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- Cashel Byron's Profession - 40/49 -
than--What's the matter? Where are you going to?"
Lydia had put on her hat, and was swiftly wrapping herself in a shawl. Wreaths of rosy color were chasing each other through her cheeks; and her eyes and nostrils, usually so tranquil, were dilated.
"Won't you speak to me?" he said, irresolutely.
"Just this," she replied, with passion. "Let me never see you again. The very foundations of my life are loosened: I have told a lie. I have made my servant--an honorable man--an accomplice in a lie. We are worse than you; for even your wild-beast's handiwork is a less evil than the bringing of a falsehood into the world. This is what has come to me out of our acquaintance. I have given you a hiding-place. Keep it. I will never enter it again."
Cashel, appalled, shrank back with an expression such as a child wears when, in trying to steal sweet-meats from a high shelf, it pulls the whole cupboard down about its ears. He neither spoke nor stirred as she left the lodge.
Finding herself presently at the castle, she went to her boudoir, where she found her maid, the French lady, from whose indignant description of the proceedings below she gathered that the policemen were being regaled with bread and cheese, and beer; and that the attendance of a surgeon had been dispensed with, Paradise's wounds having been dressed skilfully by Mellish. Lydia bade her send Bashville to the Warren Lodge to see that there were no strangers loitering about it, and ordered that none of the female servants should return there until he came back. Then she sat down and tried not to think. But she could not help thinking; so she submitted and tried to think the late catastrophe out. An idea that she had disjointed the whole framework of things by creating a false belief filled her imagination. The one conviction that she had brought out of her reading, observing, reflecting, and living was that the concealment of a truth, with its resultant false beliefs, must produce mischief, even though the beginning of that mischief might be as inconceivable as the end. She made no distinction between the subtlest philosophical misconception and the vulgarest lie. The evil of Cashel's capture was measurable, the evil of a lie beyond all measure. She felt none the less assured of that evil because she could not foresee one bad consequence likely to ensue from what she had done. Her misgivings pressed heavily upon her; for her father, a determined sceptic, had taught her his own views, and she was, therefore, destitute of the consolations which religion has for the wrongdoer. It was plainly her duty to send for the policeman and clear up the deception she had practised on him. But this she could not do. Her will, in spite of her reason, acted in the opposite direction. And in this paralysis of her moral power she saw the evil of the lie beginning. She had given it birth, and nature would not permit her to strangle the monster.
At last her maid returned and informed her that the canaille had gone away. When she was again alone, she rose and walked slowly to and fro through the room, forgetting the lapse of time in the restless activity of her mind, until she was again interrupted, this time by Bashville.
He was daunted by her tone; for he had never before heard her speak haughtily to a servant. He did not understand that he had changed subjectively, and was now her accomplice.
"He's given himself up."
"What do you mean?" she said, with sudden dismay.
"Byron, madam. I brought some clothes to the lodge for him, but when I got there he was gone. I went round to the gates in search of him, and found him in the hands of the police. They told me he'd just given himself up. He wouldn't give any account of himself; and he looked--well, sullen and beaten down like."
"What will they do with him?" she asked, turning quite pale.
"A man got six weeks' hard labor, last month, for the same offence. Most probably that's what he'll get. And very little for what's he's done, as you'd say if you saw him doing it, madam."
"Then," said Lydia, sternly, "it was to see this"--she shrank from naming it--"this fight, that you asked my permission to go out!"
"Yes, madam, it was," said Bashville, with some bitterness. "I recognized Lord Worthington and plenty more noblemen and gentlemen there."
Lydia was about to reply sharply; but she checked herself; and her usual tranquil manner came back as she said, "That is no reason why you should have been there."
Bashville's color began to waver, and his voice to need increased control. "It's in human nature to go to such a thing once," he said; "but once is enough, at least for me. You'll excuse my mentioning it, madam; but what with Lord Worthington and the rest of Byron's backers screaming oaths and abuse at the other man, and the opposite party doing the same to Byron--well, I may not be a gentleman; but I hope I can conduct myself like a man, even when I'm losing money."
