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- Capitola The Madcap - 30/61 -
"I mean, bewitching Capitola, not to let such a treasure slip out of my grasp if I can help it."
"I never was in your grasp, that I know of," said Cap, whipping up her horse and leaving him far behind.
Days passed before Craven thought it prudent again to renew and press his suit. He did so upon a fine September morning, when he overtook her riding along the banks of the river. He joined her and in the most deprecating manner besought her to listen to him once more. Then he commenced in a strain of the most impassioned eloquence and urged his love and his proposal.
Capitola stopped her horse, wheeled around and faced him, looking him full in the eyes while she said:
"Upon my word, Mr. Le Noir, you remind me of an anecdote told of young Sheridan. When his father advised him to take a wife and settle, he replied by asking whose wife he should take. Will nobody serve your purpose but somebody else's sweetheart? I have told you that I belong to a brave young soldier who is fighting his country's battles in a foreign land, while you are lazing here at home, trying to undermine him. I am ashamed of you, sir, and ashamed of myself for talking with you so many times! Never do you presume to accost me on the highway or anywhere else again! Craven by name and Craven by nature, you have once already felt the weight of Herbert's arm! Do not provoke its second descent upon you! You are warned!" and with that Capitola, with her lips curled, her eyes flashing and her cheeks burning, put whip to her pony and galloped away.
Craven Le Noir's thin, white face grew perfectly livid with passion.
"I will have her yet! I have sworn it, and by fair means or by foul I will have her yet!" he exclaimed, as he relaxed his hold upon his bridle and let his horse go on slowly, while he sat with his brows gathered over his thin nose, his long chin buried in his neckcloth and his nails between his teeth, gnawing like a wild beast, as was his custom when deeply cogitating.
Presently he conceived a plan so diabolical that none but Satan himself could have inspired it! This was to take advantage of his acquaintance and casual meetings with Capitola so to malign her character as to make it unlikely that any honest man would risk his honor by taking her to wife; that thus the way might be left clear for himself; and he resolved, if possible, to effect this in such a manner--namely, by jests, innuendos and sneers--that it should never be directly traced to a positive assertion on his part. And in the mean time he determined to so govern himself in his deportment toward Capitola as to arouse no suspicion, give no offense and, if possible, win back her confidence.
It is true that even Craven Le Noir, base as he was, shrank from the idea of smirching the reputation of the woman whom he wished to make a wife; but then he said to himself that in that remote neighborhood the scandal would be of little consequence to him, who, as soon as he should be married, would claim the estate of the Hidden House in right of his wife, put it in charge of an overseer and then, with his bride, start for Paris, the paradise of the epicurean, where he designed to fix their principal residence.
Craven Le Noir was so pleased with his plan that he immediately set about putting it in execution. Our next chapter will show how he succeeded.
Is he not approved to the height of a villain, who hath slandered, scorned, dishonored thy kinswoman. Oh! that I were a man for his sake, or had a friend who would be one for mine!
Autumn brought the usual city visitors to Hurricane Hall to spend the sporting season and shoot over Major Warfield's grounds. Old Hurricane was in his glory, giving dinners and projecting hunts.
Capitola also enjoyed herself rarely, enacting with much satisfaction to herself and guests her new role of hostess, and not unfrequently joining her uncle and his friends in their field sports.
Among the guests there were two who deserve particular attention, not only because they had been for many years annual visitors of Hurricane Hall, but more especially because there had grown up between them and our little madcap heroine, a strong mutual confidence and friendship. Yet no three persons could possibly be more unlike than Capitola and the two cousins of her soul, as she called these two friends. They were both distant relatives of Major Warfield, and in right of this relationship invariably addressed Capitola as "Cousin Cap."
John Stone, the elder of the two, was a very tall, stout, squarely built young man, with a broad, good-humored face, fair skin, blue eyes and light hair. In temperament he was rather phlegmatic, quiet and lazy. In character he was honest, prudent and good-tempered. In circumstances he was a safe banker, with a notable wife and two healthy children. The one thing that was able to excite his quiet nerves was the chase, of which he was as fond as he could possibly be of any amusement. The one person who agreeably stirred his rather still spirits was our little Cap, and that was the secret of his friendship for her.
