Edward Layton's Reward

"I could not have believed it!" exclaimed Mrs. Pierce Bradshaw. "I could not have believed it!" she repeated, over and over again; and she fell into a fit of abstraction.

Her husband, who had been glancing wearily over a magazine, turning leaf after leaf without reading, or perhaps seeing even the heading of a page, at length said, "I could!"

"You have large faith, my dear," observed the lady.

"Fortunately for Selina, I had no faith in him," was the reply.

Mrs. Pierce Bradshaw was not an eloquent person; she never troubled her husband or any one else with many words; so she only murmured, in a subdued tone, "Fortunately, indeed!"

"What a fellow he was!" said Mr. P. Bradshaw, as he closed the magazine. "Do you remember how delighted you were with him the evening of the tableaux at Lady Westrophe's? There was something so elegant and dignified in his bearing; so much ease and grace of manner; his address was perfect—the confidence of a well-bred gentleman, subdued almost, but not quite, into softness by the timidity of youth. This was thrown into strong relief by the manners of the young men of the family, whose habits and voices might have entitled them to take the lead, even now, in the go-a-head school, which then was hardly in existence—at all events in England."

"You were quite as much taken with him as I was."

"No, my dear, not quite. Edward Layton was especially suited for the society of ladies. His tastes and feelings are—or were at that time—all sincerely refined; he was full of the impulse of talent, which he never had strength to bring forth: his thoughts were ever wandering, and he needed perpetual excitement, particularly the excitement of beauty and music, to bring them and keep them where he was. He was strongly and strangely moved by excellence of any kind, so that it was excellence; and the only thing I ever heard him express contempt for was wealth!—yes wealth!"

"I could not have believed it," said Mrs. Pierce Bradshaw again.

"That particular night it was whispered he was engaged to Lelia Medwin. When she sung, he stood like a young Apollo at her harp, too entranced to turn over the leaves of music, his eyes overflowing with delight, and the poor little girl so bewitched by his attentions that she fancied every whisper a declaration of love."

"Shameful!" said Mrs. Pierce Bradshaw.

"Then her mother showed every one what a lovely sketch he had made of Lelia's head, adding, that indeed it was too lovely; but then, he was a partial judge."

"She was a silly woman," observed the lady.

"She would not have been considered so if they had been married," replied the gentleman. "Mammas have no mercy on each other in those delicate manœuvrings. Well, he waltzed with her always; and bent over her—willow-fashion; looked with her at the moon; and wrote a sonnet which she took to herself, for it was addressed 'To mine own dear ——;' and then when, about eight weeks afterwards, we met him at the déjeúner at Sally Lodge, he was as entranced with Lizzie Grey's guitar as he had been with Lelia's harp, sketched her little tiger head for her grandmamma, waltzed with her, bent over her willow-fashion, looked with her at the moon, and wrote another sonnet, addressed 'To the loved one.'"

"Such men——" exclaimed Mrs. Pierce Bradshaw. She did not finish the sentence, but looked as if such men ought to be exterminated. And so they ought!

"There was so much about him that I liked: his fine talents, good manners, excellent position in society, added to his good nature, and——"

"Good fortune," added Mrs. Pierce Bradshaw.

"No, Mary," said her husband, quietly, "I never was a mammon worshipper. This occurred, if you remember, before the yellow pestilence had so completely subverted London, that the very aristocracy knelt and worshipped the golden calf; and no blame to the calf to receive the homage, whatever we may say of those who paid it.

"I did not mean that as a reproof, Pierce," replied his wife, most truly. "I think it quite natural to like young men of fortune—we could not get on without them, you know; and it would be very imprudent—very imprudent, indeed—to invite any young man, however excellent. When we want to get these young girls, our poor nieces, off, I declare it is quite melancholy. Jane is becoming serious since she has grown so thin; and I fear the men will think Belle a blue, she has so taken to the British Museum. Oh, how I wish people would live, and bring up, and get off their own daughters! Four marriageable nieces, with such farthing fortunes, are enough to drive any poor aunt distracted!"

