Love Me Little, Love Me Long by Charles Reade
Next morning the house was in an uproar. Servants ran to and fro, and the fish-pond was dragged at Mr. Fountain's request. But on these occasions everybody claims a right to speak, and Jane came into the breakfast-room and said: "If you please, mum, Miss Lucy isn't in the pond, for she have taken a good part of her clothes, and all her jewels."
This piece of common sense convinced everybody on the spot except Mrs. Bazalgette. That lady, if she had decided on "making a hole in the water," would have sat on the bank first, and clapped on all her jewels, and all her richest dresses, one on the top of another. Finally, Mr. Bazalgette, who wore a somber air, and had not said a word, requested everybody to mind their own business. "I have a communication from Lucy," said he, "and I do not at present disapprove the step she has taken."
All eyes turned with astonishment toward him, and the next moment all voices opened on him like a pack of hounds. But he declined to give them any further information. Between ourselves he had none to give. The little note Lucy left on his table merely begged him to be under no anxiety, and prayed him to suspend his judgment of her conduct till he should know the whole case. It was his strong good sense which led him to pretend he was in the whole secret. By this means he substituted mystery for scandal, and contrived that the girl's folly might not be irreparable.
At the same time he was deeply indignant with her, and, above all, with her hypocrisy in clinging round him and kissing him the very night she meditated flight from his house.
"I must find the girl out and get her back;" said he, and directly after breakfast he collected his myrmidons and set them to discover her retreat.
The outward frame-work of the holy alliance remained standing, but within it was dissolving fast. Each of the allies was even now thinking how to find Lucy and make a separate peace. During the flutter which now subsided, one person had done nothing but eat pigeon-pie. It was Kenealy, captain of horse.
Now eating pigeon-pie is not in itself a suspicious act, but ladies are so sharp. Mrs. Bazalgette said to herself, "This creature alone is not a bit surprised (for Bazalgette is fibbing); why is this creature not surprised? humph! Captain Kenealy," said she, in honeyed tones, "what would you advise us to do?"
"Advertaize," drawled the captain, as cool as a cucumber.
"Advertise? What! publish her name?"
"No, no names. I'll tell you;" and he proceeded to drawl out very slowly, from memory, the following advertisement. N. B.--The captain was a great reader of advertisements, and of little else.
"If L. F. will retarn--to her afflicted--relatives--she shall be received with open aams. And shall be forgotten and forgiven--and reunaited affection shall solace every wound."
"That is the style. It always brings 'em back--dayvilish good paie--have some moa."
Mr. Fountain and Mrs. Bazalgette raised an outcry against the captain's advice, and, when the table was calm again, Mrs. Bazalgette surprised them all by fixing her eyes on Kenealy, and saying quietly, "You know where she is." She added more excitedly: "Now don't deny it. On your honor, sir, have you no idea where my niece is?"
"Upon my honah, I have an idea."
"Then tell me."
"I'd rayther not."
"Perhaps you would prefer to tell me in private?"
"No; prefer not to tell at all."
Then the whole table opened on him, and appealed to his manly feeling, his sense of hospitality, his humanity--to gratify their curiosity.
Kenealy stretched himself out from the waist downward, and delivered himself thus, with a double infusion of his drawl:--
"See yah all dem--d first."
At noon on the same day, by the interference of Mrs. Bazalgette, the British army was swelled with Kenealy, captain of horse.
The whole day passed, and Lucy's retreat was not yet discovered. But more than one hunter was hemming her in.
The next day, being the second after her elopement with her nurse, at eleven in the forenoon, Lucy and Mrs. Wilson sat in the little parlor working. Mrs. Wilson had seen the poultry fed, the butter churned, and the pudding safe in the pot, and her mind was at ease for a good hour to come, so she sat quiet and peaceful. Lucy, too, was at peace. Her eye was clear; and her color coming back; she was not bursting with happiness, for there was a sweet pensiveness mixed with her sweet tranquillity; but she looked every now and then smiling from her work up at Mrs. Wilson, and the dame kept looking at her with a motherly joy caused by her bare presence on that hearth. Lucy basked in these maternal glances. At last she said: "Nurse."
"If you had never done anything for me, still I should know you loved me."
