SHEWING WHAT TOOK PLACE AT ST. DIDDULPH'S.
Nora Rowley, when she escaped from the violence of her lover, at once rushed up to her own room, and managed to fasten herself in before she had been seen by any one. Her elder sister had at once gone to her aunt when, at Hugh's request, she had left the room, thinking it right that Mrs. Outhouse should know what was being done in her own house. Mrs. Outhouse had considered the matter patiently for awhile, giving the lovers the benefit of her hesitation, and had then spoken her mind to Stanbury, as we have already heard. He had, upon the whole, been so well pleased with what had occurred, that he was not in the least angry with the parson's wife when he left the parsonage. As soon as he was gone Mrs. Outhouse was at once joined by her elder niece, but Nora remained for a while alone in her room.
Had she committed herself; and if so, did she regret it? He had behaved very badly to her, certainly, taking her by the hand and putting his arm round her waist. And then had he not even attempted to kiss her? He had done all this, although she had been resolute in refusing to speak to him one word of kindness,—though she had told him with all the energy and certainty of which she was mistress, that she would never be his wife. If a girl were to be subjected to such treatment as this when she herself had been so firm, so discreet, so decided, then indeed it would be unfit that a girl should trust herself with a man. She had never thought that he had been such a one as that, to ill-use her, to lay a hand on her in violence, to refuse to take an answer. She threw herself on the bed and sobbed, and then hid her face,—and was conscious that in spite of this acting before herself she was the happiest girl alive. He had behaved very badly;—of course, he had behaved most wickedly, and she would tell him so some day. But was he not the dearest fellow living? Did ever man speak with more absolute conviction of love in every tone of his voice? Was it not the finest, noblest heart that ever throbbed beneath a waistcoat? Had not his very wickedness come from the overpowering truth of his affection for her? She would never quite forgive him because it had been so very wrong; but she would be true to him for ever and ever. Of course they could not marry. What!—would she go to him and be a clog round his neck, and a weight upon him for ever, bringing him down to the gutter by the burden of her own useless and unworthy self? No. She would never so injure him. She would not even hamper him by an engagement. But yet she would be true to him. She had an idea that in spite of all her protestations,—which, as she looked back upon them, appeared to her to have been louder than they had been,—that through the teeth of her denials, something of the truth had escaped from her. Well,—let it be so. It was the truth, and why should he not know it? Then she pictured to herself a long romance, in which the heroine lived happily on the simple knowledge that she had been beloved. And the reader may be sure that in this romance Mr. Glascock with his splendid prospects filled one of the characters.
She had been so wretched at Nuncombe Putney when she had felt herself constrained to admit to herself that this man for whom she had sacrificed herself did not care for her, that she could not now but enjoy her triumph. After she had sobbed upon the bed, she got up and walked about the room smiling; and she would now press her hands to her forehead, and then shake her tresses, and then clasp her own left hand with her right, as though he were still holding it. Wicked man! Why had he been so wicked and so violent? And why, why, why had she not once felt his lips upon her brow?
And she was pleased with herself. Her sister had rebuked her because she had refused to make her fortune by marrying Mr. Glascock; and, to own the truth, she had rebuked herself on the same score when she found that Hugh Stanbury had not had a word of love to say to her. It was not that she regretted the grandeur which she had lost, but that she should, even within her own thoughts, with the consciousness of her own bosom, have declared herself unable to receive another man's devotion because of her love for this man who neglected her. Now she was proud of herself. Whether it might be accounted as good or ill-fortune that she had ever seen Hugh Stanbury, it must at any rate be right that she should be true to him now that she had seen him and had loved him. To know that she loved and that she was not loved again had nearly killed her. But such was not her lot. She too had been successful with her quarry, and had struck her game, and brought down her dear. He had been very violent with her, but his violence had at least made the matter clear. He did love her. She would be satisfied with that, and would endeavour so to live that that alone should make life happy for her. How should she get his photograph,—and a lock of his hair?—and when again might she have the pleasure of placing her own hand within his great, rough, violent grasp? Then she kissed the hand which he had held, and opened the door of her room, at which her sister was now knocking.
"Nora, dear, will you not come down?"
"Not yet, Emily. Very soon I will."
"And what has happened, dearest?"
"There is nothing to tell, Emily."
"There must be something to tell. What did he say to you?"
"Of course you know what he said."
"And what answer did you make?"
"I told him that it could not be."
"And did he take that,—as final, Nora?"
"Of course not. What man ever takes a No as final?"
"When you said No to Mr. Glascock he took it."
"That was different, Emily."
"But how different? I don't see the difference, except that if you could have brought yourself to like Mr. Glascock, it would have been the greatest thing in the world for you, and for all of them."
"Would you have me take a man, Emily, that I didn't care one straw for, merely because he was a lord? You can't mean that."
"I'm not talking about Mr. Glascock now, Nora."
"Yes, you are. And what's the use? He is gone, and there's an end of it."
"And is Mr. Stanbury gone?"
"In the same way?" asked Mrs. Trevelyan.
"How can I tell about his ways? No; it is not in the same way. There! He went in a very different way."
"How was it different, Nora?"
"Oh, so different. I can't tell you how. Mr. Glascock will never come back again."
"And Mr. Stanbury will?" said the elder sister. Nora made no reply, but after a while nodded her head. "And you want him to come back?" She paused again, and again nodded her head. "Then you have accepted him?"
"I have not accepted him. I have refused him. I have told him that it was impossible."
"And yet you wish him back again!" Nora again nodded her head. "That is a state of things I cannot at all understand," said Mrs. Trevelyan, "and would not believe unless you told me so yourself."
"And you think me very wrong, of course. I will endeavour to do nothing wrong, but it is so. I have not said a word of encouragement to Mr. Stanbury; but I love him with all my heart. Ought I to tell you a lie when you question me? Or is it natural that I should never wish to see again a person whom I love better than all the world? It seems to me that a girl can hardly be right if she have any choice of her own. Here are two men, one rich and the other poor. I shall fall to the ground between them. I know that. I have fallen to the ground already. I like the one I can't marry. I don't care a straw for the one who could give me a grand house. That is falling to the ground. But I don't see that it is hard to understand, or that I have disgraced myself."
"I said nothing of disgrace, Nora."
"But you looked it."
"I did not intend to look it, dearest."
"And remember this, Emily, I have told you everything because you asked me. I do not mean to tell anybody else, at all. Mamma would not understand me. I have not told him, and I shall not."
"You mean Mr. Stanbury?"
"Yes; I mean Mr. Stanbury. As to Mr. Glascock, of course I shall tell mamma that. I have no secret there. That is his secret, and I suppose mamma should know it. But I will have nothing told about the other. Had I accepted him, or even hinted to him that I cared for him, I would tell mamma at once."
After that there came something of a lecture, or something, rather, of admonition, from Mrs. Outhouse. That lady did not attempt to upbraid, or to find any fault; but observed that as she understood that Mr. Stanbury had no means whatever, and as Nora herself had none, there had better be no further intercourse between them, till, at any rate, Sir Marmaduke and Lady Rowley should be in London. "So I told him that he must not come here any more, my dear," said Mrs. Outhouse.
"You are quite right, aunt. He ought not to come here."
"I am so glad that you agree with me."
"I agree with you altogether. I think I was bound to see him when he asked to see me; but the thing is altogether out of the question. I don't think he'll come any more, aunt." Then Mrs. Outhouse was quite satisfied that no harm had been done.
A month had now passed since anything had been heard at St. Diddulph's from Mr. Trevelyan, and it seemed that many months might go on in the same dull way. When Mrs. Trevelyan first found herself in her uncle's house, a sum of two hundred pounds had been sent to her; and since that she had received a letter from her husband's lawyer saying that a similar amount would be sent to her every three months, as long as she was separated from her husband. A portion of this she had given over to Mr. Outhouse; but this pecuniary assistance by no means comforted that unfortunate gentleman in his trouble. "I don't want to get into debt," he said, "by keeping a lot of people whom I haven't the means to feed. And I don't want to board and lodge my nieces and their family at so much a head. It's very hard upon me either way." And so it was. All the comfort of his home was destroyed, and he was driven to sacrifice his independence by paying his tradesmen with a portion of Mrs. Trevelyan's money. The more he thought of it all, and the more he discussed the matter with his wife, the more indignant they became with the truant husband. "I can't believe," he said, "but what Mr. Bideawhile could make him come back, if he chose to do his duty."
"But they say that Mr. Trevelyan is in Italy, my dear."
"And if I went to Italy, might I leave you to starve, and take my income with me?"
"He doesn't leave her quite to starve, my dear."
"But isn't a man bound to stay with his wife? I never heard of such a thing,—never. And I'm sure that there must be something wrong. A man can't go away and leave his wife to live with her uncle and aunt. It isn't right."
"But what can we do?"
Mr. Outhouse was forced to acknowledge that nothing could be done. He was a man to whom the quiescence of his own childless house was the one pleasure of his existence. And of that he was robbed because this wicked madman chose to neglect all his duties, and leave his wife without a house to shelter her. "Supposing that she couldn't have come here, what then?" said Mr. Outhouse. "I did tell him, as plain as words could speak, that we couldn't receive them." "But here they are," said Mrs. Outhouse, "and here they must remain till my brother comes to England." "It's the most monstrous thing that I ever heard of in all my life," said Mr. Outhouse. "He ought to be locked up;—that's what he ought."
It was hard, and it became harder, when a gentleman, whom Mr. Outhouse certainly did not wish to see, called upon him about the latter end of September. Mr. Outhouse was sitting alone, in the gloomy parlour of his parsonage,—for his own study had been given up to other things, since this great inroad had been made upon his family;—he was sitting alone on one Saturday morning, preparing for the duties of the next day, with various manuscript sermons lying on the table around him, when he was told that a gentleman had called to see him. Had Mr. Outhouse been an incumbent at the West-end of London, or had his maid been a West-end servant, in all probability the gentleman's name would have been demanded; but Mr. Outhouse was a man who was not very ready in foreseeing and preventing misfortunes, and the girl who opened the door was not trained to discreet usages in such matters. As she announced the fact that there was a gentleman, she pointed to the door, to show that the gentleman was there; and before Mr. Outhouse had been able to think whether it would be prudent for him to make some preliminary inquiry, Colonel Osborne was in the room. Now, as it happened, these two men had never hitherto met each other, though one was the brother-in-law of Sir Marmaduke Rowley, and the other had been his very old friend. "My name, Mr. Outhouse, is Colonel Osborne," said the visitor, coming forward, with his hand out. The clergyman, of course, took his hand, and asked him to be seated. "We have known each other's names very long," continued the Colonel, "though I do not think we have ever yet had an opportunity of becoming acquainted."
