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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Dragon Of Wantley - Chapter 2. How his Daughter, Miss Elaine, behaued in Consequence
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The Dragon Of Wantley - Chapter 2. How his Daughter, Miss Elaine, behaued in Consequence Post by :rosalyn Category :Long Stories Author :Owen Wister Date :May 2012 Read :2773

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The Dragon Of Wantley - Chapter 2. How his Daughter, Miss Elaine, behaued in Consequence

CHAPTER II. How his Daughter, Miss Elaine, behaued in Consequence


The Baron walked on, his rage mounting as he went, till presently he began talking aloud to himself. "Mort d'aieul and Cosenage!" he muttered, grinding his teeth over these oaths; "matters have come to a pretty pass, per my and per tout! And this is what my wine-bibbing ancestor has brought on his posterity by his omission to fight for the True Faith!"

Sir Godfrey knew the outrageous injustice of this remark as well as you or I do; and so did the portrait of his ancestor, which he happened to be passing under, for the red nose in the tapestry turned a deeper ruby in scornful anger. But, luckily for the nerves of its descendant, the moths had eaten its mouth away so entirely, that the retort it attempted to make sounded only like a faint hiss, which the Baron mistook for a little gust of wind behind the arras.

"My ruddy Burgundy!" he groaned, "going, going! and my rich, fruity Malvoisie,--all gone! Father Anselm didn't appreciate it, either, that night he dined here last September. He said I had put egg-shells in it. Egg-shells! Pooh! As if any parson could talk about wine. These Church folk had better mind their business, and say grace, and eat their dinner, and be thankful. That's what I say. Egg-shells, forsooth!" The Baron was passing through the chapel, and he mechanically removed his helmet; but he did not catch sight of the glittering eye of Father Anselm himself, who had stepped quickly into the confessional, and there in the dark watched Sir Godfrey with a strange, mocking smile. When he had the chapel to himself again, the tall gray figure of the Abbot appeared in full view, and craftily moved across the place. If you had been close beside him, and had listened hard, you could have heard a faint clank and jingle beneath his gown as he moved, which would have struck you as not the sort of noise a hair-shirt ought to make. But I am glad you were not there; for I do not like the way the Abbot looked at all, especially so near Christmas-tide, when almost every one somehow looks kinder as he goes about in the world. Father Anselm moved out of the chapel, and passed through lonely corridors out of Wantley Manor, out of the court-yard, and so took his way to Oyster-le-Main in the gathering dusk. The few people who met him received his blessing, and asked no questions; for they were all serfs of the glebe, and well used to meeting the Abbot going and coming near Wantley Manor.

Meanwhile, Sir Godfrey paced along. "To think," he continued, aloud, "to think the country could be rid of this monster, this guzzling serpent, in a few days! Plenty would reign again. Public peace of mind would be restored. The cattle would increase, the crops would grow, my rents treble, and my wines be drunk no more by a miserable, ignorant--but, no! I'm her father. Elaine shall never be permitted to sacrifice herself for one dragon, or twenty dragons, either."

"Why, what's the matter, papa?"

Sir Godfrey started. There was Miss Elaine in front of him; and she had put on one of the new French gowns he had brought over with him.

"Matter? Plenty of matter!" he began, unluckily. "At least, nothing is the matter at all, my dear. What a question! Am I not back all safe from the sea? Nothing is the matter, of course! Hasn't your old father been away from you two whole months? And weren't those pretty dresses he has carried back with him for his little girl? And isn't the wine--Zounds, no, the wine isn't--at least, certainly it is--to be sure it's what it ought to be--_what it ought to be? Yes! But, Mort d'aieul! not _where it ought to be! Hum! hum! I think I am going mad!" And Sir Godfrey, forgetting he held the helmet all this while, dashed his hands to his head with such violence that the steel edge struck hard above the ear, and in one minute had raised a lump there as large as the egg of a fowl.

"Poor, poor papa," said Miss Elaine. And she ran and fetched some cold water, and, dipping her dainty lace handkerchief into it, she bathed the Baron's head.

"Thank you, my child," he murmured, presently. "Of course, nothing is the matter. They were very slow in putting the new" (here he gave a gulp) "casks of wine into the cellar; that's all. 'Twill soon be dinner-time. I must make me ready."

