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The Case Of General Opel
by [?]

Elizabeth gave a slight exclamation, and blushed.

‘So, my dear, we are objects of interest to her ladyship,’ said the General.

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 do.’

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 Ople.

‘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 chirping.’

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 notice.

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 horror.

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.