This was the longest speech Mrs. Bradshaw ever made in her life, and she sighed deeply at its conclusion.

"You may well sigh!" laughed the gentleman; "for the case seems hopeless. But I was going to say, that as I knew him better, I was really going to take the young gentleman a little to task on the score of his philandering. Lelia was really attached to him, and had refused a very advantageous offer for his sake; but the very next week, at another house, I found him enchained by a sparkling widow—correcting her drawings, paying the homage of intelligent silence and sweet smiles to her wit, leaning his white-gloved hand upon her chair, and looking in her eyes with his most bewitching softness. The extent of this flirtation no one could anticipate; but the sudden appearance of Lady Di' Johnson effected a total change. She drove four-in-hand, and was a dead shot—the very antipodes of sentiment. We said her laugh would drive Edward Layton distracted, and her cigarette be his death. But, no! the magnificence of her tomboyism caught his fancy. He enshrined her at once as Diana, bayed the moon with hunting-songs, wrote a sonnet to the chase, and then, with his own hands, twisted it into a cigarette, with which her ladyship puffed it to the winds of heaven, while wandering with the Lothario amid a grove of fragrant limes. The miracle was, that at breakfast the next morning Lady Di' was subdued, voted driving unfeminine, and asked Edward to take the reins for her after lunch. You remember we left them there; and I next met him at Killarney, giving his chestnut locks to the breeze, his arm to the oar, and his eyes to a lady of blue-stocking celebrity, who, never having had many lovers, was inclined to make the most of the present one. Circumstances rendered me acquainted with some facts relating to his 'flirtations,' if his soft and sentimental ways could be called by such a name. I had seen poor Lelia at Baden-Baden; and I dare say you can recall what we heard of another love of his nearer home. Well, I encountered my Hero of Ladies that very evening, wandering amid the ruined aisles of Mucross Abbey. I saw that his impressible nature had taken a thoughtful, if not a religious tone, from the scene. And he commenced the conversation by declaring, that 'He was a great fool.'"

"Knave, rather," said Mrs. Pierce Bradshaw.

"No," replied her husband; "not a knave, but a singular example of a man whose feelings and susceptibilities never deepen into affection—unstable as water—tossed hither and thither for want of fixed principles, and suffering intensely in his better moods from the knowledge of the weakness he has not the courage to overcome. I was not inclined to let him spare himself, and did not contradict his opinion that he was a 'fool,' but told him he might be what he pleased himself, as long as he did not make fools of others."

"'I tell every woman I know that I am not a marrying man,' he replied.

"'That,' I said, 'does not signify as long as you act the lover, each fair one believing you will revoke in her favor.'

"'I give you my honor,' he exclaimed, 'as a man and a gentleman, I never entertained for twenty-four hours the idea of marrying any woman I ever knew.'"

"The villain!" exclaimed the lady. "I hope, Pierce, you told him he was a villain!"

"No; because I knew the uncertainty of his disposition: but I lectured him fully and honestly, and yet said nothing to him so severe as what he said of himself. I told him he would certainly be caught in the end by some unworthy person, and then he would look back with regret and misery upon the chances he had lost, and the unhappiness he had caused to those whose only faults had been in believing him true when he was false."

"'Better that,' he answered, 'than marrying when he could not make up his mind.'

"'Then why play the lover?'

"'He only did so while infatuated—he was certain to find faults where he imagined perfection.'"

"What assurance!" said Mrs. Pierce Bradshaw.

"'I am sure,' I said, 'Lelia was very charming. Lelia Medwin was an excellent, amiable little creature, with both good temper and good sense.'

"'That was it,' he said: 'only fancy the six-foot-one-and-three-quarters wedded to bare five feet! The absurdity struck me one night as we were waltzing and whirling past a looking-glass; I was obliged to bend double, though I never felt it till I saw it.'"

"Really, I have not patience," observed Mrs. Bradshaw. "And so her feelings were to be trampled upon because she was not tall enough to please him! Why did he not think of that before?"