"No," said Mr. Outhouse; "we have never been acquainted, I believe." He might have added, that he had no desire whatever to make such acquaintance; and his manner, over which he himself had no control, did almost say as much. Indeed, this coming to his house of the suspected lover of his niece appeared to him to be a heavy addition to his troubles; for, although he was disposed to take his niece's part against her husband to any possible length,—even to the locking up of the husband as a madman, if it were possible,—nevertheless, he had almost as great a horror of the Colonel, as though the husband's allegation as to the lover had been true as gospel. Because Trevelyan had been wrong altogether, Colonel Osborne was not the less wrong. Because Trevelyan's suspicions were to Mr. Outhouse wicked and groundless, he did not the less regard the presumed lover to be an iniquitous roaring lion, going about seeking whom he might devour. Elderly unmarried men of fashion generally, and especially colonels, and majors, and members of parliament, and such like, were to him as black sheep or roaring lions. They were "fruges consumere nati;" men who stood on club doorsteps talking naughtily and doing nothing, wearing sleek clothing, for which they very often did not pay, and never going to church. It seemed to him,—in his ignorance,—that such men had none of the burdens of this world upon their shoulders, and that, therefore, they stood in great peril of the burdens of the next. It was, doubtless, his special duty to deal with men in such peril;—but those wicked ones with whom he was concerned were those whom he could reach. Now, the Colonel Osbornes of the earth were not to be got at by any clergyman, or, as far as Mr. Outhouse could see, by any means of grace. That story of the rich man and the camel seemed to him to be specially applicable to such people. How was such a one as Colonel Osborne to be shewn the way through the eye of a needle? To Mr. Outhouse, his own brother-in-law, Sir Marmaduke, was almost of the same class,—for he frequented clubs when in London, and played whist, and talked of the things of the world,—such as the Derby, and the levées, and West-end dinner parties,—as though they were all in all to him. He, to be sure, was weighted with so large a family that there might be hope for him. The eye of the needle could not be closed against him as a rich man; but he savoured of the West-end, and was worldly, and consorted with such men as this Colonel Osborne. When Colonel Osborne introduced himself to Mr. Outhouse, it was almost as though Apollyon had made his way into the parsonage of St. Diddulph's.
"Mr. Outhouse," said the Colonel, "I have thought it best to come to you the very moment that I got back to town from Scotland." Mr. Outhouse bowed, and was bethinking himself slowly what manner of speech he would adopt. "I leave town again to-morrow for Dorsetshire. I am going down to my friends, the Brambers, for partridge shooting." Mr. Outhouse knitted his thick brows, in further inward condemnation. Partridge shooting! yes;—this was September, and partridge shooting would be the probable care and occupation of such a man at such a time. A man without a duty in the world! Perhaps, added to this there was a feeling that, whereas Colonel Osborne could shoot Scotch grouse in August, and Dorsetshire partridges in September, and go about throughout the whole year like a roaring lion, he, Mr. Outhouse, was forced to remain at St. Diddulph's-in-the-East, from January to December, with the exception of one small parson's week spent at Margate, for the benefit of his wife's health. If there was such a thought, or rather, such a feeling, who will say that it was not natural? "But I could not go through London without seeing you," continued the Colonel. "This is a most frightful infatuation of Trevelyan!"
"Very frightful, indeed," said Mr. Outhouse.
"And, on my honour as a gentleman, not the slightest cause in the world."
"You are old enough to be the lady's father," said Mr. Outhouse, managing in that to get one blow at the gallant Colonel.
"Just so. God bless my soul!" Mr. Outhouse shrunk visibly at this profane allusion to the Colonel's soul. "Why, I've known her father ever so many years. As you say, I might almost be her father myself." As far as age went, such certainly might have been the case, for the Colonel was older than Sir Marmaduke. "Look here, Mr. Outhouse, here is a letter I got from Emily—"
"From Mrs. Trevelyan?"
"Yes, from Mrs. Trevelyan; and as well as I can understand, it must have been sent to me by Trevelyan himself. Did you ever hear of such a thing? And now I'm told he has gone away, nobody knows where, and has left her here."
"He has gone away,—nobody knows where."
"Of course, I don't ask to see her."
"It would be imprudent, Colonel Osborne; and could not be permitted in this house."
"I don't ask it. I have known Emily Trevelyan since she was an infant, and have always loved her. I'm her godfather, for aught I know,—though one forgets things of that sort." Mr. Outhouse again knit his eyebrows and shuddered visibly. "She and I have been fast friends,—and why not? But, of course, I can't interfere."
"If you ask me, Colonel Osborne, I should say that you can do nothing in the matter;—except to remain away from her. When Sir Marmaduke is in England, you can see him, if you please."
"See him;—of course, I shall see him. And, by George, Louis Trevelyan will have to see him, too! I shouldn't like to have to stand up before Rowley if I had treated a daughter of his in such a fashion. You know Rowley, of course?"
"Oh, yes; I know him."
"He's not the sort of man to bear this sort of thing. He'll about tear Trevelyan in pieces if he gets hold of him. God bless my soul—" the eyebrows went to work again,—"I never heard of such a thing in all my life! Does he pay anything for them, Mr. Outhouse?"
This was dreadful to the poor clergyman. "That is a subject which we surely need not discuss," said he. Then he remembered that such speech on his part was like to a subterfuge, and he found it necessary to put himself right. "I am repaid for the maintenance here of my nieces, and the little boy, and their attendants. I do not know why the question should be asked, but such is the fact."
"Then they are here by agreement between you and him?"
"No, sir; they are not. There is no such agreement. But I do not like these interrogatives from a stranger as to matters which should be private."
"You cannot wonder at my interest, Mr. Outhouse."
"You had better restrain it, sir, till Sir Marmaduke arrives. I shall then wash my hands of the affair."
"And she is pretty well;—Emily, I mean?"
"Mrs. Trevelyan's health is good."
"Pray tell her though I could not—might not ask to see her, I came to inquire after her the first moment that I was in London. Pray tell her how much I feel for her;—but she will know that. When Sir Marmaduke is here, of course, we shall meet. When she is once more under her father's wing, she need not be restrained by any absurd commands from a husband who has deserted her. At present, of course, I do not ask to see her."
"Of course, you do not, Colonel Osborne."
"And give my love to Nora;—dear little Nora! There can be no reason why she and I should not shake hands."
"I should prefer that it should not be so in this house," said the clergyman, who was now standing,—in expectation that his unwelcome guest would go.
"Very well;—so be it. But you will understand I could not be in London without coming and asking after them." Then the Colonel at last took his leave, and Mr. Outhouse was left to his solitude and his sermons.
Mrs. Outhouse was very angry when she heard of the visit. "Men of that sort," she said, "think it a fine thing, and talk about it. I believe the poor girl is as innocent as I am, but he isn't innocent. He likes it."
"'It is easier,'" said Mr. Outhouse solemnly, "'for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'"
"I don't know that he is a rich man," said Mrs. Outhouse; "but he wouldn't have come here if he had been honest."
Mrs. Trevelyan was told of the visit, and simply said that of course it was out of the question that she should have seen Colonel Osborne. Nevertheless she seemed to think it quite natural that he should have called, and defended him with some energy when her aunt declared that he had been much to blame. "He is not bound to obey Mr. Trevelyan because I am," said Emily.
"He is bound to abstain from evil doing," said Mrs. Outhouse; "and he oughtn't to have come. There; let that be enough, my dear. Your uncle doesn't wish to have it talked about." Nevertheless it was talked about between the two sisters. Nora was of opinion that Colonel Osborne had been wrong, whereas Emily defended him. "It seems to me to have been the most natural thing in life," said she.
Had Colonel Osborne made the visit as Sir Marmaduke's friend, feeling himself to be an old man, it might have been natural. When a man has come to regard himself as being, on the score of age, about as fit to be a young lady's lover as though he were an old woman instead of an old man,—which some men will do when they are younger even than was Colonel Osborne,—he is justified in throwing behind him as utterly absurd the suspicions of other people. But Colonel Osborne cannot be defended altogether on that plea.
MISS STANBURY AND MR. GIBSON BECOME TWO.
There came to be a very gloomy fortnight at Miss Stanbury's house in the Close. For two or three days after Mr. Gibson's dismissal at the hands of Miss Stanbury herself, Brooke Burgess was still in the house, and his presence saved Dorothy from the full weight of her aunt's displeasure. There was the necessity of looking after Brooke, and scolding him, and of praising him to Martha, and of dispraising him, and of seeing that he had enough to eat, and of watching whether he smoked in the house, and of quarrelling with him about everything under the sun, which together so employed Miss Stanbury that she satisfied herself with glances at Dorothy which were felt to be full of charges of ingratitude. Dorothy was thankful that it should be so, and bore the glances with abject submission. And then there was a great comfort to her in Brooke's friendship. On the second day after Mr. Gibson had gone she found herself talking to Brooke quite openly upon the subject. "The fact was, Mr. Burgess, that I didn't really care for him. I know he's very good and all that, and of course Aunt Stanbury meant it all for the best. And I would have done it if I could, but I couldn't." Brooke patted her on the back,—not in the flesh but in the spirit,—and told her that she was quite right. And he expressed an opinion too that it was not expedient to yield too much to Aunt Stanbury. "I would yield to her in anything that was possible to me," said Dorothy. "I won't," said he; "and I don't think I should do any good if I did. I like her, and I like her money. But I don't like either well enough to sell myself for a price."