Edwin Percy, the other, was a young West Indian, tall and delicately formed, with a clear olive complexion, languishing dark hazel eyes and dark, bright chestnut hair and beard. In temperament he was ardent as his clime. In character, indolent, careless and self- indulgent. In condition he was the bachelor heir of a sugar plantation of a thousand acres. He loved not the chase, nor any other amusement requiring exertion. He doted upon swansdown sofas with springs, French plays, cigars and chocolate. He came to the country to find repose, good air and an appetite. He was the victim of constitutional ennui that yielded to nothing but the exhilaration of Capitola's company; that was the mystery of his love for her, and doubtless the young Creole would have proposed for Cap, had he not thought it too much trouble to get married, and dreaded the bustle of a bridal. Certainly Edwin Percy was as opposite in character to John Stone, as they both were to Capitola, yet great was the relative attraction among the three. Cap impartially divided her kind offices as hostess between them.
John Stone joined Old Hurricane in many a hard day's hunt, and Capitola was often of the party.
Edwin Percy spent many hours on the luxurious lounge in the parlor, where Cap was careful to place a stand with chocolate, cigars, wax matches and his favorite books.
One day Cap had had what she called "a row with the governor," that is to say, a slight misunderstanding with Major Warfield; a very uncommon occurrence, as the reader knows, in which that temperate old gentleman had so freely bestowed upon his niece the names of "beggar, foundling, brat, vagabond and vagrant," that Capitola, in just indignation, refused to join the birding party, and taking her game bag, powder flask, shot-horn and fowling piece, and calling her favorite pointer, walked off, as she termed it, "to shoot herself." But if Capitola's by no means sweet temper had been tried that morning, it was destined to be still more severely tested before the day was over.
Her second provocation came in this way: John Stone, another deserter of the birding party had that day betaken himself to Tip- top upon some private business of his own. He dined at the Antlers in company with some sporting gentlemen of the neighborhood, and when the conversation naturally turned upon field sports, Mr. John Stone spoke of the fine shooting that was to be had around Hurricane Hall, when one of the gentlemen,, looking straight across the table to Mr. Stone, said:
"Ahem! That pretty little huntress of Hurricane Hall--that niece or ward, or mysterious daughter of Old Hurricane, who engages with so much enthusiasm in your field sports over there, is a girl of very free and easy manners I understand--a Diana in nothing but her love of the chase!"
"Sir, it is a base calumny! And the man who endorses it is a shameless slanderer! There is my card! I may be found at my present residence, Hurricane Hall," said John Stone, throwing his pasteboard across the table, and rising to leave it.
"Nay, nay," said the stranger, laughing and pushing the card away. "I do not endorse the statement--I know nothing about it! I wash my hands of it," said the young man. And then upon Mr. Stone's demanding the author of the calumny, he gave the name of Mr. Craven Le Noir, who, he said, had "talked in his cups," at a dinner party recently given by one of his friends.
"I pronounce--publicly, in the presence of all these witnesses, as I shall presently to Craven Le Noir himself--that he is a shameless miscreant, who has basely slandered a noble girl! You, sir, have declined to endorse those words; henceforth decline to repeat them! For after this I shall call to a severe account any man who ventures, by word, gesture or glance to hint this slander, or in any other way deal lightly with the honorable name and fame of the lady in question. Gentlemen, I am to be found at Hurricane Hall, and I have the honor of wishing you a more improving subject of conversation, and--a very good afternoon," said John Stone, bowing and leaving the room.
He immediately called for his horse and rode home.
In crossing the thicket of woods between the river and the rising ground in front of Hurricane Hall, he overtook Capitola, who, as we have said, had been out alone with her gun and dog, and was now returning home with her game bag well laden.
Now, as John Stone looked at Capitola, with her reckless, free and joyous air, he thought she was just the sort of girl, unconsciously, to get herself and friends into trouble. And he thought it best to give her a hint to put an abrupt period to her acquaintance, if she had even he slightest, with the heir apparent of the Hidden House.
While still hesitating how to begin the conversation, he came up
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