SHEWING HOW COLONEL OSBORNE
WENT TO NUNCOMBE PUTNEY.
Colonel Osborne was expected at Nuncombe Putney on the Friday, and it was Thursday evening before either Mrs. Stanbury or Priscilla was told of his coming. Emily had argued the matter with Nora, declaring that she would make the communication herself, and that she would make it when she pleased and how she pleased. "If Mrs. Stanbury thinks," said she, "that I am going to be treated as a prisoner, or that I will not judge myself as to whom I may see, or whom I may not see, she is very much mistaken." Nora felt that were she to give information to those ladies in opposition to her sister's wishes, she would express suspicion on her own part by doing so; and she was silent. On that same Thursday Priscilla had written her last defiant letter to her aunt,—that letter in which she had cautioned her aunt to make no further accusations without being sure of her facts. To Priscilla's imagination that coming of Lucifer in person, of which Mrs. Trevelyan had spoken, would hardly have been worse than the coming of Colonel Osborne. When, therefore, Mrs. Trevelyan declared the fact on the Thursday evening, vainly endeavouring to speak of the threatened visit in an ordinary voice, and as of an ordinary circumstance, it was as though a thunderbolt had fallen upon them.
"Colonel Osborne coming here!" said Priscilla, mindful of the Stanbury correspondence,—mindful of the evil tongues of the world.
"And why not?" demanded Mrs. Trevelyan, who had heard nothing of the Stanbury correspondence.
"Oh dear, oh dear!" ejaculated Mrs. Stanbury, who, of course, was aware of all that had passed between the Clock House and the house in the Close, though the letters had been written by her daughter.
Nora was determined to stand up for her sister, whatever might be the circumstances of the case. "I wish Colonel Osborne were not coming," said she, "because it makes a foolish fuss; but I cannot understand how anybody can suppose it to be wrong that Emily should see papa's very oldest friend in the world."
"But why is he coming?" demanded Priscilla.
"Because he wants to see an acquaintance at Cockchaffington," said Mrs. Trevelyan; "and there is a wonderful church-door there."
"A church-fiddlestick!" said Priscilla.
The matter was debated throughout all the evening. At one time there was a great quarrel between the ladies, and then there was a reconciliation. The point on which Mrs. Trevelyan stood with the greatest firmness was this,—that it did not become her, as a married woman whose conduct had always been good and who was more careful as to that than she was even of her name, to be ashamed to meet any man. "Why should I not see Colonel Osborne, or Colonel anybody else who might call here with the same justification for calling which his old friendship gives him?" Priscilla endeavoured to explain to her that her husband's known wishes ought to hinder her from doing so. "My husband should have remained with me to express his wishes," Mrs. Trevelyan replied.
Neither could Mrs. Stanbury nor could Priscilla bring herself to say that the man should not be admitted into the house. In the course of the debate, in the heat of her anger, Mrs. Trevelyan declared that were any such threat held out to her, she would leave the house and see Colonel Osborne in the street, or at the inn.
"No, Emily; no," said Nora.
"But I will. I will not submit to be treated as a guilty woman, or as a prisoner. They may say what they like; but I won't be shut up."
"No one has tried to shut you up," said Priscilla.
"You are afraid of that old woman at Exeter," said Mrs. Trevelyan; for by this time the facts of the Stanbury correspondence had all been elicited in general conversation; "and yet you know how uncharitable and malicious she is."
"We are not afraid of her," said Priscilla. "We are afraid of nothing but of doing wrong."
"And will it be wrong to let an old gentleman come into the house," said Nora, "who is nearly sixty, and who has known us ever since we were born?"
"If he is nearly sixty, Priscilla," said Mrs. Stanbury, "that does seem to make a difference." Mrs. Stanbury herself was only just sixty, and she felt herself to be quite an old woman.
"They may be devils at eighty," said Priscilla.
"Colonel Osborne is not a devil at all," said Nora.
"But mamma is so foolish," said Priscilla. "The man's age does not matter in the least."
"I beg your pardon, my dear," said Mrs. Stanbury, very humbly.
At that time the quarrel was raging, but afterwards came the reconciliation. Had it not been for the Stanbury correspondence the fact of Colonel Osborne's threatened visit would have been admitted as a thing necessary—as a disagreeable necessity; but how was the visit to be admitted and passed over in the teeth of that correspondence? Priscilla felt very keenly the peculiar cruelty of her position. Of course Aunt Stanbury would hear of the visit. Indeed, any secrecy in the matter was not compatible with Priscilla's ideas of honesty. Her aunt had apologised humbly for having said that Colonel Osborne had been at Nuncombe. That apology, doubtless, had been due. Colonel Osborne had not been at Nuncombe when the accusation had been made, and the accusation had been unjust and false. But his coming had been spoken of by Priscilla in her own letters as an occurrence which was quite out of the question. Her anger against her aunt had been for saying that the man had come, not for objecting to such a visit. And now the man was coming, and Aunt Stanbury would know all about it. How great, how terrible, how crushing would be Aunt Stanbury's triumph!
"I must write and tell her," said Priscilla.
"I am sure I shall not object," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"And Hugh must be told," said Mrs. Stanbury.
"You may tell all the world, if you like," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
In this way it was settled among them that Colonel Osborne was to be received. On the next morning, Friday morning, Colonel Osborne, doubtless having heard something of Mrs. Crocket from his friend at Cockchaffington, was up early, and had himself driven over to Nuncombe Putney before breakfast. The ever-watchful Bozzle was, of course, at his heels,—or rather, not at his heels on the first two miles of the journey; for Bozzle, with painful zeal, had made himself aware of all the facts, and had started on the Nuncombe Putney road half an hour before the Colonel's fly was in motion. And when the fly passed him he was lying discreetly hidden behind an old oak. The driver, however, had caught a glimpse of him as he was topping a hill, and having seen him about on the previous day, and perceiving that he was dressed in a decent coat and trousers, and that, nevertheless, he was not a gentleman, began to suspect that he was—somebody. There was a great deal said afterwards about Bozzle in Mrs. Clegg's yard at Lessboro'; but the Lessboro' mind was never able to satisfy itself altogether respecting Bozzle and his mission. As to Colonel Osborne and his mission, the Lessboro' mind did satisfy itself with much certainty. The horse was hardly taken from out of Colonel Osborne's fly in Mrs. Crocket's yard when Bozzle stepped into the village by a path which he had already discovered, and soon busied himself among the tombs in the churchyard. Now, one corner of the churchyard was immediately opposite to the iron gate leading into the Clock House. "Drat 'un," said the wooden-legged postman, still sitting on his donkey, to Mrs. Crocket's ostler, "if there be'ant the chap as was here yesterday when I was a starting, and I zeed 'un in Lezbro' street thick very morning." "He be'ant arter no good, that 'un," said the ostler. After that a close watch was kept upon the watcher.
In the meantime, Colonel Osborne had ordered his breakfast at the Stag and Antlers, and had asked questions as to the position of the Clock House. He was altogether ignorant of Mr. Bozzle, although Mr. Bozzle had been on his track now for two days and two nights. He had determined, as he came on to Nuncombe Putney, that he would not be shame-faced about his visit to Mrs. Trevelyan. It is possible that he was not so keen in the matter as he had been when he planned his journey in London; and, it may be, that he really tried to make himself believe that he had come all the way to the confines of Dartmoor to see the porch of Cockchaffington Church. The session in London was over, and it was necessary for such a man as Colonel Osborne that he should do something with himself before he went down to the Scotch grouse. He had long desired to see something of the most picturesque county in England; and now, as he sat eating his breakfast in Mrs. Crocket's parlour, he almost looked upon his dear Emily as a subsidiary attraction. "Oh, that's the Clock House," he said to Mrs. Crocket. "No, I have not the pleasure of knowing Mrs. Stanbury; very respectable lady, so I have heard; widow of a clergyman; ah, yes; son up in London; I know him;—always writing books is he? Very clever, I dare say. But there's a lady,—indeed two ladies,—whom I do know. Mrs. Trevelyan is there, I think,—and Miss Rowley."
"You be'ant Muster Trevelyan, be you?" said Mrs. Crocket, looking at him very hard.
"No, I'm not Mr. Trevelyan."
"Nor yet 'the Colonel' they doo be talking about?"
"Well, yes, I am a colonel. I don't know why anybody should talk about me. I'll just step out now, however, and see my friends."
"It's madam's lover," said Mrs. Crocket to herself, "as sure as eggs is eggs." As she said so, Colonel Osborne boldly walked across the village and pulled the bell at the iron gate, while Bozzle, crouching among the tombs, saw the handle in his hand. "There he is," said Priscilla. Everybody in the Clock House had known that the fly, which they had seen, had brought "the Colonel" into Nuncombe Putney. Everybody had known that he had breakfasted at the Stag and Antlers. And everybody now knew that he was at the gate ringing the bell. "Into the drawing-room," said Mrs. Stanbury, with a fearful, tremulous whisper, to the girl who went across the little garden in front to open the iron gate. The girl felt as though Apollyon were there, and as though she were called upon to admit Apollyon. Mrs. Stanbury having uttered her whisper, hurried away up-stairs. Priscilla held her ground in the parlour, determined to be near the scene of action if there might be need. And it must be acknowledged that she peeped from behind the curtain, anxious to catch a glimpse of the terrible man, whose coming to Nuncombe Putney she regarded as so severe a misfortune.
The plan of the campaign had all been arranged. Mrs. Trevelyan and Nora together received Colonel Osborne in the drawing-room. It was understood that Nora was to remain there during the whole visit. "It is horrible to think that such a precaution should be necessary," Mrs. Trevelyan had said, "but perhaps it may be best. There is no knowing what the malice of people may not invent."
"My dear girls," said the Colonel, "I am delighted to see you," and he gave a hand to each.
"We are not very cheerful here," said Mrs. Trevelyan, "as you may imagine."
"But the scenery is beautiful," said Nora, "and the people we are living with are kind and nice."