A great part too of the quarrelling which went on from day to day between Brooke and Miss Stanbury was due to the difference of their opinions respecting Dorothy and her suitor. "I believe you put her up to it," said Aunt Stanbury.
"I neither put her up nor down, but I think that she was quite right."
"You've robbed her of a husband, and she'll never have another chance. After what you've done, you ought to take her yourself."
"I shall be ready to-morrow," said Brooke.
"How can you tell such a lie?" said Aunt Stanbury.
But after two or three days Brooke was gone to make a journey through the distant part of the county, and see the beauties of Devonshire. He was to be away for a fortnight, and then come back for a day or two before he returned to London. During that fortnight things did not go well with poor Dorothy at Exeter.
"I suppose you know your own business best," her aunt said to her one morning. Dorothy uttered no word of reply. She felt it to be equally impossible to suggest either that she did or that she did not know her own business best. "There may be reasons which I don't understand," exclaimed Aunt Stanbury; "but I should like to know what it is you expect."
"Why should I expect anything, Aunt Stanbury?"
"That's nonsense. Everybody expects something. You expect to have your dinner by-and-by,—don't you?"
"I suppose I shall," said Dorothy, to whom it occurred at the moment that such expectation was justified by the fact that on every day of her life hitherto some sort of a dinner had come in her way.
"Yes,—and you think it comes from heaven, I suppose."
"It comes by God's goodness and your bounty, Aunt Stanbury."
"And how will it come when I'm dead? Or how will it come if things should go in such a way that I can't stay here any longer? You don't ever think of that."
"I should go back to mamma, and Priscilla."
"Psha! As if two mouths were not enough to eat all the meal there is in that tub. If there was a word to say against the man, I wouldn't ask you to have him; if he drank, or smoked, or wasn't a gentleman, or was too poor, or anything you like. But there's nothing. It's all very well to tell me you don't love him, but why don't you love him? I don't like a girl to go and throw herself at a man's head, as those Frenches have done; but when everything has been prepared for you and made proper, it seems to me to be like turning away from good victuals." Dorothy could only offer to go home if she had offended her aunt, and then Miss Stanbury scolded her for making the offer. As this kind of thing went on at the house in the Close for a fortnight, during which there was no going out, and no society at home, Dorothy began to be rather tired of it.
At the end of the fortnight, on the morning of the day on which Brooke Burgess was expected back, Dorothy, slowly moving into the sitting room with her usual melancholy air, found Mr. Gibson talking to her aunt. "There she is herself," said Miss Stanbury, jumping up briskly, "and now you can speak to her. Of course I have no authority,—none in the least. But she knows what my wishes are." And, having so spoken, Miss Stanbury left the room.
It will be remembered that hitherto no word of affection had been whispered by Mr. Gibson into Dorothy's ears. When he came before to press his suit, she had been made aware of his coming, and had fled, leaving her answer with her aunt. Mr. Gibson had then expressed himself as somewhat injured, in that no opportunity of pouring forth his own eloquence had been permitted to him. On that occasion Miss Stanbury, being in a snubbing humour, had snubbed him. She had in truth scolded him almost as much as she had scolded Dorothy, telling him that he went about the business in hand as though butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. "You're stiff as a chair-back," she had said to him, with a few other compliments, and these amenities had for a while made him regard the establishment at Heavitree as being, at any rate, pleasanter than that in the Close. But since that cool reflection had come. The proposal was not that he should marry Miss Stanbury, senior, who certainly could be severe on occasions, but Miss Stanbury, junior, whose temper was as sweet as primroses in March. That which he would have to take from Miss Stanbury, senior, was a certain sum of money, as to which her promise was as good as any bond in the world. Things had come to such a pass with him in Exeter,—from the hints of his friend the Prebend, from a word or two which had come to him from the Dean, from certain family arrangements proposed to him by his mother and sisters,—things had come to such a pass that he was of a mind that he had better marry some one. He had, as it were, three strings to his bow. There were the two French strings, and there was Dorothy. He had not breadth of genius enough to suggest to himself that yet another woman might be found. There was a difficulty on the French score even about Miss Stanbury; but it was clear to him that, failing her, he was due to one of the two Miss Frenches. Now it was not only that the Miss Frenches were empty-handed, but he was beginning to think himself that they were not as nice as they might have been in reference to the arrangement of their head-gear. Therefore, having given much thought to the matter, and remembering that he had never yet had play for his own eloquence with Dorothy, he had come to Miss Stanbury asking that he might have another chance. It had been borne in upon him that he had perhaps hitherto regarded Dorothy as too certainly his own since she had been offered to him by her aunt,—as being a prize that required no eloquence in the winning; and he thought that if he could have an opportunity of amending that fault, it might even yet be well with his suit. So he prepared himself, and asked permission, and now found himself alone with the young lady.
"When last I was in this house, Miss Stanbury," he began, "I was not fortunate enough to be allowed an opportunity of pleading my cause to yourself." Then he paused, and Dorothy was left to consider how best she might answer him. All that her aunt had said to her had not been thrown away upon her. The calls upon that slender meal-tub at home she knew were quite sufficient. And Mr. Gibson was, she believed, a good man. And how better could she dispose of herself in life? And what was she that she should scorn the love of an honest gentleman? She would take him, she thought,—if she could. But then there came upon her, unconsciously, without work of thought, by instinct rather than by intelligence, a feeling of the closeness of a wife to her husband. Looking at it in general she could not deny that it would be very proper that she should become Mrs. Gibson. But when there came upon her a remembrance that she would be called upon for demonstration of her love,—that he would embrace her, and hold her to his heart, and kiss her,—she revolted and shuddered. She believed that she did not want to marry any man, and that such a state of things would not be good for her. "Dear young lady," continued Mr. Gibson, "you will let me now make up for the loss which I then experienced?"
"I thought it was better not to give you trouble," said Dorothy.
"Trouble, Miss Stanbury! How could it be trouble? The labour we delight in physics pain. But to go back to the subject-matter. I hope you do not doubt that my affection for you is true and honest, and genuine."
"I don't want to doubt anything, Mr. Gibson; but—"
"You needn't, dearest Miss Stanbury; indeed you needn't. If you could read my heart you would see written there true love very plainly;—very plainly. And do you not think it a duty that people should marry?" It may be surmised that he had here forgotten some connecting link which should have joined without abruptness the declaration of his own love, and his social view as to the general expediency of matrimony. But Dorothy did not discover the hiatus.
"Certainly,—when they like each other, and if their friends think it proper."
"Our friends think it proper, Miss Stanbury,—may I say Dorothy?—all of them. I can assure you that on my side you will be welcomed by a mother and sisters only too anxious to receive you with open arms. And as regards your own relations, I need hardly allude to your revered aunt. As to your own mother and sister,—and your brother, who, I believe, gives his mind chiefly to other things,—I am assured by Miss Stanbury that no opposition need be feared from them. Is that true, dearest Dorothy?"
"It is true."
"Does not all that plead in my behalf? Tell me, Dorothy."
"Of course it does."
"And you will be mine?" As far as eloquence could be of service, Mr. Gibson was sufficiently eloquent. To Dorothy his words appeared good, and true, and affecting. All their friends did wish it. There were many reasons why it should be done. If talking could have done it, his talking was good enough. Though his words were in truth cold, and affected, and learned by rote, they did not offend her; but his face offended her; and the feeling was strong within her that if she yielded, it would soon be close to her own. She couldn't do it. She didn't love him, and she wouldn't do it. Priscilla would not grudge her her share out of that meagre meal-tub. Had not Priscilla told her not to marry the man if she did not love him? She found that she was further than ever from loving him. She would not do it. "Say that you will be mine," pleaded Mr. Gibson, coming to her with both his hands outstretched.
"Mr. Gibson, I can't," she said. She was sobbing now, and was half choked by tears.
"And why not, Dorothy?"
"I don't know, but I can't. I don't feel that I want to be married at all."
"But it is honourable."
"It's no use, Mr. Gibson; I can't, and you oughtn't to ask me any more."
"Must this be your very last answer?"
"What's the good of going over it all again and again? I can't do it."
"Never, Miss Stanbury?"
"That is cruel, very cruel. I fear that you doubt my love."
"It isn't cruel, Mr. Gibson. I have a right to have my own feelings, and I can't. If you please, I'll go away now." Then she went, and he was left standing alone in the room. His first feeling was one of anger. Then there came to be mixed with that a good deal of wonder,—and then a certain amount of doubt. He had during the last fortnight discussed the matter at great length with a friend, a gentleman who knew the world, and who took upon himself to say that he specially understood female nature. It was by advice from this friend that he had been instigated to plead his own cause. "Of course she means to accept you," the friend had said. "Why the mischief shouldn't she? But she has some flimsy, old-fashioned country idea that it isn't maidenly to give in at first. You tell her roundly that she must marry you." Mr. Gibson was just reaching that roundness which his friend had recommended when the lady left him and he was alone.
Mr. Gibson was no doubt very much in love with Dorothy Stanbury. So much, we may take for granted. He, at least, believed that he was in love with her. He would have thought it wicked to propose to her had he not been in love with her. But with his love was mingled a certain amount of contempt which had induced him to look upon her as an easy conquest. He had been perhaps a little ashamed of himself for being in love with Dorothy, and had almost believed the Frenches when they had spoken of her as a poor creature, a dependant, one born to be snubbed,—as a young woman almost without an identity of her own. When, therefore, she so pertinaciously refused him, he could not but be angry. And it was natural that he should be surprised. Though he was to have received a fortune with Dorothy, the money was not hers. It was to be hers,—or rather theirs,—only if she would accept him. Mr. Gibson thoroughly understood this point. He knew that Dorothy had nothing of her own. The proposal made to her was as rich as though he had sought her down at Nuncombe Putney, with his preferment, plus the £2,000, in his own pocket. And his other advantages were not hidden from his own eyes. He was a clergyman, well thought of, not bad-looking certainly, considerably under forty,—a man, indeed, who ought to have been, in the eyes of Dorothy, such an Orlando as she would have most desired. He could not therefore but wonder. And then came the doubt. Could it be possible that all those refusals were simply the early pulses of hesitating compliance produced by maidenly reserve? Mr. Gibson's friend had expressed a strong opinion that almost any young woman would accept any young man if he put his "com 'ether" upon her strong enough. For Mr. Gibson's friend was an Irishman. As to Dorothy the friend had not a doubt in the world. Mr. Gibson, as he stood alone in the room after Dorothy's departure, could not share his friend's certainty; but he thought it just possible that the pulsations of maidenly reserve were yet at work. As he was revolving these points in his mind, Miss Stanbury entered the room.
