The Poetry Did It

Wilkie Collins

The Poetry Did It Page 02

Major Evergreen submitted to circumstances -- recovered his customary good spirits -- and went on writing poetry more industriously than ever. But what author has succeeded in forgetting an inhuman review? To mention the name of the proprietor of the paper was to wound the poet in his tenderest place. When Sir John Bosworth paid visits to the charming niece, the unforgiving uncle was never in his way. Major Evergreen was 'engaged in his study.'

'I couldn't help mentioning the name, uncle,' Mabel pleaded. 'I was obliged to tell you who it was that had asked me to marry him.'

The major received this apology with a word of serious advice. 'You might have spared me the name, my dear -- you might have said, That Man. I should have known whom you meant.'

Mabel accepted the suggestion. 'I wished to tell you that I didn't engage to marry That Man,' she proceeded; 'I only said I wanted time to consider. I don't think I like him. I rather believe I want to get away from him, before he calls again.'

The major returned quietly to his chair.

'Very right indeed,' he said -- and looked at his pen and ink. He was longing to get rid of his niece and go back to his poetry.

'This is about the time of year,' Mabel persisted, 'when we go to the country.'

The major was quite willing. 'Just as you please; they're ready for us at Stillbrook.'

'Stillbrook won't do, uncle. If we go to your country house That Man will follow us. Suppose we take refuge at Oakapple Hall?'

'With all my heart.'

'Then I may write to Mrs Corydon?'


Mabel went away to write a letter; and Mabel's uncle remained, to write poetry.

II A widow of mild and retiring character, married late in life; and possessed of one son who exactly resembled her in disposition: there is the briefly sufficient description of Mrs Corydon.

Arriving at Oakapple Hall, Major Evergreen and his niece encountered a surprise held in reserve for them by their amiable hostess. They were received at the housedoor by Mrs Corydon's son. On the last two occasions when they had enjoyed the widow's hospitality, Mr Cyril Corydon had been absent, pursuing his studies at Oxford. Mabel had not seen him since he had left school.

Cyril had greatly improved in the interval. Still modest and a little reserved, he was no longer awkward; he kept his hands out of his pockets, and his nails exhibited no black rims; his fair complexion was without pimples; his vacant smile of former days had meaning in it now; and, to complete the transformation, Mabel saw a slim young man who fed delicately, in place of a devouring fat boy who approached his dinner as a pig approaches a trough. She also noticed his pretty little flaxen moustache, and shy tenderness in the expression of his gentle blue eyes. Upon the whole, he reminded her of a description of a Troubadour, in one of her uncle's poems.

Oakapple Hall, in one respect, resembled the famous abbey described by Rabelais -- the inhabitants did as they pleased. When luncheon was over Major Evergreen retired to his room and his pen and ink. Mrs Corydon resumed work on an immense embroidered counterpane, which had already occupied her patient fingers for the greater part of her life. The two young people took a walk in the park: Cyril offered his arm, and Mabel started the conversation.

'Have you really left Oxford for good?' she began. 'And are you sorry for it?'

'I was sorry for it, until to-day.'

Cyril laid a strong emphasis on the last three words, and ventured on a look which sent his artful compliment straight to its right address. Mabel acknowledged the look by an innocent little question: 'Do you think I am improved, since you saw me last?'

Cyril burst into an exclamation. Expressed in letters, it was only, 'Oh!' The manner and the tone made it eloquent, and ought to be described. But description requires appropriate words. Where, in this case, are the words? Mabel's innocence, requiring no description, pursued its artless way: 'Mr Corydon, you mustn't flatter me.' Mr Corydon immediately proceeded to flatter her.

'Don't call me "Mr!" You used to call me "Cyril," in the days when I was insensible to that honour and happiness. My one ambition is to hear you call me "Cyril" now.'

'You were a boy then, Mr Corydon: you are a young man now. I am afraid it wouldn't be quite right.'

Cyril hit on a poetical allusion which might have fallen from the lips of the major himself. 'Juliet didn't hesitate,' he remarked, 'to call Romeo by his Christian name.'

This -- for a shy man -- was, as Mabel thought, getting on at rather too rapid a rate. She turned the talk back into the prosaic channels of modern life. 'I thought your mother and you were serious people,' she said. 'Have you really been to the play?'

'Only to Shakespeare,' Cyril reminded her. 'I was taken to the theatre, in the last vacation, by a man of high position, and large experience, whom I am proud to call my friend. His younger brother read with me under the same tutor -- and I first came to know him in that way.'

'Who is this remarkable gentleman?'

'Sir John Bosworth.'

Mabel stood stock-still, and looked at the unsuspecting heir of Oakapple Hall.

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