"I am very glad of that," said the Colonel. Then there was a pause, and it seemed, for a moment or two, that none of them knew how to begin a general conversation. Colonel Osborne was quite sure, by this time, that he had come down to Devonshire with the express object of seeing the door of the church at Cockchaffington, and Mrs. Trevelyan was beginning to think that he certainly had not come to see her. "Have you heard from your father since you have been here?" asked the Colonel.
Then there was an explanation about Sir Marmaduke and Lady Rowley. Mr. Trevelyan's name was not mentioned; but Mrs. Trevelyan stated that she had explained to her mother all the painful circumstances of her present life. Sir Marmaduke, as Colonel Osborne was aware, was expected to be in England in the spring, and Lady Rowley would, of course, come with him. Nora thought that they might probably now come before that time; but Mrs. Trevelyan declared that it was out of the question that they should do so. She was sure that her father could not leave the islands except when he did so in obedience to official orders. The expense of doing so would be ruinous to him. And what good would he do? In this way there was a great deal of family conversation, in which Colonel Osborne was able to take a part; but not a word was said about Mr. Trevelyan.
Nor did "the Colonel" find an opportunity of expressing a spark of that sentiment, for the purpose of expressing which he had made this journey to Devonshire. It is not pleasant to make love in the presence of a third person, even when that love is all fair and above board; but it is quite impracticable to do so to a married lady, when that married lady's sister is present. No more futile visit than this of Colonel Osborne's to the Clock House was ever made. And yet, though not a word was spoken to which Mr. Trevelyan himself could have taken the slightest exception, the visit, futile as it was, could not but do an enormous deal of harm. Mrs. Crocket had already guessed that the fine gentleman down from London was the lover of the married lady at the Clock House, who was separated from her husband. The wooden-legged postman and the ostler were not long in connecting the man among the tombstones with the visitor to the house. Trevelyan, as we are aware, already knew that Colonel Osborne was in the neighbourhood. And poor Priscilla Stanbury was now exposed to the terrible necessity of owning the truth to her aunt. "The Colonel," when he had sat an hour with his young friends, took his leave; and, as he walked back to Mrs. Crocket's, and ordered that his fly might be got ready for him, his mind was heavy with the disagreeable feeling that he had made an ass of himself. The whole affair had been a failure; and though he might be able to pass off the porch at Cockchaffington among his friends, he could not but be aware himself that he had spent his time, his trouble, and his money for nothing. He became aware, as he returned to Lessboro', that had he intended to make any pleasant use whatever of his position in reference to Mrs. Trevelyan, the tone of his letter and his whole mode of proceeding should have been less patriarchal. And he should have contrived a meeting without the presence of Nora Rowley.
As soon as he had left them, Mrs. Trevelyan went to her own room, and Nora at once rejoined Priscilla.
"Is he gone?" asked Priscilla.
"Oh, yes;—he has gone."
"What would I have given that he had never come!"
"And yet," said Nora, "what harm has he done? I wish he had not come, because, of course, people will talk! But nothing was more natural than that he should come over to see us when he was so near us."
"What do you mean?"
"You don't believe all that? In the neighbourhood! I believe he came on purpose to see your sister, and I think that it was a dastardly and most ungentleman-like thing to do."
"I am quite sure you are wrong, then,—altogether wrong," said Nora.
"Very well. We must have our own opinions. I am glad you can be so charitable. But he should not have come here,—to this house, even though imperative business had brought him into the very village. But men in their vanity never think of the injury they may do to a woman's name. Now I must go and write to my aunt. I am not going to have it said hereafter that I deceived her. And then I shall write to Hugh. Oh dear; oh dear!"
"I am afraid we are a great trouble to you."
"I will not deceive you, because I like you. This is a great trouble to me. I have meant to be so prudent, and with all my prudence I have not been able to keep clear of rocks. And I have been so indignant with Aunt Stanbury! Now I must go and eat humble-pie."
Then she eat humble-pie,—after the following fashion:—
Dear Aunt Stanbury,
After what has passed between us, I think it right to tell you that Colonel Osborne has been at Nuncombe Putney, and that he called at the Clock House this morning. We did not see him. But Mrs. Trevelyan and Miss Rowley, together, did see him. He remained here perhaps an hour.
I should not have thought it necessary to mention this to you, the matter being one in which you are not concerned, were it not for our former correspondence. When I last wrote, I had no idea that he was coming,—nor had mamma. And when you first wrote, he was not even expected by Mrs. Trevelyan. The man you wrote about was another gentleman;—as I told you before. All this is most disagreeable and tiresome;—and would be quite nonsensical, but that circumstances seem to make it necessary.
As for Colonel Osborne, I wish he had not been here; but his coming would do no harm,—only that it will be talked about.
I think you will understand how it is that I feel myself constrained to write to you. I do hope that you will spare mamma, who is disturbed and harassed when she gets angry letters. If you have anything to say to myself, I don't mind it.
The Clock House, Friday, August 5.
She wrote also to her brother Hugh; but Hugh himself reached Nuncombe Putney before the letter reached him.
Mr. Bozzle watched the Colonel out of the house, and watched him out of the village. When the Colonel was fairly started, Mr. Bozzle walked back to Lessboro'.
SHEWING HOW MISS STANBURY BEHAVED
TO HER TWO NIECES.
Illustration The triumph of Miss Stanbury when she received her niece's letter was certainly very great,—so great that in its first flush she could not restrain herself from exhibiting it to Dorothy. "Well,—well,—what do you think, Dolly?"
"About what, aunt? I don't know who the letter is from."
"Nobody writes to me now so constant as your sister Priscilla. The letter is from Priscilla. Colonel Osborne has been at the Clock House, after all. I knew that he would be there. I knew it! I knew it!"
Dorothy, when she heard this, was dumbfounded. She had rested her defence of her mother and sister on the impossibility of any such visit being admitted. According to her lights the coming of Colonel Osborne, after all that had been said, would be like the coming of Lucifer himself. The Colonel was, to her imagination, a horrible roaring lion. She had no idea that the erratic manœuvres of such a beast might be milder and more innocent than the wooing of any turtle-dove. She would have asked whether the roaring lion had gone away again, and, if so, whether he had taken his prey with him, were it not that she was too much frightened at the moment to ask any question. That her mother and sister should have been wilfully concerned in such iniquity was quite incredible to her, but yet she did not know how to defend them. "But are you quite sure of it, Aunt Stanbury? May there not be another mistake?"
"No mistake this time, I think, my dear. Any way, Priscilla says that he is there." Now in this there was a mistake. Priscilla had said nothing of the kind.
"You don't mean that he is staying at the Clock House, Aunt Stanbury?"
"I don't know where he is now. I'm not his keeper. And, I'm glad to say, I'm not the lady's keeper either. Ah, me! It's a bad business. You can't touch pitch and not be defiled, my dear. If your mother wanted the Clock House, I would sooner have taken it for her myself than that all this should have happened,—for the family's sake."
But Miss Stanbury, when she was alone, and when she had read her niece's three letters again and again, began to understand something of Priscilla's honesty, and began also to perceive that there might have been a great difficulty respecting the Colonel, for which neither her niece nor her sister-in-law could fairly be held to be responsible. It was perhaps the plainest characteristic of all the Stanburys that they were never wilfully dishonest. Ignorant, prejudiced, and passionate they might be. In her anger Miss Stanbury, of Exeter, could be almost malicious; and her niece at Nuncombe Putney was very like her aunt. Each could say most cruel things, most unjust things, when actuated by a mistaken consciousness of perfect right on her own side. But neither of them could lie,—even by silence. Let an error be brought home to either of them,—so as to be acknowledged at home,—and the error would be assuredly confessed aloud. And, indeed, with differences in the shades, Hugh and Dorothy were of the same nature. They were possessed of sweeter tempers than their aunt and sister, but they were filled with the same eager readiness to believe themselves to be right,—and to own themselves to others to be wrong, when they had been constrained to make such confession to themselves. The chances of life, and something probably of inner nature, had made Dorothy mild and obedient; whereas, in regard to Hugh, the circumstances of his life and disposition had made him obstinate and self-reliant. But in all was to be found the same belief in self,—which amounted almost to conceit,—the same warmth of affection, and the same love of justice.
When Miss Stanbury had again perused the correspondence, and had come to see, dimly, how things had gone at Nuncombe Putney,—when the conviction came upon her mind that Priscilla had entertained a horror as to the coming of this Colonel equal to that which she herself had felt,—when her imagination painted to her all that her niece had suffered, her heart was softened somewhat. She had declared to Dorothy that pitch, if touched, would certainly defile; and she had, at first, intended to send the same opinion, couched in very forcible words, to her correspondents at the Clock House. They should not continue to go astray for want of being told that they were going astray. It must be acknowledged, too, that there was a certain amount of ignoble wrath in the bosom of Miss Stanbury because her sister-in-law had taken the Clock House. She had never been told, and had not even condescended to ask Dorothy, whether the house was taken and paid for by her nephew on behalf of his mother, or whether it was paid for by Mr. Trevelyan on behalf of his wife. In the latter case, Mrs. Stanbury would, she thought, be little more than an upper servant, or keeper,—as she expressed it to herself. Such an arrangement appeared to her to be quite disgraceful in a Stanbury; but yet she believed that such must be the existing arrangement, as she could not bring herself to conceive that Hugh Stanbury could keep such an establishment over his mother's head out of money earned by writing for a penny newspaper. There would be a triumph of democracy in this which would vanquish her altogether. She had, therefore, been anxious enough to trample on Priscilla and upon all the affairs of the Clock House; but yet she had been unable to ignore the nobility of Priscilla's truth, and having acknowledged it to herself she found herself compelled to acknowledge it aloud. She sat down to think in silence, and it was not till she had fortified herself by her first draught of beer, and till she had finished her first portion of bread and cheese, that she spoke. "I have written to your sister herself, this time," she said. "I don't know that I ever wrote a line to her before in my life."
"Poor Priscilla!" Dorothy did not mean to be severe on her aunt, either in regard to the letters which had not been written, or to the one letter which now had been written. But Dorothy pitied her sister, whom she felt to be in trouble.
