion kindly; and unexpectedly she gave him her hand. He took it and pressed it hard, looking in her face. “ Thank you,” he said. “And I like you—by George, I do! and I wish there were more women like you in the world to care something about me.” He dropped her hand and turned on his heel, for there were tears in his eyes, and he did not wish Marion to see them. He reached the gate and mounted his horse, and from that elevation saluted Marion once more ; but he bestowed merely a stare upon Philip and so rode away.
“I like that little fellow ; I believe he has a good heart,” remarked Marion, addressing herself to her ivy, but speaking to Philip.
“ I'm afraid he doesn't like me,” Philip rejoined. She paused a moment, and then said, “I don't wonder at it." “Why?” he demanded.
“Oh, I can put two and two together," answered she, nodding her head with a kind of ominous sagacity; and she would give no further explanation.
When Tom found himself on the high-road again, he stood for some time in doubt as to which way he should proceed. Obedience to Perdita required that he should ride on without delay to Twickenham ; but so strongly had his feelings been revolted by the picture presented him of his father hob-nobbing amicably with the man who ought to have been, at best,'his enemy, that he could not prevail upon himself to make a third at the party. The mystery surrounding Sir Francis's relations with Grant had in fact entered, in Tom's opinion, upon so acute a stage of impropriety, that his own official recognition of them would necessitate instant open war and rebellion, and this crisis he was naturally willing to postpone. On the other hand, no real harm could come from waiting till next morning before delivering Perdita's letter, inasmuch as Mr. Grant could certainly not act upon it at that hour of the night. After a minute's irresolution, therefore, Tom turned his horse toward London, in an exceedingly bad humour.
But when he came in sight of the “Plough and Harrow” his troubled spirit conceived a sort of compromise. He would spend the night here instead of returning to London. He could then discharge his commission the first thing in the morning, and report to Perdita by breakfast time. The difference was not great ; but such as it was, it was for the better. So into the courtyard of the inn he rode, with a curvet and a prance, and a despotic shout for the ostler.
Now, the ostler of the “Plough and Harrow” was an old acquaintance of Mr. Thomas Bendibow's, and under his guidance and protection Tom had enjoyed the raptures of many a cock-fight and rat-catching, and had attended many an august exhibition of the manly art of self-defence, and had betted with varying fortune (according to the ostler's convenience) on many a private trial between horses whose jockeys were not bigotedly set on winning upon their merits. Latterly, it is true, the son of the baronet had made some efforts to walk more circumspectly than in the first flush of his hot youth, and, as a first step in this reformed career, he had abated the frequency of his consultations with Jim the ostler ; and beyond an occasional chance word or two, and the exhibition on Tom's part of an eleemosynary half-crown, the friendship had outwardly fallen into disrepair.
But there are seasons when the cribbed and confined soul demands release and expansion, and yearns to immerse itself once again in the sweet old streams of habit and association that lead downwards, and afford a man opportunity to convince himself that some shreds of unregenerate human nature still adhere to him. Such a season had now come for Tom Bendibow, and he was resolved to let nature and the ostler have their way. Accordingly, when the latter, having seen to his patron's horse, and skilfully tested the condition of his temper, began to refer in guarded terms to the existence of the loveliest pair of bantam chickens as hever mortal heyes did see, Tom responded at once to the familiar hint, and no long time elapsed ere he found himself in the midst of surroundings which were more agreeable than exclusive. Into the details of these proceedings it will not, however, be necessary for us to follow him. It is enough to note that several hours passed away, during which the
heir of the Bendibows subjected himself to various forms of excitement, including that derived from a peculiarly seductive species of punch ; and that finally, in obedience to a sudden impulse, which seemed whimsical enough, but which was no doubt directly communicated to him by the finger of fate, he sprang to his feet and loudly demanded that his horse be brought out and saddled forthwith, for he would ride to Twickenham.
“Never you go for to think of such a thing, Mr. Bendibow,” remonstrated Jim the ostler, with much earnestness. “Why, if the night be'nt as dark as Terribus, I'll heat my nob; and footpads as thick betwixt 'ere and there as leaves in Wallumbrogia !”
“ Have out my horse in two minutes, you rascal, or I'll footpad you! Look alive, now, and don't let me hear any more confounded gabble, d'ye hear?”
“ It do go ag’in my conscience, Mr. Bendibow,” murmured the ostler sadly, “ it do indeed! Howsumever, your word is law to me, sir, now as hevermore ; so 'ere goes for it !” and he arose and departed stablewards. And on the whole, he had no reason to be dissatisfied with his night's work, as the plumpness of his breeches pocket testified.
Mr. Bendibow's horse had spent the time more profitably than his master; yet he scarcely showed more disposition to be off than did the latter. There was a vaulting into the saddle, a clatter of hoofs, and a solitary lantern swinging in the hand of Jim the ostler, as he turned and made his way slowly back to his quarters, wondering what hever could ’ave got into that boy to be hoff so sudden.
