The Case of General Opel
by George Meredith
THE CASE OF GENERAL OPLE AND LADY CAMPER
An excursion beyond the immediate suburbs of London, projected long
before his pony-carriage was hired to conduct him, in fact ever since
his retirement from active service, led General Ople across a famous
common, with which he fell in love at once, to a lofty highway along
the borders of a park, for which he promptly exchanged his heart, and
so gradually within a stone's-throw or so of the river-side, where he
determined not solely to bestow his affections but to settle for life.
It may be seen that he was of an adventurous temperament, though he
had thought fit to loosen his sword-belt. The pony-carriage, however,
had been hired for the very special purpose of helping him to pass in
review the lines of what he called country houses, cottages, or even
sites for building, not too remote from sweet London: and as when
Coelebs goes forth intending to pursue and obtain, there is no doubt
of his bringing home a wife, the circumstance that there stood a house
to let, in an airy situation, at a certain distance in hail of the
metropolis he worshipped, was enough to kindle the General's
enthusiasm. He would have taken the first he saw, had it not been for
his daughter, who accompanied him, and at the age of eighteen was
about to undertake the management of his house. Fortune, under
Elizabeth Ople's guiding restraint, directed him to an epitome of the
comforts. The place he fell upon is only to be described in the
tongue of auctioneers, and for the first week after taking it he
modestly followed them by terming it bijou. In time, when his own
imagination, instigated by a state of something more than mere
contentment, had been at work on it, he chose the happy phrase, 'a
gentlemanly residence.' For it was, he declared, a small estate.
There was a lodge to it, resembling two sentry-boxes forced into
union, where in one half an old couple sat bent, in the other half lay
compressed; there was a backdrive to discoverable stables; there was a
bit of grass that would have appeared a meadow if magnified; and there
was a wall round the kitchen-garden and a strip of wood round the
flower-garden. The prying of the outside world was impossible.
Comfort, fortification; and gentlemanliness made the place, as the
General said, an ideal English home.
The compass of the estate was half an acre, and perhaps a perch or
two, just the size for the hugging love General Ople was happiest in
giving. He wisely decided to retain the old couple at the lodge, whose
members were used to restriction, and also not to purchase a cow, that
would have wanted pasture. With the old man, while the old woman
attended to the bell at the handsome front entrance with its
gilt-spiked gates, he undertook to do the gardening; a business he
delighted in, so long as he could perform it in a gentlemanly manner,
that is to say, so long as he was not overlooked. He was perfectly
concealed from the road. Only one house, and curiously indeed, only
one window of the house, and further to show the protection extended
to Douro Lodge, that window an attic, overlooked him. And the house
The house (for who can hope, and who should desire a commodious
house, with conservatories, aviaries, pond and boat-shed, and other
joys of wealth, to remain unoccupied) was taken two seasons later by a
lady, of whom Fame, rolling like a dust-cloud from the place she had
left, reported that she was eccentric. The word is uninstructive: it
does not frighten. In a lady of a certain age, it is rather a
characteristic of aristocracy in retirement. And at least it implies
General Ople was very anxious to see her. He had the sentiment of
humble respectfulness toward aristocracy, and there was that in riches
which aroused his admiration. London, for instance, he was not afraid
to say he thought the wonder of the world. He remarked, in addition,
that the sacking of London would suffice to make every common soldier
of the foreign army of occupation an independent gentleman for the
term of his natural days. But this is a nightmare! said he, startling
himself with an abhorrent dream of envy of those enriched invading
officers: for Booty is the one lovely thing which the military mind
can contemplate in the abstract. His habit was to go off in an
explosion of heavy sighs when he had delivered himself so far, like a
man at war with himself.
The lady arrived in time: she received the cards of the
neighbourhood, and signalized her eccentricity by paying no attention
to them, excepting the card of a Mrs. Baerens, who had audience of her
at once. By express arrangement, the card of General Wilson Ople, as
her nearest neighbour, followed the card of the rector, the social
head of the district; and the rector was granted an interview, but
Lady Camper was not at home to General Ople. She is of superior
station to me, and may not wish to associate with me, the General
modestly said. Nevertheless he was wounded: for in spite of himself,
and without the slightest wish to obtrude his own person, as he
explained the meaning that he had in him, his rank in the British army
forced him to be the representative of it, in the absence of any one
of a superior rank. So that he was professionally hurt, and his heart
being in his profession, it may be honestly stated that he was wounded
in his feelings, though he said no, and insisted on the distinction.
Once a day his walk for constitutional exercise compelled him to pass
before Lady Camper's windows, which were not bashfully withdrawn, as
he said humorously of Douro Lodge, in the seclusion of half-pay, but
bowed out imperiously, militarily, like a generalissimo on horseback,
and had full command of the road and levels up to the swelling
park-foliage. He went by at a smart stride, with a delicate
depression of his upright bearing, as though hastening to greet a
friend in view, whose hand was getting ready for the shake. This much
would have been observed by a housemaid; and considering his fine
figure and the peculiar shining silveriness of his hair, the
acceleration of his gait was noticeable. When he drove by, the pony's
right ear was flicked, to the extreme indignation of a mettlesome
little animal. It ensued in consequence that the General was borne
flying under the eyes of Lady Camper, and such pace displeasing him,
he reduced it invariably at a step or two beyond the corner of her
But neither he nor his daughter Elizabeth attached importance to so
trivial a circumstance. The General punctiliously avoided glancing at
the windows during the passage past them, whether in his wild career
or on foot. Elizabeth took a side-shot, as one looks at a wayside
tree. Their speech concerning Lady Camper was an exchange of
commonplaces over her loneliness: and this condition of hers was the
more perplexing to General Ople on his hearing from his daughter that
the lady was very fine-looking, and not so very old, as he had fancied
eccentric ladies must be. The rector's account of her, too, excited
the mind. She had informed him bluntly, that she now and then went to
church to save appearances, but was not a church-goer, finding it
impossible to support the length of the service; might, however, be
reckoned in subscriptions for all the charities, and left her pew open
to poor people, and none but the poor. She had travelled over Europe,
and knew the East. Sketches in watercolours of the scenes she had
visited adorned her walls, and a pair of pistols, that she had found
useful, she affirmed, lay on the writing- desk in her drawing-room.
General Ople gathered from the rector that she had a great contempt
for men: yet it was curiously varied with lamentations over the
weakness of women. 'Really she cannot possibly be an example of
that,' said the General, thinking of the pistols.
Now, we learn from those who have studied women on the chess-board,
and know what ebony or ivory will do along particular lines, or
hopping, that men much talked about will take possession of their
thoughts; and certainly the fact may be accepted for one of their
moves. But the whole fabric of our knowledge of them, which we are
taught to build on this originally acute perception, is shattered when
we hear, that it is exactly the same, in the same degree, in
proportion to the amount of work they have to do, exactly the same
with men and their thoughts in the case of women much talked about.
So it was with General Ople, and nothing is left for me to say
except, that there is broader ground than the chessboard. I am
earnest in protesting the similarity of the singular couples on common
earth, because otherwise the General is in peril of the accusation
that he is a feminine character; and not simply was he a gallant
officer, and a veteran in gunpowder strife, he was also (and it is an
extraordinary thing that a genuine humility did not prevent it, and
did survive it) a lord and conqueror of the sex. He had done his
pretty bit of mischief, all in the way of honour, of course, but
hearts had knocked. And now, with his bright white hair, his
close-brushed white whiskers on a face burnt brown, his clear-cut
features, and a winning droop of his eyelids, there was powder in him
still, if not shot.
There was a lamentable susceptibility to ladies' charms. On the
other hand, for the protection of the sex, a remainder of shyness kept
him from active enterprise and in the state of suffering, so long as
indications of encouragement were wanting. He had killed the soft
ones, who came to him, attracted by the softness in him, to be killed:
but clever women alarmed and paralyzed him. Their aptness to question
and require immediate sparkling answers; their demand for fresh wit,
of a kind that is not furnished by publications which strike it into
heads with a hammer, and supply it wholesale; their various reading;
their power of ridicule too; made them awful in his contemplation.
Supposing (for the inflammable officer was now thinking, and deeply
thinking, of a clever woman), supposing that Lady Camper's pistols
were needed in her defence one night: at the first report proclaiming
her extremity, valour might gain an introduction to her upon easy
terms, and would not be expected to be witty. She would, perhaps,
after the excitement, admit his masculine superiority, in the
beautiful old fashion, by fainting in his arms. Such was the reverie
he passingly indulged, and only so could he venture to hope for an
acquaintance with the formidable lady who was his next neighbour. But
the proud society of the burglarious denied him opportunity.
Meanwhile, he learnt that Lady Camper had a nephew, and the young
gentleman was in a cavalry regiment. General Ople met him outside his
gates, received and returned a polite salute, liked his appearance and
manners and talked of him to Elizabeth, asking her if by chance she
had seen him. She replied that she believed she had, and praised his
horsemanship. The General discovered that he was an excellent
sculler. His daughter was rowing him up the river when the young
gentleman shot by, with a splendid stroke, in an outrigger, backed,
and floating alongside presumed to enter into conversation, during
which he managed to express regrets at his aunt's turn for
solitariness. As they belonged to sister branches of the same
Service, the General and Mr. Reginald Roller had a theme in common,
and a passion. Elizabeth told her father that nothing afforded her so
much pleasure as to hear him talk with Mr. Roller on military matters.
General Ople assured her that it pleased him likewise. He began to
spy about for Mr. Roller, and it sometimes occurred that they
conversed across the wall; it could hardly be avoided. A hint or two,
an undefinable flying allusion, gave the General to understand that
Lady Camper had not been happy in her marriage. He was pained to
think of her misfortune; but as she was not over forty, the disaster
was, perhaps, not irremediable; that is to say, if she could be taught
to extend her forgiveness to men, and abandon her solitude. 'If,' he
said to his daughter, 'Lady Camper should by any chance be induced to
contract a second alliance, she would, one might expect, be humanized,
and we should have highly agreeable neighbours.' Elizabeth artlessly
hoped for such an event to take place.
She rarely differed with her father, up to whom, taking example
from the world around him, she looked as the pattern of a man of wise
And he was one; and though modest, he was in good humour with
himself, approved himself, and could say, that without boasting of
success, he was a satisfied man, until he met his touchstone in Lady
This is the pathetic matter of my story, and it requires pointing
out, because he never could explain what it was that seemed to him so
cruel in it, for he was no brilliant son of fortune, he was no great
pretender, none of those who are logically displaced from the heights
they have been raised to, manifestly created to show the moral in
Providence. He was modest, retiring, humbly contented; a gentlemanly
residence appeased his ambition. Popular, he could own that he was,
but not meteorically; rather by reason of his willingness to receive
light than his desire to shed it. Why, then, was the terrible test
brought to bear upon him, of all men? He was one of us; no worse, and
not strikingly or perilously better; and he could not but feel, in the
bitterness of his reflections upon an inexplicable destiny, that the
punishment befalling him, unmerited as it was, looked like absence of
Design in the scheme of things, Above. It looked as if the blow had
been dealt him by reckless chance. And to believe that, was for the
mind of General Ople the having to return to his alphabet and
recommence the ascent of the laborious mountain of understanding.
To proceed, the General's introduction to Lady Camper was owing to
a message she sent him by her gardener, with a request that he would
cut down a branch of a wychelm, obscuring her view across his grounds
toward the river. The General consulted with his daughter, and came
to the conclusion, that as he could hardly despatch a written reply to
a verbal message, yet greatly wished to subscribe to the wishes of
Lady Camper, the best thing for him to do was to apply for an
interview. He sent word that he would wait on Lady Camper
immediately, and betook himself forthwith to his toilette. She was
the niece of an earl.
