“We are only a mile from the Box Tunnel.”
“Do you always laugh a mile from the Box Tunnel?” said the lady.
“Why, hem! it is a gentleman’s joke.”
Captain Dolignan then recounted to Miss Haythorn the following:
“A lady and her husband sat together going through the Box Tunnel; there was one gentleman opposite; it was pitch-dark. After the tunnel the lady said, ‘George, how absurd of you to salute me going through the tunnel!’ ‘I did no such thing.’ ‘You didn’t?’ ‘No; why?’ ‘Because somehow I thought you did!’”
Here Captain Dolignan laughed and endeavoured to lead his companion to laugh, but it was not to be done. The train entered the tunnel.
Miss Haythorn. Ah!
Dolignan. What is the matter?
Miss Haythorn. I am frightened.
Dolignan (moving to her side). Pray do not be alarmed; I am near you.
Miss Haythorn. You are near me–very near me indeed, Captain Dolignan.
Dolignan. You know my name?
Miss Haythorn. I heard you mention it. I wish we were out of this dark place.
Dolignan. I could be content to spend hours here reassuring you, my dear lady.
Miss Haythorn. Nonsense!
Dolignan. Pweep! (Grave reader, do not put our lips to the next pretty creature you meet, or will understand what this means.)
Miss Haythorn. Ee! Ee!
Friend. What is the matter?
Miss Haythorn. Open the door! Open the door!
There was a sound of hurried whispers; the door was shut and the blind pulled down with hostile sharpness.
If any critic falls on me for putting inarticulate sounds in a dialogue as above, I answer, with all the insolence I can command at present, “Hit boys as big as yourself”–bigger, perhaps, such as Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes; they began it, and I learned it of them sore against my will.
Miss Haythorn’s scream lost most of its effect because the engine whistled forty thousand murders at the same moment, and fictitious grief makes itself heard when real cannot.
Between the tunnel and Bath our young friend had time to ask himself whether his conduct had been marked by that delicate reserve which is supposed to distinguish the perfect gentleman.
With a long face, real or feigned, he held open the door; his late friends attempted to escape on the other side; impossible! they must pass him. She whom he had insulted (Latin for kissed) deposited somewhere at his feet a look of gentle, blushing reproach; the other, whom he had not insulted, darted red-hot daggers at him from her eyes; and so they parted.
It was perhaps fortunate for Dolignan that he had the grace to be a friend to Major Hoskyns of his regiment, a veteran laughed at by the youngsters, for the major was too apt to look coldly upon billiard-balls and cigars; he had seen cannon-balls and linstocks. He had also, to tell the truth, swallowed a good bit of the mess-room poker, which made it as impossible for Major Hoskyns to descend to an ungentlemanlike word or action as to brush his own trousers below the knee.
Captain Dolignan told this gentleman his story in gleeful accents; but Major Hoskyns heard him coldly, and as coldly answered that he had known a man to lose his life for the same thing.
“That is nothing,” continued the major, “but unfortunately he deserved to lose it.”
At this blood mounted to the younger man’s temples, and his senior added, “I mean to say he was thirty-five; you, I presume, are twenty-one!”
“That is much the same thing; will you be advised by me?”
“If you will advise me.”
“Speak to no one of this, and send White the three pounds, that he may think you have lost the bet.”
“That is hard, when I won it.”
“Do it, for all that, sir.”
Let the disbelievers in human perfectibility know that this dragoon, capable of a blush, did this virtuous action, albeit with violent reluctance; and this was his first damper. A week after these events he was at a ball. He was in that state of factitious discontent which belongs to us amiable English. He was looking in vain for a lady equal in personal attraction to the idea he had formed of George Dolignan as a man, when suddenly there glided past him a most delightful vision–a lady whose beauty and symmetry took him by the eyes; another look: “It can’t be! Yes, it is!” Miss Haythorn! (not that he knew her name), but what an apotheosis!