The boy himself would have found it difficult to answer that question. A moment before the resolve had come to him, he had anticipated it no more than his horse did. But, once he had said to himself that he would ride out and meet Mr. Grant on the way back from Twickenham, the minutes had seemed hours until he was on his way. There was no reason in the thing ; but many momentous human actions have little to do with reason ; and, besides, Tom was not at this time in a condition of mind or body in which the dictates of reason are productive of much effect. He felt that he must go, and nothing should stand in his way.
When the ostler had affirmed it was dark, he had said no more than the truth. The brown film which had begun to creep over the heavens before sunset had increased and thickened, until it pervaded the heavens like a pall of smoke, shutting ou the stars and blackening the landscape. It was neither cloud nor fog, but seemed rather a new quality in the air, depriving it of its transparency. Such mysterious darkenings have been not unfrequent in the history of the English climate, and are called by various names and assigned to various causes, without being thereby greatly elucidated. Be the shadow what and why it might, Tom rode into the midst of it and put his horse to a gallop, though it was scarcely possible to see one side of the road from the other. He felt no anxiety about losing his way, any more than if he had been a planet with a foreordained and inevitable orbit. The silence through which he rode was as complete as the darkness; he seemed to be the only living and moving thing in the world. But the flurry of the dissipation he had been through, and the preoccupation of his purpose, made him feel so much alive that he felt no sense of loneliness.
It had been his intention to take the usual route through Kew and Richmond ; but at Brentford Bridge he mistook his way, and, crossing the river there, he was soon plunging through the obscurity that overhung the Isleworth side of the river. If he perceived his mistake, it did not disconcert him ; all roads must lead to the Rome whither he was bound. Sometimes the leaves of low-lying branches brushed his face ; sometimes his horse's hoofs resounded over the hollowness of a little bridge ; once a bird, startled from its sleep in a wayside thicket, uttered a penetrating note before replacing its head beneath its wing. By-and-by the horse stumbled at some inequality of the road, and nearly lost its footing. Tom reined him in sharply, and, in the momentary pause and stillness that ensued, he fancied he distinguished a faint, intermittent noise along the road before him. He put his horse to a walk, pressed his hand over his breast, to make sure that the letter was safe in its place, and peered through the darkness ahead for the first glimpse of the approaching horseman, who he made sure was near. But he was almost within reach of him before he was aware, and, had turf been under foot instead of stony road, the two might have passed each other without knowing it.
“Hullo !” cried Tom.
“Hullo, there !” responded a voice, sharp but firm. “Who are you?”
"I'm Tom Bendibow. You're Charles Grantley, ain't you ?".
“You have good eyes, sir," answered the other, bringing his horse close alongside of Tom's, and bending over to look him in the face.
“It's ears and instinct with me to-night,” was Tom's reply. "That's all right, then. I came out to meet you. I have a letter for you from your daughter.”
“Do you ride on, Mr. Bendibow, or shall you return with me?” inquired the other, after a pause.
“I'll go with you," said Tom, and, turning his horse, the two rode onward together side by side.
CHAPTER XX. Philip LANCASTER had gone to bed early this night ; he sat up all the night before, trying to compel unwilling rhymes to agree with one another, and was now resolved to discover what poetic virtue lay in sleep. But sleep proved as unaccommodating as rhyme. He could not discharge his brain of the crowd of importunate and unfruitful thoughts sufficiently to attain the calm necessary for repose. In fact, he had more than loose ends of poetry to disturb him ; his relations with Marion had not been in tune since the mishap in Richmond Park, and she had, up to this time, avoided explanations with a feminine ingenuity that was not to be out. mancuvred. He understood, of course, that a lady who has allowed herself to betray special regard for a man may feel offended by the discovery that the man has had intimate relations with another lady ; but, as between himself and Marion, matters had not gone so far as an explicit declaration, on her side at all events; and it was, therefore, peculiarly difficult to accomplish a reconciliation. Not less difficult was it, apparently, to begin over again at the beginning, and persuade her to love him on a new basis, as it were. Her position was this—that she would not yield as long as any ambiguity remained touching the past relations of himself and Perdita ; and that her pride or perversity would not suffer her to let that ambiguity be cleared up. Possibly, moreover, Philip may have felt that, even were the opportunity given, the ambiguity in question might not be easily removed. In these circumstances his most prudent course, as a man of the world, would have been to renounce Marion altogether. She was not, indeed, from any worldly point of view, a desirable match. More than this, she was chargeable with certain faults of temper and temperament-faults which she herself was at no pains to disguise. She was not even beautiful in the conventional sense : Philip had seen many women far more generally attractive. Finally, he could not so much as be certain that she had ever positively loved him; her regard for him may have been no more than a fancy which no longer swayed her. ... But, when all was said, Philip knew that there was something about Marion—something rare, tender, and noble—which he had never