Elizabeth commended his appearance, 'passed him,' as he would have
said; and well she might, for his hat, surtout, trousers and boots,
were worthy of an introduction to Royalty. A touch of scarlet silk
round the neck gave him bloom, and better than that, the blooming
consciousness of it.
'You are not to be nervous, papa,' Elizabeth said.
'Not at all,' replied the General. 'I say, not at all, my dear,'
he repeated, and so betrayed that he had fallen into the nervous mood.
'I was saying, I have known worse mornings than this.' He turned to
her and smiled brightly, nodded, and set his face to meet the future.
He was absent an hour and a half.
He came back with his radiance a little subdued, by no means
eclipsed; as, when experience has afforded us matter for thought, we
cease to shine dazzlingly, yet are not clouded; the rays have merely
grown serener. The sum of his impressions was conveyed in the
reflective utterance—'It only shows, my dear, how different the
reality is from our anticipation of it!'
Lady Camper had been charming; full of condescension, neighbourly,
friendly, willing to be satisfied with the sacrifice of the smallest
branch of the wych-elm, and only requiring that much for complimentary
Elizabeth wished to hear what they were, and she thought the
request rather singular; but the General begged her to bear in mind,
that they were dealing with a very extraordinary woman; 'highly
accomplished, really exceedingly handsome,' he said to himself, aloud.
The reasons were, her liking for air and view, and desire to see
into her neighbour's grounds without having to mount to the attic.
Elizabeth gave a slight exclamation, and blushed.
'So, my dear, we are objects of interest to her ladyship,' said the
He assured her that Lady Camper's manners were delightful. Strange
to tell, she knew a great deal of his antecedent history, things he
had not supposed were known; 'little matters,' he remarked, by which
his daughter faintly conceived a reference to the conquests of his
dashing days. Lady Camper had deigned to impart some of her own,
incidentally; that she was of Welsh blood, and born among the
mountains. 'She has a romantic look,' was the General's comment; and
that her husband had been an insatiable traveller before he became an
invalid, and had never cared for Art. 'Quite an extraordinary
circumstance, with such a wife!' the General said.
He fell upon the wych-elm with his own hands, under cover of the
leafage, and the next day he paid his respects to Lady Camper, to
inquire if her ladyship saw any further obstruction to the view.
'None,' she replied. 'And now we shall see what the two birds will
Apparently, then, she entertained an animosity to a pair of birds
in the tree.
'Yes, yes; I say they chirp early in the morning,' said General
'At all hours.'
'The song of birds . . . ?' he pleaded softly for nature.
'If the nest is provided for them; but I don't like vagabond
The General perfectly acquiesced. This, in an engagement with a
clever woman, is what you should do, or else you are likely to find
yourself planted unawares in a high wind, your hat blown off, and your
coat-tails anywhere; in other words, you will stand ridiculous in your
bewilderment; and General Ople ever footed with the utmost caution to
avoid that quagmire of the ridiculous. The extremer quags he had
hitherto escaped; the smaller, into which he fell in his agile
evasions of the big, he had hitherto been blest in finding none to
He requested her ladyship's permission to present his daughter.
Lady Camper sent in her card.
Elizabeth Ople beheld a tall, handsomely-mannered lady, with good
features and penetrating dark eyes, an easy carriage of her person and
an agreeable voice, but (the vision of her age flashed out under the
compelling eyes of youth) fifty if a day. The rich colouring
confessed to it. But she was very pleasing, and Elizabeth's
perception dwelt on it only because her father's manly chivalry had
defended the lady against one year more than forty.
The richness of the colouring, Elizabeth feared, was artificial,
and it caused her ingenuous young blood a shudder. For we are so
devoted to nature when the dame is flattering us with her gifts, that
we loathe the substitute omitting to think how much less it is an
imposition than a form of practical adoration of the genuine.
Our young detective, however, concealed her emotion of childish
Lady Camper remarked of her, 'She seems honest, and that is the
most we can hope of girls.'
'She is a jewel for an honest man,' the General sighed, 'some day!'
'Let us hope it will be a distant day.'
'Yet,' said the General, 'girls expect to marry.'
Lady Camper fixed her black eyes on him, but did not speak.
He told Elizabeth that her ladyship's eyes were exceedingly
searching: 'Only,' said he, 'as I have nothing to hide, I am able to
submit to inspection'; and he laughed slightly up to an arresting
cough, and made the mantelpiece ornaments pass muster.
General Ople was the hero to champion a lady whose airs of
haughtiness caused her to be somewhat backbitten. He assured
everybody, that Lady Camper was much misunderstood; she was a most
remarkable woman; she was a most affable and highly intelligent lady.
Building up her attributes on a splendid climax, he declared she was
pious, charitable, witty, and really an extraordinary artist. He laid
particular stress on her artistic qualities, describing her power with
the brush, her water-colour sketches, and also some immensely clever
caricatures. As he talked of no one else, his friends heard enough of
Lady Camper, who was anything but a favourite. The Pollingtons, the
Wilders, the Wardens, the Baerens, the Goslings, and others of his
acquaintance, talked of Lady Camper and General Ople rather
maliciously. They were all City people, and they admired the General,
but mourned that he should so abjectly have fallen at the feet of a
lady as red with rouge as a railway bill. His not seeing it showed
the state he was in. The sister of Mrs. Pollington, an amiable widow,
relict of a large City warehouse, named Barcop, was chilled by a
falling off in his attentions. His apology for not appearing at
garden parties was, that he was engaged to wait on Lady Camper.
And at one time, her not condescending to exchange visits with the
obsequious General was a topic fertile in irony. But she did
condescend. Lady Camper came to his gate unexpectedly, rang the bell,
and was let in like an ordinary visitor. It happened that the General
was gardening— not the pretty occupation of pruning—he was
digging—and of necessity his coat was off, and he was hot, dusty,
unpresentable. From adoring earth as the mother of roses, you may
pass into a lady's presence without purification; you cannot (or so
the General thought) when you are caught in the act of adoring the
mother of cabbages. And though he himself loved the cabbage equally
with the rose, in his heart respected the vegetable yet more than he
esteemed the flower, for he gloried in his kitchen garden, this was
not a secret for the world to know, and he almost heeled over on his
beam ends when word was brought of the extreme honour Lady Camper had
done him. He worked his arms hurriedly into his fatigue jacket,
trusting to get away to the house and spend a couple of minutes on his
adornment; and with any other visitor it might have been accomplished,
but Lady Camper disliked sitting alone in a room. She was on the
square of lawn as the General stole along the walk. Had she kept her
back to him, he might have rounded her like the shadow of a dial,
undetected. She was frightfully acute of hearing. She turned while
he was in the agony of hesitation, in a queer attitude, one leg on the
march, projected by a frenzied tip-toe of the hinder leg, the very
fatallest moment she could possibly have selected for unveiling him.
Of course there was no choice but to surrender on the spot.
He began to squander his dizzy wits in profuse apologies. Lady
Camper simply spoke of the nice little nest of a garden, smelt the
flowers, accepted a Niel rose and a Rohan, a Cline, a Falcot, and La
'A beautiful rose indeed,' she said of the latter, 'only it smells
of macassar oil.'
'Really, it never struck me, I say it never struck me before,'
rejoined the General, smelling it as at a pinch of snuff. 'I was
saying, I always . . .' And he tacitly, with the absurdest of
smiles, begged permission to leave unterminated a sentence not in
itself particularly difficult
'I have a nose,' observed Lady Camper.
Like the nobly-bred person she was, according to General Ople's
version of the interview on his estate, when he stood before her in
his gardening costume, she put him at his ease, or she exerted herself
to do so; and if he underwent considerable anguish, it was the fault
of his excessive scrupulousness regarding dress, propriety,
He conducted her at her request to the kitchen garden and the
handful of paddock, the stables and coach-house, then back to the
'It is the home for a young couple,' she said.
'I am no longer young,' the General bowed, with the sigh peculiar
to this confession. 'I say, I am no longer young, but I call the
place a gentlemanly residence. I was saying, I . . .'
'Yes, yes!' Lady Camper tossed her head, half closing her eyes,
with a contraction of the brows, as if in pain.
He perceived a similar expression whenever he spoke of his
Perhaps it recalled happier days to enter such a nest. Perhaps it
had been such a home for a young couple that she had entered on her
marriage with Sir Scrope Camper, before he inherited his title and
The General was at a loss to conceive what it was.
It recurred at another mention of his idea of the nature of the
residence. It was almost a paroxysm. He determined not to vex her
reminiscences again; and as this resolution directed his mind to his
residence, thinking it pre-eminently gentlemanly, his tongue committed
the error of repeating it, with 'gentleman-like' for a variation.
Elizabeth was out—he knew not where. The housemaid informed him,
that Miss Elizabeth was out rowing on the water.
'Is she alone?' Lady Camper inquired of him.
'I fancy so,' the General replied.
'The poor child has no mother.'
'It has been a sad loss to us both, Lady Camper.'
'No doubt. She is too pretty to go out alone.'
'I can trust her.'
'She has the spirit of a man.'
'That is well. She has a spirit; it will be tried.'
The General modestly furnished an instance or two of her
Lady Camper seemed to like this theme; she looked graciously
'Still, you should not suffer her to go out alone,' she said.
'I place implicit confidence in her,' said the General; and Lady
Camper gave it up.
She proposed to walk down the lanes to the river-side, to meet
The General manifested alacrity checked by reluctance. Lady Camper
had told him she objected to sit in a strange room by herself; after
that, he could hardly leave her to dash upstairs to change his
clothes; yet how, attired as he was, in a fatigue jacket, that warned
him not to imagine his back view, and held him constantly a little to
the rear of Lady Camper, lest she should be troubled by it;—and he
knew the habit of the second rank to criticise the front—how consent
to face the outer world in such style side by side with the lady he
'Come,' said she; and he shot forward a step, looking as if he had
'Are you not coming, General?'
He advanced mechanically.
Not a soul met them down the lanes, except a little one, to whom
Lady Camper gave a small silver-piece, because she was a picture.
The act of charity sank into the General's heart, as any pretty
performance will do upon a warm waxen bed.
Lady Camper surprised him by answering his thoughts. 'No; it's for
my own pleasure.'
Presently she said, 'Here they are.'
General Ople beheld his daughter by the river-side at the end of
the lane, under escort of Mr. Reginald Rolles.
It was another picture, and a pleasing one. The young lady and the
young gentleman wore boating hats, and were both dressed in white, and
standing by or just turning from the outrigger and light skiff they
were about to leave in charge of a waterman. Elizabeth stretched a
finger at arm's- length, issuing directions, which Mr. Rolles took up
and worded further to the man, for the sake of emphasis; and he,
rather than Elizabeth, was guilty of the half-start at sight of the
persons who were approaching.
'My nephew, you should know, is intended for a working soldier,'
said Lady Camper; 'I like that sort of soldier best.'
General Ople drooped his shoulders at the personal compliment.
She resumed. 'His pay is a matter of importance to him. You are
aware of the smallness of a subaltern's pay.
'I,' said the General, 'I say I feel my poor half-pay, having
always been a working soldier myself, very important, I was saying,
very important to me!'
'Why did you retire?'
Her interest in him seemed promising. He replied conscientiously,
'Beyond the duties of General of Brigade, I could not, I say I could
not, dare to aspire; I can accept and execute orders; I shrink from
'It is a pity,' said she, 'that you were not, like my nephew
Reginald, entirely dependent on your profession.'
She laid such stress on her remark, that the General, who had just
expressed a very modest estimate of his abilities, was unable to
reject the flattery of her assuming him to be a man of some fortune.
