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Curious anomaly, if anything pertaining to the relations of men and women can ever be called anomalous, Rosie's lover is sensible of a distinct pang of jealousy at this moment. “Any girl of seventeen would encourage any fellow who had carriages and diamonds to offer her--as you ought to know, Roge.”
Belinda, most of all,”. acquiesces the widow, with one of her prettiest sighs. “It has gone out of fashion for young girls to sacrifice interest to the Affections, as we used."
Roger thinks of Mr. Shelmadeane, and is silent.
MAMMON WINS HIS WAY.
WHITE with moonlight, astir with the life and joyousness of the southern night, are the narrow streets of St. Jean de Luz as Mr. Jones and his companion proceed towards what may by courtesy be called Belinda's home. Ladies, with fan and mantilla, returning bareheaded from the casino ball; itinerant serenaders twanging guitars for money-alas! is there to be no poetry left in life ?-beneath the projecting iron balconies ; stately hidalgos in cloaks ; statelier beggars in tatters ; every here and there a patio, or garden, odorous with citron-flowers, pomegranate, myrtle; and for back-ground the mountains, just one shade deeper iris than the arch of tremulous heaven overhead.
Could hour or scene be more auspicious for a lover ? Could hour or scene better dispose a girl's imagination towards a declaration of love?
They walk for a considerable time in silence, Belinda and Mr. Jones. At last, "I hope you have forgiven me for not feeding Costa on macaronies ?” whispers the young man, pressing her unresponsive hand ever so little to his side.
“Do you, Mr. Jones ?-why?” She accepted his arm out of sheerest perversity, and because she guessed that certain eyes were watching her; but her heart feels wicked against poor Augustus, wicked against the whole bright world which forms a background for Roger Temple and for Rose. “When I know people detest me I would much rather be without their forgiveness than with it."
Not an encouraging answer for a man on the eve of proposing. But Mrs. O'Shea's wary arts during that starlit conversation on the terrace have brought up Mr. Jones's resolution to the sticking-point. So much familiar talk of Lady Althea and Lord Lionel —"Belinda's nearest relations, Mr. Jones, the people, whenever our dear Belinda does settle in London, with whom she and her husband must be constantly and intimately thrown." So much familiar talk, I say, about possible cousins in the peerage, not unmingled with suggestions that, in our dear Belinda's position, a happy early union, rather than large settlements, is what Rose's step-maternal heart yearns after, have made Mr. Jones resolute to win or give up all to-night.
He does not love, he sees no remotest chance of bringing himself to love, this meagre, dark-skinned, bitter-tongued mite of an earl's granddaughter. But Jones is not a man to be turned aside from any project, commercial or matrimonial, by obstacle so paltry as personal likes or dislikes. The earliest sacred truth instilled into his childish soul, his highest mature conception of moral law, is—that Christians and Englishmen should buy in the cheapest market whatever article they require. He, Jones, requires the article Birth; has hunted it up and down many English watering-places, as men of the Cornelius O'Shea genus hunt money, and now has it under his hand, to be bought for a song—(did not Rosie wisely throw in the hint about modest settlements ?)—the only difficulty being as to the article's consent. But after sunning himself in the widow's smiles and listening to the widow's silky flatteries during the past hour and a half, Mr. Jones cannot but feel that he is a very captivating fellow indeed in women's eyes, and entertains but little fear as to that.
“I have never been fortunate enough to find you at home yet, Miss O'Shea.” He makes this next attempt at tender talk just as they reach the Maison Lohobiague, on the third floor of which Miss Burke and Belinda lodge. “I should like," sentimentally, “ to see the apartment where you spend your time—if I might ?”
It seems to him that the task of bringing her to terms will be easier of accomplishment indoors than out. Never yet has he seen Belinda within four walls, and the idea strikes him that she may prove more manageable within a restricted space; like a squirrel in a cage, a colt within a pound, or any other inferior animal whom it is man's supreme pleasure to tame and subjugate.