And so saying, the Baron kissed his daughter and strode away towards his dressing-room. But she heard him shout "Mort d'aieul!" more than once before he was out of hearing. Then his dressing-room door shut with a bang, and sent echoes all along the entries above and below.

(Illustration: Sir Godfrey maketh him ready for the Bath)

The December night was coming down, and a little twinkling lamp hung at the end of the passage. Towards this Miss Elaine musingly turned her steps, still squeezing her now nearly dry handkerchief.

"What did he mean?" she said to herself.

"Elaine!" shouted Sir Godfrey, away off round a corner.

"Yes, papa, I'm coming."

"Don't come. I'm going to the bath. A--did you hear me say anything particular?"

"Do you mean when I met you?" answered Elaine. "Yes--no--that is,--not exactly, papa."

"Then don't dare to ask me any questions, for I won't have it." And another door slammed.

"What did papa mean?" said Miss Elaine, once more.

Her bright brown eyes were looking at the floor as she walked slowly on towards the light, and her lips, which had been a little open so that you could have seen what dainty teeth she had, shut quite close. In fact, she was thinking, which was something you could seldom accuse her of. I do not know exactly what her thoughts were, except that the words "dragon" and "sacrifice" kept bumping against each other in them continually; and whenever they bumped, Miss Elaine frowned a little deeper, till she really looked almost solemn. In this way she came under the hanging lamp and entered the door in front of which it shone.

(Illustration: SIR GODFREY getteth in to hys Bath)

This was the ladies' library, full of the most touching romances about Roland, and Walter of Aquitaine, and Sir Tristram, and a great number of other excitable young fellows, whose behaviour had invariably got them into dreadful difficulties, but had as invariably made them, in the eyes of every damsel they saw, the most attractive, fascinating, sweet, dear creatures in the world. Nobody ever read any of these books except Mrs. Mistletoe and the family Chaplain. These two were, indeed, the only people in the household that knew how to read,--which may account for it in some measure. It was here that Miss Elaine came in while she was thinking so hard, and found old Mistletoe huddled to the fire. She had been secretly reading the first chapters of a new and pungent French romance, called "Roger and Angelica," that was being published in a Paris and a London magazine simultaneously. Only thus could the talented French author secure payment for his books in England; for King John, who had recently murdered his little nephew Arthur, had now turned his attention to obstructing all arrangements for an international copyright. In many respects, this monarch was no credit to his family.

(Illustration: MISTLETOE; CONSVLTETH YE COOKYNGE BOOKE)

When the Governess heard Miss Elaine open the door behind her, she thought it was the family Chaplain, and, quickly throwing the shocking story on the floor, she opened the household cookery-book,--an enormous volume many feet square, suspended from the ceiling by strong chains, and containing several thousand receipts for English, French, Italian, Croatian, Dalmatian, and Acarnanian dishes, beginning with a poem in blank verse written to his confectioner by the Emperor Charles the Fat. German cooking was omitted.

"I'm looking up a new plum-pudding for Christmas," said Mistletoe, nervously, keeping her virtuous eyes on the volume.

"Ah, indeed!" Miss Elaine answered, indifferently. She was thinking harder than ever,--was, in fact, inventing a little plan.

"Oh, so it's you, deary!" cried the Governess, much relieved. She had feared the Chaplain might pick up the guilty magazine and find its pages cut only at the place where the French story was. And I am grieved to have to tell you that this is just what he did do later in the evening, and sat down in his private room and read about Roger and Angelica himself.

"Here's a good one," said Mistletoe. "Number 39, in the Appendix to Part Fourth. Chop two pounds of leeks and----"

"But I may not be here to taste it," said Elaine.

"Bless the child!" said Mistletoe. "And where else would you be on Christmas-day but in your own house?"

"Perhaps far away. Who knows?"

"You haven't gone and seen a young man and told him----"

"A young man, indeed!" said Elaine, with a toss of her head. "There's not a young man in England I would tell anything save to go about his business."