"'But there was Lizzy Grey, related to half the aristocracy, with a voice like an angel.'

"'A vixen,' he said, 'though of exquisite beauty—could have torn my eyes out for the little attention I paid Mrs. Green.'

"'Little attention!' I repeated; 'more than little.'

"'Her wit was delicious,' he replied; 'but she was a widow! Only fancy the horror of being compared with 'My dear first husband!'

"'Then your conquest of Lady Di' Johnson! How badly you behaved to her!'

"'She was magnificent on horseback; and her cigarette as fascinating as the fan of a Madrid belle, or the tournure of a Parisian lady. They were her two points. But when she relinquished both, I believe in compliment to me, she became even more commonplace than the most commonplace woman.'"

"The puppy!" muttered the lady: "the dreadful puppy! I could not have believed it!"

Mr. Bradshaw did not heed the interruption, but continued:

"'And who,' I inquired, 'was the Lady of the Lake? I do not mean of this lake, for I see her reign is already over—your passion expired with the third chapter of her novel, which I know she read to you by moonlight—but the fair Lady of Geneva, whose betrothed called you out?'

"'Her father was a sugar-boiler,' was the quiet reply: 'a sugar-boiler, or something of the kind. What would my aristocratic mother say to that? Of course I could have had no serious intention there. Indeed I never had a serious intention for a whole week.'

"'But, my dear fellow, when presents are given, and letters written, and locks of hair and vows exchanged——'

"'No, no!' he exclaimed; 'no vows exchanged! I never broke my word to a woman yet. It was admiration for this or that—respect, esteem, perhaps a tender bewilderment—mere brotherly love. And in that particular instance her intended got angry at my civility. I know I was wrong; and, to confess the truth, I am ashamed of that transaction—it taught me a lesson; and, but for the confounded vacillation of my taste and temper, I might perhaps have been a Benedick before this. You may think it puppyism, if you please; but I am really sorry when I make an impression, and resolve never to attempt it again: but the next fine voice, or fine eyes——'

"'Or cigarette,' I suggested; and then I said as much as one man can say to another, for you know a woman can say much more to a man in the way of reproof than he would bear from his own sex; but he silenced me very quickly by regrets and good resolutions. It was after that our little niece, Selina, made an impression upon him."

"I did not know all you have now told me," expostulated his wife. "I own I thought it would have been a good match for Selina; and he was evidently deeply smitten before he knew she was your niece. I managed it beautifully; but you cut the matter short by offending him."

"There, say no more about it," said the sensible husband; "you thought your blue-eyed, fair-haired, doll-like favorite, could have enchained a man who had escaped heart-whole from the toils of the richest and rarest in the land. It really is fearful to see how women not only tolerate, but pursue this sort of men. You call them 'villains,' and I know not what, when you are foiled; but if you succeed, you temper it; they have been a little wild, to be sure—but then, and then, and then—you really could not refuse your daughter; and add, "Men are such creatures that if the world knew but all, he is not worse than others."

"For shame, Pierce! how can you?" said the lady.

"I told him then," continued Mr. Bradshaw, "that he would take 'the crooked stick at last;' but that he should not add a tress of Selina's hair to his collection, to be turned over by his wife one of those days. Of course he was very indignant, and we parted; but I did not think my prophecy would come true so soon. I have long since given up speculating how marriages will turn out, for it is quite impossible to tell. If women could be shut up in a harem, as in the East, a man who was ashamed of his wife might go into society without her; but for a refined and well-educated gentleman, as Edward Layton certainly is, to be united to the widow of a sugar-boiler!—yes, absolutely!—who is an inch shorter than pretty Lelia and more tiger-headed than Lizzy Grey, and who declares she hates music, although her dear first husband took her hoften to the Hopera—who adds deformity to shortness, talks loudly of the hinfluence of wealth, and compares the presentations at the Mansion House, that she has seen, to those at St. James's which she has not yet seen! Verily, Edward Layton has had his reward!"