"Well; I don't know about her being so poor. Priscilla, I'll be bound, thinks as well of herself as any of us do."
"She'd cut her fingers off before she'd mean to do wrong," said Dorothy.
"But what does that come to? What's the good of that? It isn't meaning to do right that will save us. For aught I know, the Radicals may mean to do right. Mr. Beales means to do right—perhaps."
"But, aunt,—if everybody did the best they could?"
"Tush, my dear! you are getting beyond your depth. There are such things still, thank God! as spiritual pastors and masters. Entrust yourself to them. Do what they think right." Now if aught were known in Exeter of Miss Stanbury, this was known,—that if any clergyman volunteered to give to her, unasked and uninvited, counsel, either ghostly or bodily, that clergyman would be sent from her presence with a wigging which he would not soon forget. The thing had been tried more than once, and the wigging had been complete. There was no more attentive listener in church than Miss Stanbury; and she would, now and again, appeal to a clergyman on some knotty point. But for the ordinary authority of spiritual pastors and masters she shewed more of abstract reverence than of practical obedience.
"I'm sure Priscilla does the best she can," said Dorothy, going back to the old subject.
"Ah,—well,—yes. What I want to say about Priscilla is this. It is a thousand pities she is so obstinate, so pig-headed, so certain that she can manage everything for herself better than anybody else can for her." Miss Stanbury was striving to say something good of her niece, but found the task to be difficult and distasteful to her.
"She has managed for mamma ever so many years; and since she took it we have hardly ever been in debt," said Dorothy.
"She'll do all that, I don't doubt. I don't suppose she cares much for ribbons and false hair for herself."
"Who? Priscilla! The idea of Priscilla with false hair!"
"I dare say not;—I dare say not. I do not think she'd spend her mother's money on things of that kind."
"Aunt Stanbury, you don't know her."
"Ah; very well. Perhaps I don't. But, come, my dear, you are very hard upon me, and very anxious to take your sister's part. And what is it all about? I've just written to her as civil a letter as one woman ever wrote to another. And if I had chosen, I could have,—could have,—h—m—m." Miss Stanbury, as she hesitated for words in which to complete her sentence, revelled in the strength of the vituperation which she could have poured upon her niece's head, had she chosen to write her last letter about Colonel Osborne in her severe strain.
"If you have written kindly to her, I am so much obliged to you," said Dorothy.
"The truth is, Priscilla has meant to be right. Meaning won't go for much when the account is taken, unless the meaning comes from a proper source. But the poor girl has done as well as she has known how. I believe it is Hugh's fault more than anybody else's." This accusation was not pleasant to Dorothy, but she was too intent just now on Priscilla's case to defend her brother. "That man never ought to have been there; and that woman never ought to have been there. There cannot be a doubt about that. If Priscilla were sitting there opposite to me, she would own as much. I am sure she would." Miss Stanbury was quite right if she meant to assert that Priscilla had owned as much to herself. "And because I think so, I am willing to forgive her part in the matter. To me, personally, she has always been rude,—most uncourteous,—and,—and,—and unlike a younger woman to an older one, and an aunt, and all that. I suppose it is because she hates me."
"Oh, no, Aunt Stanbury!"
"My dear, I suppose it is. Why else should she treat me in such a way? But I do believe of her that she would rather eat an honest, dry crust, than dishonest cake and ale."
"She would rather starve than pick up a crumb that was dishonest," said Dorothy, fairly bursting out into tears.
"I believe it. I do believe it. There; what more can I say? Clock House, indeed! What matter what house you live in, so that you can pay the rent of it honestly?"
"But the rent is paid—honestly," said Dorothy, amidst her sobs.
"It's paid, I don't doubt. I dare say the woman's husband and your brother see to that among them. Oh, that my boy, Hugh, as he used to be, should have brought us all to this! But there's no knowing what they won't do among them. Reform, indeed! Murder, sacrilege, adultery, treason, atheism;—that's what Reform means; besides every kind of nastiness under the sun." In which latter category Miss Stanbury intended especially to include bad printer's ink, and paper made of straw.
The reader may as well see the letter which was as civil a letter as ever one woman wrote to another, so that the collection of the Stanbury correspondence may be made perfect.
The Close, August 6, 186—.
My Dear Niece,
Your letter has not astonished me nearly as much as you expected it would. I am an older woman than you, and, though you will not believe it, I have seen more of the world. I knew that the gentleman would come after the lady. Such gentlemen always do go after their ladies. As for yourself, I can see all that you have done, and pretty nearly hear all that you have said, as plain as a pike-staff. I do you the credit of believing that the plan is none of your making. I know who made the plan, and a very bad plan it is.
As to my former letters and the other man, I understand all about it. You were very angry that I should accuse you of having this man at the house; and you were right to be angry. I respect you for having been angry. But what does all that say as to his coming,—now that he has come?
If you will consent to take an old woman's advice, get rid of the whole boiling of them. I say it in firm love and friendship, for I am,—
Your affectionate aunt,
The special vaunted courtesy of this letter consisted, no doubt, in the expression of respect which it contained, and in that declaration of affection with which it terminated. The epithet was one which Miss Stanbury would by no means use promiscuously in writing to her nearest relatives. She had not intended to use it when she commenced her letter to Priscilla. But the respect of which she had spoken had glowed, and had warmed itself into something of temporary love; and feeling at the moment that she was an affectionate aunt, Miss Stanbury had so put herself down in her letter. Having done such a deed she felt that Dorothy, though Dorothy knew nothing about it, ought in her gratitude to listen patiently to anything that she might now choose to say against Priscilla.
But Dorothy was in truth very miserable, and in her misery wrote a long letter that afternoon to her mother,—which, however, it will not be necessary to place entire among the Stanbury records,—begging that she might be informed as to the true circumstances of the case. She did not say a word of censure in regard either to her mother or sister; but she expressed an opinion in the mildest words which she could use, that if anything had happened which had compromised their names since their residence at the Clock House, she, Dorothy, had better go home and join them. The meaning of which was that it would not become her to remain in the house in the Close, if the house in the Close would be disgraced by her presence. Poor Dorothy had taught herself to think that the iniquity of roaring lions spread itself very widely.
In the afternoon she made some such proposition to her aunt in ambiguous terms. "Go home!" said Miss Stanbury. "Now?"
"If you think it best, Aunt Stanbury."
"And put yourself in the middle of all this iniquity and abomination! I don't suppose you want to know the woman?"
"Or the man?"
"Oh, Aunt Stanbury!"
"It's my belief that no decent gentleman in Exeter would look at you again if you were to go and live among them at Nuncombe Putney while all this is going on. No, no. Let one of you be saved out of it, at least."
Aunt Stanbury had more than once made use of expressions which brought the faintest touch of gentle pink up to her niece's cheeks. We must do Dorothy the justice of saying that she had never dreamed of being looked at by any gentleman, whether decent or indecent. Her life at Nuncombe Putney had been of such a nature, that though she knew that other girls were looked at, and even made love to, and that they got married and had children, no dim vision of such a career for herself had ever presented itself to her eyes. She had known very well that her mother and sister and herself were people apart,—ladies, and yet so extremely poor, that they could only maintain their rank by the most rigid seclusion. To live, and work unseen, was what the world had ordained for her. Then her call to Exeter had come upon her, and she had conceived that she was henceforth to be the humble companion of a very imperious old aunt. Her aunt, indeed, was imperious, but did not seem to require humility in her companion. All the good things that were eaten and drunk were divided between them with the strictest impartiality. Dorothy's cushion and hassock in the church and in the cathedral were the same as her aunt's. Her bed-room was made very comfortable for her. Her aunt never gave her any orders before company, and always spoke of her before the servants as one whom they were to obey and respect. Gradually Dorothy came to understand the meaning of this;—but her aunt would sometimes say things about young men which she did not quite understand. Could it be that her aunt supposed that any young man would come and wish to marry her,—her, Dorothy Stanbury? She herself had not quite so strong an aversion to men in general as that which Priscilla felt, but she had not as yet found that any of those whom she had seen at Exeter were peculiarly agreeable to her. Before she went to bed that night her aunt said a word to her which startled her more than she had ever been startled before. On that evening Miss Stanbury had a few friends to drink tea with her. There were Mr. and Mrs. Crumbie, and Mrs. MacHugh of course, and the Cheritons from Alphington, and the Miss Apjohns from Helion Villa, and old Mr. Powel all the way from Haldon, and two of the Wrights from their house in the Northernhay, and Mr. Gibson;—but the Miss Frenches from Heavitree were not there. "Why don't you have the Miss Frenches, aunt?" Dorothy had asked.
"Bother the Miss Frenches! I'm not bound to have them every time. There's Camilla has been and got herself a band-box on the back of her head a great deal bigger than the place inside where her brains ought to be." But the band-box at the back of Camilla French's head was not the sole cause of the omission of the two sisters from the list of Miss Stanbury's visitors on this occasion.
The party went off very much as usual. There were two whist tables, for Miss Stanbury could not bear to cut out. At other houses than her own, when there was cutting out, it was quite understood that Miss Stanbury was to be allowed to keep her place. "I'll go away, and sit out there by myself, if you like," she would say. But she was never thus banished; and at her own house she usually contrived that there should be no system of banishment. She would play dummy whist, preferring it to the four-handed game; and, when hard driven, and with a meet opponent, would not even despise double-dummy. It was told of her and of Mrs. MacHugh that they had played double-dummy for a whole evening together; and they who were given to calumny had declared that the candles on that evening had been lighted very early. On the present occasion a great many sixpenny points were scored, and much tea and cake were consumed. Mr. Gibson never played whist,—nor did Dorothy. That young John Wright and Mary Cheriton should do nothing but talk to each other was a thing of course, as they were to be married in a month or two. Then there was Ida Cheriton, who could not very well be left at home; and Mr. Gibson made himself pleasant to Dorothy and Ida Cheriton, instead of making himself pleasant to the two Miss Frenches. Gentlemen in provincial towns quite understand that, from the nature of social circumstances in the provinces, they should always be ready to be pleasant at least to a pair at a time. At a few minutes before twelve they were all gone, and then came the shock.