"Then do not go to such an exhibition again, Bashville. I must not dictate to you what your amusements shall be; but I do not think you are likely to benefit yourself by copying Lord Worthington's tastes."
"I copy no lord's tastes," said Bashville, reddening. "You hid the man that was fighting, Miss Carew. Why do you look down on the man that was only a bystander?"
Lydia's color rose, too. Her first impulse was to treat this outburst as rebellion against her authority, and crush it. But her sense of justice withheld her.
"Would you have had me betray a fugitive who took refuge in my house, Bashville? YOU did not betray him."
"No," said Bashville, his expression subdued to one of rueful pride. "When I am beaten by a better man, I have courage enough to get out of his way and take no mean advantage of him."
Lydia, not understanding, looked inquiringly at him. He made a gesture as if throwing something from him, and continued recklessly,
"But one way I'm as good as he, and better. A footman is held more respectable than a prize-fighter. He's told you that he's in love with you; and if it is to be my last word, I'll tell you that the ribbon round your neck is more to me than your whole body and soul is to him or his like. When he took an unfair advantage of me, and pretended to be a gentleman, I told Mr. Lucian of him, and showed him up for what he was. But when I found him to-day hiding in the pantry at the Lodge, I took no advantage of him, though I knew well that if he'd been no more to you than any other man of his sort, you'd never have hid him. You know best why he gave himself up to the police after your seeing his day's work. But I will leave him to his luck. He is the best man: let the best man win. I am sorry," added Bashville, recovering his ordinary suave manner with an effort, "to inconvenience you by a short notice, but I should take it as a particular favor if I might go this evening."
"You had better," said Lydia, rising quite calmly, and keeping resolutely away from her the strange emotional result of being astonished, outraged, and loved at one unlooked-for stroke. "It is not advisable that you should stay after what you have just--"
"I knew that when I said it," interposed Bashville hastily and doggedly.
"In going away you will be taking precisely the course that would be adopted by any gentleman who had spoken to the same effect. I am not offended by your declaration: I recognize your right to make it. If you need my testimony to further your future arrangements, I shall be happy to say that I believe you to be a man of honor."
Bashville bowed, and said in a low voice, very nervously, that he had no intention of going into service again, but that he should always be proud of her good opinion.
"You are fitted for better things," she said. "If you embark in any enterprise requiring larger means than you possess, I will be your security. I thank you for your invariable courtesy to me in the discharge of your duties. Good-bye."
She bowed to him and left the room. Bashville, awestruck, returned her salutation as best he could, and stood motionless after she disappeared; his mind advancing on tiptoe to grasp what had just passed. His chief sensation was one of relief. He no longer dared to fancy himself in love with such a woman. Her sudden consideration for him as a suitor overwhelmed him with a sense of his unfitness for such a part. He saw himself as a very young, very humble, and very ignorant man, whose head had been turned by a pleasant place and a kind mistress. Wakened from his dream, he stole away to pack his trunk, and to consider how best to account to his fellow-servants for his departure.
Lydia resumed her work next day with shaken nerves and a longing for society. Many enthusiastic young ladies of her acquaintance would have brought her kisses and devotion by the next mail in response to a telegram; and many more practical people would have taken considerable pains to make themselves agreeable to her for the sake of spending the autumn at Wiltstoken Castle. But she knew that they would only cause her to regret her former solitude. She shrank from the people who attached themselves to her strength and riches even when they had not calculated her gain, and were conscious only of admiration and gratitude. Alice, as a companion, had proved a failure. She was too young, and too much occupied with the propriety of her own behavior, to be anything more to Lydia than an occasional tax upon her patience. Lydia, to her own surprise, thought several times of Miss Gisborne, and felt tempted to invite her, but was restrained by mistrust of the impulse to communicate with Cashel's
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