The house at first disappoints one, being straight and simple to the last degree. ("D——n me,” says he, “what can you look for, in ten months?”) It is of two storeys, the windows of the upper storey loftier by one-third than those beneath; and has for sole ornament a balustraded parapet broken midway by an Ionic portico of twelve columns, with a loggia deeply recessed above its entrance door. To this portico a flight of sixteen steps conducts you from the uppermost terrace.
Such is Vyell’s new pleasance of Eagles, Boston’s latest wonder. I have described it at this length because you profess to take more interest in houses than in women; and also, to tell the truth, be cause I am shy of describing Lady V. To call her roundly the loveliest creature I have ever set eyes on, or am like to, is (you will say) no description, though it may argue me in love with her.
On my honour, no! or only as all others are in love—all the men, I mean, and even some pro portion of the womankind. The rest agree to call her “Lady Good-for-Nothing,” upon a double rumour, of which one half is sad truth, and the other (my life on it) false as hell.
They have heard that when Vyell found her she was a serving-girl, undergoing punishment (a whipping, to be precise) for some trumpery offence against the Sabbath. Yes, my dear sir, this is true; as it is true also that Vyell, like a knight-errant of old, offered to share her punishment, and did indeed share it to the extent of sitting in the stocks beside her. You’d have thought an honest mind might find food for compassion in this, and even an excuse to believe the better of human nature; but it merely scandalises these Puritan tabbies. They fear Vyell for his wealth and title; and he, despising them, forces them to visit her.
Now for the falsehood. The clergyman who read the marriage ceremony for V. somewhere in the backwoods (this, too, was his whim, and they have to be content with it) is a low-bred trencher-chaplain, by name Silk. He should have been unfrocked the next week, not for performing a function apostolically derived, but for spreading a report—I wait to fasten it on him—that before marriage she was no better than she should be. I have earned better right than any other man to know Vyell, and I know it to be calumny. But the wind blows, and the name “Lady Good-for-Nothing” is a by-breath of it.
Vyell guesses nothing of this. He has a masculine judgment and no small degree of wit—though ’tis of a hard intellectual kind; but through misprising his fellow creatures he has come to lack flair. His lady, if she scent a taint on the wind wafted through her routs and assemblies, no doubt sets it down to breathings upon her humble origin, or (it may be) even to some leaking gossip of her foregone wrong. (Women, my dear sir, are brutes to rend a wounded one of the herd.) She can know nothing of the worse slander.