"It's all over now," she said.
"As how, Miss Stanbury?"
"As how! She's given you an answer; hasn't she?"
"Yes, Miss Stanbury, she has given me an answer. But it has occurred to me that young ladies are sometimes,—perhaps a little—"
"She means it, Mr. Gibson; you may take my word for that. She is quite in earnest. She can take the bit between her teeth as well as another, though she does look so mild and gentle. She's a Stanbury all over."
"And must this be the last of it, Miss Stanbury?"
"Upon my word, I don't know what else you can do,—unless you send the Dean and Chapter to talk her over. She's a pig-headed, foolish young woman;—but I can't help that. The truth is, you didn't make enough of her at first, Mr. Gibson. You thought the plum would tumble into your mouth."
This did seem cruel to the poor man. From the first day in which the project had been opened to him by Miss Stanbury, he had yielded a ready acquiescence,—in spite of those ties which he had at Heavitree,—and had done his very best to fall into her views. "I don't think that is at all fair, Miss Stanbury," he said, with some tone of wrath in his voice.
"It's true,—quite true. You always treated her as though she were something beneath you." Mr. Gibson stood speechless, with his mouth open. "So you did. I saw it all. And now she's had spirit enough to resent it. I don't wonder at it; I don't, indeed. It's no good your standing there any longer. The thing is done."
Such intolerable ill-usage Mr. Gibson had never suffered in his life. Had he been untrue, or very nearly untrue, to those dear girls at Heavitree for this? "I never treated her as anything beneath me," he said at last.
"Yes, you did. Do you think that I don't understand? Haven't I eyes in my head, and ears? I'm not deaf yet, nor blind. But there's an end of it. If any young woman ever meant anything, she means it. The truth is, she don't like you."
Was ever a lover despatched in so uncourteous a way! Then, too, he had been summoned thither as a lover, had been specially encouraged to come there as a lover, had been assured of success in a peculiar way, had had the plum actually offered to him! He had done all that this old woman had bidden him,—something, indeed, to the prejudice of his own heart; he had been told that the wife was ready for him; and now, because this foolish young woman didn't know her own mind,—this was Mr. Gibson's view of the matter,—he was reviled and abused, and told that he had behaved badly to the lady. "Miss Stanbury," he said, "I think that you are forgetting yourself."
"Highty, tighty!" said Miss Stanbury. "Forgetting myself! I shan't forget you in a hurry, Mr. Gibson."
"Nor I you, Miss Stanbury. Good morning, Miss Stanbury." Mr. Gibson, as he went from the hall-door into the street, shook the dust off his feet, and resolved that for the future he and Miss Stanbury should be two. There would arise great trouble in Exeter, but, nevertheless, he and Miss Stanbury must be two. He could justify himself in no other purpose after such conduct as he had received.
There had been various letters passing, during the last six weeks, between Priscilla Stanbury and her brother, respecting the Clock House at Nuncombe Putney. The ladies at Nuncombe had, certainly, gone into the Clock House on the clear understanding that the expenses of the establishment were to be incurred on behalf of Mrs. Trevelyan. Priscilla had assented to the movement most doubtingly. She had disliked the idea of taking the charge of a young married woman who was separated from her husband, and she had felt that a going down after such an uprising,—a fall from the Clock House back to a cottage,—would be very disagreeable. She had, however, allowed her brother's arguments to prevail, and there they were. The annoyance which she had anticipated from the position of their late guest had fallen upon them: it had been felt grievously, from the moment in which Colonel Osborne called at the house; and now that going back to the cottage must be endured. Priscilla understood that there had been a settlement between Trevelyan and Stanbury as to the cost of the establishment so far;—but that must now be at an end. In their present circumstances she would not continue to live there, and had already made inquiries as to some humble roof for their shelter. For herself she would not have cared had it been necessary for her to hide herself in a hut,—for herself, as regarded any feeling as to her own standing in the village. For herself, she was ashamed of nothing. But her mother would suffer, and she knew what Aunt Stanbury would say to Dorothy. To Dorothy at the present moment, if Dorothy should think of accepting her suitor, the change might be very deleterious; but still it should be made. She could not endure to live there on the very hard-earned proceeds of her brother's pen,—proceeds which were not only hard-earned, but precarious. She gave warning to the two servants who had been hired, and consulted with Mrs. Crocket as to a cottage, and was careful to let it be known throughout Nuncombe Putney that the Clock House was to be abandoned. The Clock House had been taken furnished for six months, of which half were not yet over; but there were other expenses of living there much greater than the rent, and go she would. Her mother sighed and assented; and Mrs. Crocket, having strongly but fruitlessly advised that the Clock House should be inhabited at any rate for the six months, promised her assistance. "It has been a bad business, Mrs. Crocket," said Priscilla; "and all we can do now is to get out of it as well as we can. Every mouthful I eat chokes me while I stay there." "It ain't good, certainly, miss, not to know as you're all straight the first thing as you wakes in the morning," said Mrs. Crocket,—who was always able to feel when she woke that everything was straight with her.
Then there came the correspondence between Priscilla and Hugh. Priscilla was at first decided, indeed, but mild in the expression of her decision. To this, and to one or two other missives couched in terms of increasing decision, Hugh answered with manly, self-asserting, overbearing arguments. The house was theirs till Christmas; between this and then he would think about it. He could very well afford to keep the house on till next Midsummer, and then they might see what had best be done. There was plenty of money, and Priscilla need not put herself into a flutter. In answer to that word flutter, Priscilla wrote as follows:—
Clock House, September 16, 186—.
I know very well how good you are, and how generous, but you must allow me to have feelings as well as yourself. I will not consent to have myself regarded as a grand lady out of your earnings. How should I feel when some day I heard that you had run yourself into debt? Neither mamma nor I could endure it. Dorothy is provided for now, at any rate for a time, and what we have is enough for us. You know I am not too proud to take anything you can spare to us, when we are ourselves placed in a proper position: but I could not live in this great house, while you are paying for everything,—and I will not. Mamma quite agrees with me, and we shall go out of it on Michaelmas-day. Mrs. Crocket says she thinks she can get you a tenant for the three months, out of Exeter,—if not for the whole rent, at least for part of it. I think we have already got a small place for eight shillings a week, a little out of the village, on the road to Cockchaffington. You will remember it. Old Soames used to live there. Our old furniture will be just enough. There is a mite of a garden, and Mrs. Crocket says she thinks we can get it for seven shillings, or perhaps for six and sixpence, if we stay there. We shall go in on the 29th. Mrs. Crocket will see about having somebody to take care of the house.
Your most affectionate sister,
On the receipt of this letter, Hugh proceeded to Nuncombe. At this time he was making about ten guineas a week, and thought that he saw his way to further work. No doubt the ten guineas were precarious;—that is, the "Daily Record" might discontinue his services to-morrow, if the "Daily Record" thought fit to do so. The greater part of his earnings came from the "D. R.," and the editor had only to say that things did not suit any longer, and there would be an end of it. He was not as a lawyer or a doctor with many clients who could not all be supposed to withdraw their custom at once; but leading articles were things wanted with at least as much regularity as physic or law, and Hugh Stanbury, believing in himself, did not think it probable that an editor, who knew what he was about, would withdraw his patronage. He was proud of his weekly ten guineas, feeling sure that a weekly ten guineas would not as yet have been his had he stuck to the Bar as a profession. He had calculated, when Mrs. Trevelyan left the Clock House, that two hundred a year would enable his mother to continue to reside there, the rent of the place furnished, or half-furnished, being only eighty; and he thought that he could pay the two hundred easily. He thought so still, when he received Priscilla's last letter; but he knew something of the stubbornness of his dear sister, and he, therefore, went down to Nuncombe Putney, in order that he might use the violence of his logic on his mother.
He had heard of Mr. Gibson from both Priscilla and from Dorothy, and was certainly desirous that "dear old Dolly," as he called her, should be settled comfortably. But when dear old Dolly wrote to him declaring that it could not be so, that Mr. Gibson was a very nice gentleman, of whom she could not say that she was particularly fond,—"though I really do think that he is an excellent man, and if it was any other girl in the world, I should recommend her to take him,"—and that she thought that she would rather not get married, he wrote to her the kindest brotherly letter in the world, telling her that she was "a brick," and suggesting to her that there might come some day some one who would suit her taste better than Mr. Gibson. "I'm not very fond of parsons myself," said Hugh, "but you must not tell that to Aunt Stanbury." Then he suggested that as he was going down to Nuncombe, Dorothy should get leave of absence and come over and meet him at the Clock House. Dorothy demanded the leave of absence somewhat imperiously, and was at home at the Clock House when Hugh arrived.
"And so that little affair couldn't come off?" said Hugh at their first family meeting.
"It was a pity," said Mrs. Stanbury, plaintively. She had been very plaintive on the subject. What a thing it would have been for her, could she have seen Dorothy so well established!
"There's no help for spilt milk, mother," said Hugh. Mrs. Stanbury shook her head.
"Dorothy was quite right," said Priscilla.
"Of course she was right," said Hugh. "Who doubts her being right? Bless my soul! What's any girl to do if she don't like a man except to tell him so? I honour you, Dolly,—not that I ever should have doubted you. You're too much of a chip of the old block to say you liked a man when you didn't."
"He is a very excellent young man," said Mrs. Stanbury.
"An excellent fiddlestick, mother. Loving and liking don't go by excellence. Besides, I don't know about his being any better than anybody else, just because he's a clergyman."
"A clergyman is more likely to be steady than other men," said the mother.
"Steady, yes; and as selfish as you please."
"Your father was a clergyman, Hugh."
