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- Cashel Byron's Profession - 30/49 -
Ducket, and knocked him all to pieces in about ten minutes. I half killed him because I didn't know my own strength and was afraid of him. I have been at the same work ever since. I was training for a fight when I was down at Wiltstoken; and Mellish was my trainer. It came off the day you saw me at Clapham; that was how I came to have a black eye. Wiltstoken did for me. With all my nerve and science, I'm no better than a baby at heart; and ever since I found out that my mother wasn't an angel I have always had a notion that a real angel would turn up some day. You see, I never cared much for women. Bad as my mother was as far as being what you might call a parent went, she had something in her looks and manners that gave me a better idea of what a nice woman was like than I had of most things; and the girls I met in Australia and America seemed very small potatoes to me in comparison with her. Besides, of course they were not ladies. I was fond of Mrs. Skene because she was good to me; and I made myself agreeable, for her sake, to the girls that came to see her; but in reality I couldn't stand them. Mrs. Skene said that they were all setting their caps at me--women are death on a crack fighter--but the more they tried it on the less I liked them. It was no go; I could get on with the men well enough, no matter how common they were; but the snobbishness of my breed came out with regard to the women. When I saw you that day at Wiltstoken walk out of the trees and stand looking so quietly at me and Mellish, and then go back out of sight without a word, I'm blessed if I didn't think you were the angel come at last. Then I met you at the railway station and walked with you. You put the angel out of my head quick enough; for an angel, after all, is only a shadowy, childish notion--I believe it's all gammon about there being any in heaven--but you gave me a better idea than mamma of what a woman should be, and you came up to that idea and went beyond it. I have been in love with you ever since; and if I can't have you, I don't care what becomes of me. I know I am a bad lot, and have always been one; but when I saw you taking pleasure in the society of fellows just as bad as myself, I didn't see why I should keep away when I was dying to come. I am no worse than the dog-baker, any how. And hang it, Miss Lydia, I don't want to brag; but I never fought a cross or struck a foul blow in my life; and I have never been beaten, though I'm only a middle-weight, and have stood up with the best fourteen-stone men in the Colonies, the States, or in England."
Cashel ceased. As he sat eying her wistfully, Lydia, who had been perfectly still, said musingly,
"Strange! that I should be so much more prejudiced than I knew. What will you think of me when I tell you that your profession does not seem half so shocking now that I know you to be the son of an artist, and not a journeyman butcher or a laborer, as my cousin told me."
"What!" exclaimed Cashel. "That lantern-jawed fellow told you I was a butcher!"
"I did not mean to betray him; but, as I have already said, I am bad at keeping secrets. Mr. Lucian Webber is my cousin and friend, and has done me many services. May I rest assured that he has nothing to fear from you?"
"He has no right to tell lies about me. He is sweet on you, too: I twigged that at Wiltstoken. I have a good mind to let him know whether I am a butcher or not."
"He did not say so. What he told me of you, as far as it went, is exactly confirmed by what you have said yourself. But I happened to ask him to what class men of your calling usually belonged; and he said that they were laborers, butchers, and so forth. Do you resent that?"
"I see plainly enough that you won't let me resent it. I should like to know what else he said of me. But he was right enough about the butchers. There are all sorts of blackguards in the ring: there's no use in denying it. Since it's been made illegal, decent men won't go into it. But, all the same, it's not the fighting men, but the betting men, that bring discredit on it. I wish your cousin had held his confounded tongue."
"I wish you had forestalled him by telling me the truth,"
"I wish I had, now. But what's the use of wishing? I didn't dare run the chance of losing you. See how soon you forbade me the house when you did find out."
"It made little difference," said Lydia, gravely.
"You were always friendly to me," said Cashel, plaintively.
"More so than you were to me. You should not have deceived me. And now I think we had better part. I am glad to know your history; and I admit that when you embraced your profession you made perhaps the best choice that society offered you. I do not blame you."
"But you give me the sack. Is that it?"
"What do you propose, Mr. Cashel Byron? Is it to visit my house in the intervals of battering and maiming butchers and laborers?"