Miss Elaine had never seen any young men except when they came to dine on Sir Godfrey's invitation; and his manner on those occasions so awed them that they always sat on the edge of their chairs, and said, "No, thank you," when the Baron said, "Have some more capon?" Then the Baron would snort, "Nonsense! Popham, bring me Master Percival's plate," upon which Master Percival invariably simpered, and said that really he did believe he _would take another slice. After these dinners, Miss Elaine retired to her own part of the house; and that was all she ever saw of young men, whom she very naturally deemed a class to be despised as silly and wholly lacking in self-assertion.

"Then where in the name of good saints are you going to be?" Mistletoe went on.

"Why," said Elaine, slowly (and here she looked very slyly at the old Governess, and then quickly appeared to be considering the lace on her dress), "why, of course, papa would not permit me to sacrifice myself for one dragon or twenty dragons."

"What!" screamed Mistletoe, all in a flurry (for she was a fool). "What?"

"Of course, I know papa would say that," said Miss Elaine, demure as possible.

"Oh, mercy me!" squeaked Mistletoe; "we are undone!"

"To be sure, I might agree with papa," said the artful thing, knowing well enough she was on the right track.

"Oo--oo!" went the Governess, burying her nose in the household cookery-book and rocking from side to side.

"But then I might not agree with papa, you know. I might think,--might think----" Miss Elaine stopped at what she might think, for really she hadn't the slightest idea what to say next.

"You have no right to think,--no right at all!" burst out Mistletoe. "And you sha'n't be allowed to think. I'll tell Sir Godfrey at once, and he'll forbid you. Oh, dear! oh, dear! just before Christmas Eve, too! The only night in the year! She has no time to change her mind; and she'll be eaten up if she goes, I know she will. What villain told you of this, child? Let me know, and he shall be punished at once."

"I shall not tell you that," said Elaine.

"Then everybody will be suspected," moaned Mistletoe. "Everybody. The whole household. And we shall all be thrown to the Dragon. Oh, dear! was there ever such a state of things?" The Governess betook herself to weeping and wringing her hands, and Elaine stood watching her and wondering how in the world she could find out more. She knew now just enough to keep her from eating or sleeping until she knew everything.

"I don't agree with papa, at all," she said, during a lull in the tears. This was the only remark she could think of.

"He'll lock you up, and feed you on bread and water till you do--oo--oo!" sobbed Mistletoe; "and by that time we shall all be ea--ea--eaten up!"

"But I'll talk to papa, and make him change his mind."

"He won't. Do you think you're going to make him care more about a lot of sheep and cows than he does about his only daughter? Doesn't he pay the people for everything the Dragon eats up? Who would pay him for you, when you were eaten up?"

"How do you know that I should be eaten up?" asked Miss Elaine.

"Oh, dear! oh, dear! and how could you stop it? What could a girl do alone against a dragon in the middle of the night?"

"But on Christmas Eve?" suggested the young lady. "There might be something different about that. He might feel better, you know, on Christmas Eve."

"Do you suppose a wicked, ravenous dragon with a heathen tail is going to care whether it is Christmas Eve or not? He'd have you for his Christmas dinner, and that's all the notice he would take of the day. And then perhaps he wouldn't leave the country, after all. How can you be sure he would go away, just because that odious, vulgar legend says so? Who would rely on a dragon? And so there you would be gone, and he would be here, and everything!"

Mistletoe's tears flowed afresh; but you see she had said all that Miss Elaine was so curious to know about, and the fatal secret was out.

(Illustration: ELAINE MAKETH AN VNEXPECTED REMARK)

The Quarter-Bell rang for dinner, and both the women hastened to their rooms to make ready; Mistletoe still boo-hooing and snuffling, and declaring that she had always said some wretched, abominable villain would tell her child about that horrid, ridiculous legend, that was a perfect falsehood, as anybody could see, and very likely invented by the Dragon himself, because no human being with any feelings at all would think of such a cruel, absurd idea; and if they ever did, they deserved to be eaten themselves; and she would not have it.

She said a great deal more that Elaine, in the next room, could not hear (though the door was open between), because the Governess put her fat old face under the cold water in the basin, and, though she went on talking just the same, it only produced an angry sort of bubbling, which conveyed very little notion of what she meant.

So they descended the stairway, Miss Elaine walking first, very straight and solemn; and that was the way she marched into the banquet-hall, where Sir Godfrey waited.

"Papa," said she, "I think I'll meet the Dragon on Christmas Eve!"

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