“The apartment where I spend my time—Burke's den? Well, if you want to see it, you had better use your legs and walk up now. Miss Burke, as you know, is away; our servant—actually we have a servant, Mr. Jones, just to set our soup going of a morning-went off to the bull-fight at Fontarabia yesterday, and has not appeared since. So you must not expect to see things in apple-pie order.”
She quits his arm, bestows a series of hugs and farewells on Costathe poor old dog, well-trained, stopping discreetly, three or four paces away from Miss Burke's threshold-then vanishes out of sight beneath an overhanging stone porte-cochère, or archway; whither Mr. Jones, his dapper feet tortured by the stones, bis yellow-kidded hands extended to save his nose from collision with the wall, follows her.
The Maison Lohobiague is one of those towering fifteenth-century Basque palaces of which three or four still stand, fast crumbling, alas !
into dust, beside the harbour of St.-Jean de Luz. The infanta of Spain lodged in the Lohobiague, says oral history, on the occasion of her betrothal to Louis the Fourteenth. Now 'tis tenanted out in sets of furnished lodgings, low rented, on account of rats, dry-rot, mould, and other such drawbacks to mediæval romance, but deliciously cool in summer by reason of the narrow semi-Moorish windows, thick walls, and vaulted balconies; and with the noblest panorama of river, fertile plain, and distant lonely mountain sierra for outlook.
The dark winding staircase seems trebly dark after the intense moonlight of the streets; and Mr. Jones, a careful man, not only as regards moral but bodily risks, pauses at the bottom.
“Come along, if you are coming,” rings out Belinda's voice from airy heights overhead. “There is plenty of light when once you get up here, only look after your shins meanwhile.”
“The“ plenty of light” proceeds from a solitary oil-lamp, which sheds its dim religious rays before the figure of a saint on the landing of the second floor—a grotesquely tawdry female saint, of Basque or Spanish origin, life-sized, ghastly-hued ; with a laced pocket-handkerchief, with blood streaming from her martyred brow and hands; a necklace of huge mock brilliants on her throat, a pair of satin slippers that
may have been white once, say at the betrothal of Louis the Fourteenth, upon her feet.
“We live one story higher still,” says Belinda-Mr. Jones stopping to turn up his British nose at this work of sacerdotal art—"and unless Juanita happens to have left a candle, I shall have to entertain you in the dark. However, there is the moon.”
“And--and the brightness of your eyes, Belinda,” says Jones, groping his way up the steep staircase after her.
“ And what ? ” shouts the girl, sharply, through the darkness. “There is such an echo, Mr. Jones-no hearing a word unless you speak more distinctly. What did you say would light us?”
But something, either in the tones of her voice or in the distance that separates them, restrains Mr. Jones from again launching into the hazardous region of compliment.
Under the lawful régime of Miss Burke the outer door of the apartment is always kept virtuously locked after dark; but this, like other precautionary rules of life, is set at nought when Belinda, as at present, holds the rudder of government. Half ajar stands a huge oaken door, blackened with time, crusted with dirt; a door as old, probably, as the solid masonry of the house. On a vigorous push from the girl's hand it creaks slowly back upon its hinges, and Mr. Jones is introduced to “ Burke's den," a room bigger than an Isle of Wight church, the roof joisted and innocent of all modern refinement of lath and plaster, the walls of the indescribable smoky grey of ages. Vast cobwebbed pictures of saints in different stages of burning or mutilation-French studies, probably after Ribera, exaggerations, nightmares, of that master's most repulsive realism-hang around. Saints and cobwebs may, indeed, be said to furnish the room. Of furniture proper there are a table that was once carved and gilt, now in the last stage of rickety decay, and of which one leg is propped up by a pile of battered books ; a lofty pier glass, over-dim with antiquity for purposes of reflection ; three crippled chairs, piled pell-mell at the present moment in a corner; and a shelf, containing in all about twelve pieces of crockery of different sizes and patterns. “I am an Ishmaelite by choice,” Miss Burke will say, with the conscious proud humility of intellect, to such straggling acquaintance as chance ever gives her to entertain. “The frivolous details of upholstery do not concern me. Climate, nature, association with the mighty minds of the past-these to me are the necessities of life !"