"Dolly, my dear, what do you think of Mr. Gibson?"
"Think of him, Aunt Stanbury?"
"Yes; think of him;—think of him. I suppose you know how to think?"
"He seems to me always to preach very drawling sermons."
"Oh, bother his sermons! I don't care anything about his sermons now. He is a very good clergyman, and the Dean thinks very much about him."
"I am glad of that, Aunt Stanbury."
Then came the shock. "Don't you think it would be a very good thing if you were to become Mrs. Gibson?"
It may be presumed that Miss Stanbury had assured herself that she could not make progress with Dorothy by "beating about the bush." There was an inaptitude in her niece to comprehend the advantages of the situations, which made some direct explanation absolutely necessary. Dorothy stood half-smiling, half-crying, when she heard the proposition, her cheeks suffused with that pink colour, and with both her hands extended with surprise.
"I've been thinking about it ever since you've been here," said Miss Stanbury.
"I think he likes Miss French," said Dorothy, in a whisper.
"Which of them? I don't believe he likes them at all. Maybe, if they go on long enough, they may be able to toss up for him. But I don't think it of him. Of course they're after him, but he'll be too wise for them. And he's more of a fool than I take him to be if he don't prefer you to them." Dorothy remained quite silent. To such an address as this it was impossible that she should reply a word. It was incredible to her that any man should prefer herself to either of the young women in question; but she was too much confounded for the expression even of her humility. "At any rate you're wholesome, and pleasant and modest," said Miss Stanbury.
Dorothy did not quite like being told that she was wholesome; but, nevertheless, she was thankful to her aunt.
"I'll tell you what it is," continued Miss Stanbury; "I hate all mysteries, especially with those I love. I've saved two thousand pounds, which I've put you down for in my will. Now, if you and he can make it up together, I'll give you the money at once. There's no knowing how often an old woman may alter her will; but when you've got a thing, you've got it. Mr. Gibson would know the meaning of a bird in the hand as well as anybody. Now those girls at Heavitree will never have above a few hundreds each, and not that while their mother lives." Dorothy made one little attempt at squeezing her aunt's hand, wishing to thank her aunt for this affectionate generosity; but she had hardly accomplished the squeeze, when she desisted, feeling strangely averse to any acknowledgment of such a boon as that which had been offered to her. "And now, good night, my dear. If I did not think you a very sensible young woman, I should not trust you by saying all this." Then they parted, and Dorothy soon found herself alone in her bedroom.
To have a husband of her own, a perfect gentleman too, and a clergyman;—and to go to him with a fortune! She believed that two thousand pounds represented nearly a hundred a year. It was a large fortune in those parts,—according to her understanding of ladies' fortunes. And that she, the humblest of the humble, should be selected for so honourable a position! She had never quite known, quite understood as yet, whether she had made good her footing in her aunt's house in a manner pleasant to her aunt. More than once or twice she had spoken even of going back to her mother, and things had been said which had almost made her think that her aunt had been angry with her. But now, after a month or two of joint residence, her aunt was offering to her—two thousand pounds and a husband!
But was it within her aunt's power to offer to her the husband? Mr. Gibson had always been very civil to her. She had spoken more to Mr. Gibson than to any other man in Exeter. But it had never occurred to her for a moment that Mr. Gibson had any special liking for her. Was it probable that he would ever entertain any feeling of that kind for her? It certainly had occurred to her before now that Mr. Gibson was sometimes bored by the Miss Frenches;—but then gentlemen do get bored by ladies.
And at last she asked herself another question,—had she any special liking for Mr. Gibson? As far as she understood such matters everything was blank there. Thinking of that other question, she went to sleep.
COLONEL OSBORNE AND MR. BOZZLE
RETURN TO LONDON.
Hugh Stanbury went down on the Saturday, by the early express to Exeter, on his road to Lessboro'. He took his ticket through to Lessboro', not purposing to stay at Exeter; but, from the exigencies of the various trains, it was necessary that he should remain for half an hour at the Exeter Station. This took place on the Saturday, and Colonel Osborne's visit to the Clock House had been made on the Friday. Colonel Osborne had returned to Lessboro', had slept again at Mrs. Clegg's house, and returned to London on the Saturday. It so happened that he also was obliged to spend half an hour at the Exeter Station, and that his half-hour, and Hugh Stanbury's half-hour, were one and the same. They met, therefore, as a matter of course, upon the platform. Stanbury was the first to see the other, and he found that he must determine on the spur of the moment what he would say, and what he would do. He had received no direct commission from Trevelyan as to his meeting with Colonel Osborne. Trevelyan had declared that, as to the matter of quarrelling, he meant to retain the privilege of doing that for himself; but Stanbury had quite understood that this was only the vague expression of an angry man. The Colonel had taken a glass of sherry, and had lighted a cigar, and was quite comfortable,—having thrown aside, for a time, that consciousness of the futility of his journey which had perplexed him,—when Stanbury accosted him.
"What! Mr. Stanbury,—how do you do? Fine day, isn't it? Are you going up or down?"
"I'm going to see my own people at Nuncombe Putney, a village beyond Lessboro'," said Hugh.
"Ah;—indeed." Colonel Osborne of course perceived at once that as this man was going to the house at which he had just been visiting, it would be better that he should himself explain what he had done. If he were to allow this mention of Nuncombe Putney to pass without saying that he himself had been there, he would be convicted of at least some purpose of secrecy in what he had been doing. "Very strange," said he; "I was at Nuncombe Putney myself yesterday."
"I know you were," said Stanbury.
"And how did you know it?" There had been a tone of anger in Stanbury's voice which Colonel Osborne had at once appreciated, and which made him assume a similar tone. As they spoke there was a man standing in a corner close by the bookstall, with his eye upon them, and that man was Bozzle, the ex-policeman,—who was doing his duty with sedulous activity by seeing "the Colonel" back to London. Now Bozzle did not know Hugh Stanbury, and was angry with himself that he should be so ignorant. It is the pride of a detective ex-policeman to know everybody that comes in his way.
"Well, I had been so informed. My friend Trevelyan knew that you were there,—or that you were going there."
"I don't care who knew that I was going there," said the Colonel.
"I won't pretend to understand how that may be, Colonel Osborne; but I think you must be aware, after what took place in Curzon Street, that it would have been better that you should not have attempted to see Mrs. Trevelyan. Whether you have seen her I do not know."
"What business is it of yours, Mr. Stanbury, whether I have seen that lady or not?"
"Unhappily for me, her husband has made it my business."
"Very unhappily for you, I should say."
"And the lady is staying at my mother's house."
"I presume the lady is not a prisoner in your mother's house, and that your mother's hospitality is not so restricted but that her guest may see an old friend under her roof." This Colonel Osborne said with an assumed look of almost righteous indignation, which was not at all lost upon Bozzle. They had returned back towards the bookstall, and Bozzle, with his eyes fixed on a copy of the "D. R." which he had just bought, was straining his ears to the utmost to catch what was being said.
"You best know whether you have seen her or not."
"I have seen her."
"Then I shall take leave to tell you, Colonel Osborne, that you have acted in a most unfriendly way, and have done that which must tend to keep an affectionate husband apart from his wife."
"Sir, I don't at all understand this kind of thing addressed to me. The father of the lady you are speaking of has been my most intimate friend for thirty years." After all, the Colonel was a mean man when he could take pride in his youth, and defend himself on the score of his age, in one and the same proceeding.
"I have nothing further to say," replied Stanbury.
"You have said too much already, Mr. Stanbury."
"I think not, Colonel Osborne. You have, I fear, done an incredible deal of mischief by going to Nuncombe Putney; and, after all that you have heard on the subject, you must have known that it would be mischievous. I cannot understand how you can force yourself about a man's wife against the man's expressed wish."
"Sir, I didn't force myself upon anybody. Sir, I went down to see an old friend,—and a remarkable piece of antiquity. And, when another old friend was in the neighbourhood, close by,—one of the oldest friends I have in the world,—wasn't I to go and see her? God bless my soul! What business is it of yours? I never heard such impudence in my life!" Let the charitable reader suppose that Colonel Osborne did not know that he was lying,—that he really thought, when he spoke, that he had gone down to Lessboro' to see the remarkable piece of antiquity.
"Good morning," said Hugh Stanbury, turning on his heels and walking away. Colonel Osborne shook himself, inflated his cheeks, and blew forth the breath out of his mouth, put his thumbs up to the armholes of his waistcoat, and walked about the platform as though he thought it to be incumbent on him to show that he was somebody,—somebody that ought not to be insulted,—somebody, perhaps, whom a very pretty woman might prefer to her own husband, in spite of a small difference in age. He was angry, but not quite so much angry as proud. And he was safe, too. He thought that he was safe. When he should come to account for himself and his actions to his old friend, Sir Marmaduke, he felt that he would be able to show that he had been, in all respects, true to friendship. Sir Marmaduke had unfortunately given his daughter to a jealous, disagreeable fellow, and the fault all lay in that. As for Hugh Stanbury,—he would simply despise Hugh Stanbury, and have done with it.
Mr. Bozzle, though he had worked hard in the cause, had heard but a word or two. Eaves-droppers seldom do hear more than that. A porter had already told him who was Hugh Stanbury,—that he was Mr. Hugh Stanbury, and that his aunt lived at Exeter. And Bozzle, knowing that the lady about whom he was concerned was living with a Mrs. Stanbury at the house he had been watching, put two and two together with his natural cleverness. "God bless my soul! what business is it of yours?" Those words were nearly all that Bozzle had been able to hear; but even those sufficiently indicated a quarrel. "The lady" was living with Mrs. Stanbury, having been so placed by her husband; and young Stanbury was taking the lady's part! Bozzle began to fear that the husband had not confided in him with that perfect faith which he felt to be essentially necessary to the adequate performance of the duties of his great profession. A sudden thought, however, struck him. Something might be done on the journey up to London. He at once made his way back to the ticket-window and exchanged his ticket,—second-class for first-class. It was a noble deed, the expense falling all upon his own pocket; for, in the natural course of things, he would have charged his employers with the full first-class fare. He had seen Colonel Osborne seat himself in a carriage, and within two minutes he was occupying the opposite place. The Colonel was aware that he had noticed the man's face lately, but did not know where.