He coughed, and said, 'Very little.' The thought came to him that he
might have to make a statement to her in time, and he emphasized,
'Very little indeed. Sufficient,' he assured her, 'for a gentlemanly
'I have given you your warning,' was her inscrutable rejoinder,
uttered within earshot of the young people, to whom, especially to
Elizabeth, she was gracious. The damsel's boating uniform was
praised, and her sunny flush of exercise and exposure.
Lady Camper regretted that she could not abandon her parasol: 'I
freckle so easily.'
The General, puzzling over her strange words about a warning, gazed
at the red rose of art on her cheek with an air of profound
'I freckle so easily,' she repeated, dropping her parasol to defend
her face from the calculating scrutiny.
'I burn brown,' said Elizabeth.
Lady Camper laid the bud of a Falcot rose against the young girl's
cheek, but fetched streams of colour, that overwhelmed the momentary
comparison of the sunswarthed skin with the rich dusky yellow of the
rose in its deepening inward to soft brown.
Reginald stretched his hand for the privileged flower, and she let
him take it; then she looked at the General; but the General was
looking, with his usual air of satisfaction, nowhere.
'Lady Camper is no common enigma,' General Ople observed to his
Elizabeth inclined to be pleased with her, for at her suggestion
the General had bought a couple of horses, that she might ride in the
park, accompanied by her father or the little groom. Still, the great
lady was hard to read. She tested the resources of his income by all
sorts of instigation to expenditure, which his gallantry could not
withstand; she encouraged him to talk of his deeds in arms; she was
friendly, almost affectionate, and most bountiful in the presents of
fruit, peaches, nectarines, grapes, and hot-house wonders, that she
showered on his table; but she was an enigma in her evident
dissatisfaction with him for something he seemed to have left unsaid.
And what could that be?
At their last interview she had asked him, 'Are you sure, General,
you have nothing more to tell me?'
And as he remarked, when relating it to Elizabeth, 'One might
really be tempted to misapprehend her ladyship's . . . I say one
might commit oneself beyond recovery. Now, my dear, what do you think
Elizabeth was 'burning brown,' or darkly blushing, as her manner
She answered, 'I am certain you know of nothing that would interest
her; nothing, unless . . .'
'Well?' the General urged her.
'How can I speak it, papa?'
'You really can't mean . . .'
'Papa, what could I mean?'
'If I were fool enough!' he murmured. 'No, no, I am an old man. I
was saying, I am past the age of folly.'
One day Elizabeth came home from her ride in a thoughtful mood.
She had not, further than has been mentioned, incited her father to
think of the age of folly; but voluntarily or not, Lady Camper had, by
an excess of graciousness amounting to downright invitation; as thus,
'Will you persist in withholding your confidence from me, General?'
She added, 'I am not so difficult a person.' These prompting speeches
occurred on the morning of the day when Elizabeth sat at his table,
after a long ride into the country, profoundly meditative.
A note was handed to General Ople, with the request that he would
step in to speak with Lady Camper in the course of the evening, or
next morning. Elizabeth waited till his hat was on, then said, 'Papa,
on my ride to- day, I met Mr. Rolles.'
'I am glad you had an agreeable escort, my dear.'
'I could not refuse his company.'
'Certainly not. And where did you ride?'
'To a beautiful valley; and there we met . . '
'She always admires you on horseback.'
'So you know it, papa, if she should speak of it.'
'And I am bound to tell you, my child,' said the General, 'that
this morning Lady Camper's manner to me was . . . if I were a fool
. . . I say, this morning I beat a retreat, but apparently she . .
. I see no way out of it, supposing she . . .'
'I am sure she esteems you, dear papa,' said Elizabeth. 'You take
to her, my dear?' the General inquired anxiously; 'a little?—a little
afraid of her?'
'A little,' Elizabeth replied, 'only a little.'
'Don't be agitated about me.'
'No, papa; you are sure to do right.'
'But you are trembling.'
'Oh! no. I wish you success.'
General Ople was overjoyed to be reinforced by his daughter's good
wishes. He kissed her to thank her. He turned back to her to kiss
her again. She had greatly lightened the difficulty at least of a
It was just like the imperious nature of Lady Camper to summon him
in the evening to terminate the conversation of the morning, from the
visible pitfall of which he had beaten a rather precipitate retreat.
But if his daughter cordially wished him success, and Lady Camper
offered him the crown of it, why then he had only to pluck up spirit,
like a good commander who has to pass a fordable river in the enemy's
presence; a dash, a splash, a rattling volley or two, and you are
over, established on the opposite bank. But you must be positive of
victory, otherwise, with the river behind you, your new position is
likely to be ticklish. So the General entered Lady Camper's
drawing-room warily, watching the fair enemy. He knew he was
captivating, his old conquests whispered in his ears, and her
reception of him all but pointed to a footstool at her feet. He might
have fallen there at once, had he not remembered a hint that Mr.
Reginald Rolles had dropped concerning Lady Camper's amazing
Lady Camper began.
'General, you ran away from me this morning. Let me speak. And,
by the way, I must reproach you; you should not have left it to me.
Things have now gone so far that I cannot pretend to be blind. I
know your feelings as a father. Your daughter's happiness . . .'
'My lady,' the General interposed, 'I have her distinct assurance
that it is, I say it is wrapt up in mine.'
'Let me speak. Young people will say anything. Well, they have a
certain excuse for selfishness; we have not. I am in some degree
bound to my nephew; he is my sister's son.'
'Assuredly, my lady. I would not stand in his light, be quite
assured. If I am, I was saying if I am not mistaken, I . . . and he
is, or has the making of an excellent soldier in him, and is likely to
be a distinguished cavalry officer.'
'He has to carve his own way in the world, General.'
'All good soldiers have, my lady. And if my position is not, after
a considerable term of service, I say if . . .'
'To continue,' said Lady Camper: 'I never have liked early
marriages. I was married in my teens before I knew men. Now I do
know them, and now . . .'
The General plunged forward: 'The honour you do us now:—a mature
experience is worth:—my dear Lady Camper, I have admired you:—and
your objection to early marriages cannot apply to . . . indeed,
madam, vigour, they say . . . though youth, of course . . . yet
young people, as you observe . . . and I have, though perhaps my
reputation is against it, I was saying I have a natural timidity with
your sex, and I am grey-headed, white-headed, but happily without a
Lady Camper's brows showed a trifling bewilderment. 'I am speaking
of these young people, General Ople.'
'I consent to everything beforehand, my dear lady. He should be, I
say Mr. Rolles should be provided for.'
'So should she, General, so should Elizabeth.'
'She shall be, she will, dear madam. What I have, with your
permission, if—good heaven! Lady Camper, I scarcely know where I am.
She would . . . . I shall not like to lose her: you would not wish
it. In time she will . . . she has every quality of a good wife.'
'There, stay there, and be intelligible,' said Lady Camper. 'She
has every quality. Money should be one of them. Has she money?'
'Oh! my lady,' the General exclaimed, 'we shall not come upon your
purse when her time comes.'
'Has she ten thousand pounds?'
'Elizabeth? She will have, at her father's death . . . but as
for my income, it is moderate, and only sufficient to maintain a
gentlemanly appearance in proper self-respect. I make no show. I say
I make no show. A wealthy marriage is the last thing on earth I
should have aimed at. I prefer quiet and retirement. Personally, I
mean. That is my personal taste. But if the lady . . . . I say if it
should happen that the lady . . . . and indeed I am not one to press a
suit: but if she who distinguishes and honours me should chance to be
wealthy, all I can do is to leave her wealth at her disposal, and that
I do: I do that unreservedly. I feel I am very confused, alarmingly
confused. Your ladyship merits a superior . . . I trust I have not
. . . I am entirely at your ladyship's mercy.'
'Are you prepared, if your daughter is asked in marriage, to settle
ten thousand pounds on her, General Ople?'
The General collected himself. In his heart he thoroughly
appreciated the moral beauty of Lady Camper's extreme solicitude on
behalf of his daughter's provision; but he would have desired a
postponement of that and other material questions belonging to a
distant future until his own fate was decided.
So he said: 'Your ladyship's generosity is very marked. I say it
is very marked.'
'How, my good General Ople! how is it marked in any degree?' cried
Lady Camper. 'I am not generous. I don't pretend to be; and
certainly I don't want the young people to think me so. I want to be
just. I have assumed that you intend to be the same. Then will you
do me the favour to reply to me?'
The General smiled winningly and intently, to show her that he
prized her, and would not let her escape his eulogies.
'Marked, in this way, dear madam, that you think of my daughter's
future more than I. I say, more than her father himself does. I know
I ought to speak more warmly, I feel warmly. I was never an eloquent
man, and if you take me as a soldier, I am, as, I have ever been in
the service, I was saying I am Wilson Ople, of the grade of General,
to be relied on for executing orders; and, madam, you are Lady Camper,
and you command me. I cannot be more precise. In fact, it is the
feeling of the necessity for keeping close to the business that
destroys what I would say. I am in fact lamentably incompetent to
conduct my own case.'
Lady Camper left her chair.
'Dear me, this is very strange, unless I am singularly in error,'
The General now faintly guessed that he might be in error, for his
But he had burned his ships, blown up his bridges; retreat could
not be thought of.
He stood, his head bent and appealing to her sideface, like one
pleadingly in pursuit, and very deferentially, with a courteous
vehemence, he entreated first her ladyship's pardon for his
presumption, and then the gift of her ladyship's hand.
As for his language, it was the tongue of General Ople. But his
bearing was fine. If his clipped white silken hair spoke of age, his
figure breathed manliness. He was a picture, and she loved pictures.
For his own sake, she begged him to cease. She dreaded to hear of
'This is a new idea to me, my dear General,' she said. 'You must
give me time. People at our age have to think of fitness. Of course,
in a sense, we are both free to do as we like. Perhaps I may be of
some aid to you. My preference is for absolute independence. And I
wished to talk of a different affair. Come to me tomorrow. Do not be
hurt if I decide that we had better remain as we are.'
The General bowed. His efforts, and the wavering of the fair
enemy's flag, had inspired him with a positive re-awakening of
masculine passion to gain this fortress. He said well: 'I have, then,
the happiness, madam, of being allowed to hope until to-morrrow?'
She replied, 'I would not deprive you of a moment of happiness.
Bring good sense with you when you do come.'
The General asked eagerly, 'I have your ladyship's permission to
'Consult your happiness,' she answered; and if to his mind she
seemed returning to the state of enigma, it was on the whole
deliciously. She restored him his youth. He told Elizabeth that
night; he really must begin to think of marrying her to some worthy
young fellow. 'Though,' said he, with an air of frank intoxication,
'my opinion is, the young ones are not so lively as the old in these
days, or I should have been besieged before now.'
The exact substance of the interview he forbore to relate to his
inquisitive daughter, with a very honourable discretion.
Elizabeth came riding home to breakfast from a gallop round the
park, and passing Lady Camper's gates, received the salutation of her
parasol. Lady Camper talked with her through the bars. There was not
a sign to tell of a change or twist in her neighbourly affability.
She remarked simply enough, that it was her nephew's habit to take
early gallops, and possibly Elizabeth might have seen him, for his
quarters were proximate; but she did not demand an answer. She had
passed a rather restless night, she said. 'How is the General?'
'Papa must have slept soundly, for he usually calls to me through
his door when he hears I am up,' said Elizabeth.
Lady Camper nodded kindly and walked on.
Early in the morning General Ople was ready for battle. His forces
were, the anticipation of victory, a carefully arranged toilet, and an
unaccustomed spirit of enterprise in the realms of speech; for he was
no longer in such awe of Lady Camper.
'You have slept well?' she inquired.
'Excellently, my lady:
'Yes, your daughter tells me she heard you, as she went by your
door in the morning for a ride to meet my nephew. You are, I shall
assume, prepared for business.'