"Should ye, now?"
"Oh yes; there is the look in your eye that I used to long to see in my poor aunt's, but it never came."
"Well, Miss Lucy, I can't help it. To think it is really you setting there by my fire! I do feel like a cat with one kitten. You should check me glaring you out o' countenance like that."
"Check you? I could not bear to lose one glance of that honest tender eye. I would not exchange one for all the flatteries of the world. I am so happy here, so tranquil, under my nurse's wing."
With this declaration came a little sigh.
Mrs. Wilson caught it. "Is there nothing wanting, dear?"
"Well, I do keep wishing for one thing."
"What is that?"
"Oh, I can't help my thoughts."
"But you can help keeping them from me, nurse."
"Well, my dear, I am like a mother; I watch every word of yours and every look; and it is my belief you deceive yourself a bit: many a young maid has done that. I do judge there is a young man that is more to you than you think for."
"Who on earth is that, nurse? " asked Lucy, coloring.
"The handsome young gentleman."
"Oh, they are all handsome--all my pests."
"The one I found under your window, Miss Lucy; he wasn't in liquor; so what was he there for? and you know you were not at your ease till you had made me go and wake him, and send him home; and you were all of a tremble. I'm a widdy now, and can speak my mind to men-folk all one as women-folk; but I've been a maid, and I can mind how I was in those days. Liking did use to whisper me to do so and so; Shyness up and said, 'La! not for all the world; what'll he think?'"
"Oh, nurse, do you believe me capable of loving one who does not love me?"
"No. Who said he doesn't love you? What was he there for? I stick to that."
"Now, nurse, dear, be reasonable; if Mr. Dodd loved me, would he go to sleep in my presence?"
"Eh! Miss Lucy, the poor soul was maybe asleep before you left your room."
"It is all the same. He slept while I stood close to him ever so long. Slept while I-- If I loved anybody as these gentlemen pretend they love us, should I sleep while the being I adored was close to me?"
"You are too hard upon him. 'The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.' Why, miss, we do read of Eutychus, how he snoozed off setting under Paul himself--up in a windy--and down a-tumbled. But parson says it wasn't that he didn't love religion, or why should Paul make it his business to bring him to life again, 'stead of letting un lie for a warning to the sleepy-headed ones. ''Twas a wearied body, not a heart cold to God,' says our parson."
"Now, nurse, I take you at your word. If Eutychus had been Eutycha, and in love with St. Paul, Eutycha would never have gone to sleep, though St. Paul preached all day and all night; and if Dorcas had preached instead of St. Paul, and Eutychus been in love with her, he would never have gone to sleep, and you know it."
At this home-thrust Mrs. Wilson was staggered, but the next moment her sense of discomfiture gave way to a broad expression of triumph at her nursling's wit.
"Eh! Miss Lucy," cried she, showing a broadside of great white teeth in a rustic chuckle, "but ye've got a tongue in your head. Ye've sewed up my stocking, and 'tisn't many of them can do that." Lucy followed up her advantage.
"And, nurse, even when he was wide awake and stood by the cart, no inward sentiment warned him of my presence; a sure sign he did not love me. Though I have never experienced love, I have read of it, and know all about it." [Jus-tice des Femmes!]
"Well, Miss Lucy, have it your own way; after all, if he loves you he will find you out."
"Of course he would, and you will see he will do nothing of the kind."
"Then I wish I knew where he was; I would pull him in at my door by the scruf of the neck."
"And then I should jump out at the window. Come, try on your new cap, nurse, that I have made for you, and let us talk about anything you like except gentlemen. Gentlemen are a sore subject with me. Gentlemen have been my ruin."
"La, Miss Lucy!"
"I assure you they have; why, have they not set my uncle's heart against me, and my aunt's, and robbed me of the affection I once had for both? I believe gentlemen to be the pests of society; and oh! the delight of being here in this calm retreat, where love dwells, and no gentleman can find me. Ah! ah! Oh! What is that?"
For a heavy blow descended on the door. "That is Jenny's knock," said Mrs. Wilson; dryly. "Come in, Jenny." The servant, thus invited, burst the door open as savagely as she had struck it, and announced with a knowing grin, "A GENTLEMAN--for Miss Fountain!!"