"Very fine summer weather, sir," said Bozzle.
"Very fine," said the Colonel, burying himself behind a newspaper.
"They is getting up their wheat nicely in these parts, sir."
The answer to this was no more than a grunt. But Bozzle was not offended. Not to be offended is the special duty of all policemen, in and out of office; and the journey from Exeter to London was long, and was all before him.
"A very nice little secluded village is Nuncombe Putney," said Bozzle, as the train was leaving the Salisbury Station.
At Salisbury two ladies had left the carriage, no one else had got in, and Bozzle was alone with the Colonel.
"I dare say," said the Colonel, who by this time had relinquished his shield, and who had begun to compose himself for sleep, or to pretend to compose himself, as soon as he heard Bozzle's voice. He had been looking at Bozzle, and though he had not discovered the man's trade, had told himself that his companion was a thing of dangers,—a thing to be avoided, by one engaged, as had been he himself, on a special and secret mission.
"Saw you there,—calling at the Clock House," said Bozzle.
"Very likely," said the Colonel, throwing his head well back into the corner, shutting his eyes, and uttering a slight preliminary snore.
"Very nice family of ladies at the Clock House," said Bozzle. The Colonel answered him by a more developed snore. "Particularly Mrs. T——" said Bozzle.
The Colonel could not stand this. He was so closely implicated with Mrs. Trevelyan at the present moment that he could not omit to notice an address so made to him. "What the devil is that to you, sir?" said he, jumping up and confronting Bozzle in his wrath.
But policemen have always this advantage in their difficulties, that they know to a fraction what the wrath of men is worth, and what it can do. Sometimes it can dismiss a policeman, and sometimes break his head. Sometimes it can give him a long and troublesome job, and sometimes it may be wrath to the death. But in nineteen out of twenty cases it is not a fearful thing, and the policeman knows well when he need not fear it. On the present occasion Bozzle was not at all afraid of Colonel Osborne's wrath.
"Well, sir, not much, indeed, if you come to that. Only you was there, sir."
"Of course I was there," said the Colonel.
"And a very nice young gentleman is Mr. Stanbury," said Bozzle.
To this Colonel Osborne made no reply, but again had resort to his newspaper in the most formal manner.
"He's going down to his family, no doubt," continued Bozzle.
"He may be going to the devil for what I know," said the Colonel, who could not restrain himself.
"I suppose they're all friends of Mrs. T.'s?" asked Bozzle.
"Sir," said the Colonel, "I believe that you're a spy."
"No, Colonel, no; no, no; I'm no spy. I wouldn't demean myself to be such. A spy is a man as has no profession, and nothing to justify his looking into things. Things must be looked into, Colonel; or how's a man to know where he is? or how's a lady to know where she is? But as for spies, except in the way of evidence, I don't think nothing of 'em." Soon after this two more passengers entered the train, and nothing more was said between Bozzle and the Colonel.
The Colonel, as soon as he reached London, went home to his lodgings, and then to his club, and did his best to enjoy himself. On the following Monday he intended to start for Scotland. But he could not quite enjoy himself,—because of Bozzle. He felt that he was being watched; and there is nothing that any man hates so much as that, especially when a lady is concerned. Colonel Osborne knew that his visit to Nuncombe Putney had been very innocent; but he did not like the feeling that even his innocence had been made the subject of observation.
Bozzle went away at once to Trevelyan, whom he found at his chambers. He himself had had no very deep-laid scheme in his addresses to Colonel Osborne. He had begun to think that very little would come of the affair,—especially after Hugh Stanbury had appeared upon the scene,—and had felt that there was nothing to be lost by presenting himself before the eyes of the Colonel. It was necessary that he should make a report to his employer, and the report might be made a little more full after a few words with the man whom he had been "looking into." "Well, Mr. Trewillian," he said, seating himself on a chair close against the wall, and holding his hat between the knees,—"I've seen the parties, and know pretty much all about it."
"All I want to know, Mr. Bozzle, is, whether Colonel Osborne has been at the Clock House?"
"He has been there, Mr. Trewillian. There is no earthly doubt about that. From hour to hour I can tell you pretty nearly where he's been since he left London." Then Bozzle took out his memorandum-book.
"I don't care about all that," said Trevelyan.
"I dare say not, sir; but it may be wanted all the same. Any gentleman acting in our way can't be too particular,—can't have too many facts. The smallest little,—tiddly things,"—and Bozzle as he said this seemed to enjoy immensely the flavour of his own epithet,—"the smallest little 'tiddly' things do so often turn up trumps when you get your evidence into court."
"I'm not going to get any evidence into court."
"Maybe not, sir. A gentleman and lady is always best out of court as long as things can hang on any way;—but sometimes things won't hang on no way."
Trevelyan, who was conscious that the employment of Bozzle was discreditable, and whose affairs in Devonshire were now in the hands of, at any rate, a more honourable ally, was at present mainly anxious to get rid of the ex-policeman. "I have no doubt you've been very careful, Mr. Bozzle," said he.
"There isn't no one in the business could be more so, Mr. Trewillian."
"And you have found out what it was necessary that I should know. Colonel Osborne did go to the Clock House?"
"Was let in at the front door on Friday the 5th, by Sarah French, the housemaid, at 10.37 a.m., and was let out again by the same young woman at 11.41 a.m. Perhaps you'd like to have a copy of the entry, Mr. Trewillian?"
"No, no, no."
"It doesn't matter. Of course it'll be with me when it's wanted. Who was with him, exactly, at that time, I can't say. There is things, Mr. Trewillian, one can't see. But I don't think as he saw neither Mrs. Stanbury, nor Miss Stanbury,—not to speak to. I did just have one word, promiscuous, with Sarah French, after he was gone. Whether the other young lady was with 'em or not, and if so for how long, I—can't—say. There is things, Mr. Trewillian, which one can't see."
How Trevelyan hated the man as he went on with his odious details,—details not one of which possessed the slightest importance. "It's all right, I dare say, Mr. Bozzle. And now about the account."
"Quite so, Mr. Trewillian. But there was one question;—just one question."
"What question?" said Trevelyan, almost angrily.
"And there's another thing I must tell you, too, Mr. Trewillian. I come back to town in the same carriage with the Colonel. I thought it better."
"You did not tell him who you were?"
"No, Mr. Trewillian; I didn't tell him that. I don't think he'd say if you was to ask him that I told him much of anything. No, Mr. Trewillian, I didn't tell him nothing. I don't often tell folks much till the time comes. But I thought it better, and I did have a word or two with the gent,—just a word or two. He's not so very downy, isn't the Colonel;—for one that's been at it so long, Mr. Trewillian."
"I dare say not. But if you could just let me have the account, Mr. Bozzle,—"
"The account? Oh, yes;—that is necessary; ain't it? These sort of inquiries do come a little expensive, Mr. Trewillian; because time goes for so much; and when one has to be down on a thing, sharp, you know, and sure, so that counsel on the other side can't part you from it, though he shakes you like a dog does a rat,—and one has to get oneself up ready for all that, you know, Mr. Trewillian,—as I was saying, one can't count one's shillings when one has such a job as this in hand. Clench your nail;—that's what I say; be it even so. Clench your nail;—that's what you've got to do."
"I dare say we shan't quarrel about the money, Mr. Bozzle."
"Oh dear no. I find I never has any words about the money. But there's that one question. There's a young Mr. Stanbury has gone down, as knows all about it. What's he up to?"
"He's my particular friend," said Trevelyan.
"Oh—h. He do know all about it, then?"
"We needn't talk about that, if you please, Mr. Bozzle."
"Because there was words between him and the Colonel upon the platform;—and very angry words. The young man went at the Colonel quite open-mouthed,—savage-like. It's not the way such things should be done, Mr. Trewillian; and though of course it's not for me to speak;—she's your lady,—still, when you has got a thing of this kind in hand, one head is better than a dozen. As for myself, Mr. Trewillian, I never wouldn't look at a case,—not if I knew it,—unless I was to have it all to myself. But of course there was no bargain, and so I says nothing."
After considerable delay the bill was made out on the spot, Mr. Bozzle copying down the figures painfully from his memorandum-book, with his head much inclined on one side. Trevelyan asked him, almost in despair, to name the one sum; but this Bozzle declined to do, saying that right was right. He had a scale of pilfering of his own, to which he had easily reconciled his conscience; and beyond that he prided himself on the honesty of his accounts. At last the bill was made out, was paid, and Bozzle was gone. Trevelyan, when he was alone, threw himself back on a sofa, and almost wept in despair. To what a depth of degradation had he not been reduced!
As Hugh Stanbury went over to Lessboro', and from thence to Nuncombe Putney, he thought more of himself and Nora Rowley than he did of Mr. and Mrs. Trevelyan. As to Mrs. Trevelyan and Colonel Osborne, he felt that he knew everything that it was necessary that he should know. The man had been there, and had seen Mrs. Trevelyan. Of that there could be no doubt. That Colonel Osborne had been wickedly indifferent to the evil consequences of such a visit, and that all the women concerned had been most foolish in permitting him to make it, was his present conviction. But he did not for a moment doubt that the visit had in itself been of all things the most innocent. Trevelyan had sworn that if his wife received the man at Nuncombe Putney, he would never see her again. She had seen him, and this oath would be remembered, and there would be increased difficulties. But these difficulties, whatever they might be, must be overcome. When he had told himself this, then he allowed his mind to settle itself on Nora Rowley.