'Elizabeth? . . . to meet . . .?' General Ople's impression
of anything extraneous to his emotion was feeble and passed instantly.
'Prepared! Oh, certainly'; and he struck in a compliment on her
ladyship's fresh morning bloom.
'It can hardly be visible,' she responded; 'I have not painted
'Does your ladyship proceed to your painting in the very early
'Rouge. I rouge.'
'Dear me! I should not have supposed it.'
'You have speculated on it very openly, General. I remember your
trying to see a freckle through the rouge; but the truth is, I am of a
supernatural paleness if I do not rouge, so I do. You understand,
therefore, I have a false complexion. Now to business.'
'If your ladyship insists on calling it business. I have little to
'You have a gentlemanly residence.'
'It is, my lady, it is. It is a bijou.'
'Ah!' Lady Camper sighed dejectedly.
'It is a perfect bijou!'
'Oblige me, General, by not pronouncing the French word as if you
were swearing by something in English, like a trooper.'
General Ople started, admitted that the word was French, and
apologized for his pronunciation. Her variability was now visible
over a corner of the battlefield like a thunder-cloud.
'The business we have to discuss concerns the young people,
'Yes,' brightened by this, he assented: 'Yes, dear Lady Camper; it
is a part of the business; it is a secondary part; it has to be
discussed; I say I subscribe beforehand. I may say, that honouring,
esteeming you as I do, and hoping ardently for your consent . . . .
'They must have a home and an income, General.'
'I presume, dearest lady, that Elizabeth will be welcome in your
home. I certainly shall never chase Reginald out of mine.'
Lady Camper threw back her head. 'Then you are not yet awake, or
you practice the art of sleeping with open eyes! Now listen to me. I
rouge, I have told you. I like colour, and I do not like to see
wrinkles or have them seen. Therefore I rouge. I do not expect to
deceive the world so flagrantly as to my age, and you I would not
deceive for a moment. I am seventy.'
The effect of this noble frankness on the General, was to raise him
from his chair in a sitting posture as if he had been blown up.
Her countenance was inexorably imperturbable under his alternate
blinking and gazing that drew her close and shot her distant, like a
'But,' said she, 'I am an artist; I dislike the look of extreme
age, so I conceal it as well as I can. You are very kind to fall in
with the deception: an innocent and, I think, a proper one, before the
world, though not to the gentleman who does me the honour to propose
to me for my hand. You desire to settle our business first. You
esteem me; I suppose you mean as much as young people mean when they
say they love. Do you? Let us come to an understanding.'
'I can,' the melancholy General gasped, 'I say I can—I cannot—I
cannot credit your ladyship's . . .'
'You are at liberty to call me Angela.'
'Ange . . .' he tried it, and in shame relapsed. 'Madam, yes.
'Ah,' cried Lady Camper, 'do not use these vulgar contractions of
decent speech in my presence. I abhor the word "thanks." It is fit
'Dear me, I have used it all my life,' groaned the General.
'Then, for the remainder, be it understood that you renounce it.
To continue, my age is . . .'
'Oh, impossible, impossible,' the General almost wailed; there was
really a crack in his voice.
'Advancing to seventy. But, like you, I am happy to say I have not
a malady. I bring no invalid frame to a union that necessitates the
leaving of the front door open day and night to the doctor. My belief
is, I could follow my husband still on a campaign, if he were a
warrior instead of a pensioner.'
General Ople winced.
He was about to say humbly, 'As General of Brigade . . .'
'Yes, yes, you want a commanding officer, and that I have seen, and
that has caused me to meditate on your proposal,' she interrupted him;
while he, studying her countenance hard, with the painful aspect of a
youth who lashes a donkey memory in an examination by word of mouth,
attempted to marshal her signs of younger years against her awful
confession of the extremely ancient, the witheringly ancient. But for
the manifest rouge, manifest in spite of her declaration that she had
not yet that morning proceeded to her paintbrush, he would have thrown
down his glove to challenge her on the subject of her age. She had
actually charms. Her mouth had a charm; her eyes were lively; her
figure, mature if you like, was at least full and good; she stood
upright, she had a queenly seat. His mental ejaculation was, 'What a
By a lapse of politeness, he repeated it to himself half aloud; he
was shockingly nervous.
'Yes, I have finer health than many a younger woman,' she said.
'An ordinary calculation would give me twenty good years to come. I
am a widow, as you know. And, by the way, you have a leaning for
widows. Have you not? I thought I had heard of a widow Barcop in this
parish. Do not protest. I assure you I am a stranger to jealousy. My
income . . .'
The General raised his hands.
'Well, then,' said the cool and self-contained lady, 'before I go
farther, I may ask you, knowing what you have forced me to confess,
are you still of the same mind as to marriage? And one moment,
General. I promise you most sincerely that your withdrawing a step
shall not, as far as it touches me, affect my neighbourly and friendly
sentiments; not in any degree. Shall we be as we were?'
Lady Camper extended her delicate hand to him.
He took it respectfully, inspected the aristocratic and unshrunken
fingers, and kissing them, said, 'I never withdraw from a position,
unless I am beaten back. Lady Camper, I . . .'
'My name is Angela.'
The General tried again: he could not utter the name.
To call a lady of seventy Angela is difficult in itself. It is, it
seems, thrice difficult in the way of courtship.
'Angela!' said she.
'Yes. I say, there is not a more beautiful female name, dear Lady
'Spare me that word "female" as long as you live. Address me by
that name, if you please.'
The General smiled. The smile was meant for propitiation and
sweetness. It became a brazen smile.
'Unless you wish to step back,' said she.
'Indeed, no. I am happy, Lady Camper. My life is yours. I say,
my life is devoted to you, dear madam.'
General Ople was blushingly delivered of the name.
'That will do,' said she. 'And as I think it possible one may be
admired too much as an artist, I must request you to keep my number of
years a secret.'
'To the death, madam,' said the General.
'And now we will take a turn in the garden, Wilson Ople. And
beware of one thing, for a commencement, for you are full of weeds,
and I mean to pluck out a few: never call any place a gentlemanly
residence in my hearing, nor let it come to my ears that you have been
using the phrase elsewhere. Don't express astonishment. At present
it is enough that I dislike it. But this only,' Lady Camper added,
'this only if it is not your intention to withdraw from your
'Madam, my lady, I was saying—hem!—Angela, I could not wish to
Lady Camper leaned with some pressure on his arm, observing, 'You
have a curious attachment to antiquities.'
'My dear lady, it is your mind; I say, it is your mind: I was
saying, I am in love with your mind,' the General endeavoured to
assure her, and himself too.
'Or is it my powers as an artist?'
'Your mind, your extraordinary powers of mind.'
'Well,' said Lady Camper, 'a veteran General of Brigade is as good
a crutch as a childless old grannam can have.'
And as a crutch, General Ople, parading her grounds with the aged
woman, found himself used and treated.
The accuracy of his perceptions might be questioned. He was like a
man stunned by some great tropical fruit, which responds to the
longing of his eyes by falling on his head; but it appeared to him,
that she increased in bitterness at every step they took, as if
determined to make him realize her wrinkles.
He was even so inconsequent, or so little recognized his position,
as to object in his heart to hear himself called Wilson.
It is true that she uttered Wilsonople as if the names formed one
word. And on a second occasion (when he inclined to feel hurt) she
remarked, 'I fear me, Wilsonople, if we are to speak plainly, thou art
but a fool.' He, perhaps, naturally objected to that. He was,
however, giddy, and barely knew.
Yet once more the magical woman changed. All semblance of
harshness, and harridan-like spike-tonguedness vanished when she said
The astronomer, looking at the crusty jag and scoria of the
magnified moon through his telescope, and again with naked eyes at the
soft-beaming moon, when the crater-ridges are faint as
eyebrow-pencillings, has a similar sharp alternation of prospect to
that which mystified General Ople.
But between watching an orb that is only variable at our caprice,
and contemplating a woman who shifts and quivers ever with her own,
how vast the difference!
And consider that this woman is about to be one's wife! He could
have believed (if he had not known full surely that such things are
not) he was in the hands of a witch.
Lady Camper's 'adieu' was perfectly beautiful—a kind, cordial,
intimate, above all, to satisfy his present craving, it was a
lady-like adieu—the adieu of a delicate and elegant woman, who had
hardly left her anchorage by forty to sail into the fifties.
Alas! he had her word for it, that she was not less than seventy.
And, worse, she had betrayed most melancholy signs of sourness and
agedness as soon as he had sworn himself to her fast and fixed.
'The road is open to you to retreat,' were her last words.
'My road,' he answered gallantly, 'is forward.'
He was drawing backward as he said it, and something provoked her
It is a noble thing to say that your road is forward, and it befits
a man of battles. General Ople was too loyal a gentleman to think of
any other road. Still, albeit not gifted with imagination, he could
not avoid the feeling that he had set his face to Winter. He found
himself suddenly walking straight into the heart of Winter, and a
nipping Winter. For her ladyship had proved acutely nipping. His
little customary phrases, to which Lady Camper objected, he could see
no harm in whatever. Conversing with her in the privacy of domestic
life would never be the flowing business that it is for other men. It
would demand perpetual vigilance, hop, skip, jump, flounderings, and
This was not a pleasing prospect.
On the other hand, she was the niece of an earl. She was wealthy.
She might be an excellent friend to Elizabeth; and she could be, when
she liked, both commandingly and bewitchingly ladylike.
Good! But he was a General Officer of not more than fifty-five, in
his full vigour, and she a woman of seventy!
The prospect was bleak. It resembled an outlook on the steppes.
In point of the discipline he was to expect, he might be compared to
a raw recruit, and in his own home!
However, she was a woman of mind. One would be proud of her.
But did he know the worst of her? A dreadful presentiment, that he
did not know the worst of her, rolled an ocean of gloom upon General
Ople, striking out one solitary thought in the obscurity, namely, that
he was about to receive punishment for retiring from active service to
a life of ease at a comparatively early age, when still in marching
trim. And the shadow of the thought was, that he deserved the
He was in his garden with the dawn. Hard exercise is the best of
opiates for dismal reflections. The General discomposed his daughter
by offering to accompany her on her morning ride before breakfast.
She considered that it would fatigue him. 'I am not a man of
eighty!' he cried. He could have wished he had been.
He led the way to the park, where they soon had sight of young
Rolles, who checked his horse and spied them like a vedette, but,
perceiving that he had been seen, came cantering, and hailing the
General with hearty wonderment.
'And what's this the world says, General?' said he. 'But we all
applaud your taste. My aunt Angela was the handsomest woman of her
The General murmured in confusion, 'Dear me!' and looked at the
young man, thinking that he could not have known the time.
'Is all arranged, my dear General?'
'Nothing is arranged, and I beg—I say I beg . . . I came out
for fresh air and pace.'..
The General rode frantically.
In spite of the fresh air, he was unable to eat at breakfast. He
was bound, of course, to present himself to Lady Camper, in common
civility, immediately after it.
And first, what were the phrases he had to avoid uttering in her
presence? He could remember only the 'gentlemanly residence.' And it
was a gentlemanly residence, he thought as he took leave of it. It
was one, neatly named to fit the place. Lady Camper is indeed a most
eccentric person! he decided from his experience of her.
He was rather astonished that young Rolles should have spoken so
coolly of his aunt's leaning to matrimony; but perhaps her exact age
was unknown to the younger members of her family.
This idea refreshed him by suggesting the extremely honourable
nature of Lady Camper's uncomfortable confession.
He himself had an uncomfortable confession to make. He would have
to speak of his income. He was living up to the edges of it.
She is an upright woman, and I must be the same! he said,
fortunately not in her hearing.