"I don't mean to say that they are not as good as others; but I won't have it that they are better. They are always dealing with the Bible, till they think themselves apostles. But when money comes up, or comfort, or, for the matter of that either, a pretty woman with a little money, then they are as human as the rest of us."
If the truth had been told on that occasion, Hugh Stanbury would have had to own that he had written lately two or three rather stinging articles in the "Daily Record," as "to the assumed merits and actual demerits of the clergy of the Church of England." It is astonishing how fluent a man is on a subject when he has lately delivered himself respecting it in this fashion.
Nothing on that evening was said about the Clock House, or about Priscilla's intentions. Priscilla was up early on the next morning, intending to discuss it in the garden with Hugh before breakfast; but Hugh was aware of her purpose and avoided her. It was his intention to speak first to his mother; and though his mother was, as he knew, very much in awe of her daughter, he thought that he might carry his point, at any rate for the next three months, by forcing an assent from the elder lady. So he managed to waylay Mrs. Stanbury before she descended to the parlour.
"We can't afford it, my dear;—indeed we can't," said Mrs. Stanbury.
"That's not the question, mother. The rent must be paid up to Christmas, and you can live here as cheap as you can anywhere."
"Oh, Priscilla! Of course we know what Priscilla says. Priscilla has been writing to me about it in the most sensible manner in the world; but what does it all come to? If you are ashamed of taking assistance from me, I don't know who is to do anything for anybody. You are comfortable here?"
"Very comfortable; only Priscilla feels—"
"Priscilla is a tyrant, mother; and a very stern one. Just make up your mind to stay here till Christmas. If I tell you that I can afford it, surely that ought to be enough." Then Dorothy entered the room, and Hugh appealed to her. Dorothy had come to Nuncombe only on the day before, and had not been consulted on the subject. She had been told that the Clock House was to be abandoned, and had been taken down to inspect the cottage in which old Soames had lived;—but her opinion had not been asked. Priscilla had quite made up her mind, and why should she ask an opinion of any one? But now Dorothy's opinion was demanded. "It's what I call the rhodomontade of independence," said Hugh.
"I suppose it is very expensive," suggested Dorothy.
"The house must be paid for," said Hugh;—"and if I say that I've got the money, is not that enough? A miserable, dirty little place, where you'll catch your death of lumbago, mother."
"Of course it's not a comfortable house," said Mrs. Stanbury,—who, of herself, was not at all indifferent to the comforts of her present residence.
"And it is very dirty," said Dorothy.
"The nastiest place I ever saw in my life. Come, mother; if I say that I can afford it, ought not that to be enough for you? If you think you can't trust me, there's an end of everything, you know." And Hugh, as he thus expressed himself, assumed an air of injured virtue.
Mrs. Stanbury had very nearly yielded, when Priscilla came in among them. It was impossible not to continue the conversation, though Hugh would much have preferred to have forced an assent from his mother before he opened his mouth on the subject to his sister. "My mother agrees with me," said he abruptly, "and so does Dolly, that it will be absurd to move away from this house at present."
"Mamma!" exclaimed Priscilla.
"I don't think I said that, Hugh," murmured Dorothy, softly.
"I'm sure I don't want anything for myself," said Mrs. Stanbury.
"It's I that want it," said Hugh. "And I think that I've a right to have my wishes respected, so far as that goes."
"My dear Hugh," said Priscilla, "the cottage is already taken, and we shall certainly go into it. I spoke to Mrs. Crocket yesterday about a cart for moving the things. I'm sure mamma agrees with me. What possible business can people have to live in such a house as this with about twenty-four shillings a week for everything? I won't do it. And as the thing is settled, it is only making trouble to disturb it."
"I suppose, Priscilla," said Hugh, "you'll do as your mother chooses?"
"Mamma chooses to go. She has told me so already."
"You have talked her into it."
"We had better go, Hugh," said Mrs. Stanbury. "I'm sure we had better go."
"Of course we shall go," said Priscilla. "Hugh is very kind and very generous, but he is only giving trouble for nothing about this. Had we not better go down to breakfast?"
And so Priscilla carried the day. They went down to breakfast, and during the meal Hugh would speak to nobody. When the gloomy meal was over he took his pipe and walked out to the cottage. It was an untidy-looking, rickety place, small and desolate, with a pretension about it of the lowest order, a pretension that was evidently ashamed of itself. There was a porch. And the one sitting-room had what the late Mr. Soames had always called his bow window. But the porch looked as though it were tumbling down, and the bow window looked as though it were tumbling out. The parlour and the bedroom over it had been papered;—but the paper was torn and soiled, and in sundry places was hanging loose. There was a miserable little room called a kitchen to the right as you entered the door, in which the grate was worn out, and behind this was a shed with a copper. In the garden there remained the stumps and stalks of Mr. Soames's cabbages, and there were weeds in plenty, and a damp hole among some elder bushes called an arbour. It was named Laburnum Cottage, from a shrub that grew at the end of the house. Hugh Stanbury shuddered as he stood smoking among the cabbage-stalks. How could a man ask such a girl as Nora Rowley to be his wife, whose mother lived in a place like this? While he was still standing in the garden, and thinking of Priscilla's obstinacy and his own ten guineas a week, and the sort of life which he lived in London,—where he dined usually at his club, and denied himself nothing in the way of pipes, beer, and beefsteaks, he heard a step behind him, and turning round, saw his elder sister.
"Hugh," she said, "you must not be angry with me."
"But I am angry with you."
"I know you are; but you are unjust. I am doing what I am sure is right."
"I never saw such a beastly hole as this in all my life."
"I don't think it beastly at all. You'll find that I'll make it nice. Whatever we want here you shall give us. You are not to think that I am too proud to take anything at your hands. It is not that."
"It's very like it."
"I have never refused anything that is reasonable, but it is quite unreasonable that we should go on living in such a place as that, as though we had three or four hundred a year of our own. If mamma got used to the comfort of it, it would be hard then upon her to move. You shall give her what you can afford, and what is reasonable; but it is madness to think of living there. I couldn't do it."
"You're to have your way at any rate, it seems."
"But you must not quarrel with me, Hugh. Give me a kiss. I don't have you often with me; and yet you are the only man in the world that I ever speak to, or even know. I sometimes half think that the bread is so hard and the water so bitter, that life will become impossible. I try to get over it; but if you were to go away from me in anger, I should be so beaten for a week or two that I could do nothing."
"Why won't you let me do anything?"
"I will;—whatever you please. But kiss me." Then he kissed her, as he stood among Mr. Soames's cabbage-stalks. "Dear Hugh; you are such a god to me!"
"You don't treat me like a divinity."
"But I think of you as one when you are absent. The gods were never obeyed when they showed themselves. Let us go and have a walk. Come;—shall we get as far as Ridleigh Mill?" Then they started together, and all unpleasantness was over between them when they returned to the Clock House.
BROOKE BURGESS TAKES LEAVE OF EXETER.
The time had arrived at which Brooke Burgess was to leave Exeter. He had made his tour through the county, and returned to spend his two last nights at Miss Stanbury's house. When he came back Dorothy was still at Nuncombe, but she arrived in the Close the day before his departure. Her mother and sister had wished her to stay at Nuncombe. "There is a bed for you now, and a place to be comfortable in," Priscilla had said, laughing, "and you may as well see the last of us." But Dorothy declared that she had named a day to her aunt, and that she would not break her engagement. "I suppose you can stay if you like," Priscilla had urged. But Dorothy was of opinion that she ought not to stay. She said not a word about Brooke Burgess; but it may be that it would have been matter of regret to her not to shake hands with him once more. Brooke declared to her that had she not come back he would have gone over to Nuncombe to see her; but Dorothy did not consider herself entitled to believe that.
On the morning of the last day Brooke went over to his uncle's office. "I've come to say good-bye, Uncle Barty," he said.
"Good-bye, my boy. Take care of yourself."
"I mean to try."
"You haven't quarrelled with the old woman,—have you?" said Uncle Barty.
"Not yet;—that is to say, not to the knife."
"And you still believe that you are to have her money?"
"I believe nothing one way or the other. You may be sure of this,—I shall never count it mine till I've got it; and I shall never make myself so sure of it as to break my heart because I don't get it. I suppose I've got as good a right to it as anybody else, and I don't see why I shouldn't take it if it come in my way."
"I don't think it ever will," said the old man, after a pause.
"I shall be none the worse," said Brooke.
"Yes, you will. You'll be a broken-hearted man. And she means to break your heart. She does it on purpose. She has no more idea of leaving you her money than I have. Why should she?"
"Simply because she takes the fancy."
"Fancy! Believe me, there is very little fancy about it. There isn't one of the name she wouldn't ruin if she could. She'd break all our hearts if she could get at them. Look at me and my position. I'm little more than a clerk in the concern. By God;—I'm not so well off as a senior clerk in many a bank. If there came a bad time, I must lose as the others would lose;—but a clerk never loses. And my share in the business is almost a nothing. It's just nothing,—compared to what it would have been, only for her."
Brooke had known that his uncle was a disappointed, or at least a discontented man; but he had never known much of the old man's circumstances, and certainly had not expected to hear him speak in the strain that he had now used. He had heard often that his Uncle Barty disliked Miss Stanbury, and had not been surprised at former sharp, biting little words spoken in reference to that lady's character. But he had not expected such a tirade of abuse as the banker had now poured out. "Of course I know nothing about the bank," said he; "but I did not suppose that she had had anything to do with it."
"Where do you think the money came from that she has got? Did you ever hear that she had anything of her own? She never had a penny,—never a penny. It came out of this house. It is the capital on which this business was founded, and on which it ought to be carried on to this day. My brother had thrown her off; by heavens, yes;—had thrown her off. He had found out what she was, and had got rid of her."
"But he left her his money."
"Yes;—she got near him when he was dying, and he did leave her his money;—his money, and my money, and your father's money."
"He could have given her nothing, Uncle Barty, that wasn't his own."
"Of course that's true;—it's true in one way. You might say the same of a man who was cozened into leaving every shilling away from his own children. I wasn't in Exeter when the will was made. We none of us were here. But she was here; and when we came to see him die, there we found her. She had had her revenge upon him, and she means to have it on all of us. I don't believe she'll ever leave you a shilling, Brooke. You'll find her out yet, and you'll talk of her to your nephews as I do to you."