Hitherto he had known Miss Rowley only as a fashionable girl living with the wife of an intimate friend of his own in London. He had never been staying in the same house with her. Circumstances had never given to him the opportunity of assuming the manner of an intimate friend, justifying him in giving advice, and authorising him to assume that semi-paternal tone which is by far the easiest preliminary to love-making. When a man can tell a young lady what she ought to read, what she ought to do, and whom she ought to know, nothing can be easier than to assure her that, of all her duties, her first duty is to prefer himself to all the world. And any young lady who has consented to receive lessons from such a teacher, will generally be willing to receive this special lesson among others. But Stanbury had hitherto had no such opportunities. In London Miss Rowley had been a fashionable young lady, living in Mayfair, and he had been,—well, anything but a fashionable young man. Nevertheless, he had seen her often, had sat by her very frequently, was quite sure that he loved her dearly, and had, perhaps, some self-flattering idea in his mind that had he stuck to his honourable profession as a barrister, and were he possessed of some comfortable little fortune of his own, he might, perhaps, have been able, after due siege operations, to make this charming young woman his own. Things were quite changed now. For the present, Miss Rowley certainly could not be regarded as a fashionable London young lady. The house in which he would see her was, in some sort, his own. He would be sleeping under the same roof with her, and would have all the advantages which such a position could give him. He would have no difficulty now in asking, if he should choose to ask; and he thought that she might be somewhat softer, somewhat more likely to yield at Nuncombe Putney, than she would have been in London. She was at Nuncombe in weak circumstances, to a certain degree friendless; with none of the excitement of society around her, with no elder sons buzzing about her and filling her mind, if not her heart, with the glories of luxurious primogeniture. Hugh Stanbury certainly did not dream that any special elder son had as yet been so attracted as to have made a journey to Nuncombe Putney on Nora's behalf. But should he on this account,—because she would be, as it were, without means of defence from his attack,—should he therefore take advantage of her weakness? She would, of course, go back to her London life after some short absence, and would again, if free, have her chance among the favoured ones of the earth. What had he to offer to her? He had taken the Clock House for his mother, and it would be quite as much as he could do, when Mrs. Trevelyan should have left the village, to keep up that establishment and maintain himself in London,—quite as much as he could do, even though the favours of the "D. R." should flow upon him with their fullest tides. In such circumstances, would it be honourable in him to ask a girl to love him because he found her defenceless in his mother's house?
"If there bain't another for Nuncombe," said Mrs. Clegg's Ostler to Mrs. Clegg's Boots, as Stanbury was driven off in a gig.
"That be young Stanbury, a-going of whome."
"They be all a-going for the Clock House. Since the old 'ooman took to thick there house, there be folk a-comin' and a-goin' every day loike."
"It's along of the madam that they keeps there, Dick," said the Boots.
"I didn't care if there'd be madams allays. They're the best as is going for trade anyhow," said the ostler. What the ostler said was true. When there comes to be a feeling that a woman's character is in any way tarnished, there comes another feeling that everybody on the one side may charge double, and that everybody on the other side must pay double, for everything. Hugh Stanbury could not understand why he was charged a shilling a mile, instead of ninepence, for the gig to Nuncombe Putney. He got no satisfactory answer, and had to pay the shilling. The truth was, that gigs to Nuncombe Putney had gone up, since a lady, separated from her husband, with a colonel running after her, had been taken in at the Clock House.
"Here's Hugh!" said Priscilla, hurrying to the front door. And Mrs. Stanbury hurried after her. Her son Hugh was the apple of her eye, the best son that ever lived, generous, noble, a thorough man,—almost a god!
"Dear, dear, oh dear! Who'd have expected it? God bless you, my boy! Why didn't you write? Priscilla, what is there in the house that he can eat?"
"Plenty of bread and cheese," said Priscilla, laughing, with her hand inside her brother's arm. For though Priscilla hated all other men, she did not hate her brother Hugh. "If you wanted things nice to eat directly you got here, you ought to have written."
"I shall want my dinner, like any other Christian,—in due time," said Hugh. "And how is Mrs. Trevelyan,—and how is Miss Rowley?"
He soon found himself in company with those two ladies, and experienced some immediate difficulty in explaining the cause of his sudden coming. But this was soon put aside by Mrs. Trevelyan.
"When did you see my husband?" she asked.
"I saw him yesterday. He was quite well."
"Colonel Osborne has been here," she said.
"I know that he has been here. I met him at the station at Exeter. Perhaps I should not say so, but I wish he had remained away."
"We all wish it," said Priscilla.
Then Nora spoke. "But what could we do, Mr. Stanbury? It seemed so natural that he should call when he was in the neighbourhood. We have known him so long; and how could we refuse to see him?"
"I will not let any one think that I'm afraid to see any man on earth," said Mrs. Trevelyan. "If he had ever in his life said a word that he should not have said, a word that would have been an insult, of course it would have been different. But the notion of it is preposterous. Why should I not have seen him?"
"I think he was wrong to come," said Hugh.
"Of course he was wrong;—wickedly wrong," said Priscilla.
Stanbury, finding that the subject was openly discussed between them, declared plainly the mission that had brought him to Nuncombe. "Trevelyan heard that he was coming, and asked me to let him know the truth."
"Now you can tell him the truth," said Mrs. Trevelyan, with something of indignation in her tone, as though she thought that Stanbury had taken upon himself a task of which he ought to be ashamed.
"But Colonel Osborne came specially to pay a visit to Cockchaffington," said Nora, "and not to see us. Louis ought to know that."
"Nora, how can you demean yourself to care about such trash?" said Mrs. Trevelyan. "Who cares why he came here? His visit to me was a thing of course. If Mr. Trevelyan disapproves of it, let him say so, and not send secret messengers."
"Am I a secret messenger?" said Hugh Stanbury.
"There has been a man here, inquiring of the servants," said Priscilla. So that odious Bozzle had made his foul mission known to them! Stanbury, however, thought it best to say nothing of Bozzle,—not to acknowledge that he had ever heard of Bozzle. "I am sure Mrs. Trevelyan does not mean you," said Priscilla.
"I do not know what I mean," said Mrs. Trevelyan. "I am so harassed and fevered by these suspicions that I am driven nearly mad." Then she left the room for a minute and returned with two letters. "There, Mr. Stanbury; I got that note from Colonel Osborne, and wrote to him that reply. You know all about it now. Can you say that I was wrong to see him?"
"I am sure that he was wrong to come," said Hugh.
"Wickedly wrong," said Priscilla, again.
"You can keep the letters, and show them to my husband," said Mrs. Trevelyan; "then he will know all about it." But Stanbury declined to keep the letters.
He was to remain the Sunday at Nuncombe Putney and return to London on the Monday. There was, therefore, but one day on which he could say what he had to say to Nora Rowley. When he came down to breakfast on the Sunday morning he had almost made up his mind that he had nothing to say to her. As for Nora, she was in a state of mind much less near to any fixed purpose. She had told herself that she loved this man,—had indeed done so in the clearest way, by acknowledging the fact of her love to another suitor, by pleading to that other suitor the fact of her love as an insuperable reason why he should be rejected. There was no longer any doubt about it to her. When Priscilla had declared that Hugh Stanbury was at the door, her heart had gone into her mouth. Involuntarily she had pressed her hands to her sides, and had held her breath. Why had he come there? Had he come there for her? Oh! if he had come there for her, and if she might dare to forget all the future, how sweet,—sweetest of all things in heaven or earth,—might be an August evening with him among the lanes! But she, too, had endeavoured to be very prudent. She had told herself that she was quite unfit to be the wife of a poor man,—that she would be only a burden round his neck, and not an aid to him. And in so telling herself, she had told herself also that she had been a fool not to accept Mr. Glascock. She should have dragged out from her heart the image of this man who had never even whispered a word of love in her ears, and should have constrained herself to receive with affection a man in loving whom there ought to be no difficulty. But when she had been repeating those lessons to herself, Hugh Stanbury had not been in the house. Now he was there;—and what must be her answer if he should whisper that word of love? She had an idea that it would be treason in her to disown the love she felt, if questioned concerning her heart by the man to whom it had been given.
They all went to church on the Sunday morning, and up to that time Nora had not been a moment alone with the man. It had been decided that they should dine early, and then ramble out, when the evening would be less hot than the day had been, to a spot called Niddon Park. This was nearly three miles from Nuncombe, and was a beautiful wild slope of ground, full of ancient, blighted, blasted, but still half-living oaks,—oaks that still brought forth leaves,—overlooking a bend of the river Teign. Park, in the usual sense of the word, there was none, nor did they who lived round Nuncombe Putney know whether Niddon Park had ever been enclosed. But of all the spots in that lovely neighbourhood, Priscilla Stanbury swore that it was the loveliest; and, as it had never yet been seen by Mrs. Trevelyan or her sister, it was determined that they would walk there on this August afternoon. There were four of them,—and, as was natural, they fell into parties of two and two. But Priscilla walked with Nora, and Hugh Stanbury walked with his friend's wife. Nora was talkative, but demure in her manner, and speaking now and again as though she were giving words and not thoughts. She felt that there was something to hide, and was suffering from disappointment that their party should not have been otherwise divided. Had Hugh spoken to her and asked her to be his wife, she could not have accepted him, because she knew that they were both poor, and that she was not fit to keep a poor man's house. She had declared to herself most plainly that that must be her course;—but yet she was disappointed, and talked on with the knowledge that she had something to conceal.
When they were seated beneath an old riven, withered oak, looking down upon the river, they were still divided in the same way. In seating herself she had been very anxious not to disarrange that arrangement,—almost equally anxious not to seem to adhere to it with any special purpose. She was very careful that there should be nothing seen in her manner that was in any way special,—but in the meantime she was suffering an agony of trouble. He did not care for her in the least. She was becoming sure of that. She had given all her love to a man who had none to give her in return. As she thought of this she almost longed for the offer of that which she knew she could not have accepted had it been offered to her. But she talked on about the scenery, about the weather,—descanting on the pleasure of living where such loveliness was within reach. Then there came a pause for a moment. "Nora," said Priscilla, "I do not know what you are thinking about, but it is not of the beauty of Niddon Park." Then there came a faint sound as of an hysterical sob, and then a gurgle in the throat, and then a pretence at laughter.
"I don't believe I am thinking of anything at all," said Nora.