The subject was disagreeable to a man sensitive on the topic of
money, and feeling that his prudence had recently been misled to keep
Lady Camper was in her garden, reclining under her parasol. A
chair was beside her, to which, acknowledging the salutation of her
suitor, she waved him.
'You have met my nephew Reginald this morning, General?'
'Curiously, in the park, this morning, before breakfast, I did,
yes. Hem! I, I say I did meet him. Has your ladyship seen him?'
'No. The park is very pretty in the early morning.'
Lady Camper raised her head, and with the mildness of assured
dictatorship, pronounced: 'Never say that before me.'
'I submit, my lady,' said the poor scourged man.
'Why, naturally you do. Vulgar phrases have to be endured, except
when our intimates are guilty, and then we are not merely offended, we
are compromised by them. You are still of the mind in which you left
me yesterday? You are one day older. But I warn you, so am I.'
'Yes, my lady, we cannot, I say we cannot check time. Decidedly of
the same mind. Quite so.'
'Oblige me by never saying "Quite so." My lawyer says it. It
reeks of the City of London. And do not look so miserable.'
'I, madam? my dear lady!' the General flashed out in a radiance
that dulled instantly.
'Well,' said she cheerfully, 'and you're for the old woman?'
'For Lady Camper.'
'You are seductive in your flatteries, General. Well, then, we
have to speak of business.'
'My affairs——' General Ople was beginning, with perturbed
forehead; but Lady Camper held up her finger.
'We will touch on your affairs incidentally. Now listen to me, and
do not exclaim until I have finished. You know that these two young
ones have been whispering over the wall for some months. They have
been meeting on the river and in the park habitually, apparently with
'I did not say with your connivance.'
'You mean my daughter Elizabeth?'
'And my nephew Reginald. We have named them, if that advances us.
Now, the end of such meetings is marriage, and the sooner the better,
if they are to continue. I would rather they should not; I do not
hold it good for young soldiers to marry. But if they do, it is very
certain that their pay will not support a family; and in a marriage of
two healthy young people, we have to assume the existence of the
family. You have allowed matters to go so far that the boy is hot in
love; I suppose the girl is, too. She is a nice girl. I do not
object to her personally. But I insist that a settlement be made on
her before I give my nephew one penny. Hear me out, for I am not fond
of business, and shall be glad to have done with these explanations.
Reginald has nothing of his own. He is my sister's son, and I loved
her, and rather like the boy. He has at present four hundred a year
from me. I will double it, on the condition that you at once make
over ten thousand—not less; and let it be yes or no!—to be settled
on your daughter and go to her children, independent of the
husband—cela va sans dire. Now you may speak, General.'
The General spoke, with breath fetched from the deeps:
'Ten thousand pounds! Hem! Ten! Hem, frankly—ten, my lady!
One's income—I am quite taken by surprise. I say Elizabeth's
conduct—though, poor child! it is natural to her to seek a mate, I
mean, to accept a mate and an establishment, and Reginald is a very
hopeful fellow—I was saying, they jump on me out of an ambush, and I
wish them every happiness. And she is an ardent soldier, and a
soldier she must marry. But ten thousand!'
'It is to secure the happiness of your daughter, General.'
'Pounds! my lady. It would rather cripple me.'
'You would have my house, General; you would have the moiety, as
the lawyers say, of my purse; you would have horses, carriages,
servants; I do not divine what more you would wish to have.'
'But, madam—a pensioner on the Government! I can look back on
past services, I say old services, and I accept my position. But,
madam, a pensioner on my wife, bringing next to nothing to the common
estate! I fear my self-respect would, I say would . . .'
'Well, and what would it do, General Ople?'
'I was saying, my self-respect as my wife's pensioner, my lady. I
could not come to her empty-handed.'
'Do you expect that I should be the person to settle money on your
daughter, to save her from mischances? A rakish husband, for example;
for Reginald is young, and no one can guess what will be made of him.'
'Undoubtedly your ladyship is correct. We might try absence for
the poor girl. I have no female relation, but I could send her to the
sea-side to a lady-friend.'
'General Ople, I forbid you, as you value my esteem, ever—and I
repeat, I forbid you ever—to afflict my ears with that phrase,
The General blinked in a state of insurgent humility.
These incessant whippings could not but sting the humblest of men;
and 'lady-friend,' he was sure, was a very common term, used, he was
sure, in the very best society. He had never heard Her Majesty speak
at levees of a lady-friend, but he was quite sure that she had one;
and if so, what could be the objection to her subjects mentioning it
as a term to suit their own circumstances?
He was harassed and perplexed by old Lady Camper's treatment of
him, and he resolved not to call her Angela even upon
supplication—not that day, at least.
She said, 'You will not need to bring property of any kind to the
common estate; I neither look for it nor desire it. The generous
thing for you to do would be to give your daughter all you have, and
come to me.'
'But, Lady Camper, if I denude myself or curtail my income—a man
at his wife's discretion, I was saying a man at his wife's mercy . .
General Ople was really forced, by his manly dignity, to make this
protest on its behalf. He did not see how he could have escaped doing
so; he was more an agent than a principal. 'My wife's mercy,' he said
again, but simply as a herald proclaiming superior orders.
Lady Camper's brows were wrathful. A deep blood-crimson overcame
the rouge, and gave her a terrible stormy look.
'The congress now ceases to sit, and the treaty is not concluded,'
was all she said.
She rose, bowed to him, 'Good morning, General,' and turned her
He sighed. He was a free man. But this could not be
denied—whatever the lady's age, she was a grand woman in her
carriage, and when looking angry, she had a queenlike aspect that
raised her out of the reckoning of time.
So now he knew there was a worse behind what he had previously
known. He was precipitate in calling it the worst. 'Now,' said he to
himself, 'I know the worst !'
No man should ever say it. Least of all, one who has entered into
relations with an eccentric lady.
Politeness required that General Ople should not appear to rejoice
in his dismissal as a suitor, and should at least make some show of
holding himself at the beck of a reconsidering mind. He was guilty of
running up to London early next day, and remaining absent until
nightfall; and he did the same on the two following days. When he
presented himself at Lady Camper's lodge-gates, the astonishing
intelligence, that her ladyship had departed for the Continent and
Egypt gave him qualms of remorse, which assumed a more definite shape
in something like awe of her triumphant constitution. He forbore to
mention her age, for he was the most honourable of men, but a habit of
tea-table talkativeness impelled him to say and repeat an idea that
had visited him, to the effect, that Lady Camper was one of those
wonderful women who are comparable to brilliant generals, and defend
themselves from the siege of Time by various aggressive movements.
Fearful of not being understood, owing to the rarity of the occasions
when the squat plain squad of honest Saxon regulars at his command
were called upon to explain an idea, he re-cast the sentence. But, as
it happened that the regulars of his vocabulary were not numerous, and
not accustomed to work upon thoughts and images, his repetitions
rather succeeded in exposing the piece of knowledge he had recently
acquired than in making his meaning plainer. So we need not marvel
that his acquaintances should suppose him to be secretly aware of an
extreme degree in which Lady Camper was a veteran.
General Ople entered into the gaieties of the neighbourhood once
more, and passed through the Winter cheerfully. In justice to him,
however, it should be said that to the intent dwelling of his mind
upon Lady Camper, and not to the festive life he led, was due his
entire ignorance of his daughter's unhappiness. She lived with him,
and yet it was in other houses he learnt that she was unhappy. After
his last interview with Lady Camper, he had informed Elizabeth of the
ruinous and preposterous amount of money demanded of him for a
settlement upon her and Elizabeth, like the girl of good sense that
she was, had replied immediately, 'It could not be thought of, papa.'
He had spoken to Reginald likewise. The young man fell into a
dramatic tearing-of-hair and long-stride fury, not ill becoming an
enamoured dragoon. But he maintained that his aunt, though an
eccentric, was a cordially kind woman. He seemed to feel, if he did
not partly hint, that the General might have accepted Lady Camper's
terms. The young officer could no longer be welcome at Douro Lodge,
so the General paid him a morning call at his quarters, and was
distressed to find him breakfasting very late, tapping eggs that he
forgot to open—one of the surest signs of a young man downright and
deep in love, as the General knew from experience—and surrounded by
uncut sporting journals of past weeks, which dated from the day when
his blow had struck him, as accurately as the watch of the drowned man
marks his minute. Lady Camper had gone to Italy, and was in
communication with her nephew: Reginald was not further explicit. His
legs were very prominent in his despair, and his fingers frequently
performed the part of blunt combs; consequently the General was
impressed by his passion for Elizabeth. The girl who, if she was
often meditative, always met his eyes with a smile, and quietly said
'Yes, papa,' and 'No, papa,' gave him little concern as to the state
of her feelings. Yet everybody said now that she was unhappy. Mrs.
Barcop, the widow, raised her voice above the rest. So attentive was
she to Elizabeth that the General had it kindly suggested to him, that
some one was courting him through his daughter. He gazed at the
widow. Now she was not much past thirty; and it was really
singular—he could have laughed—thinking of Mrs. Barcop set him
persistently thinking of Lady Camper. That is to say, his mad fancy
reverted from the lady of perhaps thirty-five to the lady of seventy.
Such, thought he, is genius in a woman! Of his neighbours
generally, Mrs. Baerens, the wife of a German merchant, an exquisite
player on the pianoforte, was the most inclined to lead him to speak
of Lady Camper. She was a kind prattling woman, and was known to have
been a governess before her charms withdrew the gastronomic Gottfried
Baerens from his devotion to the well-served City club, where, as he
exclaimed (ever turning fondly to his wife as he vocalized the
compliment), he had found every necessity, every luxury, in life, 'as
you cannot have dem out of London—all save de female!' Mrs. Baerens,
a lady of Teutonic extraction, was distinguishable as of that sex; at
least, she was not masculine. She spoke with great respect of Lady
Camper and her family, and seemed to agree in the General's eulogies
of Lady Camper's constitution. Still he thought she eyed him
One April morning the General received a letter with the Italian
postmark. Opening it with his usual calm and happy curiosity, he
perceived that it was composed of pen-and-ink drawings. And suddenly
his heart sank like a scuttled ship. He saw himself the victim of a
The first sketch had merely seemed picturesque, and he supposed it
a clever play of fancy by some travelling friend, or perhaps an actual
scene slightly exaggerated. Even on reading, 'A distant view of the
city of Wilsonople,' he was only slightly enlightened. His heart beat
still with befitting regularity. But the second and the third
sketches betrayed the terrible hand. The distant view of the city of
Wilsonople was fair with glittering domes, which, in the succeeding
near view, proved to have been soap-bubbles, for a place of extreme
flatness, begirt with crazy old-fashioned fortifications, was shown;
and in the third view, representing the interior, stood for sole place
of habitation, a sentry-box.
Most minutely drawn, and, alas! with fearful accuracy, a military
gentleman in undress occupied the box. Not a doubt could exist as to
the person it was meant to be.
The General tried hard to remain incredulous. He remembered too
well who had called him Wilsonople.
But here was the extraordinary thing that sent him over the
neighbourhood canvassing for exclamations: on the fourth page was the
outline of a lovely feminine hand, holding a pen, as in the act of
shading, and under it these words: 'What I say is, I say I think it
Now consider the General's feelings when, turning to this fourth
page, having these very words in his mouth, as the accurate expression
of his thoughts, he discovered them written!
An enemy who anticipates the actions of our mind, has a quality of
the malignant divine that may well inspire terror. The senses of
General Ople were struck by the aspect of a lurid Goddess, who
penetrated him, read him through, and had both power and will to
expose and make him ridiculous for ever.
The loveliness of the hand, too, in a perplexing manner contested
his denunciation of her conduct. It was ladylike eminently, and it
involved him in a confused mixture of the moral and material, as great
as young people are known to feel when they make the attempt to
separate them, in one of their frenzies.