Brooke made some ordinary answer to this, and bade his uncle adieu. He had allowed himself to entertain a half chivalrous idea that he could produce a reconciliation between Miss Stanbury and his uncle Barty; and since he had been at Exeter he had said a word, first to the one and then to the other, hinting at the subject; but his hints had certainly not been successful. As he walked from the bank into the High Street he could not fail to ask himself whether there were any grounds for the terrible accusations which he had just heard from his uncle's lips. Something of the same kind, though in form much less violent, had been repeated to him very often by others of the family. Though he had as a boy known Miss Stanbury well, he had been taught to regard her as an ogress. All the Burgesses had regarded Miss Stanbury as an ogress since that unfortunate will had come to light. But she was an ogress from whom something might be gained,—and the ogress had still persisted in saying that a Burgess should be her heir. It had therefore come to pass that Brooke had been brought up half to revere her and half to abhor her. "She is a dreadful woman," said his branch of the family, "who will not scruple at anything evil. But as it seems that you may probably reap the advantage of the evil that she does, it will become you to put up with her iniquity." As he had become old enough to understand the nature of her position, he had determined to judge for himself;—but his judgment hitherto simply amounted to this,—that Miss Stanbury was a very singular old woman, with a kind heart and good instincts, but so capricious withal that no sensible man would risk his happiness on expectations formed on her promises. Guided by this opinion, he had resolved to be attentive to her and, after a certain fashion, submissive; but certainly not to become her slave. She had thrown over her nephew. She was constantly complaining to him of her niece. Now and again she would say a very bitter word to him about himself. When he had left Exeter on his little excursion, no one was so much in favour with her as Mr. Gibson. On his return he found that Mr. Gibson had been altogether discarded, and was spoken of in terms of almost insolent abuse. "If I were ever so humble to her," he had said to himself, "it would do no good; and there is nothing I hate so much as humility." He had thus determined to take the goods the gods provided, should it ever come to pass that such godlike provision was laid before him out of Miss Stanbury's coffers;—but not to alter his mode of life or put himself out of his way in obedience to her behests, as a man might be expected to do who was destined to receive so rich a legacy. Upon this idea he had acted, still believing the old woman to be good, but believing at the same time that she was very capricious. Now he had heard what his Uncle Bartholomew Burgess had had to say upon the matter, and he could not refrain from asking himself whether his uncle's accusations were true.
In a narrow passage between the High Street and the Close he met Mr. Gibson. There had come to be that sort of intimacy between the two men which grows from closeness of position rather than from any social desire on either side, and it was natural that Burgess should say a word of farewell. On the previous evening Miss Stanbury had relieved her mind by turning Mr. Gibson into ridicule in her description to Brooke of the manner in which the clergyman had carried on his love affair; and she had at the same time declared that Mr. Gibson had been most violently impertinent to herself. He knew, therefore, that Miss Stanbury and Mr. Gibson had become two, and would on this occasion have passed on without a word relative to the old lady had Mr. Gibson allowed him to do so. But Mr. Gibson spoke his mind freely.
"Off to-morrow, are you?" he said. "Good-bye. I hope we may meet again; but not in the same house, Mr. Burgess."
"There or anywhere I shall be very happy," said Brooke.
"Not there, certainly. While you were absent Miss Stanbury treated me in such a way that I shall certainly never put my foot in her house again."
"Dear me! I thought that you and she were such great friends."
"I knew her very well, of course;—and respected her. She is a good churchwoman, and is charitable in the city; but she has got such a tongue in her head that there is no bearing it when she does what she calls giving you a bit of her mind."
"She has been indulgent to me, and has not given me much of it."
"Your time will come, I've no doubt," continued Mr. Gibson. "Everybody has always told me that it would be so. Even her oldest friends knew it. You ask Mrs. MacHugh, or Mrs. French, at Heavitree."
"Mrs. French!" said Brooke, laughing. "That would hardly be fair evidence."
"Why not? I don't know a better judge of character in all Exeter than Mrs. French. And she and Miss Stanbury have been intimate all their lives. Ask your uncle at the bank."
"My uncle and Miss Stanbury never were friends," said Brooke.
"Ask Hugh Stanbury what he thinks of her. But don't suppose I want to say a word against her. I wouldn't for the world do such a thing. Only, as we've met there and all that, I thought it best to let you know that she had treated me in such a way, and has been altogether so violent, that I never will go there again." So saying, Mr. Gibson passed on, and was of opinion that he had spoken with great generosity of the old woman who had treated him so badly.
In the afternoon Brooke Burgess went over to the further end of the Close, and called on Mrs. MacHugh; and from thence he walked across to Heavitree, and called on the Frenches. It may be doubted whether he would have been so well behaved to these ladies had they not been appealed to by Mr. Gibson as witnesses to the character of Miss Stanbury. He got very little from Mrs. MacHugh. That lady was kind and cordial, and expressed many wishes that she might see him again in Exeter. When he said a few words about Mr. Gibson, Mrs. MacHugh only laughed, and declared that the gentleman would soon find a plaister for that sore. "There are more fishes than one in the sea," she said.
"But I'm afraid they've quarrelled, Mrs. MacHugh."
"So they tell me. What should we have to talk about here if somebody didn't quarrel sometimes? She and I ought to get up a quarrel for the good of the public;—only they know that I never can quarrel with anybody. I never see anybody interesting enough to quarrel with." But Mrs. MacHugh said nothing about Miss Stanbury, except that she sent over a message with reference to a rubber of whist for the next night but one.
He found the two French girls sitting with their mother, and they all expressed their great gratitude to him for coming to say good-bye before he went. "It's so very nice of you, Mr. Burgess," said Camilla, "and particularly just at present."
"Yes, indeed," said Arabella, "because you know things have been so unpleasant."
"My dears, never mind about that," said Mrs. French. "Miss Stanbury has meant everything for the best, and it is all over now."
"I don't know what you mean by its being all over, mamma," said Camilla. "As far as I can understand, it has never been begun."
"My dear, the least said the soonest mended," said Mrs. French.
"That's of course, mamma," said Camilla; "but yet one can't hold one's tongue altogether. All the city is talking about it, and I dare say Mr. Burgess has heard as much as anybody else."
"I've heard nothing at all," said Brooke.
"Oh yes, you have," continued Camilla. Arabella conceived herself at this moment to be situated in so delicate a position, that it was best that her sister should talk about it, and that she herself should hold her tongue,—with the exception, perhaps, of a hint here and there which might be of assistance; for Arabella completely understood that the prize was now to be hers, if the prize could be rescued out of the Stanbury clutches. She was aware,—no one better aware,—how her sister had interfered with her early hopes, and was sure, in her own mind, that all her disappointment had come from fratricidal rivalry on the part of Camilla. It had never, however, been open to her to quarrel with Camilla. There they were, linked together, and together they must fight their battles. As two pigs may be seen at the same trough, each striving to take the delicacies of the banquet from the other, and yet enjoying always the warmth of the same dunghill in amicable contiguity, so had these young ladies lived in sisterly friendship, while each was striving to take a husband from the other. They had understood the position, and, though for years back they had talked about Mr. Gibson, they had never quarrelled; but now, in these latter days of the Stanbury interference, there had come tacitly to be something of an understanding between them that, if any fighting were still possible on the subject, one must be put forward and the other must yield. There had been no spoken agreement, but Arabella quite understood that she was to be put forward. It was for her to take up the running, and to win, if possible, against the Stanbury filly. That was her view, and she was inclined to give Camilla credit for acting in accordance with it with honesty and zeal. She felt, therefore, that her words on the present occasion ought to be few. She sat back in her corner of the sofa, and was intent on her work, and shewed by the pensiveness of her brow that there were thoughts within her bosom of which she was not disposed to speak. "You must have heard a great deal," said Camilla, laughing. "You must know how poor Mr. Gibson has been abused, because he wouldn't—"
"Camilla, don't be foolish," said Mrs. French.
"Because he wouldn't what?" asked Brooke. "What ought he to have done that he didn't do?"
"I don't know anything about ought," said Camilla. "That's a matter of taste altogether."
"I'm the worst hand in the world at a riddle," said Brooke.
"How sly you are," continued Camilla, laughing; "as if dear Aunt Stanbury hadn't confided all her hopes to you."
"Camilla, dear,—don't," said Arabella.
"But when a gentleman is hunted, and can't be caught, I don't think he ought to be abused to his face."
"But who hunted him, and who abused him?" asked Brooke.
"Mind, I don't mean to say a word against Miss Stanbury, Mr. Burgess. We've known her and loved her all our lives;—haven't we, mamma?"
"And respected her," said Arabella.
"Quite so," continued Camilla. "But you know, Mr. Burgess, that she likes her own way."
"I don't know anybody that does not," said Brooke.
"And when she's disappointed, she shows it. There's no doubt she is disappointed now, Mr. Burgess."
"What's the good of going on, Camilla?" said Mrs. French. Arabella sat silent in her corner, with a conscious glow of satisfaction, as she reflected that the joint disappointment of the elder and the younger Miss Stanbury had been caused by a tender remembrance of her own charms. Had not dear Mr. Gibson told her, in the glowing language of truth, that there was nothing further from his thoughts than the idea of taking Dorothy Stanbury for his wife?
"Well, you know," continued Camilla, "I think that when a person makes an attempt, and comes by the worst of it, that person should put up with the defeat, and not say all manner of ill-natured things. Everybody knows that a certain gentleman is very intimate in this house."
"Don't, dear," said Arabella, in a whisper.
"Yes, I shall," said Camilla. "I don't know why people should hold their tongues, when other people talk so loudly. I don't care a bit what anybody says about the gentleman and us. We have known him for ever so many years, and mamma is very fond of him."
"Indeed I am, Camilla," said Mrs. French.
"And for the matter of that, so am I,—very," said Camilla, laughing bravely. "I don't care who knows it."
"Don't be so silly, child," said Arabella. Camilla was certainly doing her best, and Arabella was grateful.
