The very fact that Mr. Pomeroy had seen the chance and gauged the possibilities, gave them a more solid aspect and a greater reality in the tutor’s mind. Each moment that passed left him less willing to resign pretensions which were no longer the shadowy creatures of the brain, but had acquired the aspect of solid claims—claims made his by skill and exertion.
But if he defied Mr. Pomeroy, how would he stand? The girl’s position in this solitary house, apart from her friends, was half the battle; in a sneaking way, though he shrank from facing the fact, he knew that she was at their mercy; as much at their mercy as if they had planned the abduction from the first. Without Mr. Pomeroy, therefore, the master of the house and the strongest spirit of the three—
He got no farther, for at this point Lord Almeric repeated his question; and the tutor, meeting Pomeroy’s bullying eye, found it necessary to say something. ‘Certainly,’ he stammered at a venture, ’we can all try, my lord. Why not?’
‘Ay, why not?’ said Lord Almeric. ‘Why not try?’
‘Try? But how are you going to try?’ Mr. Pomeroy responded with a jeering laugh. ‘I tell you, we cannot all marry the girl.’
Lord Almeric burst in a sudden fit of chuckling. ’I vow and protest I have it!’ he cried. ’We’ll play for her! Don’t you see, Pom? We’ll cut for her! Ha! Ha! That is surprising clever of me; don’t you think? We’ll play for her!’
CUTTING FOR THE QUEEN
It was a suggestion so purely in the spirit of a day when men betted on every contingency, public or private, decorous or the reverse, from the fecundity of a sister to the longevity of a sire, that it sounded less indecent in the cars of Lord Almeric’s companions than it does in ours. Mr. Thomasson indeed, who was only so far a gamester as every man who had pretensions to be a gentleman was one at that time, and who had seldom, since the days of Lady Harrington’s faro bank, staked more than he could afford, hesitated and looked dubious. But Mr. Pomeroy, a reckless and hardened gambler, gave a boisterous assent, and in the face of that the tutor’s objections went for nothing. In a trice, all the cards and half the glasses were swept pell mell to the floor, a new pack was torn open, the candles were snuffed, and Mr. Pomeroy, smacking him on the back, was bidding him draw up.
‘Sit down, man! Sit down!’ cried that gentleman, who had regained his jovial humour as quickly as he had lost it, and whom the prospect of the stake appeared to intoxicate. ’May I burn if I ever played for a girl before! Hang it! man, look cheerful, We’ll toast her first—and a daintier bit never swam in a bowl—and play for her afterwards! Come, no heel-taps, my lord. Drink her! Drink her! Here’s to the Mistress of Bastwick!’
‘Lady Almeric Doyley!’ my lord cried, rising, and bowing with his hand to his heart, while he ogled the door through which she had disappeared. ‘I drink you! Here’s to your pretty face, my dear!’