With a petty bitter laugh he folded the letter, put it in his
breast- pocket, and sallied forth for a walk, chiefly to talk to
himself about it. But as it absorbed him entirely, he showed it to
the rector, whom he met, and what the rector said is of no
consequence, for General Ople listened to no remarks, calling in
succession on the Pollingtons, the Goslings, the Baerens, and others,
early though it was, and the lords of those houses absent amassing
hoards; and to the ladies everywhere he displayed the sketches he had
received, observing, that Wilsonople meant himself; and there he was,
he said, pointing at the capped fellow in the sentry-box, done
unmistakably. The likeness indeed was remarkable. 'She is a woman of
genius,' he ejaculated, with utter melancholy. Mrs. Baerens, by the
aid of a magnifying glass, assisted him to read a line under the
sentry-box, that he had taken for a mere trembling dash; it ran, A
'What eyes she has!' the General exclaimed; 'I say it is miraculous
what eyes she has at her time of . . . I was saying, I should never
have known it was writing.'
He sighed heavily. His shuddering sensitiveness to caricature was
increased by a certain evident dread of the hand which struck; the
knowing that he was absolutely bare to this woman, defenceless, open
to exposure in his little whims, foibles, tricks, incompetencies, in
what lay in his heart, and the words that would come to his tongue.
He felt like a man haunted.
So deeply did he feel the blow, that people asked how it was that
he could be so foolish as to dance about assisting Lady Camper in her
efforts to make him ridiculous; he acted the parts of publisher and
agent for the fearful caricaturist. In truth, there was a strangely
double reason for his conduct; he danced about for sympathy, he had
the intensest craving for sympathy, but more than this, or quite as
much, he desired to have the powers of his enemy widely appreciated;
in the first place, that he might be excused to himself for wincing
under them, and secondly, because an awful admiration of her, that
should be deepened by a corresponding sentiment around him, helped him
to enjoy luxurious recollections of an hour when he was near making
her his own—his own, in the holy abstract contemplation of marriage,
without realizing their probable relative conditions after the
'I say, that is the very image of her ladyship's hand,' he was
especially fond of remarking, 'I say it is a beautiful hand.'
He carried the letter in his pocket-book; and beginning to fancy
that she had done her worst, for he could not imagine an inventive
malignity capable of pursuing the theme, he spoke of her treatment of
him with compassionate regret, not badly assumed from being partly
Two letters dated in France, the one Dijon, the other
Fontainebleau, arrived together; and as the General knew Lady Camper
to be returning to England, he expected that she was anxious to excuse
herself to him. His fingers were not so confident, for he tore one of
the letters to open it.
The City of Wilsonople was recognizable immediately. So likewise
was the sole inhabitant.
General Ople's petty bitter laugh recurred, like a weak-chested
patient's cough in the shifting of our winds eastward.
A faceless woman's shadow kneels on the ground near the sentry-box,
weeping. A faceless shadow of a young man on horseback is beheld
galloping toward a gulf. The sole inhabitant contemplates his largely
substantial full fleshed face and figure in a glass.
Next, we see the standard of Great Britain furled; next, unfurled
and borne by a troop of shadows to the sentrybox. The officer within
says, 'I say I should be very happy to carry it, but I cannot quit
this gentlemanly residence.'
Next, the standard is shown assailed by popguns. Several of the
shadows are prostrate. 'I was saying, I assure you that nothing but
this gentlemanly residence prevents me from heading you,' says the
General Ople trembled with protestant indignation when he saw
himself reclining in a magnified sentry-box, while detachments of
shadows hurry to him to show him the standard of his country trailing
in the dust; and he is maliciously made to say, 'I dislike
responsibility. I say I am a fervent patriot, and very fond of my
comforts, but I shun responsibility.'
The second letter contained scenes between Wilsonople and the Moon.
He addresses her as his neighbour, and tells her of his triumphs
over the sex.
He requests her to inform him whether she is a 'female,' that she
may be triumphed over.
He hastens past her window on foot, with his head bent, just as the
General had been in the habit of walking.
He drives a mouse-pony furiously by.
He cuts down a tree, that she may peep through.
Then, from the Moon's point of view, Wilsonople, a Silenus, is
discerned in an arm-chair winking at a couple too plainly pouting
their lips for a doubt of their intentions to be entertained.
A fourth letter arrived, bearing date of Paris. This one
illustrated Wilsonople's courtship of the Moon, and ended with his
'saying,' in his peculiar manner, 'In spite of her paint I could not
have conceived her age to be so enormous.'
How break off his engagement with the Lady Moon? Consent to none
of her terms!
Little used as he was to read behind a veil, acuteness of suffering
sharpened the General's intelligence to a degree that sustained him in
animated dialogue with each succeeding sketch, or poisoned arrow
whirring at him from the moment his eyes rested on it; and here are a
'Wilsonople informs the Moon that she is "sweetly pretty."
'He thanks her with "thanks" for a handsome piece of lunar green
'He points to her, apparently telling some one, "my lady-friend."
'He sneezes "Bijou! bijou! bijou!"'
They were trifles, but they attacked his habits of speech; and he
began to grow more and more alarmingly absurd in each fresh caricature
of his person.
He looked at himself as the malicious woman's hand had shaped him.
It was unjust; it was no resemblance—and yet it was! There was a
corner of likeness left that leavened the lump; henceforth he must
walk abroad with this distressing image of himself before his eyes,
instead of the satisfactory reflex of the man who had, and was happy
in thinking that he had, done mischief in his time. Such an end for a
conquering man was too pathetic.
The General surprised himself talking to himself in something
louder than a hum at neighbours' dinner-tables. He looked about and
noticed that people were silently watching him.
Lady Camper's return was the subject of speculation in the
neighbourhood, for most people thought she would cease to persecute
the General with her preposterous and unwarrantable pen-and-ink
sketches when living so closely proximate; and how he would behave was
the question. Those who made a hero of him were sure he would treat
her with disdain. Others were uncertain. He had been so severely hit
that it seemed possible he would not show much spirit.
He, for his part, had come to entertain such dread of the post,
that Lady Camper's return relieved him of his morning apprehensions;
and he would have forgiven her, though he feared to see her, if only
she had promised to leave him in peace for the future. He feared to
see her, because of the too probable furnishing of fresh matter for
her ladyship's hand. Of course he could not avoid being seen by her,
and that was a particular misery. A gentlemanly humility, or
demureness of aspect, when seen, would, he hoped, disarm his enemy.
It should, he thought. He had borne unheard-of things. No one of
his friends and acquaintances knew, they could not know, what he had
endured. It has caused him fits of stammering. It had destroyed the
composure of his gait. Elizabeth had informed him that he talked to
himself incessantly, and aloud. She, poor child, looked pale too.
She was evidently anxious about him.
Young Rolles, whom he had met now and then, persisted in praising
his aunt's good heart. So, perhaps, having satiated her revenge, she
might now be inclined for peace, on the terms of distant civility.
'Yes! poor Elizabeth!' sighed the General, in pity of the poor
girl's disappointment; 'poor Elizabeth! she little guesses what her
father has gone through. Poor child! I say, she hasn't an idea of my
General Ople delivered his card at Lady Camper's lodgegates and
escaped to his residence in a state of prickly heat that required the
brushing of his hair with hard brushes for several minutes to comfort
and re-establish him.
He had fallen to working in his garden, when Lady Camper's card was
brought to him an hour after the delivery of his own; a pleasing
promptitude, showing signs of repentance, and suggesting to the
General instantly some sharp sarcasms upon women, which he had come
upon in quotations in the papers and the pulpit, his two main sources
Instead of handing back the card to the maid, he stuck it in his
hat and went on digging.
The first of a series of letters containing shameless realistic
caricatures was handed to him the afternoon following. They came fast
and thick. Not a day's interval of grace was allowed. Niobe under
the shafts of Diana was hardly less violently and mortally assailed.
The deadliness of the attack lay in the ridicule of the daily habits
of one of the most sensitive of men, as to his personal appearance,
and the opinion of the world. He might have concealed the sketches,
but he could not have concealed the bruises, and people were
perpetually asking the unhappy General what he was saying, for he
spoke to himself as if he were repeating something to them for the
'I say,' said he, 'I say that for a lady, really an educated lady,
to sit, as she must—I was saying, she must have sat in an attic to
have the right view of me. And there you see—this is what she has
done. This is the last, this is the afternoon's delivery. Her
ladyship has me correctly as to costume, but I could not exhibit such
a sketch to ladies.'
A back view of the General was displayed in his act of digging.
'I say I could not allow ladies to see it,' he informed the
gentlemen, who were suffered to inspect it freely.
'But you see, I have no means of escape; I am at her mercy from
morning to night,' the General said, with a quivering tongue, 'unless
I stay at home inside the house; and that is death to me, or unless I
abandon the place, and my lease; and I shall—I say, I shall find
nowhere in England for anything like the money or conveniences such a
gent—a residence you would call fit for a gentleman. I call it a bi
. . . it is, in short, a gem. But I shall have to go.'
Young Rolles offered to expostulate with his aunt Angela.
The General said, 'Tha . . . I thank you very much. I would not
have her ladyship suppose I am so susceptible. I hardly know,' he
confessed pitiably, 'what it is right to say, and what not—what not.
I-I-I never know when I am not looking a fool. I hurry from tree to
tree to shun the light. I am seriously affected in my appetite. I
say, I shall have to go.'
Reginald gave him to understand that if he flew, the shafts would
follow him, for Lady Camper would never forgive his running away, and
was quite equal to publishing a book of the adventures of Wilsonople.
Sunday afternoon, walking in the park with his daughter on his arm,
General Ople met Mr. Rolles. He saw that the young man and Elizabeth
were mortally pale, and as the very idea of wretchedness directed his
attention to himself, he addressed them conjointly on the subject of
his persecution, giving neither of them a chance of speaking until
they were constrained to part.
A sketch was the consequence, in which a withered Cupid and a
fading Psyche were seen divided by Wilsonople, who keeps them forcibly
asunder with policeman's fists, while courteously and elegantly
entreating them to hear him. 'Meet,' he tells them, 'as often as you
like, in my company, so long as you listen to me'; and the pathos of
his aspect makes hungry demand for a sympathetic audience.
Now, this, and not the series representing the martyrdom of the old
couple at Douro Lodge Gates, whose rigid frames bore witness to the
close packing of a gentlemanly residence, this was the sketch General
Ople, in his madness from the pursuing bite of the gadfly, handed
about at Mrs. Pollington's lawn-party. Some have said, that he should
not have betrayed his daughter; but it is reasonable to suppose he had
no idea of his daughter's being the Psyche. Or if he had, it was
indistinct, owing to the violence of his personal emotion. Assuming
this to have been the very sketch; he handed it to two or three ladies
in turn, and was heard to deliver himself at intervals in the
following snatches: 'As you like, my lady, as you like; strike, I say
strike; I bear it; I say I bear it . . . . If her ladyship is
unforgiving, I say I am enduring . . . I may go, I was saying I may
go mad, but while I have my reason I walk upright, I walk upright.'
Mr. Pollington and certain City gentlemen hearing the poor
General's renewed soliloquies, were seized with disgust of Lady
Camper's conduct, and stoutly advised an application to the Law
He gave ear to them abstractedly, but after pulling out the whole
chapter of the caricatures (which it seemed that he kept in a case of
morocco leather in his breast-pocket), showing them, with comments on
them, and observing, 'There will be more, there must be more, I say I
am sure there are things I do that her ladyship will discover and
expose,' he declined to seek redress or simple protection; and the
miserable spectacle was exhibited soon after of this courtly man
listening to Mrs. Barcop on the weather, and replying in acquiescence:
'It is hot.—If your ladyship will only abstain from colours. Very
hot as you say, madam,—I do not complain of pen and ink, but I would
rather escape colours. And I dare say you find it hot too?'