"We don't care what people may say," continued Camilla again. "Of course we heard, as everybody else heard too, that a certain gentleman was to be married to a certain lady. It was nothing to us whether he was married or not."
"Nothing at all," said Arabella.
"We never spoke ill of the young lady. We did not interfere. If the gentleman liked the young lady, he was quite at liberty to marry her, as far as we were concerned. We had been in the habit of seeing him here, almost as a brother, and perhaps we might feel that a connection with that particular young lady would take him from us; but we never hinted so much even as that,—to him or to anyone else. Why should we? It was nothing to us. Now it turns out that the gentleman never meant anything of the kind, whereupon he is pretty nearly kicked out of the house, and all manner of ill-natured things are said about us everywhere." By this time Camilla had become quite excited, and was speaking with much animation.
"How can you be so foolish, Camilla?" said Arabella.
"Perhaps I am foolish," said Camilla, "to care what anybody says."
"What can it all be to Mr. Burgess?" said Mrs. French.
"Only this, that as we all like Mr. Burgess, and as he is almost one of the family in the Close, I think he ought to know why we are not quite so cordial as we used to be. Now that the matter is over I have no doubt things will get right again. And as for the young lady, I'm sure we feel for her. We think it was the aunt who was indiscreet."
"And then she has such a tongue," said Arabella.
Our friend Brooke, of course, knew the whole truth;—knew the nature of Mr. Gibson's failure, and knew also how Dorothy had acted in the affair. He was inclined, moreover, to believe that the ladies who were now talking to him were as well instructed on the subject as was he himself. He had heard, too, of the ambition of the two young ladies now before him, and believed that that ambition was not yet dead. But he did not think it incumbent on him to fight a battle even on behalf of Dorothy. He might have declared that Dorothy, at least, had not been disappointed, but he thought it better to be silent about Dorothy. "Yes," he said, "Miss Stanbury has a tongue; but I think it speaks as much good as it does evil, and perhaps that is a great deal to say for any lady's tongue."
"We never speak evil of anybody," said Camilla; "never. It is a rule with us." Then Brooke took his leave, and the three ladies were cordial and almost affectionate in their farewell greetings.
Brooke was to start on the following morning before anybody would be up except Martha, and Miss Stanbury was very melancholy during the evening. "We shall miss him very much; shall we not?" she said, appealing to Dorothy. "I am sure you will miss him very much," said Dorothy. "We are so stupid here alone," said Miss Stanbury. When they had drank their tea, she sat nearly silent for half an hour, and then summoned him up into her own room. "So you are going, Brooke?" she said.
"Yes; I must go now. They would dismiss me if I stayed an hour longer."
"It was good of you to come to the old woman; and you must let me hear of you from time to time."
"Of course I'll write."
"What is it, Aunt Stanbury?"
"Do you want any money, Brooke?"
"No;—none, thank you. I've plenty for a bachelor."
"When you think of marrying, Brooke, mind you tell me."
"I'll be sure to tell you;—but I can't promise yet when that will be." She said nothing more to him, though she paused once more as though she were going to speak. She kissed him and bade him good-bye, saying that she would not go down-stairs again that evening. He was to tell Dorothy to go to bed. And so they parted.
But Dorothy did not go to bed for an hour after that. When Brooke came down into the parlour with his message she intended to go at once, and put up her work, and lit her candle, and put out her hand to him, and said good-bye to him. But, for all that, she remained there for an hour with him. At first she said very little, but by degrees her tongue was loosened, and she found herself talking with a freedom which she could hardly herself understand. She told him how thoroughly she believed her aunt to be a good woman,—how sure she was that her aunt was at any rate honest. "As for me," said Dorothy, "I know that I have displeased her about Mr. Gibson;—and I would go away, only that I think she would be so desolate." Then Brooke begged her never to allow the idea of leaving Miss Stanbury to enter her head. Because Miss Stanbury was capricious, he said, not on that account should her caprices either be indulged or permitted. That was his doctrine respecting Miss Stanbury, and he declared that, as regarded himself, he would never be either disrespectful to her or submissive. "It is a great mistake," he said, "to think that anybody is either an angel or a devil." When Dorothy expressed an opinion that with some people angelic tendencies were predominant, and with others diabolic tendencies, he assented; but declared that it was not always easy to tell the one tendency from the other. At last, when Dorothy had made about five attempts to go, Mr. Gibson's name was mentioned. "I am very glad that you are not going to be Mrs. Gibson," said he.
"I don't know why you should be glad."
"Because I should not have liked your husband,—not as your husband."
"He is an excellent man, I'm sure," said Dorothy.
"Nevertheless I am very glad. But I did not think you would accept him, and I congratulate you on your escape. You would have been nothing to me as Mrs. Gibson."
"Shouldn't I?" said Dorothy, not knowing what else to say.
"But now I think we shall always be friends."
"I'm sure I hope so, Mr. Burgess. But indeed I must go now. It is ever so late, and you will hardly get any sleep. Good night." Then he took her hand, and pressed it very warmly, and referring to a promise before made to her, he assured her that he would certainly make acquaintance with her brother as soon as he was back in London. Dorothy, as she went up to bed, was more than ever satisfied with herself, in that she had not yielded in reference to Mr. Gibson.
TREVELYAN AT VENICE.
Trevelyan passed on moodily and alone from Turin to Venice, always expecting letters from Bozzle, and receiving from time to time the dispatches which that functionary forwarded to him, as must be acknowledged, with great punctuality. For Mr. Bozzle did his work, not only with a conscience, but with a will. He was now, as he had declared more than once, altogether devoted to Mr. Trevelyan's interest; and as he was an active, enterprising man, always on the alert to be doing something, and as he loved the work of writing dispatches, Trevelyan received a great many letters from Bozzle. It is not exaggeration to say that every letter made him for the time a very wretched man. This ex-policeman wrote of the wife of his bosom,—of her who had been the wife of his bosom, and who was the mother of his child, who was at this very time the only woman whom he loved,—with an entire absence of delicacy. Bozzle would have thought reticence on his part to be dishonest. We remember Othello's demand of Iago. That was the demand which Bozzle understood that Trevelyan had made of him, and he was minded to obey that order. But Trevelyan, though he had in truth given the order, was like Othello also in this,—that he would have preferred before all the prizes of the world to have had proof brought home to him exactly opposite to that which he demanded. But there was nothing so terrible to him as the grinding suspicion that he was to be kept in the dark. Bozzle could find out facts. Therefore he gave, in effect, the same order that Othello gave;—and Bozzle went to work determined to obey it. There came many dispatches to Venice, and at last there came one, which created a correspondence which shall be given here at length. The first is a letter from Mr. Bozzle to his employer:—
55, Stony Walk, Union Street, Borough,
September 29, 186—, 4.30 p.m.
Since I wrote yesterday morning, something has occurred which, it may be, and I think it will, will help to bring this melancholy affair to a satisfactory termination and conclusion. I had better explain, Mr. Trewilyan, how I have been at work from the beginning about watching the Colonel. I couldn't do nothing with the porter at the Albany, which he is always mostly muzzled with beer, and he wouldn't have taken my money, not on the square. So, when it was tellegrammed to me as the Colonel was on the move in the North, I put on two boys as knows the Colonel, at eighteenpence a day, at each end, one Piccadilly end, and the other Saville Row end, and yesterday morning, as quick as ever could be, after the Limited Express Edinburgh Male Up was in, there comes the Saville Row End Boy here to say as the Colonel was lodged safe in his downey. Then I was off immediate myself to St. Diddulph's, because I knows what it is to trust to Inferiors when matters gets delicate. Now, there hadn't been no letters from the Colonel, nor none to him as I could make out, though that mightn't be so sure. She might have had 'em addressed to A. Z., or the like of that, at any of the Post-offices as was distant, as nobody could give the notice to 'em all. Barring the money, which I know ain't an object when the end is so desirable, it don't do to be too ubiketous, because things will go astray. But I've kept my eye uncommon open, and I don't think there have been no letters since that last which was sent, Mr. Trewilyan, let any of 'em, parsons, or what not, say what they will. And I don't see as parsons are better than other folk when they has to do with a lady as likes her fancy-man.
Trevelyan, when he had read as far as this, threw down the letter and tore his hair in despair. "My wife," he exclaimed, "Oh, my wife!" But it was essential that he should read Bozzle's letter, and he persevered.
Well; I took to the ground myself as soon as ever I heard that the Colonel was among us, and I hung out at the Full Moon. They had been quite on the square with me at the Full Moon, which I mention, because, of course, it has to be remembered, and it do come up as a hitem. And I'm proud, Mr. Trewilyan, as I did take to the ground myself; for what should happen but I see the Colonel as large as life ringing at the parson's bell at 1.47 p.m. He was let in at 1.49, and he was let out at 2.17. He went away in a cab which it was kept, and I followed him till he was put down at the Arcade, and I left him having his 'ed washed and greased at Trufitt's rooms, half-way up. It was a wonder to me when I see this, Mr. Trewilyan, as he didn't have his 'ed done first, as they most of 'em does when they're going to see their ladies; but I couldn't make nothing of that, though I did try to put too and too together, as I always does.
What he did at the parson's, Mr. Trewilyan, I won't say I saw, and I won't say I know. It's my opinion the young woman there isn't on the square, though she's been remembered too, and is a hitem of course. And, Mr. Trewilyan, it do go against the grain with me when they're remembered and ain't on the square. I doesn't expect too much of Human Nature, which is poor, as the saying goes; but when they're remembered and ain't on the square after that, it's too bad for Human Nature. It's more than poor. It's what I calls beggarly.
He ain't been there since, Mr. Trewilyan, and he goes out of town to-morrow by the 1.15 p.m. express to Bridport. So he lets on; but of course I shall see to that. That he's been at St. Diddulph's, in the house from 1.47 to 2.17, you may take as a fact. There won't be no shaking of that, because I have it in my mem. book, and no Counsel can get the better of it. Of course he went there to see her, and it's my belief he did. The young woman as was remembered says he didn't, but she isn't on the square. They never is when a lady wants to see her gentleman, though they comes round afterwards, and tells up everything when it comes before his ordinary lordship.
