At this moment the screen fell with a crash, and Julia emerged, her eyes blazing, while Miss Crofton followed, her hat somewhat crushed by the falling screen. The three young men in Holy Orders, all of them desirable young men, arose to their feet, trembling visibly.
‘Apostates!’ cried Julia, who had by far the best of the dramatic situation and pressed her advantage. ’Recreants! was it for such as you that I pointed to the crown of martyrdom? Was it for your shattered ideals that I have wept many a night on Serena’s faithful breast?’ She pointed to Miss Crofton, who enfolded her in an embrace. ‘You!’ Julia went on, aiming at them the finger of conviction. ’I am but a woman, weak I may have been, wavering I may have been, but I took you for men! I chose you to dare, perhaps to perish, for a Cause. But now, triflers that you are, boys, mere boys, back with you to your silly games, back to the thoughtless throng. I have done.’
Julia, attended by Miss Crofton, swept from the chamber, under her indignation (which was quite as real as any of her other emotions) the happiest woman in London. She had no more occasion for remorse, no ideals had she sensibly injured. Her entanglements were disentangled. She inhaled the fragrance of orange blossoms from afar, and heard the marriage music in the chapel of the Guards. Meanwhile the three curates and Merton felt as if they had been whipped.
‘Trust a woman to have the best of it,’ muttered Merton admiringly. ’And now, Clancy, may I offer a hasty luncheon to you and your friends before we go to Lord’s? Your business has been rather rapidly despatched.’
The conversation at luncheon turned exclusively on cricket.
It cannot be said that the bearers of the noblest names in the land flocked at first to the offices of Messrs. Gray and Graham. In fact the reverse, in the beginning, was the case. Members even of the more learned professions held aloof: indeed barristers and physicians never became eager clients. On the other hand, Messrs. Gray and Graham received many letters in such handwritings, such grammar, and such orthography, that they burned them without replying. A common sort of case was that of the young farmer whose widowed mother had set her heart on marriage with ‘a bonny labouring boy,’ a ploughman.
‘We can do nothing with these people,’ Merton remarked. ’We can’t send down a young and elegant friend of ours to distract the affections of an elderly female agriculturist. The bonny labouring boy would punch the fashionable head; or, at all events, would prove much more attractive to the widow than our agent.