Mrs. Barcop shut her eyes and sighed over the wreck of a handsome
She asked him: 'What is your objection to colours?'
His hand was at his breast-pocket immediately, as he said: 'Have
you not seen?'—though but a few minutes back he had shown her the
contents of the packet, including a hurried glance of the famous
By this time the entire district was in fervid sympathy with
General Ople. The ladies did not, as their lords did, proclaim
astonishment that a man should suffer a woman to goad him to a state
of semi-lunacy; but one or two confessed to their husbands, that it
required a great admiration of General Ople not to despise him, both
for his susceptibility and his patience. As for the men, they knew
him to have faced the balls in bellowing battle-strife; they knew him
to have endured privation, not only cold but downright want of food
and drink—an almost unimaginable horror to these brave daily
feasters; so they could not quite look on him in contempt; but his
want of sense was offensive, and still more so his submission to a
scourging by a woman. Not one of them would have deigned to feel it.
Would they have allowed her to see that she could sting them? They
would have laughed at her. Or they would have dragged her before a
It was a Sunday in early Summer when General Ople walked to morning
service, unaccompanied by Elizabeth, who was unwell. The church was
of the considerate old-fashioned order, with deaf square pews,
permitting the mind to abstract itself from the sermon, or wrestle at
leisure with the difficulties presented by the preacher, as General
Ople often did, feeling not a little in love with his sincere
attentiveness for grappling with the knotty point and partially
allowing the struggle to be seen.
The Church was, besides, a sanctuary for him. Hither his enemy did
not come. He had this one place of refuge, and he almost looked a
happy man again.
He had passed into his hat and out of it, which he habitually did
standing, when who should walk up to within a couple of yards of him
but Lady Camper. Her pew was full of poor people, who made signs of
retiring. She signified to them that they were to sit, then quietly
took her seat among them, fronting the General across the aisle.
During the sermon a low voice, sharp in contradistinction to the
monotone of the preacher's, was heard to repeat these words: 'I say I
am not sure I shall survive it.' Considerable muttering in the same
quarter was heard besides.
After the customary ceremonious game, when all were free to move,
of nobody liking to move first, Lady Camper and a charity boy were the
persons who took the lead. But Lady Camper could not quit her pew,
owing to the sticking of the door. She smiled as with her pretty hand
she twice or thrice essayed to shake it open. General Ople strode to
her aid. He pulled the door, gave the shadow of a respectful bow, and
no doubt he would have withdrawn, had not Lady Camper, while
acknowledging the civility, placed her prayer-book in his hands to
carry at her heels. There was no choice for him. He made a sort of
slipping dance back for his hat, and followed her ladyship. All
present being eager to witness the spectacle, the passage of Lady
Camper dragging the victim General behind her was observed without a
stir of the well-dressed members of the congregation, until a desire
overcame them to see how Lady Camper would behave to her fish when she
had him outside the sacred edifice.
None could have imagined such a scene. Lady Camper was in her
carriage; General Ople was holding her prayer-book, hat in hand, at
the carriage step, and he looked as if he were toasting before the
bars of a furnace; for while he stood there, Lady Camper was rapidly
pencilling outlines in a small pocket sketchbook. There are dogs
whose shyness is put to it to endure human observation and a direct
address to them, even on the part of their masters; and these dear
simple dogs wag tail and turn their heads aside waveringly, as though
to entreat you not to eye them and talk to them so. General Ople, in
the presence of the sketchbook, was much like the nervous animal. He
would fain have run away. He glanced at it, and round about, and
again at it, and at the heavens. Her ladyship's cruelty, and his
inexplicable submission to it, were witnessed of the multitude.
The General's friends walked very slowly. Lady Camper's carriage
whirled by, and the General came up with them, accosting them and
himself alternately. They asked him where Elizabeth was, and he
replied, 'Poor child, yes! I am told she is pale, but I cannot,
believe I am so perfectly, I say so perfectly ridiculous, when I join
the responses.' He drew forth half a dozen sheets, and showed them
sketches that Lady Camper had taken in church, caricaturing him in the
sitting down and the standing up. She had torn them out of the book,
and presented them to him when driving off. 'I was saying, worship in
the ordinary sense will be interdicted to me if her ladyship . . .,'
said the General, woefully shuffling the sketch-paper sheets in which
He made the following odd confession to Mr. and Mrs. Gosling on the
road:—that he had gone to his chest, and taken out his sword-belt to
measure his girth, and found himself thinner than when he left the
service, which had not been the case before his attendance at the last
levee of the foregoing season. So the deduction was obvious, that
Lady Camper had reduced him. She had reduced him as effectually as a
'But why do you pay attention to her? Why . . . !' exclaimed
Mr. Gosling, a gentleman of the City, whose roundness would have
turned a rifle-shot.
'To allow her to wound you so seriously!' exclaimed Mrs. Gosling.
'Madam, if she were my wife,' the General explained, 'I should feel
it. I say it is the fact of it; I feel it, if I appear so extremely
ridiculous to a human eye, to any one eye.'
'To Lady Camper's eye.'
He admitted it might be that. He had not thought of ascribing the
acuteness of his pain to the miserable image he presented in this
particular lady's eye. No; it really was true, curiously true:
another lady's eye might have transformed him to a pumpkin shape,
exaggerated all his foibles fifty-fold, and he, though not liking it,
of course not, would yet have preserved a certain manly equanimity.
How was it Lady Camper had such power over him?—a lady concealing
seventy years with a rouge-box or paint-pot! It was witchcraft in its
worst character. He had for six months at her bidding been actually
living the life of a beast, degraded in his own esteem; scorched by
every laugh he heard; running, pursued, overtaken, and as it were
scored or branded, and then let go for the process to be repeated.
Our young barbarians have it all their own way with us when they
fall into love-liking; they lead us whither they please, and interest
us in their wishings, their weepings, and that fine performance, their
kissings. But when we see our veterans tottering to their fall, we
scarcely consent to their having a wish; as for a kiss, we halloo at
them if we discover them on a byway to the sacred grove where such
things are supposed to be done by the venerable. And this piece of
rank injustice, not to say impoliteness, is entirely because of an
unsound opinion that Nature is not in it, as though it were our esteem
for Nature which caused us to disrespect them. They, in truth, show
her to us discreet, civilized, in a decent moral aspect: vistas of
real life, views of the mind's eye, are opened by their touching
little emotions; whereas those bully youngsters who come bellowing at
us and catch us by the senses plainly prove either that we are no
better than they, or that we give our attention to Nature only when
she makes us afraid of her. If we cared for her, we should be up and
after her reverentially in her sedater steps, deeply studying her in
her slower paces. She teaches them nothing when they are whirling.
Our closest instructors, the true philosophers— the story-tellers,
in short-will learn in time that Nature is not of necessity always
roaring, and as soon as they do, the world may be said to be
enlightened. Meantime, in the contemplation of a pair of white
whiskers fluttering round a pair of manifestly painted cheeks, be
assured that Nature is in it: not that hectoring wanton—but let the
young have their fun. Let the superior interest of the passions of
the aged be conceded, and not a word shall be said against the young.
If, then, Nature is in it, how has she been made active? The
reason of her launch upon this last adventure is, that she has
perceived the person who can supply the virtue known to her by
experience to be wanting. Thus, in the broader instance, many who have
journeyed far down the road, turn back to the worship of youth, which
they have lost. Some are for the graceful worldliness of wit, of
which they have just share enough to admire it. Some are captivated
by hands that can wield the rod, which in earlier days they escaped to
their cost. In the case of General Ople, it was partly her whippings
of him, partly her penetration; her ability, that sat so finely on a
wealthy woman, her indifference to conventional manners, that so well
beseemed a nobly-born one, and more than all, her correction of his
little weaknesses and incompetencies, in spite of his dislike of it,
won him. He began to feel a sort of nibbling pleasure in her
grotesque sketches of his person; a tendency to recur to the old ones
while dreading the arrival of new. You hear old gentlemen speak
fondly of the swish; and they are not attached to pain, but the
instrument revives their feeling of youth; and General Ople half
enjoyed, while shrinking, Lady Camper's foregone outlines of him. For
in the distance, the whip's-end may look like a clinging caress
instead of a stinging flick. But this craven melting in his heart was
rebuked by a very worthy pride, that flew for support to the injury
she had done to his devotions, and the offence to the sacred edifice.
After thinking over it, he decided that he must quit his residence;
and as it appeared to him in the light of duty, he, with an unspoken
anguish, commissioned the house-agent of his town to sell his lease or
let the house furnished, without further parley.
From the house-agent's shop he turned into the chemist's, for a
tonic— a foolish proceeding, for he had received bracing enough in
the blow he had just dealt himself, but he had been cogitating on
tonics recently, imagining certain valiant effects of them, with
visions of a former careless happiness that they were likely to
restore. So he requested to have the tonic strong, and he took one
glass of it over the counter.
Fifteen minutes after the draught, he came in sight of his house,
and beholding it, he could have called it a gentlemanly residence
aloud under Lady Camper's windows, his insurgency was of such
violence. He talked of it incessantly, but forbore to tell Elizabeth,
as she was looking pale, the reason why its modest merits touched him
so. He longed for the hour of his next dose, and for a caricature to
follow, that he might drink and defy it. A caricature was really due
to him, he thought; otherwise why had he abandoned his bijou dwelling?
Lady Camper, however, sent none. He had to wait a fortnight before
one came, and that was rather a likeness, and a handsome likeness,
except as regarded a certain disorderliness in his dress, which he
knew to be very unlike him. Still it despatched him to the
looking-glass, to bring that verifier of facts in evidence against the
sketch. While sitting there he heard the housemaid's knock at the
door, and the strange intelligence that his daughter was with Lady
Camper, and had left word that she hoped he would not forget his
engagement to go to Mrs. Baerens' lawn-party.
The General jumped away from the glass, shouting at the absent
Elizabeth in a fit of wrath so foreign to him, that he returned
hurriedly to have another look at himself, and exclaimed at the pitch
of his voice, 'I say I attribute it to an indigestion of that tonic.
Do you hear?' The housemaid faintly answered outside the door that
she did, alarming him, for there seemed to be confusion somewhere.
His hope was that no one would mention Lady Camper's name, for the
mere thought of her caused a rush to his head. 'I believe I am in for
a touch of apoplexy,' he said to the rector, who greeted him, in
advance of the ladies, on Mr. Baerens' lawn. He said it smilingly,
but wanting some show of sympathy, instead of the whisper and
meaningless hand at his clerical band, with which the rector
responded, he cried, 'Apoplexy,' and his friend seemed then to
understand, and disappeared among the ladies.
Several of them surrounded the General, and one inquired whether
the series was being continued. He drew forth his pocket-book, handed
her the latest, and remarked on the gross injustice of it; for, as he
requested them to take note, her ladyship now sketched him as a person
inattentive to his dress, and he begged them to observe that she had
drawn him with his necktie hanging loose. 'And that, I say that has
never been known of me since I first entered society.'
The ladies exchanged looks of profound concern; for the fact was,
the General had come without any necktie and any collar, and he
appeared to be unaware of the circumstance. The rector had told them,
that in answer to a hint he had dropped on the subject of neckties,
General Ople expressed a slight apprehension of apoplexy; but his
careless or merely partial observance of the laws of buttonment could
have nothing to do with such fears. They signified rather a disorder
of the intelligence. Elizabeth was condemned for leaving him to go
about alone. The situation was really most painful, for a word to so
sensitive a man would drive him away in shame and for good; and still,
to let him parade the ground in the state, compared with his natural
self, of scarecrow, and with the dreadful habit of talking to himself
quite rageing, was a horrible alternative. Mrs. Baerens at last
directed her husband upon the General, trembling as though she watched
for the operations of a fish torpedo; and other ladies shared her
excessive anxiousness, for Mr. Baerens had the manner and the look of
artillery, and on this occasion carried a surcharge of powder.
