Arrived in London, I left my travelling companion, the Rev. Ambrose Peterborough, sipping his Port at the hotel, and rushed down to Dipwell, shot a pebble at Mabel’s window by morning twilight, and soon had her face at the casement. But it was a cloudy and rainbeaten face. She pointed toward the farm, saying that my father was there.
‘Has he grieved you, Mabel?’ I asked softly.
’Oh, no, not he! he wouldn’t, he couldn’t; he talked right. Oh, go, go: for I haven’t a foot to move. And don’t speak so soft; I can’t bear kindness.’
My father in admonishing her had done it tenderly, I was sure. Tenderness was the weapon which had wounded her, and so she shrank from it; and if I had reproached and abused her she might, perhaps, have obeyed me by coming out, not to return. She was deaf. I kissed my hand to her regretfully; a condition of spirit gradually dissolved by the haunting phantom of her forehead and mouth crumpling up for fresh floods of tears. Had she concealed that vision with her handkerchief, I might have waited to see her before I saw my father. He soon changed the set of the current.
‘Our little Mabel here,’ he said, ’is an inflammable puss, I fear. By the way, talking of girls, I have a surprise for you. Remind me of it when we touch Ostend. We may want a yacht there to entertain high company. I have set inquiries afloat for the hire of a schooner. This child Mabel can read and write, I suppose? Best write no letters, boy. Do not make old Dipwell a thorny bed. I have a portrait to show you, Richie. A portrait! I think you will say the original was worthy of more than to be taken up and thrown away like a weed. You see, Richie, girls have only one chance in the world, and good God! to ruin that—no, no. You shall see this portrait. A pretty little cow-like Mabel, I grant you. But to have her on the conscience! What a coronet to wear! My young Lord Destrier—you will remember him as one of our guests here; I brought him to make your acquaintance; well, he would not be scrupulous, it is possible. Ay, but compare yourself with him, Richie! and you and I, let us love one another and have no nettles.’
He flourished me away to London, into new spheres of fancy. He was irresistible.
In a London Club I was led up to the miniature of a youthful woman, singular for her endearing beauty Her cheeks were merry red, her lips lively with the spark of laughter, her eyes in good union with them, showing you the laughter was gentle; eyes of overflowing blue light.
‘Who is she?’ I asked.
The old-fashioned building of the powdered hair counselled me to add, ‘Who was she?’
Captain DeWitt, though a member of the Club, seemed unable to inform me. His glance consulted my father. He hummed and drawled, and said: ‘Mistress Anastasia Dewsbury; that was her name.’
‘She does not look a grandmother,’ said my father.