If you ask me, Mr. Trewilyan, I don't think it's ripe yet for the court, but we'll have it ripe before long. I'll keep a look-out, because it's just possible she may leave town. If she do, I'll be down upon them together, and no mistake.
Yours most respectful,
Every word in the letter had been a dagger to Trevelyan, and yet he felt himself to be under an obligation to the man who had written it. No one else would or could make facts known to him. If she were innocent, let him know that she were innocent, and he would proclaim her innocence, and believe in her innocence,—and sacrifice himself to her innocence, if such sacrifice were necessary. But if she were guilty, let him also know that. He knew how bad it was, all that bribing of postmen and maidservants, who took his money, and her money also, very likely. It was dirt, all of it. But who had put him into the dirt? His wife had, at least, deceived him,—had deceived him and disobeyed him, and it was necessary that he should know the facts. Life without a Bozzle would now have been to him a perfect blank.
The Colonel had been to the parsonage at St. Diddulph's, and had been admitted! As to that he had no doubt. Nor did he really doubt that his wife had seen the visitor. He had sent his wife first into a remote village on Dartmoor, and there she had been visited by her—lover! How was he to use any other word? Iago;—oh, Iago! The pity of it, Iago! Then, when she had learned that this was discovered, she had left the retreat in which he had placed her,—without permission from him,—and had taken herself to the house of a relative of hers. Here she was visited again by her—lover! Oh, Iago; the pity of it, Iago! And then there had been between them an almost constant correspondence. So much he had ascertained as fact; but he did not for a moment believe that Bozzle had learned all the facts. There might be correspondence, or even visits, of which Bozzle could learn nothing. How could Bozzle know where Mrs. Trevelyan was during all those hours which Colonel Osborne passed in London? That which he knew, he knew absolutely, and on that he could act; but there was, of course, much of which he knew nothing. Gradually the truth would unveil itself, and then he would act. He would tear that Colonel into fragments, and throw his wife from him with all the ignominy which the law made possible to him.
But in the meantime he wrote a letter to Mr. Outhouse. Colonel Osborne, after all that had been said, had been admitted at the parsonage, and Trevelyan was determined to let the clergyman know what he thought about it. The oftener he turned the matter in his mind, as he walked slowly up and down the piazza of St. Mark, the more absurd it appeared to him to doubt that his wife had seen the man. Of course she had seen him. He walked there nearly the whole night, thinking of it, and as he dragged himself off at last to his inn, had almost come to have but one desire,—namely, that he should find her out, that the evidence should be conclusive, that it should be proved, and so brought to an end. Then he would destroy her, and destroy that man,—and afterwards destroy himself, so bitter to him would be his ignominy. He almost revelled in the idea of the tragedy he would make. It was three o'clock before he was in his bedroom, and then he wrote his letter to Mr. Outhouse before he took himself to his bed. It was as follows:—
Venice, Oct. 4, 186—.
Information of a certain kind, on which I can place a firm reliance, has reached me, to the effect that Colonel Osborne has been allowed to visit at your house during the sojourn of my wife under your roof. I will thank you to inform me whether this be true; as, although I am confident of my facts, it is necessary, in reference to my ulterior conduct, that I should have from you either an admission or a denial of my assertion. It is of course open to you to leave my letter unanswered. Should you think proper to do so, I shall know also how to deal with that fact.
As to your conduct in admitting Colonel Osborne into your house while my wife is there,—after all that has passed, and all that you know that has passed,—I am quite unable to speak with anything like moderation of feeling. Had the man succeeded in forcing himself into your residence, you should have been the first to give me notice of it. As it is, I have been driven to ascertain the fact from other sources. I think that you have betrayed the trust that a husband has placed in you, and that you will find from the public voice that you will be regarded as having disgraced yourself as a clergyman.
In reference to my wife herself, I would wish her to know, that after what has now taken place, I shall not feel myself justified in leaving our child longer in her hands, even tender as are his years. I shall take steps for having him removed. What further I shall do to vindicate myself, and extricate myself as far as may be possible from the slough of despond in which I have been submerged, she and you will learn in due time.
Your obedient servant,
A letter addressed "poste restante, Venice," will reach me here.
If Trevelyan was mad when he wrote this letter, Mr. Outhouse was very nearly as mad when he read it. He had most strongly desired to have nothing to do with his wife's niece when she was separated from her husband. He was a man honest, charitable, and sufficiently affectionate; but he was timid, and disposed to think ill of those whose modes of life were strange to him. Actuated by these feelings, he would have declined to offer the hospitality of his roof to Mrs. Trevelyan, had any choice been left to him. But there had been no choice. She had come thither unasked, with her boy and baggage, and he could not send her away. His wife had told him that it was his duty to protect these women till their father came, and he recognised the truth of what his wife said. There they were, and there they must remain throughout the winter. It was hard upon him,—especially as the difficulties and embarrassments as to money were so disagreeable to him;—but there was no help for it. His duty must be done though it were ever so painful. Then that horrid Colonel had come. And now had come this letter, in which he was not only accused of being an accomplice between his married niece and her lover, but was also assured that he should be held up to public ignominy and disgrace. Though he had often declared that Trevelyan was mad, he would not remember that now. Such a letter as he had received should have been treated by him as the production of a madman. But he was not sane enough himself to see the matter in that light. He gnashed his teeth, and clenched his fist, and was almost beside himself as he read the letter a second time.
There had been a method in Trevelyan's madness; for though he had declared to himself that without doubt Bozzle had been right in saying that as the Colonel had been at the parsonage, therefore, as a certainty, Mrs. Trevelyan had met the Colonel there, yet he had not so stated in his letter. He had merely asserted that Colonel Osborne had been at the house, and had founded his accusation upon that alleged fact. The alleged fact had been in truth a fact. So far Bozzle had been right. The Colonel had been at the parsonage; and the reader knows how far Mr. Outhouse had been to blame for his share in the matter! He rushed off to his wife with the letter, declaring at first that Mrs. Trevelyan, Nora, and the child, and the servant, should be sent out of the house at once. But at last Mrs. Outhouse succeeded in showing him that he would not be justified in ill-using them because Trevelyan had ill-used him. "But I will write to him," said Mr. Outhouse. "He shall know what I think about it." And he did write his letter that day, in spite of his wife's entreaties that he would allow the sun to set upon his wrath. And his letter was as follows:—
St. Diddulph's, October 8, 186—.
I have received your letter of the 4th, which is more iniquitous, unjust, and ungrateful, than anything I ever before saw written. I have been surprised from the first at your gross cruelty to your unoffending wife; but even that seems to me more intelligible than your conduct in writing such words as those which you have dared to send to me.
For your wife's sake, knowing that she is in a great degree still in your power, I will condescend to tell you what has happened. When Mrs. Trevelyan found herself constrained to leave Nuncombe Putney by your aspersions on her character, she came here, to the protection of her nearest relatives within reach, till her father and mother should be in England. Sorely against my will I received them into my home, because they had been deprived of other shelter by the cruelty or madness of him who should have been their guardian. Here they are, and here they shall remain till Sir Marmaduke Rowley arrives. The other day, on the 29th of September, Colonel Osborne, who is their father's old friend, called, not on them, but on me. I may truly say that I did not wish to see Colonel Osborne. They did not see him, nor did he ask to see them. If his coming was a fault,—and I think it was a fault,—they were not implicated in it. He came, remained a few minutes, and went without seeing any one but myself. That is the history of Colonel Osborne's visit to my house.
I have not thought fit to show your letter to your wife, or to make her acquainted with this further proof of your want of reason. As to the threats which you hold out of removing her child from her, you can of course do nothing except by law. I do not think that even you will be sufficiently audacious to take any steps of that description. Whatever protection the law may give her and her child from your tyranny and misconduct cannot be obtained till her father shall be here.
I have only further to request that you will not address any further communication to me. Should you do so, it will be refused.
Yours in deep indignation,
Trevelyan had also written two other letters to England, one to Mr. Bideawhile and the other to Bozzle. In the former he acquainted the lawyer that he had discovered that his wife still maintained her intercourse with Colonel Osborne, and that he must therefore remove his child from her custody. He then inquired what steps would be necessary to enable him to obtain possession of his little boy. In the letter to Bozzle he sent a cheque, and his thanks for the ex-policeman's watchful care. He desired Bozzle to continue his precautions, and explained his intentions about his son. Being somewhat afraid that Mr. Bideawhile might not be zealous on his behalf, and not himself understanding accurately the extent of his power with regard to his own child, or the means whereby he might exercise it, he was anxious to obtain assistance from Bozzle also on this point. He had no doubt that Bozzle knew all about it. He had great confidence in Bozzle. But still he did not like to consult the ex-policeman. He knew that it became him to have some regard for his own dignity. He therefore put the matter very astutely to Bozzle, asking no questions, but alluding to his difficulty in a way that would enable Bozzle to offer advice.
And where was he to get a woman to take charge of his child? If Lady Milborough would do it, how great would be the comfort! But he was almost sure that Lady Milborough would not do it. All his friends had turned against him, and Lady Milborough among the number. There was nobody left to him, but Bozzle. Could he entrust Bozzle to find some woman for him who would take adequate charge of the little fellow, till he himself could see to the child's education? He did not put this question to Bozzle in plain terms; but he was very astute, and wrote in such a fashion that Bozzle could make a proposal, if any proposal were within his power.
The answer from Mr. Outhouse came first. To this Mr. Trevelyan paid very little attention. It was just what he expected. Of course Mr. Outhouse's assurance about Colonel Osborne went for nothing. A man who would permit intercourse in his house between a married lady and her lover would not scruple to deny that he had permitted it. Then came Mr. Bideawhile's answer, which was very short. Mr. Bideawhile said that nothing could be done about the child till Mr. Trevelyan should return to England;—and that he could give no opinion as to what should be done then till he knew more of the circumstances. It was quite clear to Trevelyan that he must employ some other lawyer. Mr. Bideawhile had probably been corrupted by Colonel Osborne. Could Bozzle recommend a lawyer?
From Bozzle himself there came no other immediate reply than, "his duty, and that he would make further inquiries."