The General bent his ear to Mr. Baerens, whose German-English and
repeated remark, 'I am to do it wid delicassy,' did not assist his
comprehension; and when he might have been enlightened, he was
petrified by seeing Lady Camper walk on the lawn with Elizabeth. The
great lady stood a moment beside Mrs. Baerens; she came straight over
to him, contemplating him in silence.
Then she said, 'Your arm, General Ople,' and she made one circuit
of the lawn with him, barely speaking.
At her request, he conducted her to her carriage. He took a seat
beside her, obediently. He felt that he was being sketched, and
comported himself like a child's flat man, that jumps at the pulling
of a string.
'Where have you left your girl, General?'
Before he could rally his wits to answer the question, he was
'And what have you done with your necktie and collar?'
He touched his throat.
'I am rather nervous to-day, I forgot Elizabeth,' he said, sending
his fingers in a dotting run of wonderment round his neck.
Lady Camper smiled with a triumphing humour on her close-drawn
The verified absence of necktie and collar seemed to be choking
'Never mind, you have been abroad without them,' said Lady Camper,
'and that is a victory for me. And you thought of Elizabeth first
when I drew your attention to it, and that is a victory for you. It
is a very great victory. Pray, do not be dismayed, General. You have
a handsome campaigning air. And no apologies, if you please; I like
you well enough as you are. There is my hand.'
General Ople understood her last remark. He pressed the lady's
hand in silence, very nervously.
'But do not shrug your head into your shoulders as if there were
any possibility of concealing the thunderingly evident,' said Lady
Camper, electrifying him, what with her cordial squeeze, her kind
eyes, and her singular language. 'You have omitted the collar. Well?
The collar is the fatal finishing touch in men's dress; it would make
Apollo look bourgeois.'
Her hand was in his: and watching the play of her features, a spark
entered General Ople's brain, causing him, in forgetfulness of collar
and caricatures, to ejaculate, 'Seventy? Did your ladyship say
seventy? Utterly impossible! You trifle with me.'
'We will talk when we are free of this accompaniment of
carriage-wheels, General,' said Lady Camper.
'I will beg permission to go and fetch Elizabeth, madam.'
'Rightly thought of. Fetch her in my carriage. And, by the way,
Mrs. Baerens was my old music-mistress, and is, I think, one year
older than I. She can tell you on which side of seventy I am.'
'I shall not require to ask, my lady,' he said, sighing.
'Then we will send the carriage for Elizabeth, and have it out
together at once. I am impatient; yes, General, impatient: for
'Of me, my lady?' The General breathed profoundly.
'Of whom else? Do you know what it is?-I don't think you do. You
English have the smallest experience of humanity. I mean this: to
strike so hard that, in the end, you soften your heart to the victim.
Well, that is my weakness. And we of our blood put no restraint on
the blows we strike when we think them wanted, so we are always
General Ople assisted Lady Camper to alight from the carriage,
which was forthwith despatched for Elizabeth.
He prepared to listen to her with a disconnected smile of acute
She had changed. She spoke of money. Ten thousand pounds must be
settled on his daughter. 'And now,' said she, 'you will remember that
you are wanting a collar.'
He acquiesced. He craved permission to retire for ten minutes.
'Simplest of men! what will cover you?' she exclaimed, and
peremptorily bidding him sit down in the drawing-room, she took one of
the famous pair of pistols in her hand, and said, 'If I put myself in
a similar position, and make myself decodletee too, will that satisfy
you? You see these murderous weapons. Well, I am a coward. I dread
fire-arms. They are laid there to impose on the world, and I believe
they do. They have imposed on you. Now, you would never think of
pretending to a moral quality you do not possess. But, silly, simple
man that you are! You can give yourself the airs of wealth, buy
horses to conceal your nakedness, and when you are taken upon the
standard of your apparent income, you would rather seem to be beating
a miserly retreat than behave frankly and honestly. I have a little
overstated it, but I am near the mark.'
'Your ladyship wanting courage!' cried the General.
'Refresh yourself by meditating on it,' said she. 'And to prove it
to you, I was glad to take this house when I knew I was to have a
gallant gentleman for a neighbour. No visitors will be admitted,
General Ople, so you are bare-throated only to me: sit quietly. One
day you speculated on the paint in my cheeks for the space of a minute
and a half:—I had said that I freckled easily. Your look signified
that you really could not detect a single freckle for the paint. I
forgave you, or I did not. But when I found you, on closer
acquaintance, as indifferent to your daughter's happiness as you had
been to her reputation . . .'
'My daughter! her reputation! her happiness !'
General Ople raised his eyes under a wave, half uttering the
'So indifferent to her reputation, that you allowed a young man to
talk with her over the wall, and meet her by appointment: so reckless
of the girl's happiness, that when I tried to bring you to a treaty,
on her behalf, you could not be dragged from thinking of yourself and
your own affair. When I found that, perhaps I was predisposed to give
you some of what my sisters used to call my spice. You would not
honestly state the proportions of your income, and you affected to be
faithful to the woman of seventy. Most preposterous! Could any
caricature of mine exceed in grotesqueness your sketch of yourself?
You are a brave and a generous man all the same: and I suspect it is
more hoodwinking than egotism—or extreme egotism—that blinds you. A
certain amount you must have to be a man. You did not like my paint,
still less did you like my sincerity; you were annoyed by my
corrections of your habits of speech; you were horrified by the age of
seventy, and you were credulous—General Ople, listen to me, and
remember that you have no collar on—you were credulous of my
statement of my great age, or you chose to be so, or chose to seem so,
because I had brushed your cat's coat against the fur. And then, full
of yourself, not thinking of Elizabeth, but to withdraw in the
chivalrous attitude of the man true to his word to the old woman, only
stickling to bring a certain independence to the common stock,
because— I quote you! and you have no collar on, mind—"you could
not be at your wife's mercy," you broke from your proposal on the
money question. Where was your consideration for Elizabeth then?
'Well, General, you were fond of thinking of yourself, and I
thought I would assist you. I gave you plenty of subject matter. I
will not say I meant to work a homoeopathic cure. But if I drive you
to forget your collar, is it or is it not a triumph?
'No,' added Lady Camper, 'it is no triumph for me, but it is one
for you, if you like to make the most of it. Your fault has been to
quit active service, General, and love your ease too well. It is the
fault of your countrymen. You must get a militia regiment, or
inspectorship of militia. You are ten times the man in exercise.
Why, do you mean to tell me that you would have cared for those
drawings of mine when marching?'
'I think so, I say I think so,' remarked the General seriously.
'I doubt it,' said she. 'But to the point; here comes Elizabeth.
If you have not much money to spare for her, according to your
prudent calculation, reflect how this money has enfeebled you and
reduced you to the level of the people round about us here—who are,
what? Inhabitants of gentlemanly residences, yes! But what kind of
creature? They have no mental standard, no moral aim, no native
chivalry. You were rapidly becoming one of them, only, fortunately
for you, you were sensitive to ridicule.'
'Elizabeth shall have half my money settled on her,' said the
General; 'though I fear it is not much. And if I can find occupation,
'Something worthier than that,' said Lady Camper, pencilling
outlines rapidly on the margin of a book, and he saw himself lashing a
pony; 'or that,' and he was plucking at a cabbage; 'or that,' and he
was bowing to three petticoated posts.
'The likeness is exact,' General Ople groaned.
'So you may suppose I have studied you,' said she. 'But there is
no real likeness. Slight exaggerations do more harm to truth than
reckless violations of it.
You would not have cared one bit for a caricature, if you had not
nursed the absurd idea of being one of our conquerors. It is the very
tragedy of modesty for a man like you to have such notions, my poor
dear good friend. The modest are the most easily intoxicated when
they sip at vanity. And reflect whether you have not been
intoxicated, for these young people have been wretched, and you have
not observed it, though one of them was living with you, and is the
child you love. There, I have done. Pray show a good face to
The General obeyed as well as he could. He felt very like a sheep
that has come from a shearing, and when released he wished to run
away. But hardly had he escaped before he had a desire for the
renewal of the operation. 'She sees me through, she sees me through,'
he was heard saying to himself, and in the end he taught himself, to
say it with a secret exultation, for as it was on her part an
extraordinary piece of insight to see him through, it struck him that
in acknowledging the truth of it, he made a discovery of new powers in
General Ople studied Lady Camper diligently for fresh proofs of her
penetration of the mysteries in his bosom; by which means, as it
happened that she was diligently observing the two betrothed young
ones, he began to watch them likewise, and took a pleasure in the
sight. Their meetings, their partings, their rides out and home
furnished him themes of converse. He soon had enough to talk of, and
previously, as he remembered, he had never sustained a conversation of
any length with composure and the beneficent sense of fulness. Five
thousand pounds, to which sum Lady Camper reduced her stipulation for
Elizabeth's dowry, he signed over to his dear girl gladly, and came
out with the confession to her ladyship that a well-invested twelve
thousand comprised his fortune. She shrugged she had left off pulling
him this way and that, so his chains were enjoyable, and he said to
himself: 'If ever she should in the dead of night want a man to defend
her!' He mentioned it to Reginald, who had been the repository of
Elizabeth's lamentations about her father being left alone, forsaken,
and the young man conceived a scheme for causing his aunt's great bell
to be rung at midnight, which would certainly have led to a dramatic
issue and the happy re-establishment of our masculine ascendancy at
the close of this history. But he forgot it in his bridegroom's
delight, until he was making his miserable official speech at the
wedding-breakfast, and set Elizabeth winking over a tear. As she stood
in the hall ready to depart, a great van was observed in the road at
the gates of Douro Lodge; and this, the men in custody declared to
contain the goods and knick-knacks of the people who had taken the
house furnished for a year, and were coming in that very afternoon.
'I remember, I say now I remember, I had a notice,' the General
said cheerily to his troubled daughter.
'But where are you to go, papa?' the poor girl cried, close on
'I shall get employment of some sort,' said he. 'I was saying I
want it, I need it, I require it.'
'You are saying three times what once would have sufficed for,'
said Lady Camper, and she asked him a few questions, frowned with a
smile, and offered him a lodgement in his neighbour's house.
'Really, dearest Aunt Angela?' said Elizabeth.
'What else can I do, child? I have, it seems, driven him out of a
gentlemanly residence, and I must give him a ladylike one. True, I
would rather have had him at call, but as I have always wished for a
policeman in the house, I may as well be satisfied with a soldier.'
'But if you lose your character, my lady?' said Reginald.
'Then I must look to the General to restore it.'
General Ople immediately bowed his head over Lady Camper's fingers.
'An odd thing to happen to a woman of forty-one!' she said to her
great people, and they submitted with the best grace in the world,
while the General's ears tingled till he felt younger than Reginald.
This, his reflections ran, or it would be more correct to say
waltzed, this is the result of painting!—that you can believe a woman
to be any age when her cheeks are tinted!
As for Lady Camper, she had been floated accidentally over the
ridicule of the bruit of a marriage at a time of life as terrible to
her as her fiction of seventy had been to General Ople; she resigned
herself to let things go with the tide. She had not been blissful in
her first marriage, she had abandoned the chase of an ideal man, and
she had found one who was tunable so as not to offend her ears, likely
ever to be a fund of amusement for her humour, good, impressible, and
above all, very picturesque. There is the secret of her, and of how
it came to pass that a simple man and a complex woman fell to union
after the strangest division.