After which Hugh insisted on descending to the bank of the river, but, as the necessity of re-climbing the slope was quite manifest, none of the girls would go with him. "Come, Miss Rowley," said he, "will you not show them that a lady can go up and down a hill as well as a man?"
"I had rather not go up and down the hill," said she.
Then he understood that she was angry with him; and in some sort surmised the cause of her anger. Not that he believed that she loved him; but it seemed possible to him that she resented the absence of his attention. He went down, and scrambled out on the rocks into the bed of the river, while the girls above looked down upon him, watching the leaps that he made. Priscilla and Mrs. Trevelyan called to him, bidding him beware; but Nora called not at all. He was whistling as he made his jumps, but still he heard their voices, and knew that he did not hear Nora's voice. He poised himself on the edge of a rock in the middle of the stream, and looked up the river and down the river, turning himself carefully on his narrow foothold; but he was thinking only of Nora. Could there be anything nobler than to struggle on with her, if she only would be willing? But then she was young; and should she yield to such a request from him, she would not know what she was yielding. He turned again, jumping from rock to rock till he reached the bank, and then made his way again up to the withered oak.
"You would not have repented it if you had come down with me," he said to Nora.
"I am not so sure of that," she answered.
When they started to return she stepped on gallantly with Priscilla; but Priscilla was stopped by some chance, having some word to say to her brother, having some other word to say to Mrs. Trevelyan. Could it be that her austerity had been softened, and that in kindness she contrived that Nora should be left some yards behind them with her brother? Whether it were kindness, or an unkind error, so it was. Nora, when she perceived what destiny was doing for her, would not interfere with destiny. If he chose to speak to her she would hear him and would answer him. She knew very well what answer she would give him. She had her answer quite ready at her fingers' ends. There was no doubt about her answer.
They had walked half a mile together and he had spoken of nothing but the scenery. She had endeavoured to appear to be excited. Oh, yes, the scenery of Devonshire was delightful. She hardly wanted anything more to make her happy. If only this misery respecting her sister could be set right!
"And you, you yourself," said he, "do you mean that there is nothing you want in leaving London?"
"Not much, indeed."
"It sometimes seemed to me that that kind of life was,—was very pleasant to you."
"What kind of life, Mr. Stanbury?"
"The life that you were living,—going out, being admired, and having the rich and dainty all around you."
"I don't dislike people because they are rich," she said.
"No; nor do I; and I despise those who affect to dislike them. But all cannot be rich."
"Nor all dainty, as you choose to call them."
"But they who have once been dainty,—as I call them,—never like to divest themselves of their daintiness. You have been one of the dainty, Miss Rowley."
"Certainly; I doubt whether you would be happy if you thought that your daintiness had departed from you."
"I hope, Mr. Stanbury, that nothing nice and pleasant has departed from me. If I have ever been dainty, dainty I hope I may remain. I will never, at any rate, give it up of my own accord." Why she said this, she could never explain to herself. She had certainly not intended to rebuff him when she had been saying it. But he spoke not a word to her further as they walked home, either of her mode of life or of his own.
HUGH STANBURY SMOKES HIS PIPE.
Illustration Nora Rowley, when she went to bed, after her walk to Niddon Park in company with Hugh Stanbury, was full of wrath against him. But she could not own her anger to herself, nor could she even confess to herself,—though she was breaking her heart,—that there really existed for her the slightest cause of grief. But why had he been so stern to her? Why had he gone out of his way to be uncivil to her? He had called her "dainty," meaning to imply by the epithet that she was one of the butterflies of the day, caring for nothing but sunshine and an opportunity of fluttering her silly wings. She had understood well what he meant. Of course he was right to be cold to her if his heart was cold, but he need not have insulted her by his ill-concealed rebukes. Had he been kind to her, he might have rebuked her as much as he liked. She quite appreciated the delightful intimacy of a loving word of counsel from the man she loved,—how nice it is, as it were, to play at marriage, and to hear beforehand something of the pleasant weight of gentle marital authority. But there had been nothing of that in his manner to her. He had told her that she was dainty,—and had so told it her, as she thought, that she might learn thereby, that under no circumstances would he have any other tale to tell her. If he had no other tale, why had he not been silent? Did he think that she was subject to his rebuke merely because she lived under his mother's roof? She would soon shew him that her residence at the Clock House gave him no such authority over her. Then, amidst her wrath and despair, she cried herself asleep.
While she was sobbing in bed, he was sitting, with a short, black pipe stuck into his mouth, on the corner of the churchyard wall opposite. Before he had left the house he and Priscilla had spoken together for some minutes about Mrs. Trevelyan. "Of course she was wrong to see him," said Priscilla. "I hesitate to wound her by so saying, because she has been ill-used,—though I did tell her so, when she asked me. She could have lost nothing by declining his visit."
"The worst of it is that Trevelyan swears that he will never receive her again if she received him."
"He must unswear it," said Priscilla, "that is all. It is out of the question that a man should take a girl from her home, and make her his wife, and then throw her off for so little of an offence as this. She might compel him by law to take her back."
"What would she get by that?"
"Little enough," said Priscilla; "and it was little enough she got by marrying him. She would have had bread, and meat, and raiment without being married, I suppose."
"But it was a love-match."
"Yes;—and now she is at Nuncombe Putney, and he is roaming about in London. He has to pay ever so much a year for his love-match, and she is crushed into nothing by it. How long will she have to remain here, Hugh?"
"How can I say? I suppose there is no reason against her remaining as far as you are concerned?"
"For me personally, none. Were she much worse than I think she is, I should not care in the least for myself, if I thought that we were doing her good,—helping to bring her back. She can't hurt me. I am so fixed, and dry, and established, that nothing anybody says will affect me. But mamma doesn't like it."
"What is it she dislikes?"
"The idea that she is harbouring a married woman, of whom people say, at least, that she has a lover."
"Is she to be turned out because people are slanderers?"
"Why should mamma suffer because this woman, who is a stranger to her, has been imprudent? If she were your wife, Hugh—"
"If we were in any way bound to her, of course we would do our duty. But if it makes mamma unhappy I am sure you will not press it. I think Mrs. Merton has spoken to her. And then Aunt Stanbury has written such letters!"
"Who cares for Aunt Jemima?"
"Everybody cares for her,—except you and I. And now this man who has been here asking the servant questions has upset her greatly. Even your coming has done so, knowing, as she does, that you have come, not to see us, but to make inquiries about Mrs. Trevelyan. She is so annoyed by it, that she does not sleep."
"Do you wish her to be taken away at once?" asked Hugh, almost in an angry tone.
"Certainly not. That would be impossible. We have agreed to take her, and must bear with it. And I would not have her moved from this, if I thought that if she stayed awhile it might be arranged that she might return from us direct to her husband."
"I shall try that, of course;—now."
"But if he will not have her;—if he be so obstinate, so foolish, and so wicked, do not leave her here longer than you can help." Then Hugh explained that Sir Marmaduke and Lady Rowley were to be in England in the spring, and that it would be very desirable that the poor woman should not be sent abroad to look for a home before that. "If it must be so, it must," said Priscilla. "But eight months is a long time."
Hugh went out to smoke his pipe on the church-wall in a moody, unhappy state of mind. He had hoped to have done so well in regard to Mrs. Trevelyan! Till he had met Colonel Osborne, he felt sure, almost sure, that she would have refused to see that pernicious troubler of the peace of families. In this he found that he had been disappointed; but he had not expected that Priscilla would have been so much opposed to the arrangement which he had made about the house, and then he had been buoyed up by the anticipation of some delight in meeting Nora Rowley. There was, at any rate, the excitement of seeing her to keep his spirits from flagging. He had seen her, and had had the opportunity of which he had so long been thinking. He had seen her, and had had every possible advantage on his side. What could any man desire better than the privilege of walking home with the girl he loved through country lanes of a summer evening? They had been an hour together,—or might have been, had he chosen to prolong the interview. But the words which had been spoken between them had had not the slightest interest,—unless it were that they had tended to make the interval between him and her wider than ever. He had asked her,—he thought that he had asked,—whether it would grieve her to abandon that delicate, dainty mode of life to which she had been accustomed; and she had replied, that she would never abandon it of her own accord. Of course she had intended him to take her at her word.
He blew forth quick clouds of heavy smoke, as he attempted to make himself believe that this was all for the best. What would such a one as he was do with a wife? Or, seeing as he did see, that marriage itself was quite out of the question, how could it be good either for him or her that they should be tied together by a long engagement? Such a future would not at all suit the purpose of his life. In his life absolute freedom would be needed;—freedom from unnecessary ties, freedom from unnecessary burdens. His income was most precarious, and he certainly would not make it less so by submission to any closer literary thraldom. And he believed himself to be a Bohemian,—too much of a Bohemian to enjoy a domestic fireside with children and slippers. To be free to go where he liked, and when he liked; to think as he pleased; to be driven nowhere by conventional rules; to use his days, Sundays as well as Mondays, as he pleased to use them; to turn Republican, if his mind should take him that way,—or Quaker, or Mormon, or Red Indian, if he wished it, and in so turning to do no damage to any one but himself;—that was the life which he had planned for himself. His Aunt Stanbury had not read his character altogether wrongly, as he thought, when she had once declared that decency and godliness were both distasteful to him. Would it not be destruction to such a one as he was, to fall into an interminable engagement with any girl, let her be ever so sweet?