Mr. Jones looks round him open-mouthed, Belinda having been fortunate enough to find a candle, whose solitary light barely pierces from end to end of the sombre, shadowy room.
“And you—you live here ?” he exclaims with unaffected amazement. “What a place—what pictures ! It gives one the horrors to look at them.” Only Mr. Jones is thinking a little nervously over what he is going to say next, and calls it " 'orrors.”
“Well, yes—the Maison Lohobiague is not furnished according to Clapham taste," retorts Belinda, with her frank impertinence. “But it suits me better. I like the old shabby room, Mr. Jones, and the 'orrid pictures, and the cobwebs; yes, and I should be very sorry to exchange them for any stuccoed Cockney gentility. I have lived here two years, off and on; Miss Burke has made it a sort of headquarters in all her comings and goings, and I have grown to the place. If Burke would only get killed on a railway, or made professoress, or anything, I should be quite content to stop in the Lohobiague with Costa, always."
And now, Augustus feels, is the time to crash down on this poor pauper child with the magnificence of his offer. “Miss O'SheaBelinda,” he cries, coming up beside her very close, “there is no necessity for you to spend your days in these miserable foreign places any longer. Since I saw you this afternoon I-ahem-I have been talking to your mamma."
“Stepmamma. If you are not accurate, you are nothing.”
“And I have made my mind up—I have made my mind up fully,” says Jones, with magnanimity, “as to my line of conduct. There may seem, there are disparities”—he glances, with an air of condescension at the girl's dress, at the appointments of the meagre room ; “still, as Mrs. O'Shea says, six months of the first educational advantages in England would work wonders, and, at our age, we can afford to wait, can we not ?"
“I could answer better if I had a glimmering notion of what you mean by we. Are you going to school again, Mr. Jones ? Mind your H’s, you know, if you ”
“Belinda !” his voice shakes, his colour rises. ("How hideous he is.” communes Belinda within herself. “How the mosquito bites glow and radiate from out that purple blush !") you
ever—I mean I know-I never"... confound it all, why will the girl fix those hard eyes of hers
his face! ..."never saw any one so likely to make me happy. Oh, come, you mustn't take your hand away !" which she does, with unmistakable energy, the moment she feels his touch. “I will not let you go till you answer me. Belinda, could you ever care for me enough to be my wife?"
He has stumbled through it as well, perhaps, as the majority of men stumble through the most momentous question of their lives. Belinda, who has never before heard a declaration, or read of a declaration, or imagined a declaration, thinks the exhibition pitiable, and tells him so.
“You are a more complete fool than I took you for, Mr. Jones. If you really want me-me-to marry you, why not say so like a rational being, instead of stammering and hesitating and blushing, like a schoolboy ashamed to speak the truth ?"
Mr. Jones stands, silently recovering his nerve after the plunge.
“It will, I know, meet the wishes of Mrs. O'Shea and of Captain Temple,” he remarks at last, almost humbly.
“ What will ?”
“ Rose leads everybody to believe everything. And he-Captain Temple?”
“It can be no interest of Captain Temple's to put himself in the way of your settlement, I should say.”
She turns from him; she walks quickly to the further end of the room ; a certain dignity, child though she be, in every movement of her poor little ragged figure. Then she comes back to the young man's side and looks steadily, with her honest eyes, into his.
“A thing like this can't be decided in a moment, Mr. Jones. If you want, really and truly, to marry me, you must, I suppose, have some good reasons for doing so. That is not my business, however. Every one is free to have his own crotchets about happiness. But what I do want to know, and what I dare say you can tell me, iswhy should I marry you ?”
"I should hope, a little, because you like me,” suggests Augustus, trying with imperfect success to throw a lover-like warmth into his