"No, it's not," retorted Cashel. "You're very aggravating. I won't stay much longer in the ring now, because my luck is too good to last. I shall have to retire soon, luck or no luck, because no one can match me. Even now there's nobody except Bill Paradise that pretends to be able for me; and I'll settle him in September if he really means business. After that, I'll retire. I expect to be worth ten thousand pounds then. Ten thousand pounds, I'm told, is the same as five hundred a year. Well, I suppose, judging from the style you keep here, that you're worth as much more, besides your place in the country; so, if you will marry me, we shall have a thousand a year between us. I don't know much of money matters; but at any rate we can live like fighting-cocks on that much. That's a straight and business-like proposal, isn't it?"
"And if I refuse?" said Lydia, with some sternness.
"Then you may have the ten thousand pounds to do what you like with," said Cashel, despairingly. "It won't matter what becomes of me. I won't go to the devil for you or any woman if I can help it; and I--but where's the good of saying IF you refuse. I know I don't express myself properly; I'm a bad hand at sentimentality; but if I had as much gab as a poet, I couldn't be any fonder of you, or think more highly of you."
"But you are mistaken as to the amount of my income."
"That doesn't matter a bit. If you have more, why, the more the merrier. If you have less, or if you have to give up all your property when you're married, I will soon make another ten thousand to supply the loss. Only give me one good word, and, by George, I'll fight the seven champions of Christendom, one down and t'other come on, for five thousand a side each. Hang the money!"
"I am richer than you suppose," said Lydia, unmoved. "I cannot tell you exactly how much I possess; but my income is about forty thousand pounds."
"Forty thousand pounds!" ejaculated Cashel.
"Holy Moses! I didn't think the queen had so much as that."
He paused a moment, and became very red. Then, in a voice broken by mortification, he said, "I see I have been making a fool of myself," and took his hat and turned to go.
"It does not follow that you should go at once without a word," said Lydia, betraying nervousness for the first time during the interview.
"Oh, that's all rot," said Cashel. "I may be a fool while my eyes are shut, but I'm sensible enough when they're open. I have no business here. I wish to the Lord I had stayed in Australia."
"Perhaps it would have been better," said Lydia, troubled. "But since we have met, it is useless to deplore it; and--Let me remind you of one thing. You have pointed out to me that I have made friends of men whose pursuits are no better than yours. I do not wholly admit that; but there is one respect in which they are on the same footing as you. They are all, as far as worldly gear is concerned, much poorer than I. Many of them, I fear, are much poorer than you are."
Cashel looked up quickly with returning hope; but it lasted only a moment. He shook his head dejectedly.
"I am at least grateful to you," she continued, "because you have sought me for my own sake, knowing nothing of my wealth."
"I should think not," groaned Cashel. "Your wealth may be a very fine thing for the other fellows; and I'm glad you have it, for your own sake. But it's a settler for me. It's knocked me out of time, so it has. I sha'n't come up again; and the sooner the sponge is chucked up in my corner, the better. So good-bye."
"Good-bye," said Lydia, almost as pale as he had now become, "since you will have it so."
"Since the devil will have it so," said Cashel, ruefully. "It's no use wishing to have it any other way. The luck is against me. I hope, Miss Carew, that you'll excuse me for making such an ass of myself. It's all my blessed innocence; I never was taught any better."
"I have no quarrel with you except on the old score of hiding the truth from me; and that I forgive you--as far as the evil of it affects me. As for your declaration of attachment to me personally, I have received many similar ones that have flattered me less. But there are certain scruples between us. You will not court a woman a hundred-fold richer than yourself; and I will not entertain a prize-fighter. My wealth frightens every man who is not a knave; and your profession frightens every woman who is not a fury."
"Then you--Just tell me this," said Cashel, eagerly. "Suppose I were a rich swell, and were not a--"
"No," said Lydia, peremptorily interrupting him. "I will suppose nothing but what is."
Cashel relapsed into melancholy. "If you only hadn't been kind to me!" he said. "I think the reason I love you so much is that you're the only person that is not afraid of me. Other people are civil because they daren't be otherwise to the cock of the ring. It's a lonely thing to be a champion. You knew nothing about that; and you knew I was afraid of you; and yet you were as good as gold."
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