But yet, he felt as he sat there, filling pipe after pipe, smoking away till past midnight, that though he could not bear the idea of trammels, though he was totally unfit for matrimony, either present or in prospect,—he felt that he had within his breast a double identity, and that that other division of himself would be utterly crushed if it were driven to divest itself of the idea of love. Whence was to come his poetry, the romance of his life, the springs of clear water in which his ignoble thoughts were to be dipped till they should become pure, if love was to be banished altogether from the list of delights that were possible to him? And then he began to speculate on love,—that love of which poets wrote, and of which he found that some sparkle was necessary to give light to his life. Was it not the one particle of divine breath given to man, of which he had heard since he was a boy? And how was this love to be come at, and was it to be a thing of reality, or merely an idea? Was it a pleasure to be attained, or a mystery that charmed by the difficulties of the distance,—a distance that never could be so passed that the thing should really be reached? Was love to be ever a delight, vague as is that feeling of unattainable beauty which far-off mountains give, when you know that you can never place yourself amidst their unseen valleys? And if love could be reached,—the love of which the poets sing, and of which his own heart was ever singing,—what were to be its pleasures? To press a hand, to kiss a lip, to clasp a waist, to hear even the low voice of the vanquished, confessing loved one as she hides her blushing cheek upon your shoulder,—what is it all but to have reached the once mysterious valley of your far-off mountain, and to have found that it is as other valleys,—rocks and stones, with a little grass, and a thin stream of running water? But beyond that pressure of the hand, and that kissing of the lips,—beyond that short-lived pressure of the plumage which is common to birds and men,—what could love do beyond that? There were children with dirty faces, and household bills, and a wife who must, perhaps, always darn the stockings,—and be sometimes cross. Was love to lead only to this,—a dull life, with a woman who had lost the beauty from her cheeks, and the gloss from her hair, and the music from her voice, and the fire from her eye, and the grace from her step, and whose waist an arm should no longer be able to span? Did the love of the poets lead to that, and that only? Then, through the cloud of smoke, there came upon him some dim idea of self-abnegation,—that the mysterious valley among the mountains, the far-off prospect of which was so charming to him,—which made the poetry of his life, was, in fact, the capacity of caring more for other human beings than for himself. The beauty of it all was not so much in the thing loved as in the loving. "Were she a cripple, hunchbacked, eyeless," he said to himself, "it might be the same. Only she must be a woman." Then he blew off a great cloud of smoke, and went into bed lost amidst poetry, philosophy, love, and tobacco.
It had been arranged over-night that he was to start the next morning at half-past seven, and Priscilla had promised to give him his breakfast before he went. Priscilla, of course, kept her word. She was one of those women who would take a grim pleasure in coming down to make the tea at any possible hour,—at five, at four, if it were needed,—and who would never want to go to bed again when the ceremony was performed. But when Nora made her appearance,—Nora, who had been called dainty,—both Priscilla and Hugh were surprised. They could not say why she was there,—nor could Nora tell herself. She had not forgiven him. She had no thought of being gentle and loving to him. She declared to herself that she had no wish of saying good-bye to him once again. But yet she was in the room, waiting for him, when he came down to his breakfast. She had been unable to sleep, and had reasoned with herself as to the absurdity of lying in bed awake, when she preferred to be up and out of the house. It was true that she had not been out of her bed at seven any morning since she had been at Nuncombe Putney; but that was no reason why she should not be more active on this special morning. There was a noise in the house, and she never could sleep when there was a noise. She was quite sure that she was not going down because she wished to see Hugh Stanbury, but she was equally sure that it would be a disgrace to her to be deterred from going down, simply because the man was there. So she descended to the parlour, and was standing near the open window when Stanbury bustled into the room, some quarter of an hour after the proper time. Priscilla was there also, guessing something of the truth, and speculating whether these two young people, should they love each other, would be the better or the worse for such love. There must be marriages,—if only that the world might go on in accordance with the Creator's purpose. But, as far as Priscilla could see, blessed were they who were not called upon to assist in the scheme. To her eyes all days seemed to be days of wrath, and all times, times of tribulation. And it was all mere vanity and vexation of spirit. To go on and bear it till one was dead,—helping others to bear it, if such help might be of avail,—that was her theory of life. To make it pleasant by eating, and drinking, and dancing, or even by falling in love, was, to her mind, a vain crunching of ashes between the teeth. Not to have ill things said of her and of hers, not to be disgraced, not to be rendered incapable of some human effort, not to have actually to starve,—such was the extent of her ambition in this world. And for the next,—she felt so assured of the goodness of God that she could not bring herself to doubt of happiness in a world that was to be eternal. Her doubt was this, whether it was really the next world which would be eternal. Of eternity she did not doubt;—but might there not be many worlds? These things, however, she kept almost entirely to herself. "You down!" Priscilla had said.
"Well, yes; I could not sleep when I heard you all moving. And the morning is so fine, and I thought that perhaps you would go out and walk after your brother has gone." Priscilla promised that she would walk, and then the tea was made.
"Your sister and I are going out for an early walk," said Nora, when she was greeted by Stanbury. Priscilla said nothing, but thought she understood it all.
"I wish I were going with you," said Hugh. Nora, remembering how very little he had made of his opportunity on the evening before, did not believe him.
The eggs and fried bacon were eaten in a hurry, and very little was said. Then there came the moment for parting. The brother and sister kissed each other, and Hugh took Nora by the hand. "I hope you make yourself happy here," he said.
"Oh, yes;—if it were only for myself I should want nothing."
"I will do the best I can with Trevelyan."
"The best will be to make him, and every one, understand that the fault is altogether his, and not Emily's."
"The best will be to make each think that there has been no real fault," said Hugh.
"There should be no talking of faults," said Priscilla. "Let the husband take his wife back,—as he is bound to do."
These words occupied hardly a minute in the saying, but during that minute Hugh Stanbury held Nora by the hand. He held it fast. She would not attempt to withdraw it, but neither would she return his pressure by the muscle of a single finger. What right had he to press her hand; or to make any sign of love, any pretence of loving, when he had gone out of his way to tell her that she was not good enough for him? Then he started, and Nora and Priscilla put on their hats and left the house.
"Let us go to Niddon Park," said Nora.
"To Niddon Park again?"
"Yes; it is so beautiful! And I should like to see it by the morning light. There is plenty of time."
So they walked to Niddon Park in the morning, as they had done on the preceding evening. Their conversation at first regarded Trevelyan and his wife, and the old trouble; but Nora could not keep herself from speaking of Hugh Stanbury.
"He would not have come," she said, "unless Louis had sent him."
"He would not have come now, I think."
"Of course not;—why should he?—before Parliament was hardly over, too? But he won't remain in town now,—will he?"
"He says somebody must remain,—and I think he will be in London till near Christmas."
"How disagreeable! But I suppose he doesn't care. It's all the same to a man like him. They don't shut the clubs up, I dare say. Will he come here at Christmas?"
"Either then or for the New Year;—just for a day or two."
"We shall be gone then, I suppose?" said Nora.
"That must depend on Mr. Trevelyan," said Priscilla.
"What a life for two women to lead;—to depend upon the caprice of a man who must be mad! Do you think that Mr. Trevelyan will care for what your brother says to him?"
"I do not know Mr. Trevelyan."
"He is very fond of your brother, and I suppose men friends do listen to each other. They never seem to listen to women. Don't you think that, after all, they despise women? They look on them as dainty, foolish things."
"Sometimes women despise men," said Priscilla.
"Not very often;—do they? And then women are so dependent on men. A woman can get nothing without a man."
"I manage to get on somehow," said Priscilla.
"No, you don't, Miss Stanbury,—if you think of it. You want mutton. And who kills the sheep?"
"But who cooks it?"
"But the men-cooks are the best," said Nora; "and the men-tailors, and the men to wait at table, and the men-poets, and the men-painters, and the men-nurses. All the things that women do, men do better."
"There are two things they can't do," said Priscilla.
"What are they?"
"They can't suckle babies, and they can't forget themselves."
"About the babies, of course not. As for forgetting themselves,—I am not quite so sure that I can forget myself.—That is just where your brother went down last night."
They had at this moment reached the top of the steep slope below which the river ran brawling among the rocks, and Nora seated herself exactly where she had sat on the previous evening.
"I have been down scores of times," said Priscilla.
"Let us go now."
"You wouldn't go when Hugh asked you yesterday."
"I didn't care then. But do come now,—if you don't mind the climb." Then they went down the slope and reached the spot from whence Hugh Stanbury had jumped from rock to rock across the stream. "You have never been out there, have you?" said Nora.
"On the rocks? Oh, dear, no! I should be sure to fall."
"But he went; just like a goat."
"That's one of the things that men can do, I suppose," said Priscilla. "But I don't see any great glory in being like a goat."
"I do. I should like to be able to go, and I think I'll try. It is so mean to be dainty and weak."
"I don't think it at all dainty to keep dry feet."
"But he didn't get his feet wet," said Nora. "Or if he did, he didn't mind. I can see at once that I should be giddy and tumble down if I tried it."
"Of course you would."
"But he didn't tumble down."
"He has been doing it all his life," said Priscilla.
"He can't do it up in London. When I think of myself, Miss Stanbury, I am so ashamed. There is nothing that I can do. I couldn't write an article for a newspaper."
"I think I could. But I fear no one would read it."
"They read his," said Nora, "or else he wouldn't be paid for writing them." Then they climbed back again up the hill, and during the climbing there were no words spoken. The slope was not much of a hill,—was no more than the fall from the low ground of the valley to the course which the river had cut for itself; but it was steep while it lasted; and both the young women were forced to pause for a minute before they could proceed upon their journey. As they walked home Priscilla spoke of the scenery, and of the country, and of the nature of the life which she and her mother and sister had passed at Nuncombe Putney. Nora said but little till they were just entering the village, and then she went back to the subject of her thoughts. "I would sooner," said she, "write for a newspaper than do anything else in the world."
"Because it is so noble to teach people everything! And then a man who writes for a newspaper must know so many things himself! I believe there are women who do it, but very few. One or two have done it, I know."
"Go and tell that to Aunt Stanbury, and hear what she will say about such women."
"I suppose she is very,—prejudiced."
"Yes; she is; but she is a clever woman. I am inclined to think women had better not write for newspapers."
"And why not?" Nora asked.
"My reasons would take me a week to explain, and I doubt whether I have them very clear in my own head. In the first place there is that difficulty about the babies. Most of them must get married you know."
"But not all," said Nora.
"No; thank God; not all."
"And if you are not married you might write for a newspaper. At any rate, if I were you, I should be very proud of my brother."
"Aunt Stanbury is not at all proud of her nephew," said Priscilla, as they entered the house.